You may or may not know about the questions on the May 18 Primary Election ballot. Several of these questions aim to amend our State Constitution. Every Pennsylvania voter is eligible to vote on them and they should consider that seriously. To me, it’s a simple matter of caring about the policy that will shape my life. So many times, I think folks forget why local and state government is important. Perhaps they don’t think they’re affected by legislation at this level, but I believe the key is that they haven’t been impacted YET. Another consideration, just because you’re not touched by a law, policy, or process, does that mean it lacks importance? Well, it’s probably important to someone in our community and our empathy during the decision-making process is what it means to be a good neighbor.
To the questions at hand, there are three amendment questions and one referendum. I’ll try to put in in the simplest terms with logical benefits and negatives.
1- TERMINATION OR EXTENSION OF DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS
“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?”
- Reduces the Governor’s power and gives the state legislature control. Doing so could make natural disasters/emergencies a partisan issue, draw out the declaration process, and give the legislature the chance to end the declaration with a simple majority. Allowing the control to reside with our Governor ensures a speedy address to the crisis.
2- DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATION AND MANAGEMENT
“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?”
- Disasters can exceed a 21-day period; They do not have time limits, nor should the declaration. It should not automatically expire. Doing so will disrupt emergency procurements and funding measures.
- The Governor would also be prohibited from declaring a new emergency and it would be left to the General Assembly to take action, which could be lengthy and politicized.
3- PROHIBITION AGAINST DENIAL OR ABRIDGEMENT OF EQUALITY OF RIGHTS BECAUSE OF RACE OR ETHNICITY
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?
- While there are equal rights laws at the federal level, this would protect Pennsylvanians in the event a federal law change is made.
- Equal rights would apply to all levels of the commonwealth: local, county, and state governments.
*Statewide Referendum-Act 2020-91: MAKING MUNICIPAL FIRE AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES COMPANIES ELIGIBLE FOR LOANS
Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. Section 7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?
- Expands loans to fire companies, ambulance services, volunteer rescue so that housing, modern facilities, vehicles, protective equipment, other essential equipment can be purchased. This should be a given so that our first responders have the ability to purchase all items to keep their organization functional and safe.