East Falls NOW Article: Three proposed amendments that deserve our attention in the May 18 primary election

Yes or No?

State constitutional amendments are a serious matter.  I swore an oath to uphold said constitution, and it is the ultimate governing document for our Commonwealth. 

If a proposed constitutional amendment passes both chambers in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly, the amendment is placed on the ballot for voters to decide. 

Three such amendments will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, May 18.

Even though Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, independent or non-affiliated and third-party voters can vote on ballot questions in the primary election, and I strongly urge all eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote on these critically important matters.

SB2 is a resolution that contains three separate proposed constitutional amendments.

SB2 has successfully passed both chambers this session -- within the first four weeks of the start of session -- and had already passed last session.

Here are those amendments, presented in the exact language as they will appear on the ballot.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1

Ballot Question: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?

A “yes” vote supports this constitutional amendment to allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration.

A “no” vote opposes this constitutional amendment, meaning that the governor would continue to be allowed to veto resolutions terminating emergency declarations and a two-thirds legislative vote would be required to override the veto.

Having served in the House for the past 10 years, there is nothing more concerning than what is being proposed by this constitutional amendment which is why I voted against it when it came to the floor. As I reflect on the severe and impactful consequences of COVID-19, a pandemic, and further reflect on my colleagues who do not fully embrace the science behind the pandemic -- or the mitigation efforts intended to preserve public safety and health -- I would be concerned at the prospect of placing such a decision in the hands of 253 individually elected officials (collectively the PA House and Senate) who would have limited and or varying access to the expertise required to make the most informed decisions regarding an emergency for our commonwealth.  Please keep in mind that this action of the General Assembly could not be vetoed by the Governor. Further, these decisions would be time sensitive and could ostensibly be politically motivated. 

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2

Ballot Question: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

A “yes” vote supports this constitutional amendment to limit the governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes on a concurrent resolution to extend the order and provide that the state legislature shall pass laws related to how disaster emergencies must be managed.

A “no” vote opposes this constitutional amendment, meaning the governor would continue to be allowed to issue emergency declarations without a legislative vote after 21 days

Currently, the General Assembly can terminate an emergency declaration with 2/3rds votes of the members. The General Assembly passed this amendment because it was not possible to get 2/3ds of the members to terminate the current declared emergency. The members who refuse to terminate the emergency are those members that represent districts that have been majorly impacted by COVID.

This proposed constitutional amendment would require only a simple majority.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3

Ballot Question: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

A “yes” vote supports adding language to the state constitution that prohibits the denial or curtailing of rights on account of an individual’s race or ethnicity.

A “no” vote opposes adding language to the state constitution that prohibits the denial or curtailing of rights on account of an individual’s race or ethnicity.

If you want to vote via mail-in ballot, please make sure you apply for that ballot as soon as possible.  You must apply annually.  My office can mail you a mail-in ballot application or you can apply online at www.VotesPA.com.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts and ideas about state government.  You can reach me at 215-482-8726 or at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net.