HARRISBURG – The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the benefits of working together to confront a challenge, as well as the dangers of unchecked government power.
The case in point is the effort to mislead voters who will decide ballot questions in the upcoming primary election! This effort demonstrates the lengths to which those in authority will go to maintain unilateral control. I’d like to explain what I mean so you can make an informed decision at the May 18th primary election.
Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Since March of 2020, Governor Tom Wolf used this blanket authority to change and suspend state laws, prevent shuttered businesses from reopening with safety measures in place, and spend state and federal taxpayer dollars with no oversight or input from the citizen’s representatives in the legislature.
However, several proposed constitutional amendments will appear on the May 18th ballot. The effect of two of these proposed amendments would be to limit an emergency declaration to 21 days unless the General Assembly approved a longer duration. They also clarify that the governor will not be able to unilaterally veto legislative action that ends the declaration, as Governor Wolf has done.
These amendments have not been taken lightly. Public health and safety are critically important. This legislation was debated, amended, and passed in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly.
But, the job of writing the actual ballot questions falls to the Department of State. Unfortunately, this is the same department that bungled the process of putting a landmark constitutional amendment on the ballot this year to aid victims of childhood sexual abuse and issued election-eve operation changes to county boards of elections in November, violating our voting laws and sowing confusion. Now, the State wants to sow further confusion with the wording of the amendments on the May 18th ballot.
Here are how the ballot questions were written by the Department of State:
Ballot Question 1
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?
The phrase “removing the existing check and balance” is prejudicial editorializing. It is purposely intended to mislead voters into thinking the emergency declaration process currently features checks and balances. It is precisely the lack of checks and balance that prompted this proposed amendment in the first place. The legislature held hearings, heard from the public, and crafted changes to the current emergency declaration and the governor simply vetoed them and carried on as he wished.
Ballot Question 2
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?
Nothing in this amendment prevents state government from being able to “respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth.” It simply prevents one person from unilaterally throwing tens of thousands of citizens out of work, barring children from school, and spending millions of taxpayer dollars.
Under the changes, the General Assembly may determine the manner in which emergencies are managed, but the administration’s departments would be responsible to carry it out. The executive branch would be involved in the entire process, but now it would have to answer to the people’s representatives.
A third ballot question would prohibit the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution. Thankfully, the administration worded this question accurately and honestly and I look forward to its passage.
I hope this provides some context to the ballot questions voters will decide, and some balance to the administration’s political and prejudicial wording. That wording is designed to mislead you into voting against your interests. Please consider the true intent of these amendments and vote “yes.”
For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com. State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at facebook.com/PASenatorBobMensch/ or Twitter @SenatorMensch.
CONTACT: Madison Scarfaro firstname.lastname@example.org (215) 541-2388