AUTHOR: Mary Dupuis and Dianne Gregg, AAUW State College Public Policy Co-Chairs
PHONE: Submitter – Connie Schroeder (814) 360-4810
AGENCY: AAUW State College
What are you to make of the proposed Constitutional Amendments you’ve been reading about in the newspaper? While they aren’t on this year’s ballot, they could well be facing us in the spring. AAUW stresses voter education. We believe this is a case where it’s wise to plan ahead.
What is the amendment process? A proposed amendment must be voted on and passed in identical language by both Houses of the PA Legislature, in two consecutive sessions. A session lasts two years. The current Legislature passed these proposals the first time. That means the people elected this fall will make the decision to put these amendments on your ballot—or not.
What are these amendments? They fall into three categories. First, a package passed together sets up an abortion ban, allows a governor’s veto to be overridden with a simple majority of legislative votes instead of the current two-thirds majority, specifies the voting age at 21 rather than the current 18, raises the residency requirement for voting from 30 to 90 days, tightens voter ID, makes election audits mandatory, and turns the Lt Governor’s office into an appointed position. Second, correcting an administrative error, an amendment eases the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving childhood sexual abuse. Third, an amendment creating judicial districts for the state appeals courts was passed by the previous Legislature and could still be passed by this one if voted on this year.
Why are we seeing so many more proposed amendments than we were? Amendments used to be a serious process where voter approval was needed for a technical fix, as with the sexual abuse cases, above. Voters expected these changes had been carefully examined and deserved our support. As with much else that’s become polarized these days, the process has been hijacked for political purposes. Here, the proposals in the first block are matters the Legislature has been fighting about with the Governor. Those changes were bills that passed the Legislature along party lines, then were vetoed by the Governor, but the Legislature did not have enough votes to override the veto, so they did not become law.
What is the bottom line? These amendments show up on the primary ballot quite deliberately—that’s the lowest turnout election, favoring the more partisan voters. Both Houses of our Legislature are controlled by one party, which has a minority of the registered voters. These amendments intend to solidify that party’s control. If you want a return to balanced consideration of attempts to amend our Constitution, look at your PA candidates to see who supports these amendments and vote accordingly. If each party controlled one House, we might get back to respectful deliberation.