Republican members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are determined to move three highly controversial and deeply problematic constitutional amendments through the General Assembly this month and put them before the people in the May primary election. We strongly oppose this effort for three reasons.
First, We The People–PA agrees with House Speaker Rozzi and Governor Wolf that the only amendment that deserves immediate consideration is the one to give victims of sexual abuse an opportunity to seek justice in the courts. Many who were abused as children were blocked from pursuing legal action after the age of 30 by a statute of limitations provision in state law.
Recognizing how emotionally difficult it is for people abused as children to pursue justice—especially at a time when public recognition and support for them was lacking—the Pennsylvania House and Senate, with substantial bipartisan support, voted twice to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would open up a two-year window for them to sue their abusers. An unfortunate error by the Department of State prevented the constitutional amendment from appearing on the ballot in May 2021. Both houses of the General Assembly passed the amendment again at the end of the last session.
Given the broad bipartisan support for this amendment, the General Assembly’s highest priority should be to honor the constitutional requirement of passing this amendment a second time, after the General Election.
However, the three constitutional amendments, proposed by the Republicans, are both deeply controversial and highly partisan. It is offensive to suggest that they deserve equal consideration with the amendment to provide justice to victims of sexual abuse.
Second, We The People–PA strongly opposes these partisan amendments. They would
- require voters to submit a government-issued ID every time they vote, even mandating that they provide copies of their IDs along with their mail ballots. We know that requiring a government-issued ID would make it impossible for some people to vote. This would disproportionately affect seniors and Black voters. Requiring voters to include a copy of their government-issued ID with their ballot would also dissuade voters from voting by mail because of the risk of identification theft. This, too, would limit the number of voters in the state.
- require the auditor general to audit election returns. This amendment is unnecessary, given thatthe state already audits elections. And it would potentially create a conflict with the authority that is given the courts under the Pennsylvania Constitution to be the final arbiters of election results. It is only being put forward by those who seek to encourage the Big Lie about the 2020 election.
- enable the General Assembly to overturn regulations promulgated by executive departments and regulatory agencies by majority vote on a concurrent resolution. Government regulations protect workers from earning low wages and suffering dangerous working conditions; they protect children from dangerous conditions in day cares and schools; they protect the sick and injured from receiving inadequate or dangerous care by doctors and hospitals; they ensure that businesses do not discriminate in their hiring and encourage businesses to recruit diverse employees; they ensure that monopolies, like utility companies, do not overcharge their customers; and they protect our air and water from pollution and dangerous, climate-changing greenhouse gases. The current constitutional process gives the governor the authority to veto these resolutions, and his veto can be overturned by a two-thirds vote in both Houses.
In every state, and in the federal government, the regulatory process is initiated by the executive branch of government or by regulatory agencies whose members are appointed by the executive for two reasons. First, regulations are meant to serve the common good, and only presidents and governors are elected by the people as a whole. Second, effective and consistent regulations require a great deal of expertise that is found in the executive branch and regulatory agencies.
The General Assembly already has substantial influence over the regulatory process. It enacts the laws under which regulations are promulgated; it funds the executive branch and the agencies that propose regulations; and unlike the legislatures in most other states and the US Congress—which have no role in approving regulations—it can overturn regulations with a two-thirds vote. In 1983, the US Supreme Court ruled that giving Congress the authority to overturn regulations would violate the separation of powers because issuing regulations is fundamentally an executive power. We agree with that principle. And we believe that regulations that serve the interests of all of us would be threatened by giving the General Assembly even more control over them than it already has.
Third, it would be an especially egregious act for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to consider these three controversial, partisan amendments in the House before the special elections are held to fill the three vacancies in the House. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires an intervening election between the first and second time the General Assembly votes on a constitutional amendment for a reason—that is to give the voters an opportunity to express their views on these amendments in the intervening election. The voters in Pennsylvania clearly chose a majority of Democrats in the 2022 House elections. And the Democrats won a substantial majority of the votes in contested House elections. Rushing to approve these amendments before the three special elections that Democrats are expected to win are held—or even worse, seeking to put off two of the special elections to May—is clearly an attempt by the Republicans to violate the spirit of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Rep. Mark Rozzi was not our first choice for speaker of the House. We The People–PA was excited at the prospect of Rep. Joanna McClinton becoming speaker, not just because she has been a strong advocate for our ideals but because electing a Black woman to that position would represent an important advance for people who continue to face barriers to attaining positions justified by their talents and skills.
But we were gratified that on the day he was elected speaker, Representative Rozzi made a firm commitment to leading the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a way that allows all members to advance their ideas and ensures that they are considered in an inclusive and democratic process. That is exactly what Pennsylvanians want and need from a speaker of the House. We do not want a speaker of the House who has his thumb on the scales. We want a speaker to be a fair arbiter of a democratic process. If Speaker Rozzi makes good on that commitment, he will receive support from a wide range of Pennsylvanians.
The first way Speaker Rozzi can keep that commitment is by ensuring that the House of Representatives does not consider the controversial amendments being proposed by Republicans before the members elected in the special elections for the three open seats have taken their places in the House. An inclusive and democratic process requires that representatives of the voters in every House district be able to vote on these controversial constitutional amendments.
WE THE PEOPLE – PA is a campaign of, by, and for all the people of Pennsylvania. Our goal is to ensure that everyone can thrive no matter whether they are Black, brown, or white; native-born or immigrant; Asian; Latin; poor or rich; or live in cities, suburbs or rural areas. We call for decisive leadership and bold action from state lawmakers to keep our families safe today and to build a stronger, healthier, and a more just future.
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