Voters to Consider Constitutional Amendments on May 18

A Column by Senator Dan Laughlin

In January, the Senate approved Senate Bill 2, legislation that placed three proposed constitutional amendments on the May 18 Primary Election ballot.

Under ballot question #1, a disaster emergency declaration could be terminated or extended by Legislative approval of a concurrent resolution, which does not need to be presented to the Governor for his signature.

This question is a direct result of the Administration’s one-size fits all approach to curtailing the pandemic. The Governor’s closure orders just did not match diverse nature of Pennsylvania. County governments – the ones who know their citizens the best – were stripped of the power to determine the best course of action in dealing with the crisis. We tried to bring some equity to the issue, but every legislative attempt to rein in the Administration’s unrestricted powers was met with a veto.

A YES vote on the first ballot question means a majority of state lawmakers, elected by the people, can vote to end emergency declarations and restrictions on citizens. A NO vote means a Governor retains the unrestricted power to continue emergency restrictions indefinitely — even if a legislative majority votes to end them.

Ballot question #2 would limit disaster declarations to no more than 21 days unless approved by the General Assembly. Currently, a Governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the Governor indefinitely.

A YES vote on this question means emergency declarations would be limited to 21 days unless the General Assembly, elected by the people, approves a longer duration. A NO vote means a Governor can unilaterally extend declarations, including “emergency” provisions, business closures, and restrictions indefinitely.

Nothing in these Constitutional amendments would prevent the Governor and state agencies from responding to any emergency. Any Governor could declare a state of emergency to respond in the days following any sort of catastrophe; however, the amendment would ensure these powers would not be open-ended.

To be clear, we are not taking away the Governor’s power to declare an emergency. However, it is important that the General Assembly – as the people’s direct representatives to state government — have a say in the process. These amendments, if approved by the voters, would restore balance to Pennsylvania government.

It is also worth noting that Senate Bill 2 also provided for an amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.

We these put these constitutional questions on the ballot to give you a voice in the matter. It is important to note that all voters — including those registered as Independents or other political parties — can cast a ballot on these items.


Contact:         Matt Azeles       

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