Legislature must tackle tough issues

Pennsylvania lawmakers in Harrisburg seem busy, based on developments at the state capital over the past week.

However, some state residents — specifically, those who support a “window” for long-ago victims of the Roman Catholic Church child-sexual-abuse scandal to sue the church and other institutions — remain convinced that the Legislature is not busy enough.

Rather than allowing that issue to remain in limbo indefinitely, lawmakers should demonstrate backbone during this new legislative session and decide the issue one way or another, once and for all.

Legislators sought their state government seats based on their qualifications and their purported willingness to tackle tough issues. Now it’s time for them to keep that promise, or at least admit why they are reluctant to do so.

House and Senate leaders should be the first to “come clean” with their constituents, since they’re the ones who control what is voted upon in their respective chambers. However, rank-and-file lawmakers have an obligation to “come clean” as well. It’s a tough issue, but the limbo has continued long enough.

For readers who might not recall, legislation to open a two-year window for the long-ago victims to sue collapsed last fall in the Republican-controlled Senate after the GOP-controlled House had voted overwhelmingly to pass it.

Such a situation might not develop regarding three other issues that received attention over the past week in Harrisburg, but nothing ever seems to be easy under the state Capitol dome.

Session after session, decade after decade, Pennsylvania lawmakers have demonstrated great skill in muddling measures that seemed destined initially for quick approval.

Here are the three issues discussed last week about which state residents should remain keenly interested:

¯ On Tuesday in the state Capitol, state and county officials unveiled a package of proposed election reforms, including proposals for constitutional amendments covering voting by absentee ballot, easing the challenge of recruiting poll workers, and for reducing confusion related to judicial retention questions. In addition, the measures would give counties the flexibility and tools to meet the challenge of delivering elections on new paper-based voting systems, going forward.

¯ In the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, a bill aimed at expanding significantly the list of criminal convictions that would force state public officials and employees to forfeit their state pensions received unanimous approval. The panel’s action launched a new effort to enact legislation that nearly won passage last session, but fell short of getting a floor vote in the House.

The bill would encompass federal felonies for the first time and would end the practice where an individual could plead guilty to lesser crimes in order to avoid pension loss.

¯ On Monday, Sens. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, and Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, unveiled legislation to revamp the commonwealth’s probation system. According to the news and information service Capitolwire, the proposal would install caps on the lengths of probation sentences, implement incentives for reducing probation sentences based on good behavior and apply retroactively to people currently on probation.

Regarding the long-ago clergy sexual abuse victims who are part of a seemingly endless, irresponsible stalemate, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati was quoted in an article in our sister publication the Altoona Mirror last Tuesday as saying he had not received any counterproposals.

If there are, in fact, some “out there,” victims deserve to be apprised of them.

The length of their wait for a final decision has been beyond unreasonable.

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