Over the past few months I have focused on several bills that were approved by the Legislature and signed into law. This month, I will continue my review of the 2019-20 Legislative Session by looking at government and election reform measures that were approved by the Senate over the past two years.
Government reform continues to be one of our top legislative priorities. Dozens of bills addressing state, county and municipal government policies and operations have been introduced this session and considered by the Senate.
In fact, the very first law enacted this legislative session was Senate Bill 113, which was signed into law as Act 1 of 2019 by the Governor on March 28, 2019. This measure strengthened the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act by requiring the forfeiture of pension benefits by public employees who are convicted or plead guilty or no contest to any job-related felony offense.
Act 1 closed a loophole that allowed a convicted former state Senator to have his $245,000 a year pension restored despite a guilty plea and his serving prison time on federal conspiracy charges — which at the time was regarded as a non-pension forfeiture crime. Unfortunately, up until the passage of Senate Bill 113, this was just one of many examples of unscrupulous public officials betraying the citizens and forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab.
Another important measure enacted in 2019 brought about the most comprehensive changes to Pennsylvania’s election laws in more than eight decades.
Senate Bill 421 (Act 77 of 2019) provided $90 million in funding to replace county voting machines, boosted election security, and ensured that local taxpayers do not have to pick up the tab for the required upgrades. Among its provisions, Act 77:
- Extended the deadline for absentee ballots, from the Friday before Election Day until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
- Moved the voter registration deadline from 30 days before an election to 15 days.
- Allowed voters to request and submit an absentee ballot by mail without providing a reason.
- Created a permanent mail-in voter list.
- Eliminated antiquated straight-party voting, joining 40 states that eliminated that voting option.
We followed up on those reform efforts with passage of House Bill 2502, (Act 35 of 2020). The measure, which was intended to ensure election integrity under the election initiatives set by Act 77, directed the Department of State to issue a detailed report on this year’s Primary Election.
The report, released on August 1 and available at: https://www.dos.pa.gov/VotingElections/Documents/2020-08-01-Act35Report.pdf, included data from each county, such as the number of applications for absentee ballots that were approved and received; the number of applications for mail-in ballots that were approved and received; the number of mail-in and absentee ballots that were voted by electors; and, the number of qualified electors voting by a provisional ballot.
In addition to Acts 35 and 77, the Senate has approved and sent to the House of Representatives three additional election reform bills so far this session.
Senate Bill 133 amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their own running mate.
Senate Bill 300 allows voters who are registered as Independents to vote in primary elections.
Senate Bill 779 moves Pennsylvania’s Presidential primary election day from April or May to the third Tuesday of March.
In closing, I encourage local residents to visit my website, www.senatorlaughlin.com, and my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/senatorlaughlin/, to keep up to date with state government news and learn more about state services and agencies.
Contact: Matt Azeles firstname.lastname@example.org