Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers face decision on constitutional change package

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Republican state lawmakers could soon decide which of dozens of potential amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution will have a chance of making it to an electoral referendum — a tactic that can get politically divisive politics around the governor’s much-used veto pen Democrat Tom Wolf.

The relatively high number of proposals pending at the General Assembly address topics ranging from voting rights to abortion and property taxes.

“Making constitutional amendments in place so that they can meet their various legal requirements will be a focus of our legislative efforts over the coming weeks,” House Republican caucus spokesman Jason Gottesman said Monday. . “Given the time it takes for questions to be announced and put on the ballot, our goal is to have an agreed package before the summer recess.”

A bill introduced by Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, to amend the constitution so that gubernatorial candidates can choose their own running mates passed the Senate in April 2021.

But late last year, House Republicans added provisions such as requiring voters to produce ID and requiring election audits by the elected Auditor General of the United States. State.

Despite the current large number of proposed amendments, it’s likely that GOP leaders will allow only a few of them to get floor votes.

“I think we have to be careful,” Argall said. “We don’t want to ask 20 questions at once.”

Emboldened by their success last year in persuading voters to narrowly approve limits on a governor’s emergency powers, House and Senate Republicans have introduced a host of potential amendments. With measures needed to keep most of them alive at the start of August, time is running out.

Democrats argue that the Republican tactic of legislating by amending the constitution undermines democracy by removing the executive branch and nearly half of the General Assembly.

“I’m afraid we’re setting dangerous precedents, that when we can’t pass legislation on the governor’s office and we can’t replace it with a veto, we change our constitution,” the senator said Monday. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Montomery. “And this behavior, it circumvents the explicit checks and balances of our three branches of government.”

Capellitti opposed a procedural step to expedite consideration of a constitutional amendment saying there is no abortion rights or abortion funding in the state constitution. She warned the measure would lead to abortion restrictions, bans and litigation.

Democrats are sponsoring some of the more than 80 proposed amendments, but since they are no longer in power, their proposals are less likely to see the light of day. Republican proposals, meanwhile, seek to eliminate school property taxes, reduce House membership by about 50 seats, privatize the state liquor system, and abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

“If these ideas are so popular and so mainstream, why aren’t they making it through the process?” House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said last week.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Bizzarro of Erie County has proposed an amendment requiring two-thirds majorities in both houses to advance changes to the constitution. Currently, they pass with a majority vote.

“We were not elected to govern and legislate by constitutional amendment – that’s not how government in Pennsylvania is set up,” Bizzarro said. “If we continue to do this, we are heading down a slippery slope that has the potential to have a devastating effect on Pennsylvanians.”

A constitutional amendment has already passed both houses this session and awaits action early next year – the proposal to allow a two-year window for lawsuits by child sexual abuse victims who would otherwise too old to continue. The Wolf administration’s mishandling of this amendment in early 2021 led to the resignation of then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

The state constitution requires proposed amendments to be passed by both houses in a two-year legislative session and then announced to the public before the next fall election. In the second round that follows, these proposals must then go through both houses in the following two-year session before being put to voters in the form of a referendum for the final say. Amendments do not require the Governor’s endorsement.

Most of them are currently in their first two-year term and must be announced three months before the Nov. 8 election if the Republican majority is to get them to the finish line at some point during the session. 2023-24 which begins in January. .

Some of the pending proposals reflect Legislative Republicans’ frustration with the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court: elect justices by geographic districts rather than statewide to boost Republican-dominated rural areas; compel judges to stand for re-election; and reducing judicial terms to six years.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, wants to let lawmakers resume session in December of even-numbered years, a shortcoming he says has interfered with his 2020 efforts to help the president of the era, Donald Trump, to reverse his re-election loss as it stood. Mastriano is also seeking to ban “no excuse” mail-in voting under the 2019 law he voted for and to require signature verification for mail-in ballots.

Other lawmakers want to change the redistricting process once a decade, lower the voting age to 16 and allow preferential-choice voting.

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