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Pa. clergy abuse victim expects death before reform

Plus, GOP bid to thwart school mask rule will end summer break early.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 8, 2021
Waiting in vain, mask mess, political marks, safety checks, emergency aid, open records, and the Pennsylvania stars align. It's Wednesday, this is PA Post.
Juliann Bortz was one of the first Pennsylvania survivors of clergy sexual abuse to come forward after the Boston church scandal came to light in 2002.

USA Today's Capital Bureau reports her testimony helped guide a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that named 301 "predator priests" with more than 1,000 combined victims statewide.

After the release of that report, 13 states and Washington, D.C. changed their laws to give sexual abuse victims a chance to sue even in cases considered too old for legal remedies — a step advocates say ensures necessary accountability.

But Pennsylvania wasn't one of them, and efforts to change the law here and provide victims greater legal recourse have hit repeated setbacks. 

THE CONTEXT: After a Wolf administration blunder saw a ballot question on this very issue derailed earlier this year, legislative efforts continued under a sustained public pressure campaign.

A bill that would open a two-year window for lawsuits to be filed against perpetrators and institutions by child sex abuse survivors considered too old under current law cleared the Republican-controlled state House in April. 

But it has since stalled in the majority-GOP state Senate, where Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) argues a regular bill would be unconstitutional.

In July, Pennsylvania's high court dealt survivors another blow, throwing out a lawsuit by a woman whose lower court legal victory had given hope to others with similarly outdated claims.   

Pennsylvania advocates and victims say they will continue to push for reform. "It's overdue to do the right thing," Bortz, now 72, explained, adding, "There will be a window someday, but not in my lifetime."

"Now that I have weathered yet another strange turn in this long saga, I realize that I cannot let reversals like the [Pennsylvania] Supreme Court decision defeat me." 

—Andrea Constand in a new memoir about her central role in Bill Cosby's sex assault case and the subsequent overturning of Cosby's conviction
COVID-19 UPDATE: Jamaica and Sri Lanka are now among the highest-risk destinations for travelers, according to the CDC; an especially potent form of COVID-19 immunity is being probed by scientists; and the U.S. has surpassed 40 million cases. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A photo inside the historic Ingleby railroad tunnel on Penns Creek Trail near Poe Paddy State Park, courtesy of PA Poster Don HSend us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
MAD MASK: Pennsylvania's statewide school mask mandate took effect Tuesday, prompting scattered protests and spotty compliance in places. Now, the Capital-Star reports the state House will return early from summer recess to challenge the rule in the latest GOP-led pushback against Wolf administration health orders.

RAREFIED AIR: Pennsylvania Reps. Matt Cartwright and Brian Fitzpatrick are political anomalies, according to CNN. Why? They are two of just 16 U.S. House members who represent districts that voted for the opposing party's presidential nominee in 2020. Both are up for reelection in next year's midterms and both are key targets.

HOME SEARCH: Courts have for years thwarted Pittsburgh's efforts to register and inspect rental housing, a way of ensuring safety and health standards are met. And that has made the city an outlier among Pennsylvania's largest cities, PublicSource reports.

AVAILABLE AID: Expanded unemployment benefits have ended, leaving hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians with smaller benefit payments or no payments at all. There are other forms of aid for those who qualify. The Inquirer has a breakdown of what's available and how to find it

OPEN SOURCE: The new director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records, Liz Wagenseller, tells LancasterOnline Right-to-Know requests are surging, transparency rules are being tested by the pandemic, and changes are needed to ensure public access is preserved.
TRIVIA TIME: Sidestepping that Wallethub study naming Pennsylvania one of the nation's laziest states, I will instead pose a totally unrelated trivia question: There are three Pennsylvania cities that used to have populations bigger than 100,000 but no longer do. Can you name them? Answers here.

STAR STUFF: High atop the Susquehannock State Forest sits Cherry Springs State Park, world-renowned for its dark skies and vivid views of outer space. Photographer Matt Costanza shows just how vivid.

DANCER DOC: Bill Shannon, a native of Pittsburgh, was born with a degenerative hip condition and honed a style of dancing on crutches that earned him international acclaim and a new documentary film.

NAME CHANGE: SEPTA is testing out a new name for its rail network: the Metro. Billy Penn reports "the potential rebrand is part of a $40 million effort to make the public transit system easier for new riders."

LONG BOAT: Neal Moore is traveling from Oregon to New York City by canoe and has been called a "modern-day Huck Finn" by CNN. Moore is currently headed north through Pennsylvania on the 7,500-mile journey, per TribLIVE.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
Yesterday's answer: Recalcitrant

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Beth T., Maureen G., Susan N., Mike B., Neal W., Keith F., Doris T., Don H., Irene R., Bruce T., Susan D., Jessica K., Judith D., Edna P., Bill C., Georgann J., Elizabeth W., Michelle T., Kimberly S., Suzanne S., James B., George S., David S., Joel S., Bill S., Eddy Z., Craig E., Rick D., Kim C., Patricia R., John P., Carol D., David W., Mary Jo J., Becky C., Dennis M., Elaine C., and Helen G. 
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