HARRISBURG — A Democratic-led effort to force debate on whether to have federal authorities look into how the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse investigation was handled tied up the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, causing the Republican speaker to abruptly end the day's session.
Speaker Sam Smith adjourned the chamber after Democrats tried to force discussion of a resolution asking the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the matter, including whether the three-year probe of allegations against the former Penn State assistant football coach took too long, putting children's safety at risk.
It was unclear what will happen to the so-called discharge resolution when the House resumes session in two weeks, but Democratic leaders vowed to press for a floor debate on it.
The Sandusky investigation was begun under then-attorney general Tom Corbett, a Republican who successfully campaigned for governor before news of the scandal broke early last year. Sandusky was charged in November and was convicted in June on charges he abused 10 boys, some on campus. He's jailed ahead of sentencing next week but maintains his innocence.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley called it a case of House Democrats "playing politics with an outstanding and complete investigation."
"What they are doing," he said, "is trying to victimize the victims again."
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said he hoped to learn whether the timing of the investigation was manipulated to help Corbett's gubernatorial campaign.
"I think it's something we ought to look into," he told reporters after the session ended, predicting if the resolution comes up for a vote it will pass overwhelmingly.
Rep. Scott Conklin, a Democrat who represents the State College area where Penn State is located, said he has contacted the U.S. attorney's office about investigating but got a noncommittal response.
The resolution, introduced in December with only three Republican co-sponsors, said an outside probe was needed "to completely investigate why the Office of Attorney General took so long to investigate this matter and to finally take action to remove Mr. Sandusky from further contact with minors," among other things.
House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said the majority hoped to have a vote on child exploitation awareness education on Wednesday before Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, brought up the discharge resolution.
"But the Democrats, they basically mucked it up with a bunch of non-related amendments, so we weren't able to run that legislation," he said.
He accused the Democrats of political motives in bringing up the Sandusky resolution.
The Sandusky investigation ended up in the attorney general's hands after a boy described as Victim 1 in court records reported abuse to local officials in central Pennsylvania in 2008, and they in turn referred the matter to state prosecutors.
A grand jury was used to investigate, and eight victims were identified by the time Sandusky was charged. Two more victims were added in December, and Sandusky was convicted of various counts related to all 10 of them.
Harley, Corbett's spokesman, said the grand jury had to be used in this case "to identify victims and get victims to come forward."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office had no immediate comment on the House floor developments.