Eyes on Corbett as House caucuses spar over case
HARRISBURG - A dispute over the state's investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case hangs over House lawmakers as they head into the end game for approving bills during this legislative session.
The two party caucuses have different takes on a resolution calling for an outside probe of how the state prosecutors under Gov. Tom Corbett in his prior job as attorney general handled a nearly two-year investigation of Sandusky. ï»¿The former Pennsylvania State University football coach was sentenced Tuesday in Centre County Court to at least 30 years in prison on a June conviction on 45 of 48 counts of abuse of 10 boys during the 1990s and 2000s.
A resolution introduced last December by Rep. Brandon Newman, D-48, Washington, calls on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to determine whether the AG's office provided enough resources to the Sandusky investigation and why the office "took so long to investigate this manner and to finally take action to remove Mr. Sandusky from further contact with minors."
It also asks Holder to determine what and when PSU administrators knew about the sexual abuse and whether Sandusky violated federal law when he took minors across state lines to engage in sexual abuse. The resolution was introduced last December, five weeks after Sandusky's arrest.
The issue has been simmering since that arrest. A poll last month by Franklin & Marshall College found that almost two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said Corbett did a fair or poor job in handling the Sandusky case before he became governor in 2011. The poll of 632 voters, conducted between Sept. 18 and Sept. 23, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Both candidates for attorney general - Democrat Kathleen Kane and Republican David Freed - said they will review the handling of the case if they win.
Corbett has said it's important for investigators to have a number of witnesses testifying in court in a abuse case involving a prominent individual like Sandusky. Getting witnesses to come forward takes time, he has noted. The governor has pointed to Sandusky's conviction on 45 counts as proof the prosecution strategy worked.
The House returns Monday for what's regarded as the final three voting days of the 2011-12 legislative session, which officially ends Nov. 30.
House Democrats plan to try to force a vote next week on the resolution though a procedural maneuver, something they didn't get a chance to do in the final minutes of last week's session.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County, said a Department of Justice investigation would clear the air surrounding the Sandusky case.
"Let's put this to bed once and for all," he said.
"While Jerry Sandusky will most assuredly go to jail for the rest of his life, many in the public still want and have the right to know why it took so long to bring charges when there was credible evidence to do so, and why no one in authority did more to stop Sandusky from having sex with minors," said Rep. Tim Briggs, D-149, King of Prussia, a resolution supporter.
GOP lawmakers question the motives of forcing a vote one month before the election.
"This was done for no other reason than partisan campaign reasons," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh. Miskin suggested the House should give priority instead to passing legislation providing for education in public schools to alert students to the threat of child abuse and abduction. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-101, Cleona, is on the House voting calendar. Democrats will seek recognition from House Speaker Sam Smith, R-66, Punxsutawney, for a vote on a discharge resolution, a method to advance a bill or resolution bottled up in a committee. Democrats attempted to get that vote last week after Smith already announced there would be no additional votes that day, said Miskin.