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GOP: Wolf is trying to sabotage ballot questions

HARRISBURG — Republican leaders of Pennsylvania’s legislature said Wednesday that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is trying to sabotage ballot questions to amend the constitution to shift authority over the length of emergency declarations from governors to lawmakers.

The measures arose from Republican lawmakers’ strident disagreement with how Wolf, a Democrat, has handled the coronavirus pandemic.

In a news conference, Republican lawmakers said Wolf’s administration purposely wrote the questions with wording designed to scare voters into rejecting them.

“The ballot language for consideration by the voters is written in a way that shows the Wolf administration wants these measures to fail,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, whose district includes Mifflin and Juniata counties. “Contrary to how the questions read, the General Assembly will not be able to act unilaterally. We will have to work in concert with the executive branch in order for policies to be passed. It also alleges checks and balances will be lost. Let me be clear — there are no checks and balances right now. We have totalitarian power ruling many aspects of our lives including the openings of employers and our schools.

“The questions are written in a way to scare voters away. But I trust the voters of Pennsylvania. We are going to take the questions to them and give them the background. We are going to work to educate our constituents on why — no matter how it is worded — this referendum needs to pass. We will provide voters with the information to make an intelligent decision. I’m confident that once the people learn the real initiative behind the amendment they will vote ‘yes’ in order to restore checks and balances back to Pennsylvania.”

“Mismanagement. Incompetence. Politics,” said state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, whose district includes a portion of Mifflin County. “These three things have permeated the Wolf administration’s handling of constitutional amendments and even the basic functions of government. This is a commonwealth of, by, and for the people. Not one person, not one governor. Unfortunately, Gov. Wolf has been, and is continuing to use, the power of his office to prohibit Pennsylvanians from having a fair shot at amending their own constitution. It is abhorrent. It is shameful. And, frankly, Pennsylvanians deserve better.”

Wolf’s office said the wording in the ballot questions “fairly, accurately and clearly apprise the voter of the issue to be voted on.”

The questions are as follows:

Question 1: 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?

Question 2: 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?

Question 3: 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?

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the proposals heading to the ballot. Wolf opposes them, but governors have no power to prevent proposals to amend the constitution from going on the ballot for voters to consider.

Courts have nearly unanimously backed Wolf’s use of emergency powers to impose social-distancing restrictions, close buildings or limit business activity during the pandemic. Wolf’s administration maintains that the proposed amendments will not affect those powers. because they rest on the state’s Disease Prevention and Control Act.

The questions are scheduled to appear on Pennsylvania’s May 18 primary ballot.

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Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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