Pennsylvania’s chief election official is leaving her position after revelations that her agency failed to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment that would retroactively give alleged victims of child sexual abuse two years to bring civil lawsuits.
Kathy Boockvar, who as secretary of the commonwealth oversaw the state’s contentious Nov. 3 presidential election, will leave office Friday, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday.
Proposed constitutional amendments must pass during consecutive legislative sessions, after which they are put to voters in a referendum. The Department of State is legally required to advertise the proposed amendment in newspaper ads. Lawmakers first passed the measure in question in 2019 and were on track to pass it a second time, when officials in Ms. Boockvar’s agency realized they hadn’t placed the required ads.
As a result, the multiyear process of amending the state Constitution must start all over again, unless the state Legislature were to pass a bill creating the two-year window for lawsuits, the governor’s office said.
“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,” Mr. Wolf said in a statement.
The governor said the department is adding new controls, including more tracking and notifications of constitutional amendments, to ensure similar mistakes don’t occur. He also asked the state’s inspector general’s office to review what happened and make recommendations to improve the department’s process for handling constitutional amendments.
Mr. Wolf said Ms. Boockvar’s departure isn’t related to her oversight of the recent presidential election, in which President Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by 80,555 votes in the perennial battleground.
The Nov. 3 election—the first presidential election in Pennsylvania since a 2019 state law allowed voters to request a mail-in ballot without giving a reason—drew a record number of voters. The results took days to tally, and drew several legal challenges that judges rejected.
Ms. Boockvar’s agency, the Department of State, apologized in a statement Monday for the failure to advertise the proposed constitutional amendment, which it blamed on “simple human error,” and said new controls have been implemented.
The department didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Ms. Boockvar, a Democrat, was appointed by Mr. Wolf in January 2019. Before her appointment as commonwealth secretary, Ms. Boockvar served as senior adviser to the governor on election modernization. In 2012, she ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
The proposed amendment grew out of a 2018 statewide grand-jury report that found that Roman Catholic Church officials in Pennsylvania systematically covered up the molestation of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests dating to the 1940s.
New York and other states have passed laws allowing alleged victims of childhood sex abuse to come forward with claims, even if the abuse happened decades in the past. The laws have led to a wave of litigation against the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat, has advocated creating a two-year window for victims of past child sexual abuse to file civil suits. He has said he was abused by a Catholic priest in the early 1980s, when he was 13 years old. At the time, victims had two years to file a civil claim from the time of the alleged abuse.
Mr. Rozzi said he thinks there are “a couple legislative moves” that could still get the proposed amendment on the May 18 primary election ballot. He also said the legislature could pass a bill to create a two-year window.
“I’m just shocked this has happened, but we persevered for all these years and we will continue to do just that. I will not give up the fight until this gets done, period,” Mr. Rozzi said in an interview.
Write to Scott Calvert at email@example.com
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8