Harrisburg, PA – June 22, 2022 – Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats held a press conference shortly after President Joe Biden made a call to federal and state law makers to pause gas taxes.
“Our stance is simple; we are calling on state Republicans to join us in supporting a suspension to the state gas tax. We know there is concern about a loss of revenue while the pause is in place, but Pennsylvania has billions in surplus funds that can be used to maintain roads and bridges during the gas tax holiday,” said Senator Jay Costa, Senate Democratic Leader. “This is about putting people over corporate profit. We need to implement a gas tax holiday, use Pennsylvania’s budget surplus to ensure our roads and bridges still receive the funding they need, and hold the oil and gas industry accountable to pass the savings to consumers.”
Several Democratic Senators joined Sen. Costa, including Sen. Hughes, Sen. Boscola, Sen. Cappelletti, Sen. Flynn, Sen. Haywood, Sen. Santarsiero, Sen. Schwank, and Sen. Street. All expressing their support for President’s call to states to pause the gas tax and make sure those savings were felt by consumers and not absorbed by the oil and gas industry.
“We have the money to support a gas tax holiday. We can give hardworking families some relief at the gas pump and still make sure our roads and bridges receive funding,” said Senator Vincent Hughes. “And when we do this tax reduction, the oil and gas industry need to leave those savings for consumers. We’re stepping up. We’re responding to the President’s call. It’s time for state Republicans and the oil and gas industry to step up too.”
Senator Lisa Boscola and Senator Marty Flynn recently introduced bills that would temporarily pause the gas tax in Pennsylvania. A statewide gas tax holiday could amount to an average of thirty cents a gallon in savings to consumers.
“I applaud President Biden’s call for a gas tax holiday,” said Sen. Marty Flynn. “Right now, Pennsylvania families are paying triple the price for gas compared to what they paid last year. This is one of the most pressing issues for families, and we have money in the bank to help them. I’m done naming bridges, it’s time we do something for the people.”
“Gas tax relief is something we can do immediately in this inflation storm,” said Senator Lisa Boscola. “The billions in surplus we have is taxpayer money, and taxpayers deserve some of this money back. Combined with the federal plan, a state gas tax holiday would give real savings to families.”
Sen. Collett, Sen. Dillon, Sen. Fontana, Sen. Kearney, and Sen. Lindsey Williams also attended the press conference to show support for a proposed state gas tax holiday.
A full video of the press conference and remarks from all speakers from the Democratic Senate Caucus is available online.
HARRISBURG – May 25, 2022 – Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats wrote the following letter to Republican leaders in response to rampant gun violence and mass shootings that have become too common in the United States. Just this year, 215 mass shootings have taken place in the country, with the devastating shooting that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, being the 215th.
In the letter, the caucus calls on the Republican majority to act on “reasonable and responsible legislation and appropriations” that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights but will help keep guns away from bad actors and support gun violence prevention. Senate Democrats list seven bills that have been introduced to mitigate gun violence but have sat in committee with no discussion or votes. They also highlight how American Rescue Plan dollars and Pennsylvania’s current budget surplus can be used to help communities prevent horrific violence.
Applies to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and the Pennsylvania Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN)
Harrisburg, Pa. – December 17, 2021 – Governor Tom Wolf announced today that Pennsylvanians will not have to pay state income tax on the student loan debt relief they get from the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and the Pennsylvania Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN) Program. The decision by the Wolf Administration will save people eligible for those programs potentially thousands of dollars in state tax.
“The point of student loan forgiveness programs for public servants is that these are people who have chosen jobs, often in lower paying fields, because they want to make a difference,” said Gov. Wolf. “It’s wrong to take what should be a blessing and turn it into just another burden.
“As a commonwealth and as a nation, we can’t afford for astronomical student loan debt to keep talented people from choosing to serve as teachers, firefighters, or nurses. We need to make sure that financial burdens don’t keep our best and brightest from taking on some of our most important jobs. Ensuring that student loan forgiveness through the PSLF and SLRN programs is not considered taxable income will remove one more barrier for Pennsylvanians who are working to make a difference in our communities.”
Student loan forgiveness is not considered taxable income at the federal level, and the decision announced by the governor brings Pennsylvania in line with the majority of other states. It also removes an immense burden from student borrowers who receive loan forgiveness in Pennsylvania by ensuring that they aren’t surprised by a large tax bill the year they receive their loan forgiveness.
The SLRN Program was established to help nurses in Pennsylvania who have worked tirelessly to fight the COVID-19 pandemic continue in the nursing profession by relieving some of the burden of student loans.
The PSLF Program is a federal program that permits Direct Loan borrowers who make 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer to have the remainder of their student loan balance forgiven. Qualifying employers include federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as 501(c)(3) non-profits.
As an example, a Pennsylvanian with $50,000 in student loans forgiven through PSLF will avoid the unpleasant surprise of a $1,535 state income tax bill.
“I want to thank Senator Bob Casey and state Senators Katie Muth, Steve Santarsiero and Lindsey Williams for bringing this issue to my attention,” said Gov. Wolf. “Their advocacy helped my administration bring about a crucial change to better support hard-working Pennsylvanians trying to build a life while making life better for their neighbors.”
Gov. Wolf took action by encouraging the Department of Revenue to revisit prior guidance on loan forgiveness to make sure that Pennsylvania residents benefitting from student loan forgiveness programs such as PSLF and SLRN are not surprised by a tax bill from the state.
“Pennsylvanians have some of the highest student loan debt in the country – and when these students are finally eligible to see some of their loan forgiven through public service, they should not be burdened with a surprise tax bill,” Sen. Muth said. “I appreciate that the Administration and Department of Revenue took swift action to make this vital change to our state tax regulations. Thank you to Senator Lindsey Williams for leading on this important issue for the many of us with outstanding student loans, and to all of the staff who worked hard to make this happen.”
“Our public school teachers, nurses, counselors and other public service employees shoulder the demanding work of preparing our children for successful and enriching lives,” Sen Santarsiero said. “This fix to the tax bulletin will support these employees to focus on their careers serving our communities without being saddled with an unexpected state tax burden.”
“I’m grateful for the swift action by the Governor’s Administration after my colleagues and I raised this issue on behalf of our constituents,” said Sen. Williams. “Student loan debt is a massive hurdle that prevents many Americans from investing in their communities and local economies. I’m overjoyed that those who qualify for these loan forgiveness programs, like teachers and nurses, will no longer face a surprise tax bill just because they live in Pennsylvania.”
The Department of Revenue issued a revised tax bulletin today to clarify the language around student loan forgiveness and make clear that loan forgiveness through PSLF and SLRN is not considered taxable income.
MEDIA CONTACT: Elizabeth Rementer, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Harrisburg, PA − May 25, 2021 – Today, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus led in this effort by State Senator Steve Santarsiero held a virtual press conference to discuss a package of bills aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and the overall safe management of gas drilling operations in the fracking industry.
The package of legislation addresses recommendations made in Pennsylvania’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on the unconventional oil and gas industry. The report was a result of a two-year investigation that included personal testimony from 70 households across the Commonwealth and dozens of current and former state employees. Findings detailed disturbing health impacts of Pennsylvania fracking operations on children, homeowners and livestock that live within proximity of drilling sites. Multiple families close to wells or other industrial sites described unexplained rashes, sudden nosebleeds, and respiratory issues.
“Last year, the Grand Jurors called on Pennsylvania to make concrete changes to reduce the health and safety risks on a fracking industry left unchecked by regulators impacting families across Pennsylvania. It is common sense to ensure fracking isn’t happening next to a school or too close to someone’s home. It is common sense for companies to be transparent about the chemicals they are using near the water supplies of homes,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I want to thank Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta for their work on these reforms—my office is committed to making sure Pennsylvanians are protected against powerful interests.”
The package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats aim to usher in reforms that were specifically recommended by the Grand Jury report. The eight recommendations included:
- Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet;
- Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing before they are used on-site;
- Requiring the regulation of gathering lines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;
- Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;
- Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;
- Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;
- Limiting the ability of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the Department;
- Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.
Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta will sponsor and co-sponsor bills that directly respond to the recommendations and the urgent need for action.
“Under this package of bills, citizens and others could report potential environmental crimes directly to the Attorney General’s office for investigation without having to go through other agencies first,” said Sen. Santarsiero, adding “This would speed up the process for investigations and convictions for environmental crimes and make it clear to potential polluters that damaging our land and water will be met with real consequences. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be. It is time we ensure accurate resources exist to protect the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and pure water.”
“SB653 is a worker and public safety issue,” Senator Sabatina said. “When first responders show up to an accident scene, they need to quickly identify the substance in a spill. We have to keep truck drivers, first responders and drivers in Pennsylvania safe.”
“This package of bills should’ve been enacted before a single permit was approved by the DEP,” said Senator Muth. “For over ten years, Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the cumulative health impacts of the extraction industry and often have no idea what kind of harmful chemicals are being used right in their backyard or leaching into their water supplies. The recommendations included in report one of the 43rd Statewide Investigative Grand Jury Report are commonsense, proactive measures that will increase transparency about the hydraulic fracturing process. It’s time for state government to protect the people and our natural resources instead of protecting corporate polluters who only care about profits, even if it means harming people and the planet.”
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas, following Texas. The industry has boomed in Pennsylvania with very little legal or regulatory accountability. Proposed legislation will address negligence, a lack of transparency and gaps in oversight that have allowed drillers to operate largely on their own accord, with profit often prioritized over children, families and animals that suffer because of exposure to dangerous chemicals, contaminated water and air pollution.
“In my district, where PFAS contamination levels have been among the highest in the nation, water quality is not something we take for granted,” said Senator Collett. “This urgent legislation will allow the Attorney General to take action against polluters and allow us to stop using state dollars – your dollars – to remediate hazards like these across the Commonwealth.”
“The health effects from industry activity are “magnified by proximity”, a fact that is highlighted in Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Grand Jury report,” said Senator Santarsiero. “We must protect our communities and keep families safe in their homes by increasing the distance unconventional gas drilling operations must be from buildings and water supplies.”
“The Attorney General’s report showed that natural gas drilling operations can have serious impacts on our health, safety, and well-being and those impacts are amplified by proximity. Drilling operations don’t belong in the middle of our neighborhoods or near schools, hospitals, or our water resources,” Senator Comitta said. “It’s time to enact safer setbacks to better protect Pennsylvania families, children, and communities from the potential for the significant, negative health impacts associated with fracking.”
HARRISBURG, PA − March 23, 2021 − New legislation introduced by Senators Katie Muth (D–Montgomery/Chester/Berks), Steve Santarsiero (D–Bucks), and Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia) will ensure Pennsylvanians are able to stay safely housed for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and economically secure throughout the recovery period that follows. The Housing Security Act (Senate Bill 466) creates a framework for mortgage deferment and rent forgiveness, benefitting property owners and renters alike.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed so many significant gaps in our social safety net, and one of the most significant has been housing insecurity,” said Senator Muth. “Even before the pandemic, so many in our Commonwealth were forced to make impossible decisions between food, medicine, and paying the rent or the mortgage. This is unacceptable, and we must take action now to ensure that every Pennsylvanian has safe, affordable, and secure housing no matter where they live.”
“Housing is a basic human right that too many Pennsylvanians are at risk of losing due to economic hardship at the hands of the pandemic,” said Senator Santarsiero. “We must take steps to protect the families and individuals at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or eviction. No one deserves to face homeless due to unforeseen financial adversity, especially during a global health crisis, and the Housing Security Act will alleviate that threat for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.”
The Housing Security Act would function on two fronts: first, creating a means to protect homeowners and property owners, and then building a path for the extension of these important protections to renters.
This bill would mandate that mortgage servicers develop deferment programs to suspend property owners’ obligations to pay their mortgages for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency declaration and for the six months that immediately follow it. Rather than forcing a participant to make a huge lump sum payment at the end of the deferment period, the term of the borrower’s mortgage would be extended for the same number of months that they participated in the deferment program. All late fees, processing fees, and services fees would be waived.
Landlords participating in the deferment program would be required to reduce their tenants’ rent during the time that they participate in the program, in an amount proportional to the amount of mortgage payment deferred.
“The magnitude of the housing emergency in our Commonwealth cannot be overstated. As elected officials, we know that evictions and foreclosures damage the health and vitality of families for generations,” said Senator Saval. “As eviction and foreclosure moratoria expire, a tsunami of houselessness, utility shutoffs, and debt is predicted to crash upon the backs of those who are most vulnerable. This future harm is often spoken of as a forgone conclusion, but legislators can take real action, right now, to prevent this from becoming our reality.”
The full text of the Housing Security Act is available on request.
Chester, PA – March 19, 2021 – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators representing Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties sent a letter to Governor Wolf, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam, and the members of the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, supporting requests by county officials that the state distribute coronavirus vaccine doses to county-run clinics rather than sending them to a single mass vaccination site for the entire region.
Senators Kane (D, Delaware/Chester), Comitta (D, Chester), Cappelletti (D, Delaware/Montgomery), Collett (D, Bucks/Montgomery), Kearney (D, Delaware/Chester), Muth (D, Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Santarsiero (D, Bucks), Tomlinson (R, Bucks), and Williams (D, Delaware/Philadelphia) signed onto the letter in support of county officials. In their letter, the Senators highlighted both the continued concerns with distribution equity posed by establishing a single site for 2.5 million resident and the superfluousness of creating a new mass site on top of existing county infrastructure.
“We’ve been facing issues with equitable vaccine distribution here in Southeast PA for weeks. Our vaccine allotment has been severely limited, and residents are already being forced to travel for their appointments, meaning access for working people, folks without reliable transportation, and caretakers of children is often all but non-existent,” said Senator Kane. “Creating a single mass vaccination site for the entire southeast, a single mass vaccination site for 2.5 million people, will only serve to exacerbate these disparities. I’m standing in support of our county health officials and asking for the additional vaccine doses to be distributed between the four counties for allocation through their existing infrastructure. I’m tired of vulnerable communities being sent to the back of the line when times are hardest, and I won’t stop fighting for my constituents.”
The proposed single mass vaccination clinic is only the latest in a serious of hurdles residents of the collar counties have been facing in attempting to schedule vaccine appointments. Three weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the four collar counties had received many fewer vaccine doses by population than other counties. Since then, legislators have faced continued hurdles in advocating for increased doses, including responses by the Department of Health that it is irrelevant where constituents are receiving their vaccines so long as they are getting vaccinated.
However, residents of the collar counties continue to face difficulties in scheduling appointments and finding accurate information. “My constituents are beyond frustrated at the confusion and lack of coordination on how to obtain a vaccine,” said Senator Muth. “I cannot understand the purpose of the $11.6 million dollar contract with a consulting firm for vaccine distribution and yet, here we are, many questions unanswered, incomplete data, and inconsistent information day-to-day. Only providing one vaccination site for the entire Southeast region will simply disproportionately harm seniors who do not drive, single parents struggling to balance child care while working multiple frontline jobs, and so many who are just unable to travel an hour or more to a single vaccination site. We can and must do better. I urge the administration to listen to our local elected county leaders on this issue and ensure the true equitable distribution by showing all data and numbers.”
The letter follows a joint statement issued Wednesday, in which county officials from the four collar counties asked the Department of Health to reconsider their plans for a single mass vaccination clinic and to instead allocate the doses among the four counties.
Senator Kearney highlighted the added hurdle in creating a mass vaccination clinic when counties are already prepared to distribute additional doses. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating a single mass vaccination site that will somehow serve 2.5 million residents across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our counties have the infrastructure in place to get shots in arms – all they need is the supply. If our counties get the doses, our counties can get it done,” said Senator Kearney.
A full copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.
SEPA Delegation Letter March 18 2021
BUCKS COUNTY − March 12, 2021 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was joined by Democratic colleagues today in New Hope to announce their action to protect clean drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians from the environmental hazards of fracking. Their action is in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican senators against the Delaware River Basin Commission to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin in Pennsylvania.
Arguing for the constitutional right of millions of Pennsylvanians to clean water, the motion to intervene was filed earlier in the day in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Yaw v. The Delaware River Basin Commission. Republican caucus members had filed suit against the DRBC in January 2021, and in late February the Delaware River Keeper Network successfully intervened in the case.
“Clean water and air is a constitutional right for all Pennsylvanians, and it’s the duty of the General Assembly to ensure those rights are not infringed upon,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “The people of Bucks County – and the rest of the Delaware River Basin – have a constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water. We are not going to allow the oil and gas industry to contaminate that water. Working within its authority, the DRBC has been a steadfast champion for protecting the assets of the Delaware River Basin since its inception. Thanks to the DRBC and the work of environmental advocates, an incredible amount of progress has been made over the years to clean our waterways and create a reliable source of drinking water for millions of people. We have come too far to cede that progress to the damaging effects of fracking on our environment and land.”
“The DRBC was created 60 years ago to manage the river system and protect our water resources, including protecting the watershed from the harmful impacts of fracking,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-19), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “The DRBC exercised its authority, with all four basin states voting to ban fracking. Individual Pennsylvania legislators don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to the compact’s decisions. We support the DRBC in its decision to ban fracking – one that upholds Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment and protects our right to clean water.”
More than a decade ago, DRBC unanimously voted in favor of a moratorium on fracking pending the adoption of new regulations. Since then, the Commission has received almost 80,000 public comments which have been considered in updated draft rules.
“There is mounting evidence from throughout our Commonwealth that fracking cannot be conducted safely and, in many cases, permanently and completely contaminates our shared drinking water resources,” said Sen. Katie Muth. “I applaud the Delaware River Basin Commission for preventing this dangerous and harmful industrial activity from rendering the drinking water for 8.3 million Pennsylvanians unsafe and unusable. Moreover, I am appalled that my Senate colleagues from the Majority Party are willing to sacrifice the health of their constituents in the name of industry profit. Without water, our homes are rendered valueless, our public health severely deteriorates due to toxic and radioactive fracking waste, and our environment is polluted for generations to come. I stand in defense of the public health and environmental quality for all Pennsylvanians and strongly oppose any effort to harm our drinking water resources in the name of corporate greed.”
“Clean drinking water is a constitutional right in Pennsylvania, and an imperative to our health and survival as a species,” said Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-17). “The Delaware River Basin delivers drinking water to 13.3 million people. We joined the DCRB to maintain the safety of that water. Legislators who are threatening that mission should be ashamed of their thinly veiled attempt at a power grab. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian and the citizens of New York, New Jersey and Delaware have an inviolable right to keeping this water, their drinking water, clean.”
Five million Pennsylvanians across 17 counties reside in the Basin, which includes Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties. The Delaware River Basin spans 6,471 square miles in the Commonwealth, across 522 municipalities.
“I chose to sign on as an intervenor in this case because I know my constituents and all Pennsylvanians take seriously their constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “It is my solemn and sworn duty to protect that right. This may be our last stand in attempting to protect the waters of the Delaware River Basin from the environmental hazards created by fracking. These waters are a drinking, agricultural and industrial water resource for more than 13 million Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey residents.”
Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) added, “My constituents and I know firsthand what it’s like to have to fight for “pure water” as guaranteed by the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the terror felt when that bond has been broken. The argument made by my Republican colleagues that, as trustees of Pennsylvania’s national resources under this Amendment, they must protect the pecuniary value of such resources over the health and survival of the people and ecosystems dependent on them is not just unconstitutional, it’s inhuman.”
Sen. Vince Hughes (D-7) said, “Protecting the quality of ground and surface water and the future of the Delaware River Basin has broad support from the public in Pennsylvania and the other three states impacted by the Delaware River Basin Commission. Simply put, the commission is acting to protect those interests and the right to pure water. We join in this suit to protect those rights and to prevent adverse impacts from affecting our region.”
In a February 2021 DRBC meeting the 4 member states unanimously voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin. During the special meeting, the United States abstained from the vote, but indicated support for the result.
“My colleagues and I are intervening to fight for the 13 million people who get their water from the Delaware River Basin and protect the Constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and clean water,” said Sen. John Kane (D-9). “The DRBC voted unanimously to ban fracking after hearing tens of thousands of comments over several years — that’s what our communities want, and that’s how to keep Pennsylvanians safe. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues in intervening in support of the DRBC.”
Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) said, “The Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision is not only within their authority as custodians of the waters of the Delaware River Basin but is also constitutionally sound. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to protect our environment and the people of Pennsylvania. ”
“I’m proud to stand side by side with my colleagues in the Senate’s Democratic Caucus in support of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to permanently ban fracking. This hard-fought, hard-won decision was years in the making. It is a victory for advocates, organizers, the millions of people who live within the river basin, and for the river itself. My entire district is not only within the basin, but runs along the Delaware River. I’m grateful to DRBC for protecting the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, and I’m grateful to my fellow Democratic Senators for setting their stakes in the ground with mine.” Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia)
Environmental groups have long advocated for protecting the Delaware River Basin and for the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and water. They shared their overwhelming support for the Democratic Senators’ intervention in the lawsuit in written statements.
In a statement read during the press conference, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said, “We would like to thank Senator Santarsiero and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate for filing a motion to intervene in Yaw v. DRBC. Thousands of residents and countless elected officials and experts have spoken out in support of banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin.”
Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “The Delaware River is irreplaceably important to our entire region. To allow it to be sacrificed to the fracking industry, to be used to advance the climate crisis, and to be used to help advance an industry that is devastating the health, safety, lives, property values, quality of life and local economies of entire communities is indefensible. It is even worse that the republican legislative caucus, Senators Yaw and Baker would be seeking to misuse Pennsylvania’s constitutional environmental rights amendment and to deny Pennsylvania’s support for the Delaware River Basin Commission is an abuse of power and trust. I would like to thank Senator Steve Santarsiero and the legislators of the Democratic Caucus for seeking to join the ongoing lawsuit so they can rise up and defend our river, our environment and the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania.”
“PennEnvironment applauds the state senators who’ve come together today from across the Delaware River watershed to stand up and defend this great river,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur in a written statement. “Fracking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, much less near an iconic natural waterway like the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans. Given that local Pennsylvanians voiced their overwhelming support for protecting the Delaware River from fracking during the public input processes, it’s unfortunate that the elected officials who are the plaintiffs in the ‘Yaw v. DRBC’ case are using the courts to undo the will of local residents.
The Democratic Caucus members who have signed onto the lawsuit are Senators Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), Carolyn Comitta (D- Chester), Amanda Cappelletti (D- Montgomery, Delaware), Maria Collett (D- Montgomery, Bucks), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Art Haywood (D- Montgomery, Philadelphia), Vince Hughes (D- Philadelphia), John Kane (D- Chester, Delaware), Tim Kearney (D- Delaware), Katie Muth (D- Berks, Chester, Montgomery), John Sabatina (D- Philadelphia), Nikil Saval (D- Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) , and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).
Harrisburg, Pa. – March 12, 2021 − Pennsylvania Senate Democrats held a press conference today to again call for immediate action to create a two-year window for adult survivors of sexual abuse currently barred from seeking justice due to statutory time limitations. Members also discussed the possibility of an emergency constitutional amendment and creating more protections from abuse for all Pennsylvanians through legislative action.
“Survivors have waited far too long for their rightful pathway to justice and healing,” said Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester). “In good conscience, we cannot wait another day, let alone force survivors to endure another two years of suffering, due to an administrative oversite or court challenges. I urge all my colleagues in the General Assembly to show the courage and fortitude to do what is right and act urgently to advance these common-sense legislative priorities without delay.”
Senate Democrats said that a legislative two-year window of justice for survivors would be the most expeditious way to ensure immediate justice for survivors of abuse as the previously approved constitutional amendment was unintentionally voided by the Pennsylvania Department of State. The constitutional amendment creating the window was not properly advertised and is now void.
To amend Pennsylvania’s constitution in the traditional way, a bill must pass in identical form in two consecutive legislative sessions. After each passage, the bill must be advertised. After the second passage of the bill, it goes to voters for their approval.
“Unfortunately, we cannot change the past for victims of sexual abuse, but we can change the future,” said Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny). “And we can do that now. I, once again, call for the General Assembly to pass legislation to open the 2-year window for civil action and eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations for sex abuse. It is time to give victims the justice they deserve.”
Senate Democrats stated they do not believe that survivors should have to wait any longer for justice. They were promised a chance at a two-year window to seek closure, and they deserve to have that promise fulfilled. The path to justice should be expeditiously and relentlessly pursued, whether through an immediate legislative solution, or through a bipartisan, emergency constitutional amendment process that would waive the two-session requirement of a standard constitutional amendment.
“Survivors of abuse have been denied justice for far too long,” said Senator Maria Collett (D-Montgomery/Bucks). “Through no fault of their own, victims have had to grapple with setback after setback – but justice delayed is justice denied. We have the authority to create a pathway to justice now through the legislation we’ve introduced today. I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass these bills allowing survivors to finally seek the justice they deserve.”
Statutory windows to justice have been upheld constitutionally in several other states, and the Senate Democratic Caucus members said they believe that it is an acceptable and necessary step toward justice here in Pennsylvania.
“Refusing to consider this bill because what alleged abusers might do to further escape accountability isn’t just wrong, it’s revictimizing survivors,” said Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny). “It’s time for the Senate, and the General Assembly, to be leaders in the fight for justice for these survivors.”
Members have also introduced an updated version of Senate Bill 540 from last session which would amend Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to:
- Eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitation for sexual abuse, assault and misconduct for all survivors, regardless of age,
- Provide a 2 year civil window to revive previously expired SOL claims with a 6-month delay, and
- Prohibit non disclosure agreements that would otherwise prevent an adult survivor to report.
“We led the fight last session to reform Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, and we will not let up now,” said Senator Tim Kearney (D-Delaware). “The process of a constitutional amendment was unnecessary in the first place. Survivors have waited long enough for justice, and they shouldn’t have to wait another two years because of an administrative mistake. We must pass this bill now, because justice delayed is justice denied.”
“There are few issues that are more emotionally charged than the decades-long denial of justice to childhood victims of sexual assault,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks). “Their stories of abuse have been seared into the public consciousness. We can, and must, act today to ensure there is no further delay in bringing these victims closer to the justice they have been denied for too long. They must have their day in court.”
All Senators reiterated the importance of passing legislation that brings justice to the adult victims of sexual abuse who could not seek it as children, and that protects future generations of Pennsylvanians from such horrors. Democrats ask for a swift passage of these bills and the Governor’s commitment to signing them into law as soon as they get to his desk.
By Steve Santarsiero, State Senator (D-10, Bucks County)
Earlier this week it was revealed that the Pennsylvania Department of State failed to advertise the 2019 passage of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow the victims of child sex abuse, whose claims had been barred by the statute of limitations, a two-year window in which to file suit against responsible individuals and institutions. The failure to do so means that any such amendment must now wait at least another two years before it can be enacted.
There are few issues that are more emotionally charged than the decades-long denial of justice to those victims. Their stories of abuse have been seared into the public consciousness. They must have their day in court. Despite the Department’s error, they still can, as early as this year in fact. Before addressing that point, however, it is worth considering the political fallout from this week’s news.
The duty to advertise the legislature’s passage of a proposed amendment to the constitution rests with the Secretary of State. Although, as a practical matter, such tasks fall to Department staff, whom the Secretary reasonably relies on to do their jobs, to paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck stops with those in charge. Accepting that responsibility, Secretary Kathy Boockvar offered her resignation to the Governor, and he accepted it. In the process, however, the Commonwealth is losing a true public servant.
Secretary Boockvar began her tenure by overseeing, in the face of considerable opposition by the Pennsylvania Republican Party, the state’s transition from its old voting machines to those that use verifiable, paper ballots, which can always be counted in the case of a dispute. She then administered the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new, no-fault absentee voter law. The passage of that law in 2019, combined with the public’s concerns about the pandemic, resulted in unprecedented numbers of people casting their votes by mail in 2020. She followed both of those accomplishments by working with county officials to ensure that everyone’s votes were counted in the November election, despite persistent attempts to disenfranchise the millions of Pennsylvanians who chose to vote by mail. Throughout that process, Boockvar was an unflappable defender of our democracy, even in the face of numerous threats to her personal safety and that of her family. Hers was a record of exemplary and, indeed, courageous service.
The irony of all this, of course, is that there never really was a need to amend the state constitution to allow the victims of child sex abuse access to justice. The General Assembly can pass a law today – which the Governor has said he will sign, if it does – that allows for the so-called two-year look back. Legal scholars and the Attorney General agree that this can and should be done.
So, why are we trying to amend the constitution and tossing aside a dedicated public servant in the process? Because the Republican leaders of the State House and Senate refuse to allow such a bill to be brought up for a vote. They argue that, if it were to pass, its constitutionality would be challenged. That may be, but just because those who bear responsibility for what happened to innocent children might challenge a new law that gives those now adult victims redress, does not mean that a challenge would succeed, and it should no longer be allowed to serve as the excuse for the legislature’s inaction.
This week, Senators Muth, Kearney, Collett, Lindsey Williams and I offered such a bill in the State Senate. We hope that a companion bill will be offered in the House. The legislation should be brought up for a vote and sent to the Governor’s desk without delay. To do anything less would amount to a needless continuation of the delay of justice for the victims. It is bad enough that the Department of State’s mistake is causing us to lose Secretary Boockvar; let us not compound that loss by yet again denying justice to those who have already waited too long.
HARRISBURG – December 10, 2020 – Today the following members of the Pennsylvania State Senate signed a joint statement – set forth below – denouncing the brazen attempt of the attorneys general of Texas and seventeen other states to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvanians and voters in three other states by asking the United States Supreme Court to prevent electors in Pennsylvania and those other states that voted for Joe Biden from certifying him the winner when they meet in Harrisburg and the other state capitals on Monday, December 14.
The statement reads as follows:
“The lawsuit by the attorneys general of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia is based on the outright lie that voter fraud prevented Donald Trump from getting re-elected. Since Election Day, the Trump legal team has filed scores of such suits trying to overturn the will of the people. Time and again, the judges in those matters – in many cases conservative, Republican judges, some of whom Donald Trump appointed himself – have found that there was no evidence to support those claims and dismissed the suits accordingly.
The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote and the right of voters to be sure that their votes will be counted. This lawsuit and others like it are a direct attack on that fundamental principle. It seeks to perpetuate the lie that the presidential election was somehow stolen. While partisan politics – and a desire to appease the president’s restive base – may be the motivation for this latest court challenge, allowing it to go forward in silence is dangerous and, we believe, would constitute a dereliction of our duty as elected representatives of the people to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The facts are these: Joe Biden received over 81 million votes, more than any candidate for president in the history of the United States and about 7 million more than Donald Trump. He received 80,555 more votes than the president in Pennsylvania. Mr. Biden received the most votes in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and, therefore, on December 14 when the Electoral College convenes, will be awarded 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to be elected president. Every vote cast for Joe Biden was cast freely and fairly, whether in person or by mail. In each state the vote-counting process was transparent and undertaken pursuant to law. Local and state officials, both Republican and Democratic alike, have attested to those facts, and, as noted, the courts have agreed. Joe Biden won the election.
Donald Trump has lost his bid for re-election; he seems incapable of accepting that fact. For the first time in American History, a sitting president who lost re-election has refused to acknowledge his loss, acting instead like a would-be autocrat who cannot accept any outcome that does not have him staying in power. While that may be a commentary on the character of the man, it cannot be a cause for setting aside the will of the people.
All of us have a responsibility – indeed we would go so far as to say a sacred duty – to ourselves, our fellow Americans and generations to come to prevent the lie that this election was stolen from living on and undermining future elections. For these reasons we have signed this statement and call upon others to likewise speak out and denounce this lawsuit against our state for what it is: an attack on our democracy.”
Senator Steve Santarsiero, 10th District
Senator Vincent Hughes, 7th District
Senator Maria Collett, 12th District
Senator Judy Schwank, 11th District
Senator Tim Kearney, 26th District
Senator Christine Tartaglione, 2nd District
Sen.-Elect Amanda M. Cappelletti, 17th District
Sen.-Elect Carolyn Comitta, 19th District
Senator Jay Costa, 43rd District
Senator Anthony H. Williams, 8thDistrict
Senator Katie Muth, 44th District
Senator Art Haywood, 4th District
Senator Sharif Street, 3rdDistrict
Senator Lindsey Williams, 38th District
Sen.-Elect Nikil Saval, 1st District
Sen.-Elect John Kane, 9th District
HARRISBURG − May 13, 2020 − Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) joined with Senator Katie Muth (D-44) and their Democratic colleagues in the Senate and 39 Democratic House members today to request that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issue an order staying all eviction and foreclosure proceedings until 90 days after a county is moved from the red phase to the yellow phase of reopening.
Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.
The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.
“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”
The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.
In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.
The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:
- The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
- Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
- COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
- COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
- Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
- Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
- Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
- Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
- Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
- Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
- Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
- Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
- Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
- Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
- Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
- Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)
“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”
“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.”
“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”
“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”
“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health. I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”
“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”
“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”
“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”
“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. “We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”
“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”
“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”
“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”
“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority. In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”
“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times. What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses, job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.
“We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work. We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”
“As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”
More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.
HARRISBURG, PA − April 10, 2019 − Today, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus introduced legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual offenses and open a window for civil liability.
The legislation was introduced as Senate Bill 540.
“I wanted to get to Harrisburg to amplify the voices of those who’ve gone unheard for far too long,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “Trauma does not have an expiration date; We will not limit survivors’ opportunities to seek justice.”
“I support Senate Bill 540 because it follows the unanimous recommendations of the Pennsylvania grand jury that spent two years examining widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and an institutional cover-up spanning decades,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Since the Grand Jury Report was released last August, 16 other states have opened investigations into clergy abuse and cover-up, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a probe, 1600 people have called our clergy abuse hotline, and 35 states are considering legislative changes like those called for by the grand jury. It’s time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to do their part.”
“Sexual assault is horrific in every instance,” said Senator Maria Collett. “This legislation acknowledges the reality of why victims are often slow to report as well as the egregious lifelong damage this type of trauma inflicts.”
“In the PA House, I worked with Rep. Mark Rozzi in trying to eliminate the statute of limitations in cases of child sex abuse,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Over the past few years support has steadily built for that idea. This should be the year that we lift the statute for all victims of sexual violence, children and adults. Justice demands no less.”
“SB 540 is a victim-centered bill that will finally allow all survivors to choose their pathway to healing and justice,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Sexual violence and abuse is a public health crisis and we must stop this rape culture epidemic.”
“I’m hopeful that this bill will be embraced and ultimately passed with bipartisan support,” said Senator Lindsey Williams.
The bill would amend Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to:
- eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations (SOL) for sexual abuse, assault and misconduct victims whose abuse happened at any age;
- provide a 2 year civil window to revive previously expired SOL claims, and;
- also provide a 6-month delay to the window in which survivors who wish to voluntarily settle their claim outside the court system are able to do so.
While this bill addresses the concerns of the Grand Jury report on church sex abuse, what will be introduced is not SB 261 of 2017-2018 nor HB 612 of 2017-2018, though those pieces of legislation did inform the context of this bill.
“There is a war on sexual violence in this country and in so many ways, Pennsylvania has been ground zero,” said state Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm. “I am honored to stand here with our new Senators as we add more voices to this army of support to finally change our broken system, expose those who seek to behind it and offer a path to justice and healing for all Pennsylvania’s victims and survivors.”
The Senators were also joined by a handful of survivor victims who offered remarks on the need for this legislation.
This crisis is indiscriminate of age; there are countless victims who have been subjected to sexual abuse, assault and misconduct in their lifetime. A study done by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) found that 82% of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 18 and 64. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Date Brief showed that 55.6% of women surveyed were 18 years old or older when they were first-time victims of completed or attempted rape.
However, this research is based on reported abuse, assault and misconduct. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults were reported between 1992 and 2000. This data describes a marginalized population and does not reflect the real scope of the crisis due to under-reporting.
Senators signed on to sponsor the bill are: Senator Timothy P. Kearney and Senator Maria Collett, Senator Katie J. Muth, Senator Steven J. Santarsiero, Senator Lindsey Williams, Senator John P. Blake, Senator James R. Brewster, Senator Jay Costa, Senator Andrew E. Dinniman, Senator Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr., Senator Wayne D. Fontana, Senator Vincent J. Hughes, Senator Daylin Leach, Senator Judith L. Schwank, Senator Sharif Street, Senator Christine M. Tartaglione, Senator Anthony H. Williams.
Harrisburg – April 8, 2019 – Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus will introduce legislation to abolish the statute of limitations for a list of sexual offenses, regardless of whether the victim was a child or adult when the crime occurred.
They will be joined by supporters of the bill and survivors of sexual assault.
WHEN: Wednesday, April 10 at 9:30 am
WHERE: Main Capitol Rotunda
WHO: Senator Tim Kearney
Senator Maria Collett
Senator Katie Muth
Senator Steve Santarsiero
Senator Lindsey Williams
Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Victims’ Advocate Jennifer Storm
Collett, Kearney, Muth, Santarsiero, and L. Williams seek additional reforms
Harrisburg – March 25, 2019 – Sens. Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery), Tim Kearney (D-Chester/Delaware), Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), and Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) are sponsoring legislation to expand reforms included in the #MeToo PA General Assembly Act.
First introduced in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware) last session, the expanded #MeToo PA General Assembly Act seeks to add reforms to the process and procedures of addressing sexual harassment claims in the Pennsylvania legislature.
“The groundbreaking reform legislation introduced by Rep. Krueger established the framework for what my colleagues and I are building on with our Senate bill,” said Collett. “We need to implement and improve the procedures in which sexual assault and sexual harassment claims are addressed in our government. This legislation allows us to do that.”
Collett and Muth joined Krueger at a news conference today to support the #MeToo movement and unveil their bill.
“As a survivor and supporter of those who have come forward through the #MeToo movement, I believe it is imperative that legislation be put into action to correct serious issues within the process of addressing harassment claims in the General Assembly,” Muth said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on implementing these reforms.”
The companion legislation being introduced in the Senate would:
- Establish procedures for keeping investigatory, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory functions separate, as required under state law;
- establish procedures for communicating temporary regulations that are necessary to promptly implement the new procedures; and
- combine current settlement provisions with new provisions relating to the source of payment, personal liability of elected officials, and payment of awards.
“This is about creating a safe workplace where employees don’t have to look over their shoulders with worry,” said Kearney. “It’s about creating a system that doesn’t silence survivors, protect offenders, or waste taxpayer money. Going forward, we will ensure that wrongdoers face real repercussions while victims are heard. We will create a Capitol that sets the tone for the entire state.”
Krueger’s original legislation included the banning of non-disclosure agreements that mask the names of General Assembly members who are accused of harassment; requiring credibly accused members of the state legislature to repay any settlements that were paid with taxpayer dollars; and, requiring paid administrative leave, remote work assignments, and reimbursement for licensed counseling offered to employees during the adjudication of proceedings.
“Members of the General Assembly have the responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach,” Williams said. “This legislation ensures that members who break that faith are held accountable for their behavior, not the taxpayers.”
The Democratic senators said that their companion legislation would protect the staff and employees of the General Assembly. Implementing these measures is long overdue, they said.
”We must protect victims of sexual harassment and assault,” Santarsiero said. “People need to feel that they can come forward safely without facing further harm. The safeguards that this legislation will provide are long past due.”
Since its start in 2017, the #MeToo movement has been instrumental in raising awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The movement has also brought to the light the lack of formal processes for victims to report sexual harassment and assault and receive the necessary protections to effectively address these issues.
Media Contact: Eryn Spangler, PA Senate Democrats Communications