Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar will resign as the head of the Department of State after the office failed to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment that impacts victims of child sex abuse.
“I’m just devastated and disappointed by the shameful conduct at the department of state. I’m just so sad for these survivors. They deserve better,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
After years of work to get to this point, the Constitutional amendment was in the final stages. With only some statewide advertisement, the amendment was going to be on the May ballot. However, after this error, it may have to go back to the drawing board. If implemented, the Constitutional change would have given victims the chance to face their abusers in court.
“It’s unfortunate that the incompetence of one department has put so many victims in a bad spot. We will try to step up as a legislature to see how we can help,” said Senator Jake Corman, (R) Senate President Pro Temp.
According to the Governor, Secretary Boockvar will leave the Wolf Administration effective Feb. 5, 2021, following three years with the Department of State, including two years as secretary of the commonwealth.
Governor Wolf says that the department is also “immediately instituting” new controls, including additional tracking and notifications of constitutional amendments, to ensure similar failings to do not occur in the future.
“This change at the Department of State has nothing to do with the administration of the 2020 election, which was fair and accurate,” said Gov. Wolf.
According to his office, Gov. Wolf has also asked the Office of State Inspector General to review the situation and make additional recommendations to improve the department’s process for handling constitutional amendments.
The proposed amendment, which is in response to the child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, first passed the legislature as House Bill 963 in November 2019.
According to Gov. Wolf, the Department of State was constitutionally required to advertise the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment in two newspapers in every county, in each of the three months before the next general election when members of the General Assembly are elected.
That advertising did not occur before the 2020 general election.
“The delay caused by this human error will be heartbreaking for thousands of survivors of childhood sexual assault, advocates and legislators, and I join the Department of State in apologizing to you. I share your anger and frustration that this happened, and I stand with you in your fight for justice,” Gov. Wolf said.
House Bill 963 would extend retroactively the timeline for victims to file civil actions against their abusers.
Proposed constitutional amendments must pass in two consecutive sessions of the state legislature, after which the proposal is put to the voters in a statewide referendum. The General Assembly was set to begin the process for second passage of the amendment this week.
The governor’s office says that in preparing for the potential passage, DOS staff noticed late last week that the amendment was not previously advertised.
Governor Wolf said that he would commit to working with the General Assembly to reach a legislative resolution, if the General Assembly wants to pursue a bill creating a civil “window” for victims to file child sexual abuse claims.
The governor thanked Boockvar for taking responsibility for the department’s error and praised her leadership over the past three years to provide a fair election last year under tremendously challenging circumstances.
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished for the people of Pennsylvania,” said Secretary Boockvar. “I’ve always believed that accountability and leadership must be a cornerstone of public service. While I only became aware of the mistake last week, and immediately took steps to alert the administration to the error, I accept responsibility on behalf of the department.”