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Elections – AGAIN!

It is election time again! Oh me, Oh my! Not again!

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As with all elections, this one is critically important.

For starters, the election is NOT just a primary election for the parties to pick their candidates for the fall general election. This election is also an opportunity for ALL voters to vote on three critically important constitutional amendments, two of which apply to emergency declaration powers of the Governor and the Executive Branch. Also, in this election and open to ALL voters is the election for the Senator for the 48th District to replace our dear late friend, state Sen. Dave Arnold.

The purpose of my commentary now is to discuss the three proposed constitutional amendments and the unbelievably biased and confusing way in which the Department of State wrote two of the ballot questions.

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First, the three ballot questions for voter consideration came about based upon Joint Resolution 2021-1 which was Senate Bill 2, the companion legislation to House Bill 55, which I co-sponsored. Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 55 proposed to amend the state Constitution by limiting emergency declarations by a governor to a maximum of 21 days. To extend a declaration beyond that time, the Legislature would need to grant approval, which ensures the voices of our citizens – through their elected lawmakers – are fully represented. Senate Bill 2 was concise and to the point and very clear as to the mandate for voters to consider in May 2021.

Not to be outdone and in light of the confusion surrounding the 2020 general election, the disaster of the improper handling of a fourth constitutional amendments by the Department of State, the Executive Branch released the ballot questions. Two of the questions are so confusing that our offices are already getting questions about what they mean.

For the ballot question “Relating to termination or extension of disaster emergency declarations” this is how the ballot question will appear:

“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?”

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The plain English translational of this is to correct a flaw of the Emergency Declaration Act of 1978 by stating that the Legislative – Senate and House by simple majority, can vote to end an emergency declaration. If you recall, during 2020 we attempted to end the emergency declaration and provide tighter controls over the Governor when the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature needed a 2/3 majority to overturn the emergency declaration.

The proposed amendment merely puts the Constitution in line with the Emergency Powers Act of 1978.

For the ballot question “Disaster Emergency Declaration and Management”, it is written as follows:

“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?”

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The plain English translation to this ballot question is simply that any emergency declaration will expire after 21 days without legislative concurrence. At present, the emergency declaration is 90 days and can be extended as often as the Governor decides to do so.

For the ballot question: “Prohibition against denial or abridgement of equality of rights because of race or ethnicity”, it is written VERY clearly as:

“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?”

Please remember to vote. This primary election, May 18, 2021 is for all voters. If you have felt overwhelmed at government during this pandemic, felt isolated or out of control of your own life, then please vote to have your voice heard.

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Frank Ryan, CPA, Col USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He serves as Vice Chair of the PSERS Pension Board and its Chair of the Audit/Compliance Committee. He can be reached at fryan@pahousegop.com.

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