Hardball politics: Pa. lawmakers try to block college funding until Senate passes sex-abuse bill

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Lawmakers are trying to put the finishing touches on the budget but there may be a last-minute snag to university funding. Democratic State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) and Republican Jim Gregory (R-Blair), both sex-abuse survivors, try to block money to schools until the Senate passes a bill they want.

Budget funding for Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln Universities requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature. Mark Rozzi is trying to convince 67 of his House colleagues to vote no, for now. “We definitely want to cause some trouble here at the end,” Rozzi said. “We’re just trying to put pressure on the Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward.”

Ward, many survivors believe is single-handedly holding up House Bill 951, which would let them sue their abusers beyond their statute of limitations. “Kim Ward isn’t a king. This isn’t England in 1600. This is Pennsylvania,” sex abuse survivor Shaun Dougherty said. “If she doesn’t want this bill she can vote no.”

Ward has thus far said no to bringing it up for a vote even though it passed out of committee. But some would argue holding school funding hostage is unfair. “I would tell them the same thing people have been telling me for the past five to six years. That’s Pennsylvania politics,” Dougherty said.

Senator Vince Hughes (D-Montgomery, Philadelphia) is the Democratic Appropriations Chair, trying to finish a budget. “That kind of political logistic does not excite me. We should just do the bill on sexual abuse. It’s deserved. it should have been done a long time ago,” Hughes said. Why hasn’t it? “There have been forces that have been holding it up for years.”

So survivors are now trying to hold up school funding and they make no apologies. “If this is the only means that we have to stop this budget process and force her hand so be it,” Rozzi said. “I’m a victim. I’m a survivor and I’m fighting for my life,” Dougherty said.

Senator Ward’s office insists she is not blocking House Bill 951 but reviewing the constitutionality and impact of the expansion of victim’s rights to include public institutions. At the moment, her priority is getting the budget done.

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