Pa. ballot questions explained

This Week in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Next Tuesday there will be four questions on the ballot. Two of them are politically charged and confusingly written.

Governor Wolf says, “These ballot questions number one and two are a bad idea.”

Wolf insists the emergency powers amendments would hamstring disaster response.

“These amendments make the whole process of getting help when and where it’s needed, a whole lot messier,” Wolf said.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward sponsors the bills and sees it differently.

“The Governor under this can still call a state of emergency and just because it passes doesn’t mean this state of emergency is going to end, it just means we have a seat at the table,” Ward said.

Last March, Governor Wolf declared the pandemic an emergency and kept extending it. The legislature could end it with a two-thirds vote. The GOP tried last year and failed. Ballot question one would let them end the disaster with a simple majority.

“What we’ve seen is one man making unilateral decisions instead of local leaders interacting with the governor in how he responds to these crises,” Political Director of Commonwealth Partners, Jeremy Baker said.

“I don’t think they should have a role to play in disaster management,” former Wolf spokesman, JJ Abbott said. “I think we should just leave that to the experts at the state and local level.”

Ballot question two would end disaster declarations after 21 days unless the legislature votes to re-up them. Currently, it’s 90 days and the Governor can re-authorize unilaterally.

“I actually think this is the worst one because 21 days is completely arbitrary,” Abbott said.

The person who calls the state of emergency, who consolidates power, is the only person who can end it. That is a problem,” Ward said.

“If there’s a flood in your community you’re going to rely on legislature coming back every two weeks because they need a week to pass the resolution,” Abbott said.

Wolf reminds voters the questions aren’t about him or this pandemic, but future Governors.

“Someone somewhere is gonna have to make tough decisions and act decisively and have to act quickly,” Wolf said.

The less controversial question three would bring the PA constitution in line with the US in prohibiting discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

The fourth question would let fire companies with paid staff access, a loan program currently reserved for all volunteer departments.

“We want all our local fire departments to be well funded, ” Baker said. “When my house catches fire, I want the fire department to be there. I think you feel the same way.”

A reminder that all voters, not just Republicans and Democrats, can go to the polls and vote on the ballot questions.

Independent voters told us about their experience voting on the constitutional amendments.

“I wanted to vote on the Constitutional amendments and I didn’t see a lot of publicity saying independents could vote,” Dave Craugh a registered independent said.

“These are things that will not only impact me but my family for decades to come so I feel like it’s critical I come out here and make sure my voice is heard,” Keaton Zang, another independent voter said.

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