HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is resigning following news that the Department of State failed to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend retroactively the timeline for victims to file civil actions against their abusers.
Her last day will be Friday, Feb. 5, according to Governor Tom Wolf. The department will immediately institute new controls, including additional tracking and notifications of constitutional amendments, to ensure similar failings 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. “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.”
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. 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.
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. In preparing for the potential passage, DOS staff noticed late last week that the amendment was not previously advertised.
“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 the responsibility on behalf of the department.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said “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. 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.