HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) – A proposed state constitutional amendment allowing lawsuits for otherwise outdated child sexual abuse claims was not advertised as required, delaying the required voter referendum for at least two years, the Wolf administration disclosed Monday. The Pennsylvania Department of State in a news release called it “simple human error” and apologized, saying the mistake was discovered late last week.

“This change at the Department of State has nothing to do with the administration of the 2020 election, which was fair and accurate,” Wolf said in statement. “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.”

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As a result, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is leaving her job, and the inspector general will be looking into the matter.

House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said caucus leaders are angry about the mistake, first reported by Spotlight PA.

“I think the people that should be very upset are one, the victims who will not have justice delayed once again by this administration’s incompetency, and the people of Pennsylvania who can’t trust this administration to perform the basic processes,” Gottesman said.

“To say I am disappointed by this setback is an understatement,” Sen. Maria Collett said. “I am devastated on behalf of the victims of childhood sex abuse in my district and across the Commonwealth who have shared with us their heartbreaking stories and entrusted us to bring them long-overdue justice and path to healing. The last thing these victims need is another delay, another slight that makes them feel like no one cares about their pain. Regardless of our politics, religion, age or gender, we all know that the institutions whose failures led to these victims’ trauma need to be held accountable. The legislation my colleagues and I are introducing will correct the mistake made by the Department of State and bring victims across Pennsylvania one step closer to justice.”

Constitutional amendments must pass both chambers in two successive two-year sessions before going before voters in a referendum as the final OK. That had been expected to occur in the May 18 primary.

The proposals also have to be advertised in each two-year session, and that did not occur for the statute-of-limitations amendment during the session that ended Nov. 30.

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“The Department of State’s failure to carry out its responsibilities in the constitutional amendment process is shameful, and all options must be on the table to fix this immediately,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Too many institutions have failed survivors of sexual abuse for far too long, and I am determined for that disgraceful streak to end and to make sure justice is no longer denied. My office has made clear that the amendment process was an unnecessary hurdle from the beginning. I urge the General Assembly and Governor to do what many states have already done and let Pennsylvania survivors have their day in court as soon as possible by passing this final reform into law.”

The governor will appoint Veronica Degraffenreid to serve as acting secretary of the commonwealth. Degraffenreid was the department’s special advisor on election modernization. She has over 12 years of experience in election administration and was the former Director of Election Operations for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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