HTDems’ Positions on the 2021 Ballot Measures

Ballot Initiative #1: Should we amend the PA Constitution to say that the governor CANNOT veto any legislative resolution that either extends or terminates an emergency declaration?

  • The constitution currently says that the governor has the right to veto orders or resolutions passed by the General Assembly. The G.A., in turn, has the right to override that veto with a two-thirds vote.
  • There is ONE exception to that rule: the General Assembly’s vote to adjourn. On that one issue, the governor has no authority.
  • Passing this amendment would create TWO exceptions to the governor’s authority to veto resolutions. It would give the General Assembly the same, no-veto power over emergency declaration extensions or terminations as it has over its autonomy to adjourn.
  • Find the wording of the ballot initiative and the wording of the actual amendment, plus context, arguments, and analysis on Ballotpedia

HTDems’ Critique:

It makes sense to bar a governor from vetoing the General Assembly’s decisions about how to manage its own schedule. It fits a larger governing principle about branches of government staying in their own operational lanes.

  • What makes extending or ending an emergency declaration  any different from other governmental actions? 
  • What governing principle puts this one matter in a special, protected, cannot-veto category?
  • Why is this governmental action not like all others, requiring a two-thirds vote to override a governor’s veto? 

This proposed amendment is not about governing principles. It is about punishing Gov. Wolf for his management of the pandemic. It uses the very serious, long-term business of amending our state constitution to score political points with today’s Republican voters.

  • In her argument FOR the amendment, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward cited only the current moment’s anger that Wolf’s COVID management has meant businesses closed and workers unemployed. She said absolutely nothing about why this is, in the long-term, in the Big Picture of governing principles, is a wise addition to the PA Constitution.


Ballot Initiative #2: Should we amend the PA Constitution to say TWO things:

  • #1 All emergency declarations expire after 21 days “regardless of the severity of the emergency” UNLESS the General Assembly votes to extend the emergency declaration. The governor “may not respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth” by simply declaring a new emergency after 21 days. Only the legislators can extend the declaration beyond 21 days. (Quotes are from the initiative that will appear on our ballots).
  • #2 The General Assembly “shall, by statute, provide for the manner in which each type of disaster enumerated under this subsection shall be managed.” (Quote is from the actual proposed amendment).
  • Find the wording of the ballot initiative and wording of the actual amendment, plus context, arguments, and analysis on Ballotpedia

HTDems’ critique:

  • Can the 253 members of the General Assembly feasibly manage an emergency “regardless of the severity.” Do you want to wait around for management plans while 253 legislators engage in partisan debate?
  • Can a governor “respond to the dangers facing the  commonwealth”  not knowing if the legislature is going to shut down the emergency response after three weeks? What planning is possible?
  • Would any one of 253 General Assembly members be held accountable for poor management of an emergency? Would a single governor be held more or less accountable than 253 politicians?
  • What if an emergency is so severe that the General Assembly cannot meet, so the governor’s declaration expires after three weeks and, according to this constitutional amendment, PA just no longer has an emergency — “regardless of the severity” in the real world.

Not every governor will make all the right moves in an emergency. But it is a very good bet that we will hinder emergency management if we require a governor to request – every three weeks – a legislative resolution extending an emergency declaration and then wait for the General Assembly to vote.

It’s an even better bet that every General Assembly, controlled by either party, will fall on its face trying to “manage” a severe emergency.

There may be an appropriate way to increase legislators’ voice in emergency management. Perhaps the General Assembly could pass a law requiring the governor to consult with a bi-partisan emergency committee. But this amendment does not do that. This amendment ties the governor’s hands in order to advertise Republicans’ belief that COVID did not require the emergency measures Wolf took. It’s about a particular issue. It’s not about good government principles.   


Ballot Measure #3: Shall the PA Constitution provide that equality under the law cannot be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

A “YES” vote for ballot measure #3 is core to the Democratic Party’s entire mission. A “YES” vote in 2021 is absolutely vital to show where the majority of Pennsylvanians stand on racial equity and justice.

Ballot measure #4: Shall state law allow municipal fire departments or emergency medical services with paid personnel to take on indebtedness for expansion, improvement, modernization?

Currently, volunteer fire departments and EMS companies can get loans for expanding and improving services.  This measure simply extends that to paid departments and companies. The measure had 40 sponsors in the PA legislature: 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans. It received unanimous support in both the General Assembly and the State Senate for placement on the ballot. There seems to be no reason to oppose this measure.