HARRISBURG — Lawmakers, irked at the Department of State’s bungling of one proposed Constitutional amendment and angry that they feel the department crafted a skewed ballot question for another, are now moving to take over the tasks associated with publicizing proposed changes to the state Constitution.
The proposed legislation comes after a proposed Constitutional amendment to open a window for lawsuits for adult survivors of child sex abuse was derailed when the Department of State failed to satisfy the public notice requirements. Former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned over the snafu.
In addition, lawmakers have also expressed anger over the wording of two other ballot questions — also developed by the Department of State — regarding proposed amendments that would change the governor’s emergency powers.
Republican lawmakers have said the wording of the emergency powers ballot questions is skewed to discourage voters from approving the proposals. Those emergency powers ballot questions are on the ballot for the May 18 primary.
“Twice in the last four months, we've seen the administration insert itself into the constitutional amendment process, once with some creative wordsmithing of the emergency disaster questions drawn the ballot this month, and the other with the failure to advertise a statute of limitations amendment,” said state Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny County, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1010.
“In a previous life, I used to complain at my job about having meetings. And here we are today talking about a constitutional amendment that affects constitutional amendments. The irony is not lost on me here,” he said.
House Bill 1010 was approved by the state government committee by a 24-1 vote Monday. It now goes to the full House for consideration.
House Bill 1010 would have to be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, meaning if it is passed this session, it would also have to be approved during the 2023-24 session before it would go on the ballot as a proposed change to the state Constitution.
State Rep. Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia, said the legislation should be amended to include provisions specifying that if lawmakers are writing the ballot question, they should be required to make the questions clear.
“Can we just have a mention that these kinds of constitutional amendment questions need to be written in plain English?” he said.
State Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery County, said the legislation seems to be overstepping the role of the General Assembly.
“We seem to be wanting to take our oversight role, and get into the day-to-day operations of government," he said. “We're playing a lot of games where we want to be in control of the executive department, and the decision-making on a day-to-day basis. And so I do, I do harbor some concerns about that pattern."
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, the chairman of the state government committee, disagreed, saying it would make sense for the General Assembly to be responsible for crafting the langue of the question being put before voters.
“All constitutional amendments originate in the General Assembly. It only makes sense for the chambers to see the amendments — from the drafting of legislation to writing the ballot questions — through to the end,” Grove said. “All too often the wording of ballot questions is confusing and draws ire from voters.”