This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA.
By Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA
HARRISBURG — Voters could be asked as early as the spring to weigh in on five significant amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution, including one that would require voters to show ID every time they vote and another that asserts the state’s charter does not protect abortion access.
After a contentious late-night debate that spilled into Friday, the state Senate voted 28-22 to pass the omnibus resolution. Republicans in the upper chamber successfully moved to add abortion language to the package Thursday as lawmakers worked to pass an already late budget.
The vote continues efforts by legislative Republicans to use constitutional amendments to advance their policy goals, such as restricting access to abortion and tightening election laws, without the consent of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has regularly used his veto pen.
Proposed amendments to the constitution must pass the state House and Senate twice, in two consecutive sessions.
The resolution passed Friday by the state Senate must be approved by the state House before the current session concludes at the end of the year. Both chambers would need to pass it again during the 2023-24 session.
Should that happen, five proposed amendments would be sent to the Pennsylvania voters that would add language:
- Declaring the state constitution does not grant any right relating to abortion, including no right to public funding for the procedure.
- Requiring government-issued ID to vote.
- Requiring the auditor general to audit elections.
- Allowing each major party’s gubernatorial nominee to choose their own running mate, rather than holding a separate primary for lieutenant governor.
- Expanding the General Assembly’s power to reject regulations.
The latter is a top priority for Republicans, who are concerned that the state Supreme Court, in a case brought by eight abortion providers, may order the state’s Medicaid program to cover the procedure.
“The people of Pennsylvania should have a say in issues they feel strongly about,” state Sen. Judy Ward (R., Blair) said during floor debate Friday morning.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), the GOP gubernatorial nominee, added “If we’re wrong on this here, and the vote will be no, then we’ll stick with the system that we have now — that I don’t necessarily like — but the people, we have to choose.”
Republicans insisted Friday that the proposed abortion amendment would not ban the procedure or change current state law. But legal experts, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, believe it would lay the groundwork for additional restrictions or an outright ban by removing a legal foundation to challenge such laws in state courts.
Moving forward, state lawmakers and judges will play a key role in deciding abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe. v. Wade, doing away with the constitutional guarantee to the procedure and handing the authority to set abortion laws to each individual state.
Democrats said Republicans are only willing to send their priorities to the voters, not ones embraced by the minority party. Democratic lawmakers attempted to add several amendments — including an assault weapons ban, a right to privacy, campaign finance limits, and the elimination of property taxes — late Thursday but were blocked from doing so by Republicans.
“That’s what I find so, so offensive,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), “that we’re going to stand up and say that we think people in Pennsylvania can make decisions, but only about the things that are important to us, not about the things that are important to you Democrats.”
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) said Friday that voters could end up rejecting the amendments. But since 1968, the year Pennsylvania’s current constitution went into effect, voters have rejected only six of 49 proposed amendments that reached them.
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