Learn More About the May Ballot Questions

This May, Pennsylvania voters will vote on four ballot questions: three proposed constitutional amendments and a statewide referendum. The so called “judicial gerrymandering” amendment is not one of them.

The PA Democratic Party recommends the following voting positions:

Eliminating disaster declarations

Recommended vote: NO

Ballot Question: 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?

Key arguments:

  • This will severely limit the Governor — and any future governor — of the ability to keep our Commonwealth safe from disasters.
  • When disasters strike and lives are at stake, we do not have time to wait for 253 politicians in Harrisburg to have a political debate. We need the Governor to act quickly and decisively.
  • This amendment may undo all the progress made on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 or any other future crisis.
  • It may also leave PA as the only state in the country without an emergency plan in place for COVID-19.
  • Disasters are NOT political, and should NOT be subject to a political process.

Stripping Governor of emergency powers

Recommended vote: NO

Ballot Question: 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?

Key arguments:

  • This strips the Governor — and any future governor — of the ability to keep our Commonwealth safe from disasters.
  • Disasters do not have a time limit. It is impossible to predict how or how long the impacts of a disaster will affect any one community.
  • This again subjects disaster emergency declarations to the political winds. We are all Pennsylvanians and when any Pennsylvania community is hit with a disaster, all of us share their pain.
  • This amendment may undo all the progress made on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 or any other future crisis.

Racial equality amendment

Recommended vote: YES

Ballot Question: 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?

Key arguments:

  • This amendment creates a constitutional prohibition against restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity.
  • This amendment applies to all Pennsylvania state, county and local governmental entities, and guarantees equality of rights under the law.
  • If approved, the General Assembly may pass new laws to implement the amendment, but it may not pass a law inconsistent with it.

Municipal Fire & EMS Loan Referendum

Recommended vote: YES

Ballot Question: 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. §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?

Key arguments:

  • This referendum question would make municipal fire departments or EMS companies eligible to apply for loans from an already existing state loan program.
  • Currently, municipal fire departments or EMS companies are not authorized to apply for loans from this program.
  • These loans would allow fire & EMS companies to replace outmoded or unsafe equipment and buildings to meet the increased demands for service.
  • This referendum would only expand the pool of eligible loan applicants, not create more debt.

Detailed information on the first two ballot questions:

Impact of changes to Governor’s emergency powers:

Disasters have phases: communities must recover once the initial response has ended – having to seek the GA’s consent to continue a disaster will interfere with and potentially impede the recovery phase. If a disaster emergency declaration ends, so do all the authorities that come with it (either granted by the GA per above bullet or as enumerated in existing law), including:

  • emergency procurements
  • implementation of emergency funding measures
  • deployment of Commonwealth personnel and resources
  • activation of the Pennsylvania National Guard
  • waivers of laws and
  • regulations to deal with the disaster, etc.

Fiscal impact of emergency powers changes:

  • If the Commonwealth ends its disaster emergency, the federal government may close the “incident period” of a major disaster declaration, which could affect federal disaster funding.
  • Federal funding for state costs may not be recovered past the dates of the incident period.
  • The language indicates that the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency based on the same or similar facts without a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly, which could be a lengthy process. Weather disasters often have the same or similar facts.
  • The Commonwealth was awarded a federal disaster declaration to reimburse costs related to emergency protective measures.
    • Eligible applicants in the Commonwealth have submitted approximately $450 million in unbudgeted disaster related costs for reimbursement to date through the FEMA public assistance disaster declaration program.
    • The Lost Wages Unemployment Supplemental $300 weekly benefit is authorized under the FEMA individual assistance program declaration for $1.5 billion.
    • The potential total loss to the Commonwealth is approximately 1.9 billion.
  • The Commonwealth risks losing an additional $22 million in additional federal funding for hazard mitigation. Hazard mitigation is funding dedicated solely to projects that will reduce or alleviate future disaster related risks based on the Commonwealth’s all hazard plans (which includes pandemic related planning efforts to mitigate effects of a pandemic outbreak).

Author: Steve Lane

Share This Post On
Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee
P.O. Box 910
Devon, PA 19333
(484) 474-0570

info@ttdems.com

 


Subscribe to our Email List:

Pin It on Pinterest