Here’s the problem. Because both houses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are run by Republicans, there is no possibility of the State legislating a living wage, full and fair funding for our schools and colleges, or properly controlling the unregulated market in the straw purchase of firearms. On the other hand, we have a governor who has vetoed legislation that would have contributed to the further erosion to Pennsylvania’s economy, the environment, and the social fabric of the state. And if all goes as expected, Josh Shapiro will be our next governor, thereby providing a certain amount of insulation from dangerous legislation. Many of us are therefore willing to accept the fact that since matters won’t get worse as long as we elect a Democratic governor in 2022, there is no need to fight what seems to some of us to be a quixotic battle for dominance of the State legislature, as long as the governor will protect us from bad legislation. Right?
The Republicans in the General Assembly now realize another way to insinuate its agenda into the Pennsylvania code: Amending the Pennsylvania Constitution by way of the ballot question.
That’s because, in Pennsylvania, it is not necessary to garner the governor’s approval in order to amend the state Constitution. It is only necessary for a majority in both houses of the legislature to approve of the amendment in two consecutive sessions before it appears before the voters as a ballot question.
Once a question appears on the ballot, it is very difficult for the electorate to vote it down. We saw this process in play during the recent primary, where Pennsylvania’s voters passed two Constitutional amendments limiting the governor’s powers and extending the General Assembly’s authority during disasters.
And we are still keeping our eyes on HB 38, which, if it passes this legislative session, may be sold to unsuspecting voters as judicial reform, when in reality it would be a way of gerrymandering the courts.
Many of us felt a sense of relief after the governor recently vetoed the omnibus election bill which would, among other things, require a Voter ID at the polls and a check on signatures of mail-in ballots. Senate Bill 735, however, which is well on its way to being passed during this session of the General Assembly would also mandate Voter ID, but would actually be worse than the bill the governor vetoed because it would require that the mail-in voter provide “PROOF of a valid identification with his or her ballot” rather than the simple signature verification that the vetoed bill required. The vague language in SB 735 could leave ample room for a type of mischief that would deny legitimate ballots from being counted.
If it passes this session and again after the 2022 election, it will go to the voters as a ballot question. Republicans are confident the question will pass, given that a recent Franklin & Marshall poll indicated that many voters are in favor of Voter ID.
So, what can be done? Actually, several things. First, if you, or someone you know are in the districts of so-called moderate Republicans such as K.C. Tomlinson (HD 18, Bucks), Shelby Labs (HD 143, Bucks), Todd Stephens (HD 151, Montco), Craig Williams (HD 160, Chester, Delaware), Chris Quinn (HD 168, Delaware), Bob Mensch (SD 24, Berks, Bucks, Montco), Robert Tomlinson (SD 6, Bucks), who all voted for the original omnibus voting bill, make sure these politicians receive phone calls asking them to vote down SD 735. You can find who your legislators are here.
Another way to prevent such ballot questions from becoming law is to register an eligible informed electorate that could vote bad questions down. In Philadelphia, such a movement is underway in creating such a policy in its district schools. Here is a copy of the model policy that is being proposed. If you are interested in starting such a process in your school district, you can email me. If you want to help the Philadelphia process along, here is how.
Testify before the School Board of Philadelphia. The board meets once a month. The schedule for these meetings is: July 15, August 19, and September 23. To register, go to: tinyurl.com/PhillySchoolBoardSpeaker
Write a letter. For the Inquirer, (Inquirer.Letters@phillynews.com) Max 150 words
Don’t know what to say? Here are some of the previous testimonies on the topic.