Pa. Democrats launch ads criticizing GOP for Senate’s lack of action on abuse bill

Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. (WITF)

Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. (WITF)

A new political ad that’s hitting TVs across southeastern Pennsylvania is ripping on Republican state senators for their caucus stalling on a high-profile anti-child abuse bill.

The ad is an expensive, last-minute effort to turn the bill into a campaign issue — and the specific targets are a handful of vulnerable, moderate GOP senators seeking re-election.

The bill sought to make it easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, and others, to sue their abusers later in life — primarily by getting rid of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases going forward.

It had a controversial provision that would have allowed retroactive lawsuits on old child abuse cases for two years. The House had passed it. The state Attorney General, governor, victim advocates, and Senate Democrats were behind it. But Senate Republicans couldn’t rally support for the retroactivity clause, and the whole bill effectively died.

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The Senate Democrats’ campaign arm — the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee — plans to spend at least half a million dollars running the ad on TV in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The committee is also running digital ads with the same message in Allegheny and Centre counties.

The 30-second spot intones, “The Pennsylvania House overwhelmingly agreed to stand with victims. They put partisanship aside to do what was right. But Republicans in the Senate? They just walked away.”

It calls out eight GOP senators by name. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Appropriations Chair Pat Browne, both of whom have defended their caucus’s position on the statute of limitations bill. Retiring Senator Stewart Greenleaf is also name-checked.

And perhaps most crucially, so are four relatively moderate senators who are seeking re-election. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson, Thomas McGarrigle, John Rafferty, and Bob Mensch are all running competitive races in the Philadelphia suburbs, which have become increasingly Democratic in recent years. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won all of those districts except Mensch’s.

Tomlinson, McGarrigle, Rafferty, and Mensch have all said they actually support the retroactivity window the House passed.

But David Marshall with the SDCC argued that doesn’t matter.

“They are in the supermajority,” he said, referencing Republicans’ dominance in the Senate. “They elected the leadership that chooses whether or not this comes up for a vote. I don’t think they get to sit there and say ‘I support it.’ ”

In a statement, Scarnati — who is not up for reelection and who has become the face of the opposition to the retroactivity clause — said it’s “curious” Democrats would call out opponents who agree with them.

“This reinforces my belief that for Democrats this issue is more about winning campaigns than true concern for the victims of childhood sexual abuse,” he said.

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