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This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA.
By Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA
HARRISBURG — Constitutional amendments have shaped the past two years of Pennsylvania politics, serving as a key tool in a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches.
Pennsylvania’s governor is unable to veto such proposals, a fact Republican legislative majorities have used in recent years to curtail executive power.
But this session, Democrats have a slim majority in the state House. That means the parties must agree for any proposed amendments to reach voters — a high bar for caucuses with vastly different goals.
Proposed amendments must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions before going to voters statewide for consideration. If a majority of voters approve an amendment — and it survives any legal challenges — it becomes part of the constitution.
Since the latest two-year session began in January 2023, Pennsylvania legislators have proposed almost 40 changes to the state constitution. Most of these amendments are still at the beginning of the legislative process and haven’t yet been put up for a vote.
But six of those proposals already passed in the previous legislative session. These amendments would:
- Create a two-year window for childhood survivors of sexual abuse to sue their abusers or those who shielded the abusers in civil court for monetary damages.
- Affirm that the state constitution does not grant a right to an abortion.
- Require voters to show identification every time they vote in person or by mail.
- Mandate that the state auditor general conduct annual election audits.
- Remove the governor’s ability to veto legislative overrides of regulations, which would effectively allow a simple majority of legislators to reject any regulation.
- Allow each gubernatorial candidate to pick their running mate “subject to the approval of the political party” instead of the state holding a separate lieutenant governor primary.
Of the six amendments that could reach voters this session, the civil window amendment has the most bipartisan support, and its advocates have waited years for it to advance.
But that proposal is now at the center of a fierce dispute between Democrats, who want to send it to voters on its own, and Republicans, who insist on bundling it with a number of unrelated amendments that would advance their policy positions.
Democrats in charge of the state House, who decide what comes up for a vote and what doesn’t in the chamber, have thrown cold water on the GOP’s plan to tie the civil window to proposals like expanded voter ID requirements. Republicans, however, control the state Senate.
In this environment, it’s unclear which amendments could make it to voters by November 2024 — the last election before the current two-year legislative session ends. But when amendments reach voters, they are usually approved.
Since 1968, the year Pennsylvania’s current constitution went into effect, voters have rejected only six of the 53 proposed amendments that have reached them. Only 14 of those ballot questions appeared during presidential or gubernatorial election years, races that typically see higher turnouts.
Following complaints raised during a string of public meetings, this session state House Democrats passed new rules mandating that constitutional amendments receive one public hearing before final passage and that they only be placed on the ballot for November elections.
As we did last session, Spotlight PA will track and publish the status of all constitutional amendments introduced this year. We’ll update the below database when new proposals are introduced and as existing ones move through the process.Click here if you have trouble loading this visualization
WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.