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EDITORIAL: Amendment screw up will have far-reaching effects

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar speaks during a  press conference held by Gov. Tom Wolf at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Egregious.

Few words better sum up this week's news about the catastrophic blunder at Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar's office. And the disastrous, bush league oversight seems destined to have ripple effects into issues whose sole connection is Boockvar's damaged credibility.

In short, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration injured victims of childhood sexual assault. And they've further threatened voter enfranchisement in the process.

On Monday, Wolf's administration made a startling admission. Boockvar's office neglected to advertise, as required, a pending state constitutional amendment, which would have been put to voters this year.

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The proposed amendment, approved by the Legislature in 2019, was the culmination of a nearly two-decade crusade by survivors of sexual assault and would offer victims a two-year window to file lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that protected them.

While imperfect, the package that ultimately passed was the closest to a mechanism for justice, the need for which was stressed within the state's 2018 report detailing decades of predatory behavior within Catholic diocese throughout Pennsylvania.

And after years of negotiation and political angling, the Legislature finally approved a package for voters to potentially ratify. The process requires an amendment to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions before it is presented to voters as a referendum.

But now that's all on hold until at least 2023 after Boockvar's office failed to post advertisements detailing the amendment's language in newspapers throughout the state.

After all the work, all the debate, all the media coverage, it's utterly shocking that Wolf's administration failed to follow through with such a pivotal, yet elementary task.

One of the amendment's chief authors, state Rep. Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, himself a victim of pedophilia, told The Philadelphia Inquirer the news was a devastating "gut punch." 

Gov. Tom Wolf and newly elected Lt. Gov. running mate John Fetterman speak to the media at Manchester Cafe in Manchester Township, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Rozzi was being charitable, and the utter failure at basic governance rightly cost Boockvar her job. Her resignation is effective Friday.

But the shocking error is a blow to Boockvar's perceived competence, and that of the entire Wolf administration. It's ammunition for the Republican lawmakers who aim to harness falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election and transform them into a vehicle for mass disenfranchisement of Pennsylvania's voters.

For months, these lawmakers have spouted lies about a "stolen election." For months, they've fed red meat to conspiracy theorists who believed that former President Donald Trump was somehow the victim of a nationwide plot to steal the election.

And now legislative committees, such as the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee, are holding "hearings" based on the very same fabrications that fueled insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol.

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Boockvar's office managed the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, including the oversight of hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots. And her competence has been a subject of scrutiny for those seeking to suppress the vote.

House State Government Committee chair Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, immediately pounced, linking Boockvar's failure to advertise the amendment to her handling of the election.

“These repeated actions, that we know of, build a case of incompetent leadership which Wolf has allowed for far too long and has far-reaching impacts on Pennsylvanians," Grove said Monday in a statement. 

Rep. Seth Grove , left, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the General Assembly introduce, Monday, January 13, 2020, a package of bills designed to curb Medicaid fraud. The press conference took place in the Capitol rotunda. Bill Kalina photo

Boockvar has proven herself incompetent. And, by extension, so, too, has the governor who appointed her.

Their ineptitude will result in victims of sexual predators having to wait another two years before knowing whether they can pursue some semblance of justice.

And, in so doing, they increased the likelihood the vote in Pennsylvania will ultimately be suppressed.