The Journey Begins

Welcome to the blog of the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area (LWVLA).  We hope you enjoy the discussions and articles from our contributing members.  Please note that blog posts are independent editorials and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the LWVLA (see Disclaimer in ABOUT).  Thanks for taking this journey into civic education with us!

To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.Carrie Chapman Catt, Founder of the League of Women Voters


85 thoughts on “The Journey Begins

  1. pabluejacket March 15, 2019 / 3:09 pm

    This post is being made as a test as the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg (PA) Area endeavors to make a transition in the formatting of its blog postings about PA’s State legislative activities. 82 prior posting have been made by Blue Jacket as comments (replies) to the blog’s initial post (“The Journey Begins,” Feb 3, 2018). To make the transition, it appears that WordPress has requested a new Username. Accordingly, this post is being made by “PA Blue Jacket” on March 15, 2019. We hope you’ll bear with us as we attempt to make the posts easier for our local League members to access and read, and easier for our bloggers to format and edit.

    Ideally, we will eventually learn how to make this and further posts on the topic as individual, new posts by PA Blue Jacket, as an author, and no longer as replies/comments by Blue Jacket to the League’s initial post. PA Blue Jacket’s posts will focus on summaries of PA legislative activity pertaining to the State’s election laws. Thank you for your interest…and your patience.

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity for March 13, 2019, included reports of the following proposals for new legislation.

    1. Senator Vogel (R-Beaver County) reintroduced a bill from the 2017-18 legislative session. Senate Bill 422 would establish a Pennsylvania Election Law Advisory Board. The board would be charged with the following duties:
    • Study the election code to identify statutory language that can be repealed, modified or updated.
    • Collaborate with agencies and political subdivisions to study election related issues.
    • Study new election technology.
    • Evaluate the electoral process and identify best practices to ensure voting integrity and efficiency.
    • Publish an annual report with the findings on the PA Department of State’s website.
    Members of the board will include legislative appointees, one member of each congressional district, an advocate for individuals with disabilities, an advocate for voter’s rights, and a county election official, an advocate for voter’s rights, and a county election official. The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on State Government for consideration.

    2. Representative Dermody (D-Allegheny County) has introduced House Bill 795, a Campaign Finance Reform measure. His Memorandum introducing the bill proposes additional disclosures by contributors to political campaigns. He proposes that the law “require companies looking to write checks to ask the shareholders just who should get any donation over $10,000. Shareholders are the ‘owners’ so they shouldn’t have to sit back while the CEO takes their money and gives it without oversight. Finally, we’re going to put hard caps on how much any donation can be. Here’s what the new limits would be:
    • $1,500 per election to House and Senate candidates
    • $5,000 per election to statewide candidates
    • $10,000 per election to House and Senate candidates from PACs
    • $10,000 per election to PAC’s from political parties
    • $250,000 aggregate limit per election for House and Senate candidates
    • $1,000,000 aggregate limit per election for statewide candidates
    • $5,000,000 aggregate limit per election for governor”
    The bill has been referred to the House Committee on State Government for consideration.

  2. Blue Jacket March 12, 2019 / 6:25 am

    Today’s Update of legislative activity from the Pennsylvania General Assembly includes mention of only one bill related to elections and political campaigns. It indicates that Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne, Pike Counties) has reintroduced a bill that had been co-sponsored by 8 State Senators in the previous session of the Legislature. According to her introductory Memorandum, the bill proposes to::

    “afford greater transparency in campaign financing by requiring any persons or groups who make an independent expenditure for political advertising to disclose their ‘Top Five Contributors.’ The issue of independent expenditures has grown in importance in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, rendered in 2010. This legislation will make it easier for citizens to ascertain who is donating the most money to so-called super-PACs by displaying the contributors who donated the most in television, radio, internet and newspaper advertising.”

    An immediate reaction? This law would help residents and voters to do what? Determine that the spenders relied upon funds from contributors who were what?….the most generous? the most biased? the most wealthy? the most interested? And, therefore, the spender’s advertising should be what?…disbelieved? given greater credence? Unfortunately, we are left wondering whether this bill is any more useful than items that populate the Internet with headlines like “The 10 most beautiful vacation resorts” or “The 10 worst diet foods.” Perhaps, the good Senator could provide further explanation of the intent of the bill.

  3. Blue Jacket March 9, 2019 / 5:49 am

    This morning’s Update of activity from the State Legislature reports that, yesterday, Representative Matzie (D-Beaver and Alleghany Counties) has introduced a new bill proposing that, instead of requiring the acquisition of new electronic voting machines, the State adopt a voting system that relies upon submission of paper ballots.

    The Representative’s Memorandum (in February 2019) announcing his intention to introduce the bill indicates:
    “Just last month [sic. September 2018 ?], an independent, bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania Election Security released their findings, concluding that a primary reason Pennsylvania’s elections are particularly at risk is because the bulk of our voting machines are easily susceptible to hacking and manipulation with no way to verify the results for accuracy.
    “Those machines use mostly a mix of paper and electronic technologies, the vast majority of which are antiquated with no way to double check vote totals.
    “So how do we make our elections safer and ensure as much accuracy as possible? My answer – go “back to the future” and return to all paper ballots. I am introducing legislation to do just that.
    “Other states do it already. 21 others to be exact.
    “Governor Wolf has informed Pennsylvania’s counties that he wants them to replace their electronic voting systems with machines that leave a verifiable paper trail by the end of 2019. I applaud the Governors’ intent, but this won’t solve the problem. The simple reality is that electronic voting systems can easily be hacked, no matter what security measures are put into place.
    “So take the electronics out of the equation and use only paper ballots. I am also proposing that any costs for the changeover come from the PA Department of State and not fall on our counties.
    “As the elected representatives in state government, it is our duty to try to make certain that those registered to vote have the ability to do so, and that our constituent’s votes be counted for the candidate for which they are cast. By requiring paper ballots, we have an opportunity to bring confidence back to our election process.
    “To be clear, paper ballots will not eliminate any and all potential issues. ANY system will have some flaws and mistakes will be made. But a paper ballot can’t be hacked. That is a big step forward.
    “And sometimes, the best way to move forward is to take a step back.”

    The bill appears to have been appropriately numbered: House Bill “765.” It has been referred to the House Committee on State Government to see if it will move forward. We wonder if it will not come up for discussion at the public hearing scheduled for March 26 to consider the Governor’s mandate that voting equipment be updated to include Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail capabilities.

  4. Blue Jacket March 7, 2019 / 11:48 am

    As reported in the State Legislature’s daily Update of legislative activity, yesterday, Representative DeLuca (D-Allegheny County) introduced eight bills in the State’s House of Representatives. All have been referred to the House’s Committee on State Government for consideration.

    1. House Bill 743 proposes that the law allow for absentee ballots to be counted if they are received by the elections offices no later than one week after election day.

    2. House Bill 744 would require that elected officials and public employees who are required to file statements of financial interest identify in their statements not only the sources of income received but also the amounts received from each source.

    3. House Bill 745 is a re-introduction of a proposal that Pennsylvania’s election laws be amended to allow procedures for “same-day” voter registration. 18 states and the District of Columbia have instituted such provisions, resulting in a voter participation rate that has been 10% higher than in other states and not a single documented incident of voter fraud.

    4. House Bill 746 is also a re-introduction of a bill proposed in the previous legislative session. It would clarify that public employees are prohibited from using sick time to conduct political campaign activities. Prohibited activities would include, but not be limited to, canvassing, circulating nomination petitions or nomination papers, making telephone calls in an organized effort to influence the outcome of an election, and organizing or promoting events.

    5. Noting that thirty-seven other states and the District of Columbia currently permit early voting, House Bill 747 reintroduces a proposal which was made in the previous legislative session that Pennsylvania follow the trend and adopt procedures for early voting. The new voting system would: “ permit early votes to be cast starting fifteen days before the election and ending the day before the election. Early voting would be permitted at early voting sites to be established by county boards of election. All county early voting sites would be required to have uniform hours and days of operation, and must be open at least eight hours on each weekday and a total of eight hours on weekends. County boards of election will be required to keep track of early voters to ensure they do not vote again at another early voting site or on Election Day.”

    6. DeLuca points out that: “at our polling locations on Election Day, we are sometimes confronted by aggressive campaigners passing out literature and trying to influence our vote. This is intrusive and steals away from one of our most sacred and fought-for rights. Moreover, for some, if they are made to feel uncomfortable like this, they may never come back.” In House Bill 748, he proposes that the law increase the “buffer zone” at a polling place. Political activists, campaign staff and candidates would be required to keep at least 35 feet away from polling locations, up from the current requirement of 10 feet.

    7. House Bill 749 is a re-introduction of a proposal from a previous legislative session. It would require that any federal, state, county or municipal official resign from office prior to running for an elected office that begins before the end of their current term. The bill would also prevent individuals from running for more than one office in the same election year.

    8. House Bill 750 is also a re-introduction of a significant proposal from the previous legislative session. It would: “amend The Public Official Compensation Law to limit the salary members of the General Assembly may receive for services rendered outside of their duties as a legislator. No member of the General Assembly would be allowed to receive more than 35% of their salary and allowances received as a member of the General Assembly for services rendered from outside employment.” DeLuca says, “After meeting with members of the Government Reform Caucus, the language was drafted to clearly specify the type of income being limited to salary for services rendered outside the base salary and allowances of a member of the General Assembly.”

  5. Blue Jacket March 6, 2019 / 11:37 pm

    Also in the news from the State Legislature today is a notice that a public hearing at the State Capitol is scheduled for March 26 to receive input concerning Senate Bill 48. Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia County), sponsor of the bill, has suggested that the bill would “delay the impending mass decertification of current voting machines until an appropriate plan between the Governor and the General Assembly and the method by which it will be paid for can be agreed to. Further, it will require ample notification and approval from the General Assembly before any future Governor can require the mass decertification and replacement of election equipment statewide.”

    The proposal by a Republican Senator might be seen as somewhat surprising inasmuch as concern about a need to address security of the nation’s elections and equipment appears to have arisen after that party’s suggestion during the recent election campaigns and voting seasons that there was evidence of unlawful fraud and voting irregularity in some states.

    Pennsylvania’s initiative to upgrade the State’s voting machines follows two reports about the status of the State’s voting technology.

    First, a report by Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission was issued in December 2017. That Commission (on which Senator Gordner himself appears to be a member) has long existed as the State’s “primary and central nonpartisan, bicameral research and policy development agency for the General Assembly of Pennsylvania.” It was tasked specifically to review the State’s voting system technology, and it established an Advisory Committee to look into the matter. The Advisory Committee pointed out that much of the State’s voting is accomplished by DRE equipment —Direct Recording Electronic equipment, but without VVPAT — Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail capability.

    Among the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, a legislative proposal was included that the State’s laws be amended to require equipment which “Produces an individual permanent paper record for each vote cast, which shall be made available for inspection and verification by the voter before the vote is cast, and retained according to the provisions contained in this act for the retention of paper ballots. … This paragraph applies to voting systems that are leased or purchased after the effective date of this paragraph.”

    It is important to note that the Committee also noted t: “As described in this report, elections are expensive to conduct. Particularly, voting machines are expensive to purchase or lease and to operate and maintain. Counties bear this burden, and many Advisory Committee members expressed concern that their jurisdictions would not be able to afford voting technology that satisfies the recommended amendments in this report. Many Advisory Committee members also expressed concerns that their jurisdictions would not be able to maintain their current electronic voting systems for much longer due to the age of the machines, the scarcity of parts, and the costs of repairs and maintenance. Therefore, the Advisory Committee recommends that the General Assembly provide funding to assist counties in the purchase or lease of new equipment that complies with the requirements for a voter-verifiable paper record and adequate security measures.”

    The second report about Pennsylvania’s voting equipment was offered by a Blue Ribbon Commission convened in 2018 by the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. The report indicated that Pennsylvania lags other states in updating its voting equipment to conform to best practices that prevent cyber attacks. It indicates that, without Voter Verifiable Paper Audit capability, the State’s voting records are vulnerable to manipulation. It cited studies at Princeton University which showed an ability of hackers to gain access to the memories and software of voting machines (like those used in Montgomery and Northampton counties) and to alter them so as to result in modification of vote totals. As recently as 2017, the report says, hackers at a study conference were able within three days to gain access to memories of equipment, including voting machines in use in some places in Pennsylvania “albeit under circumstances markedly different from those in polling places.”

    Gordner, however, points out in his Memorandum introducing Senate Bill 48 that: “machines in several of my counties, including Columbia and Montour, are not tied to the internet. Therefore, they are not vulnerable to being hacked by foreign enemies. I’m sure that these machines aren’t the only ones in the state that operate in this fashion. Second, per Department estimates, the cost for replacing all voting machines statewide is at least $110 million, with some figures reaching $150 million and beyond. To date, the Department has been only been able to procure a very small percentage of that amount from the federal government to help cover the costs. Under existing law, the remainder of those costs would be borne by county government, leading to a great deal of angst among County Commissioners in my district.”

    It will be interesting to see who provides testimony at the public hearing and what the status of funding is at the State and federal government levels.

  6. Blue Jacket March 6, 2019 / 11:35 pm

    The daily Update of legislative news from Pennsylvania’s General Assembly includes a report of 5 bills pertaining to the State’s election laws.

    1. House Bill 667 by Representative Kaufer (R-Luzerne County) would amend the State’s election laws to provide that an absentee ballot a ballot postmarked by Monday, the day before an election will be counted if it is received by the county board of elections before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the week after election day.

    2. House Bill 668 by Representative Daley (D-Montgomery County) would amend the election laws to make explicitly clear that a Pennsylvania will maintain the online ability for people to accomplish voter registration online.

    3. House Bill 670, also by Representative Daley, would have Pennsylvania recognize primary and election days as legal holidays, and, like a bill pending in the State Senate, would allow employees 2 consecutive hours of leave from work in order to accomplish their voting.

    4. House Bill 676, by Representative Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), would also allow employees 2 hours of leave from work for the purpose of voting on election day.

    5. House Bill 704, by Representative Markosek (D-Alleghany) would adopt procedures recognized in 13 other states to enable residents who are at least 16 years old to pre-register to vote, and to allow online voter pre-registration for those who have driver licenses.

  7. Blue Jacket March 5, 2019 / 1:15 pm

    The State Legislature’s Update of legislative activity indicates that yesterday was a busy day for Senator Lis Boscola (D-Lehigh County). Among the bills introduced, Boscola set forth six that are related to the State’s election laws. All have begun their journey by being referred to the Senate’s Committee on State Government for consideration.

    Senate Bill 355 is a reintroduction of a proposal that Senator Boscola made in a prior session of the Legislature. It would allow a procedure for EDR – Election Day Registration of voters. Fifteen other states have such procedures in place. Research shows that it can increase voter participation by 4% and reduce the problems that sometimes arise when a voter has changed residence or otherwise needs to update registration records.

    Senate Bill 357 proposes that Pennsylvania require that political parties open their primaries to participation by the State’s 1,227,000 independent voters who are not affiliated with a political party, and to do so without an obligation for the voter to enroll in the party unless they choose to do so.

    Boscola’s Senate Bill 366 would have the State make available absentee ballots without a requirement that the applicant for such a ballot state a reason (such as illness, disability, absence for the voting district) for wanting to vote without having to appear physically on election day. 27 other states already have such “No Excuse” procedures in place.

    In Senate Bill 375, Senator Boscola again proposes that the State compose a list of voters’ rights and make that list visible at polling places. The Statement of Voters’ Rights would include:
    “1. A voter who is in line at the correct polling place during hours it is required by law to be open may vote, even if his/her turn to vote does not come until after those hours expire.
    “2. If a voter has moved from his polling district to another, he/she may return to their original polling district to vote for as long as he/she remains qualified there. To be eligible to vote in the new polling district, he/she must either file a notice of removal with the voting registrar or register anew.
    “3. A voter who has a physical disability or who cannot read or white, may apply to the voting registrar for a special needs ballot, but this must be done at least ten days before the election.
    “4. A voter may bring his or her children who are not yet 18 years of age into the voting booth.
    “5. A voter has the right to vote without being intimidated or forced to vote for someone he or she does not wish to vote for.
    “6. A voter who believes that any of his/her voting rights have been impinged may call their local police. ”

    In a proposed cost-saving effort, Boscola has reintroduced Senate Bill 378, a measure which would require that special elections to fill vacant seats in the State Legislature be held on the election day next following. The measure is consistent with one that is supported by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, which suggests that such a procedure at State and federal levels would reduce the burden on counties to make financial and logistical arrangements for the special elections (which typically have low rates of voter participation) and the need to account for remote military and overseas ballots.

    Senator Boscola has reintroduced in Senate Bill 379 a proposal that the election laws require that employers allow workers 2 consecutive hours of time to vote on election day. 29 states make provision for such a privilege so that workers are not faced with fear of retaliation or loss of voting privileges as they contend with the possibility of long lines of voters at the polls.

    All of this, among her other bills related to tax reform, domestic relations, the State’s public education laws, protection of game and wildlife, crimes, and other issues of significance to citizens, marks this legislator as one of the State’s most diligent and focused representatives. Perhaps, it is fitting to say with much respect, “Still she persists.”

  8. Blue Jacket March 1, 2019 / 10:21 am

    Three noteworthy legislative bills are among the 53 proposed new laws that are reported in today’s Update of activity from the State General Assembly.

    Representative Mark Keller (R-Perry County) has re-introduced a proposal that had been made in the previous legislative session, According to his Memorandum introducing the bill, House Bill 633 would ” require that all candidates for office and political action committees (PACs) in Pennsylvania utilize the Department of State’s online filing system to electronically file campaign finance reports (Former HB859 from last session).”

    He explains that “Paper filing of campaign finance reports is outdated, costly, and inefficient. Requiring all filings to be electronically filed would greatly improve government transparency and accountability while at the same time reducing expenses for the state….Most importantly, this system will greatly hasten the process of disclosure to keep up with political and legislative developments in the state. There have been times during which there has been a lag in the posting of information from paper reports. Because of this, Commonwealth citizens and public watchdog groups are unable to efficiently gain access to these public documents. Instead, if a member of the public wants to see a recent campaign finance report, they must travel to Harrisburg, or they would have to pay for copies of the report to be sent by mail or e-mail.”

    House Bill 626, introduced by Representative Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery County) proposes to allow 16 year old individuals the option of pre-registering to vote at that age so that they will be automatically officially registered at age 18.

    Representative Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton County) has re-introduced in House Bill 528 a proposal that buildings other than schools be first selected as sites for polling places, so as to avoid jeopardizing the safety and security of the State’s.

  9. Blue Jacket February 28, 2019 / 10:52 am

    Today’s legislative Update from the State General Assembly includes a report of the re-introduction of a bill to deal with the issue of eligibility for absentee ballots. Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne, Pike, and Wayne Counties) has again proposed, now in Senate Bill 345, that the Election Code be amended. She explains in her introductory Memorandum that the bill would “eliminate the requirement for disabled voters with permanent absentee voter status to submit a written statement every four years asserting that they remain disabled in order to continue to qualify for the program.”

    A like proposal had been unanimously passed by the Senate in the previous Legislative session, But, notwithstanding similar proposals in the House of Representatives, that session ended before the measure could be acted upon. In the current session, it is introduced as a new bill, of course; so, it must now re-trace the steps already taken in the previous session. Accordingly, It has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on State Government for consideration, and, if approved, it will return to the Senate for consideration on the floor of the chamber.

    It is unfortunate that Pennsylvania’s procedures can seem so cumbersome, particularly when a proposal has been previously made and approved in one chamber or the other. Who knows? — Perhaps, there are new factors to be considered, or perhaps newly elected Senators might express views that the bill should not pass. Still, one would think that at, an annual cost of $87,000 each, the legislators might divine some way for a previously approved, seemingly noncontroversial bill to course a shorter route on its way to approval. One can hope that the Senate’s Committee on State Government will at least take into consideration any views or factors that might have been encountered when similar proposals were submitted to the House of Representative in the previous legislative session.

  10. Blue Jacket February 26, 2019 / 11:56 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of yesterday’s activity reports that Representative Jesse Topper (R-Bedford County) has introduced House Bill 566, which has been referred to the House Committee on State Government for its consideration.

    The legislator indicates in his Memorandum introducing the bill that his proposal “would clarify our Election Code’s consideration of voters who vote through a valid absentee ballot, but subsequently pass away prior to election day. Currently, these ballots are meant to be rejected by the canvassers, but only if they are provided “due proof” that the voter has died. In reality, many of these ballots are likely counted, which the Code stipulates does not invalidate any election. Our voters deserve to be secure in the knowledge that their vote will be counted, regardless of events which may befall them after submitting their absentee ballot. More importantly, the standard for counting votes must be consistent, and this bill will resolve the discrepancy between the counting of many of these votes, the rejection of those whose deaths have been proven, and the exemption from any vote invalidating an election.”

    Here is the text of a provision that currently exists in the State’s statutes:
    “Whenever it shall appear by due proof that any absentee elector who has returned his ballot in accordance with the provisions of this act has died prior to the opening of the polls on the day of the primary or election, the ballot of such deceased elector shall be rejected by the canvassers, but the counting of the ballot of an elector thus deceased shall not of itself invalidate any nomination or election.”

    Here is the proposed change: “Whenever it shall appear by due proof that any absentee elector who has returned his ballot in accordance with the provisions of this act has died prior to the opening of the polls on the day of the primary or election, the ballot of such deceased elector shall be counted by the canvassers.”

    Topper has been a legislator for 4 years, and is a graduate of Frostburg State University with a degree in Music Performance. He seems to have identified an issue that others might not have seen. It is too soon to say whether his proposal will make progress among his colleagues.

  11. Blue Jacket February 21, 2019 / 10:37 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update report of activity includes mention of the reintroduction of a bill that had been offered in a previous legislative session by Representative Rob Kaufman (R-Franklin County). In his Memorandum introducing the bill to his fellow legislators, Kaufman summarizes his proposal to amend the State’s Election Code as follows:

    “Under the Election Code of 1937, the order in which names are placed on the primary ballot is decided by casting lots. When the casting of lots occurs before the county board or the Department of state, a candidate can choose to appear in person or send an authorized agent on his or her behalf. In the event a candidate or an authorized agent is not present for the casting of lots, the Department or the county board is required to assign a person to represent the candidate. Currently, a candidate who does not appear in person for the casting of lots is still able to receive a higher ballot position than a candidate who appears in person, which is unfair. Running for elected office is a serious commitment, and I believe candidates who appear in person should be eligible for the higher positions on the ballot.

    “Under my legislation, a county board or the Department of State would first cast lots for the highest positions on the ballot for the candidates who appear in person. If one candidate does not appear in person, he or she would have the lowest ballot position. If more than one candidate does not appear in person, the county board or the Department would cast lots for the remaining lower positions. For example, if three candidates appear in person and two do not, the three who appeared in person would first cast lots for the top three positions and the two who did not appear in person would cast lots for the lowest two positions on the ballot.”

    The legislator holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from The American University, has been a legislator for 13 years, and now serves as Chair of the State House’s Judiciary Committee and as a member of the House’s Rules Committee. The bill, House Bill 553, has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

  12. Blue Jacket February 20, 2019 / 11:14 am

    The Update of legislative activity this morning includes a report of two new bills introduced yesterday in the State’s General Assembly. Both have been referred to the Committees on State Government for consideration.

    As reported in an introductory Memorandum, House Bill 524, by Representative Miller (D-Allegheny County), proposes to “require the adoption of an online, vote-by-mail system that provides a software interface which is designed to assist people with visual, hearing, and dexterity impairments to vote privately and independently by 2020. Additionally, it requires that all of our voting centers have at least one device on site that allows for people with disabilities to cast their ballot independently alongside their friends and neighbors, rather than being isolated during one of our nation’s most intrinsic citizen experiences, in time for the primary election of 2022.”

    In the State Senate, Senate Bill 300, by Senator Scarnatti (R-Cameron county), reintroduces a bill from the previous legislative session which proposes: “to allow voters who are registered as independents, to vote in primary elections.” The Senator indicates that such “legislation will give over 740,000 registered unaffiliated voters the right to participate in the primary election process. Specifically, on the day of the primary election, it will allow these voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democrat ballot. Voters who are registered with either the Republican or Democratic Party will continue to be required to vote on their respective ballots.”
    The bill expressly states that, after voting in one party’s primary, the voter would not be prohibited from voting in a different party’s primary in subsequent primary elections. Scarnatti points out that 16 states have adopted an open primary system, and that he believes that Pennsylvania’s (18%) low turnout by voters is in part attributable to voters’ feeling of disenfranchisement, which might be alleviated by allowing participation in party primaries.

  13. Blue Jacket February 15, 2019 / 6:40 pm

    In todays Update of the State Legislature’s activity that occurred on February 14, we note three bills that have been introduced in the State Senate, which have been referred to the Senate’s Committee on State Government for consideration.

    Senate Bill 289, introduced by Senator Anthony Williams (D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties), proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to reduce the age of eligibility for voters to sixteen, as has been proposed in several states. In his Memorandum to fellow legislatures, Williams says: “Today’s teenagers are better informed, more engaged, and more connected to America’s political system than ever before. Given that sixteen-year-olds are routinely granted the right to operate a motor vehicle, and that many are taxpayers of this commonwealth, it is only right that they be trusted to choose the leaders who represent them locally as well as in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit states lowering the voting age below eighteen, only requires that states enfranchise those above that age.”

    Senate Bill 294, introduced by Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Alleghany county), is a reintroduction of a measure for early voting proposed in the previous legislative session. In his Memorandum of introduction, Fontana recites: “More than two-thirds of the United States has some form of early voting with the voting period ranging from as much as 45 days before an election to as little as four days according to the National Conference of State Legislature. Early voting provides citizens with more options to make it easier and convenient to participate in the process. Standing in long lines is often eliminated and if one or several voting machine malfunctions, people will still have the ability to come back to cast their vote at another time. It can also be argued that Pennsylvania’s single-day voting disenfranchises certain occupations, especially those with shifts that are longer than eight hours, including EMT personnel and paramedics, nurses, doctors, and firefighters or even college students with a packed schedule. Additionally, early voting could elevate some issues that may arise if someone shows up to the wrong polling place. My bill would allow voting to take place 15 days prior to Election Day. The polling places would be geographically located and open on both weekdays and weekends so that electors are provide an equal opportunity to participate in the process.”

    Senate Bill 296, introduced by Senator Lisa Baker (R-Wayne and Wyoming counties), proposes to further a recently adopted Senate Rule of ethics by banning “legislators, other public officials and public employees from accepting cash gifts from lobbyists, principals, consultants, and others who seek to influence the legislative process. “Cash gifts” will be defined to include U. S. and foreign currency, money orders, checks, gift cards and gift certificates, and prepaid debit and credit cards. The ban will not apply to a gift from a parent, spouse, child, or other close relative when the circumstances make it clear that the motivation for the gift is a personal or family relationship.”

  14. Blue Jacket February 12, 2019 / 12:37 pm

    A total of 70 legislative bills and resolutions were introduced in the State House of Representatives yesterday. Among those reported in the General Assembly’s daily Update of legislative activity were two items that might be of interest to League members.

    House Bill 429 represents a proposal by Representative Beninghof (R-Centre County) to address the need for a clear explanation of ballot questions that seek voter approval for proposed bonds and debt obligations which the State proposes to issue.

    House Bill 439 is a proposal by Representative Maria Donatucci that the State’s Election Code be amended to allow disabled voters to be permanently eligible to receive absentee ballots.

    Both measures have been referred to the House Committee on State Government for consideration.

  15. Blue Jacket February 7, 2019 / 10:54 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity reports that yesterday Representative MaryJo Daley (D-Montgomery) has introduced HB 401, Her introductory Memorandum indicates the bill would “establish a new 14-person commission that will convene every ten years for the purposes of redrawing congressional district boundaries. This commission would be comprised of individuals from both major political parties as well as individuals who do not affiliate with either party. Beyond this, my bill provides for new redistricting standards and requires increased transparency throughout the process.”

    As a companion to that bill, the Representative has also introduced HB 402. Her introductory Memorandum summarizes the bill as follows:

    “The political turf wars that pollute the current redistricting process subvert public trust and establish a government that fails to represent the people. While formal changes to the process may require an amendment to the state constitution, there is no reason we cannot enact legislation to improve the transparency and equity of our current system.

    “This is why I am introducing legislation that will establish new standards and increase transparency in way we draw our state and congressional districts. This includes requirements that the process remove political and incumbency favoritism as well as provisions to allow citizens to submit their own redistricting plans for consideration. In addition, my bill requires additional public hearings during both state-level and congressional redistricting and prevents special interests from influencing the process.”

    Both bills have been referred to the House of Representatives’ Committee on State Government for consideration.

    At first blush, the measures seem well-intentioned. But, one wonders whether allowing “citizens to submit their own redistricting proposals” is a phrase that needs clarification. (If the standards of the Citizens United court case remain in place, are corporations not citizens? Might we not be allowing corporations to pay for redistricting lines that favor their own interests?). We’ll have to read the bill carefully.

  16. Blue Jacket February 5, 2019 / 11:05 pm

    Apparently a glitch occurred in the publication of today’s Update of yesterday’s activity at the State Capitol. The corrected version has arrived and reports that Senator Farnese (D-Philadelphia) has introduced a bill proposing that the State Constitution be amended to allow for pre-registration of 16 and 17 year old prospective voters. Apparently the State’s SURE system will track these pre-registered individuals and automatically officially register them when they attain the age of 18.

    Does that leave you wondering how in the world that can occur, if the young teenagers move with their parents or go traipsing off to college or the armed services? It does me. But apparently the procedure has worked in 22 other states.

    The bill (S. 214) has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government.

    Also noted, that Senate Committee held a hearing today on a proposal (previously mentioned in these posts) to reform the way in which the Lieutenant Governor is selected.

  17. Blue Jacket February 2, 2019 / 11:54 am

    From the State Legislature’s daily Update of legislative activity.
    Yesterday, Representative Gainey (D-Alleghany County) introduced House Bill 306, proposing that Pennsylvania enact provisions for “automatic voter registration.” The bill has been referred to the House Committee on State Government for consideration. Gainey points out in his introductory memorandum: that at least 16 states have adopted the procedure, which would “transfer the onus of registration from individuals to the Department of State…. Qualified voters who utilize services through the Department of Transportation, Department of Human Services, or the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will be automatically registered to vote unless they choose to opt-out. Those who remain registered will have the opportunity to choose a political affiliation if they wish and will receive a voter identification card in the mail.”

    In the Senate, Senator Browne has introduced Senate Bill 178 proposing that required campaign finance reports be filed electronically. This, too, has been referred to the (Senate) Committee on State Government for consideration.

  18. Blue Jacket February 1, 2019 / 11:33 am

    The Legislature’s daily Update of activity reports that Senator Argall (R-Berks County) has reintroduced a bill proposing that the State Constitution be amended to allow candidates for the office of Governor be allowed to choose as their running mate their own choice of candidate for the office of Lieutenant Governor. The proposal had been unanimously approved by the Senate in a previous legislative session, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government for further consideration. It is suggested that the change would reduce the possibility of conflicts between the policies favored by the two candidates and would reflect procedures allowed for executive office candidates at the national level and in other states.

  19. Blue Jacket January 31, 2019 / 10:51 am

    The day’s Update from our State Legislature reports that, yesterday, Representative Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh County) has introduced HB282, and that the bill has been referred to the House Committee on State Government for consideration. In his Memorandum to fellow legislators, the Representative indicated:

    “Pennsylvania is currently one of only fifteen states that have an option to “vote straight-ticket Democrat” or “vote straight-ticket Republican”. Straight-party ballot voting is the practice of voting for candidates of the same party for multiple positions by pushing one button on the voting machine.

    “We believe that having a straight-party voting option on the ballot creates an election process that is inherently more partisan. Our hope is that if the option of casting a single vote for an entire party is eliminated then votes will be cast based on a candidate’s merit and the issues they stand for, rather than party labels.

    “This legislation would not eliminate or prohibit a voter from voting for candidates all from the same party itself. It would merely remove the option of casting one ballot for all candidates of a single party or checking one box to choose a particular party’s candidate in every race. Under this proposal, candidates still would be identified on the ballot by their political party.”

  20. Blue Jacket January 29, 2019 / 11:38 am

    Today’s Update of activity in the State Legislature reports 190 bills introduced yesterday in the House of Representatives. A number of these were proposals introduced in a previous session of Legislature. Among the proposals that relate to the State’s election laws, three have been referred to the House Committee on State Government for further consideration.

    Representative Pam Snyder has introduced HB 43, which would allow early voting in Pennsylvania to enable voters to cast their ballots not only on the day officially designated for elections but also during a period of time preceding that date. The procedure is allowed in numerous states, is believed to make voting more convenient and to result in a greater turnout for elections. The bill also proposes that absentee ballots be made available to registered voters upon request without a requirement that the voter state or certify a reason for the request. (The procedure is commonly referred to as “no excuse” absentee ballot voting).

    Representative Christopher Quinn has re-introduced two bills which have been referred to the House Committee on State Government for consideration. HB 134 proposes that the State make available curbside voting assistance for registered voters whose mobility or access to the polling place may be limited or constrained by use of wheelchair. HB 192 proposes “open primaries,” permitting voters registered as Independent (not affiliated with a political party) be permitted to vote in the primary of the political party they choose, and that they be included among voters eligible to vote in subsequent primaries of that political party.

  21. Blue Jacket January 12, 2019 / 1:16 pm

    Although the Pennsylvania Legislature is in recess until January 15, 2019, legislators can and do continue to submit bills for consideration in the meantime. Among bills so introduced is Senate Bill 33 from Senator Judith Schwank (D-Berks County). The bill is a reintroduction of a proposal she had made in a previous session and has now been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government.

    Schwank’s bill would allow “early voting,” much as other states have permitted. Authority would be granted for voters to cast ballots securely and conveniently before election day. She points out that our State’s current requirement that a voter be physically present during a single, 13-hour span has become a procedure followed in only minority of states, and that it: “needlessly and senselessly puts voters to a test of their good fortune to avoid or to adjust employment and personal demands that often are immovable and unpredictable. Residents of most states have a far broader, more convenient and practical opportunity over days, weeks and locations, to express their voices. With even ‘heavy turnout’ elections rarely involving a majority of residents qualified to vote, it is clear why this is important, and the share of early voting ballots has been growing nationally in every election cycle, from about one in seven during the 2000 presidential election to more than one in three in 2012. In states with the longest tradition of use, more than half of all votes are cast in early voting.”

    Her bill would amend section 14 of Article VII of the Pennsylvania Constitution, authorizing the General Assembly to statutorily provide for voters to cast ballots without needing to appear physically at the polling place on Election Day. The bill would also amend the Election Code by repealing the provisions that restrict the right to vote by absentee ballot to only certain categories of voters who are unable to attend the polling booth on election day. Instead, the bill proposes a right to all qualified electors not in prison to request and to vote by an absentee ballot without other conditions.

    Another bill introduced in the Senate is Senate Bill 48, by Senator John Gordon (R-Columbia, Montour, and Snyder Counties), proposing that the State’s mandate to replace voting machines be modified to allow for a delay in the decertification of some voting machines until the election of 2020. This bill, too, has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on State Government for consideration. In his Memorandum to his fellow legislators, the Senator points to the cost involved in replacing all voting machines, the time needed to work out unforeseeable problems in making the conversion to new machines, and he says: “it is questionable whether or not it is reasonable or necessary to decertify every single machine in the state due to the stated security risks. For instance, machines in several of my counties, including Columbia and Montour, are not tied to the internet.”

    Of some amusement to me is the continuing introduction of resolutions indicated as “noncontroversial” under the Legislature’s procedural rules, because of their ceremonious nature, involving only honorary designations of people, dates, or events. I’ve counted 8 such resolutions so far in the current session. One that caught my eye today is House Resolution 26, introduced yesterday by Representative MaryLouise Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), and co-sponsored by 24 of her colleagues. The resolution proposes: “That the House of Representatives recognize January 17, 2019, as the birthday of Benjamin Franklin.” I have no further comment but will note the expected birth on my calendar.

  22. Blue Jacket January 2, 2019 / 1:49 pm

    The Journey continues…

    The Pennsylvania Legislature has convened its 2019-2020 session, as 225 members of the State’s House of Representatives and Senate met in joint session and took their oaths of office yesterday. The customary first order of business was to organize themselves, elect their leaders, appoint their officials, and to adopt some rules of order governing the way in which the respective chambers would conduct their official business during the current session. They did that (notwithstanding a motion to postpone the adoption of permanent rules until January 15). And, then they resolved to recess until January 15, subject to a call to re convene at an earlier date if need arises. Likewise, the State Senate adopted its own set of rules governing procedures, financing, and ethical matters that will apply in that chamber

    A couple of interesting things caught my eye. Representative Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster County) was elected Majority Leader of the House. His background is that of an X-ray technician and dedicated seventh-year legislator. He, like our own Representative Fred Keller here in the 85th District, has his own website, which may be of interest to readers. On each of these websites one can find embedded a link to a “Citizens’ Action Portal,” intended to make it a bit easier for citizens to find out what is happening in the Legislature. I notice that the link on Keller’s website seems to take me directly to the Legislature’s official legislative searching and tracking page. Cutler’s link seems to lead initially to an abbreviated list of categories in which one might be interested, before taking me to the official legislative tracking page. In any event, the links by the legislators reflect an effort to help citizens find out exactly what legislative developments are occurring or have occurred, and to make the search for information a bit less daunting than navigating the Legislature’s already existing search page.

    One item that brought a smile is Representative Cutler’s introduction of a new Resolution relating to the House’s rules of order. HR 4 recites:

    “RESOLVED, That when the House of Representatives considers the resolution for the adoption of the Rules of the House, a temporary rule of the House is hereby adopted providing that that resolution be an unamendable resolution.”

    I leave to your own imagination what it means to adopt a “temporary” rule that a resolution concerning rules be “unamendable.” Nonetheless, in their august wisdom the legislators adopted the Resolution by a vote of 109-91 (along party lines?).

    One other item caught my eye. In the State Senate, Representative Street (D-Philadelphia) introduced a Resolution “That the Senate designate the week of January 14 through 20, 2019, as “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Week” in Pennsylvania;” I have no objection to the substance of the Resolution nor to its merit. But, as I have in the past, I can only moan about Pennsylvania’s procedures for adopting such honorary or commemorative resolutions, inasmuch as my past efforts to have the issue considered by the legislators fell upon deaf ears. Why it takes an entire legislative body to consider and pass such declarations, when the same could be accomplished less bureaucratically by a proclamation processed through executive action (perhaps through the Office of the Lieutenant Governor), is beyond me. The number of such resolutions that consume legislators’ time and expense each session seems outlandish. Just sayin’.

  23. Blue Jacket October 26, 2018 / 11:11 am

    For those who have yearned for it, we note with interest that Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh and Northampton) — you might remember her as having sponsored one of the initial bills proposing a citizens’ redistricting commission — has now introduced Senate Bill 1267, calling for the establishment of an Initiative and Referendum procedure for Pennsylvania.

    In her introductory Memorandum to her fellow legislators, Senator Boscola says: “Today, 29 states have some form ballot initiative process, and of that number 21 states provide for direct statutory initiatives. Proponents of this process point to the advantages of direct democracy. They claim that elected representatives can, at times, become consumed with their power and take actions that represent their own self-interest and not the interest of the people. Initiatives can be used to make the will of the people law on issues that elected officials are unwilling to address.

    While I have previously reintroduced a Joint Resolution that would provide for an indirect initiative and referendum process, this measure while similar, will allow voters to have the ultimate say at the ballot box. Statutes could not be proposed unless a submitted petition is signed by registered electors equal to a number of not less than 5% of the votes cast for Governor, in not less than 45 counties.”

    Yesterday, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on State Government for consideration. But, it will likely have to wait until the start of the next legislative session for any meaningful action.
    The Initiative and Referendum procedure has been available mostly in the western and midwestern States. A good summary of the procedures and variations can be found at:

  24. Blue Jacket October 18, 2018 / 9:39 am

    Today’s Update of activity from the State Legislature continues to be all about numbers now as the Legislature endeavors to wind down the current legislative session. 105 matters reported as seeing action in the House of Representatives yesterday, including about 29 noncontroversial resolutions, and 71 matters in the State Senate, including about 13 noncontroversial resolutions. It is remarkable to me that so many matters could be kept pending in a two-year legislative session but suddenly all see movement on one day. We see that 16 other bills were presented to the Governor for consideration and signature into law. We noted nothing regarding election laws.

  25. Blue Jacket October 17, 2018 / 9:22 am

    In this morning’s Update of activity from the Legislature, we note that Senator Boscola’s Senate Bill 22, which calls for establishment of an independent commission of citizens to be responsible for redistricting has been Laid on the Table again by the House of Representatives. The bill had been substantially modified in the Senate before it was passed in that chamber earlier in the year. The modified version had included provision for establishment of judicial districts for the election of judges In the House of Representatives, the bill was referred to the Rules Committee and was reported as submitted from the Senate. It was given a first consideration by the House in June and was Laid on the Table and removed.. It has now again been Laid on the Table.

  26. Blue Jacket October 16, 2018 / 10:07 am

    The Legislature’s daily Update today reports the continuing volume of bills that are being addressed as the 2017-18 legislative session head toward its November 30 conclusion.

    Among the bills we noted was Senate Bill 299, the proposal that incumbent Magisterial Judges be able to file a Certificate of Nomination in lieu of gathering signatures on a petition to have their names placed on a ballot for election. The bill has now been passed by both chambers of the Legislature and has been presented to the Governor for consideration and signature.

    We also note that the effort to reduce the size of the Legislature continues to see deliberation. Apparently, the legislators seem to agree that the House of representatives be reduced in size from 203 members to 151, as was proposed in the Legislature’s previous session. But, the question of whether the bill should duplicate exactly what was passed last session or should be modified to also require that the Senate be reduced in size from 50 to 38 members seems to be a sticking point. As I read the history of the bill, the House had passed in the current session with a provision for reduction in the size of the Senate, but the Senate passed a version of the bill as initially proposed (without a call for reduction in the size of the Senate. The Legislature’s Update reports that yesterday there was further discussion in the House of Representatives. A transcript of yesterday’s House proceedings is apparently not yet available. Suffice it to note that the issue remains unresolved, and the prospect for putting something on the ballot for voters to consider grows dimmer as the session winds down.

  27. Blue Jacket October 6, 2018 / 12:07 pm

    In this morning’s Notices from the State Legislature, we noted the following information.

    On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, at 9:00a.m. there is a public hearing to be held in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building of the State Capitol to consider a call for amendments to the United States Constitution by a Convention of the States pursuant to Article V. The hearing will consider three Resolutions that have been offered in the State Legislature and which have been pending in the Senate Committee on State Government. (Any amendment proposed by a Convention of the States would require ratification by three-quarters of the states in order to be adopted).

    State Senate Resolution 133 was introduced by Senator Eichelberger (R-Blair County) in June 2017. It calls for an amendment to require the federal government to abide by a balanced budget and to establish term limits for officials and Congressional Representatives.

    State Senate Resolution 134, also introduced by Senator Eichelberger, would call for a “regulation freedom amendment” by adding the following language to the US Constitution in order to constrain the use of regulations that are tantamount to laws or mandates on the states: “Whenever one quarter of the Members of the House or the Senate transmit to the President their written declaration of opposition to a proposed federal regulation, it shall require a majority vote of the House and Senate to adopt that regulation.” For support of his proposal, Senator Eichelberger cites an article in Forbes Magazine that indicates that most Americans see little difference between a law passed by Congress and a regulation issued by a federal agency.

    State Senate Resolution 254 was introduced by Senator Costa (D-Alleghany County) in 2018 with 27 co-sponsors. It would call for a “Free and Fair Elections Amendment” to the US Constitution to authorize the states to apply disclosure rules and reasonable guidelines on election campaign contributions and expenditures The resolution endeavors to address the court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission in 2010 and the influence of super political action committees on candidates’ campaigns.

  28. Blue Jacket September 27, 2018 / 9:30 am

    The daily Update of State legislative activity at the Capitol indicates that yesterday was another busy day for the State Legislature. Some 32 “noncontroversial” resolutions were acted upon and another 8 were introduced and adopted on the same day the Senate.

    More substantively, a resolution was presented in the House of Representatives to discharge the Committee on State Government from giving further consideration to House Bill 1465, an omnibus elections reform bill which included proposals, among other things, to adopt pre-registration of young individuals, to allow early voting, to permit voter registration by individuals interacting with state agencies, and “no excuse” availability of absentee ballots. (The Update does not indicate why the resolution is being offered. There are still other bills pending which pertain to some of those topics).

  29. Blue Jacket September 26, 2018 / 11:55 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity reports that the 61 matters were considered by the State’s House of Representatives yesterday, and 63 matters were considered in the Senate.
    In addition, 10 new bills were introduced in the House and 15 bills were introduced in the Senate. I noted some 25 matters that were “noncontroversial resolutions,” e.g., declaring October as “Energy Awareness Month,” recognizing a week in September as “Drive Electric Week,” and declaring September 29 as “Pick up the Poconos Day.”

    Among the more controversial matters reported, we noted that House Bill 153 has been reported out of the Rules Committee. The bill calls for a Constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the State House from 203 members to 151 members). If I am reading the notation correctly, the bill as reported apparently strikes a previous proposal for an amendment that would also reduce the size of the Senate from 50 members to 38 members.

    The proposal for a reduction in the size of the House of Representatives had been passed by the Legislature in its previous session. House Bill 153, if approved as reported from the Rules Committee, would represent the second consecutive passage of the proposal by the Legislature.

    Also noted, House Bill 2105 was given its First consideration by the House yesterday. As indicated in previous posting, the bill represents a bipartisan effort to reduce a number of boards and commissions in order to better organize and make Pennsylvania’s state government more efficient and responsive to local needs. The introductory Memorandum for this bill recites: “Should you have any questions about the individual proposals which make up the package please contact Jordan Grant at –”

    The House also gave First Consideration to Senate Bill 299, which had been passed by the Senate on June. The bill proposes to allow incumbent candidates for the position of Magisterial District Judges to file a certificate of nomination in lieu of gathering signatures in order to have their names placed on a ballot for election.

  30. Blue Jacket September 25, 2018 / 11:01 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity includes report of three items that might be of interest to the League.

    Yesterday, House Bill Number 2660 was introduced by Representative Roe and has been referred to the House Committee on State Government for its consideration. The bill proposes that arrangements be made to allow curbside voting by individuals with disabilities. The procedure is apparently in place in 24 states.

    House Bill Number 2661 was also introduced and referred to the Committee on State Government. The bill proposes that Pennsylvania allow Open Primaries as 16 other states do, permitting Independent and unaffiliated registered voters to participate in the primaries of the Democratic and Republican parties. This appears to be a counterpart to the Senate Bill that has recently been introduced in the Senate.

    Also noted is Senate Bill Number 1034, which was passed by the State Senate on January 31, 2018. The bill has now been laid on the table for consideration in the State House of Representatives three times and, yesterday, was again removed from the table. The bill would repeal the delineation of Congressional districts that had been described in 2011 after the last decennial census.

  31. Blue Jacket September 22, 2018 / 3:06 pm

    The Update of legislative activity occurring yesterday reports that Senator Lawrence Farnese (D-Philadelphia County) has introduced Senate Bill 1261, a proposal to allow 16 and 17 year old individuals to “preregister” to vote. When the individuals attain age 18, the State’s SURE system could then note the pre-registration and automatically register them. The Senator points out that a provision for preregistration of young voters is already used in 22 states.
     The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government.
     The text of the bill can be found here:

  32. Blue Jacket September 18, 2018 / 10:55 am

    The State Legislature’s Update of daily activity reports that Senator Schwank (D-Berks County) has introduced Senate Bill 1256, which proposes to stipulate that the deadline for receipt of completed absentee ballots at the county elections offices should be 5pm on the day of the election. She points out in her introductory Memorandum that Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation that require ballots to be received by the Friday before election day and that, as a result, thousands of votes by absentee ballot have been shown to be left uncounted. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government for consideration.

  33. Blue Jacket September 14, 2018 / 10:25 am

    The State Legislature’s Update of daily activity reports that Senator Scarnati (R-northern counties, and President pro tem of the Senate) has introduced Senate Bill 1234, which proposes to allow registered voters who are categorized as Independent to vote in parties’ primary elections.

    In his introductory memo, he indicates that the legislation would give over 740,000 registered unaffiliated voters the right to participate in the primary election process. Specifically, on the day of the primary election, it will allow these voters to choose to cast their vote on either the Republican or Democrat ballot. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states utilize some form of an open primary for unaffiliated voters. Scarnati says that in Pennsylvania’s most recent primary election, only 18 percent of registered voters voted and that he low turnout can in part be attributed to voters feeling disenfranchised by the extremes of both major parties which have taken control of the primary process. Allowing more people the opportunity to have a voice in their representation is an important step toward ensuring democracy.

  34. Blue Jacket September 13, 2018 / 8:40 pm

    Today’s Update report of activity and announcements from the State Legislature indicate that a number of measures are moving forward and may be of interest to League members.

    Senate Bill 1249, by Senator Vogel (R-Beaver County), has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government. It calls for the establishment of an Election Law Advisory Board within the Department of State to be responsible for studying and making recommendations for changes to the State’s election laws. A public hearing on this bill has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m., on September 25, 2018, in the Dauphin County Administrative Building (4th floor), at 2 South Second Street in Harrisburg. The hearing will also be an opportunity to see a demonstration of voting machines to be used in Dauphin County.

    Five bills relating to Congressional reapportionment and legislative redistricting have been reported out of the House Rules Committee and have been laid on the table for consideration.
    House Bill 2332, by Representatives Nielsen (D-Philadelphia County) and Samuelson (D-Northampton County), proposes a Constitutional amendment to provide for an 11 member Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Commission of citizens (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 3 otherwise affiliated or Independent voters). If the Commission fails to agree upon a redistricting plan, provision is made for the Commission to request appointment of a Special Master with a degree in Geographic Information Systems to develop a plan.
    House Bill 2402, by Representative Samuelson (D-Northampton County), appears to have support from more than 90 legislators. It proposes a Constitutional amendment which would provide for an 11 member citizens’ commission to be responsible for legislative and Congressional redistricting.
    House Bill 2449, cosponsored by Representative Reed (R-Indiana County, Majority Leader and Chair of the Rules Committee), proposes a Constitutional amendment that would provide for an 11 member citizens’ commission to be responsible for legislative and Congressional redistricting. (Readers may recall that this bill reflects an effort that was supported by Fair Districts PA to wrestle control of the issue from the Chair of the House Committee on State Government. The bill now appears to have support from 16 Republicans and 2 Democrats).
    Each of those three of those bills is some 15 pages long. In our review, we noted the following differences. (Our list is by no means official or exhaustive. It is offered only to provide a quick sense of some of the different views of the bills’ sponsors. In coming days, we can expect to hear more precise summaries about the approach proposed by each of the bills).
    1. HB 2332 would amend the Constitution to specify that “communities of interest” are to be respected, that a redistricting plan shall not favor a specific person, party, or political body, that unless absolutely necessary a plan shall not provide districts which divide geographical entities (cities, towns, boroughs, etc.), and that the redistricting commission is to conduct itself with integrity and fairness.
    2. HB 2402 and HB 2449 specify that statute shall prescribe the qualifications for serving as a commission member and, then (like HB 2332) expressly recite in detail the qualifications which are to be used.
    3. HB 2402 provides (similar to a jury selection process) that each of the leaders of the House and Senate are to have the right to strike up to six qualified applicants from each of the groups drawn from members of the majority, minority, and otherwise affiliated parties.
    4. HB 2449 provides that the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate are to meet as necessary and determine the members of the commission, according to the criteria of specified qualifications
    5. HB 2332 specifies that the redistricting commission’s preliminary plan and maps are to be made available to the public via an accessible Internet website; but HB 2402 specifies that they are to be made available to the public “in a manner prescribed by law,” and that the commission’s business meetings are to be open to the public.
    6. HB 2402 and HB 2449 specify that, in formulating districts, the commission is not to consider the addresses of any individual, voters’ political affiliations, or previous election results unless required by law.
    7. HB 2449 indicates that, if the commission is unable to agree upon a final redistricting plan, then the General Assembly may enact a plan, and, if does not do so, then the State Supreme Court may do so.

    House Bill 2379, by Representative Davis (D-Bucks County), proposes a Constitutional amendment to provide for a five-member Independent Redistricting Commission, the members of which would be appointed by leaders of the Legislature.
    House Bill 2368, by Representative Sims (D-Philadelphia County), also proposes a Constitutional amendment. It would have Legislative and Redistricting Commissions that include a demographer, a cartographer, an applied mathematician, and a lawyer specializing in election laws, who would be employed by a Legislative Reference Bureau, and would responsible for developing reapportionment and redistricting plans similar to plans developed by the States of Maryland and Virginia.

    House Bill 111, previously introduced by Representatives Cutler and Dean, has been reviewed and amended by the Judiciary Committee, given a second consideration, reviewed by the Appropriations Committee, and has now been placed on the table for consideration and again removed.
    The bill proposes an amendment to the State Constitution in order to change the way appellate court judges are chosen. It would replace partisan judicial elections with a merit selection system. The change would apply to only three statewide appellate courts, namely, the Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. Judges on the courts of common pleas, magisterial district courts, and Philadelphia Municipal Court would still be elected as they are now. In the sponsors’ introductory memorandum, they indicated:
    “Merit selection is a hybrid elective-appointive system. In a merit selection system, a bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission of lawyers and non-lawyers selected by elected officials reviews applicants’ qualifications and recommends a short list to the Governor for nomination. After Senate confirmation, the judge sits for a four year term before standing for nonpartisan retention election for a full 10 year term, and then every 10 years thereafter.
    “Merit selection is a better way to ensure a fair, impartial, and qualified judiciary. Merit selection focuses on qualifications: legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament. Appellate court judges would no longer be chosen based on their ballot position, campaign fundraising abilities, or where they live. Judicial candidates would no longer be required to engage in a process that leaves them seemingly beholden to wealthy lawyers and special interest groups who might appear before them in court. Removing money from our courtrooms helps to increase public confidence in the courts.”

    House Bills numbered 2101 through 2104 (previously introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators) propose to “reinvent state government” by establishing a set of best practices (“BEST”: Better Government, Economic Prosperity, Stronger and Healthier Communities for Taxpayers).
    The sponsors indicate that their proposal would:
    (i) streamline state agencies by merging 8 commonwealth agencies into 4, to operate more efficiently and effectively. These new agencies would be: the Commonwealth Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Business, Tourism and Workforce Development (DBTWD), the Department of Local Government and Community Affairs (DLGCA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Each merger would be based on a strategic plan to include: 20% Reduction in administrative costs, Improvement in delivery of services to residents, Identification, consolidation and elimination of redundant programs, and Improvement in the use of funds to reduce the costs
    (ii) eliminate many of the state’s outdated and unnecessary boards and commissions which have not met in years, and no longer fulfill the purpose which they created for.
    (iii) establish Safer and Healthier Communities by realigning state government to be more responsive to the needs of local governments through the DLGCA, which would work with local governments to reduce the burden of complying with state regulations and mandates.

  35. Blue Jacket September 11, 2018 / 9:14 am

    The Pennsylvania State Legislature seems to be back on track, initiating new proposals for improvement of election procedures. Today, the Legislature’s daily Update reports that Representative Scott Conklin (D-Centre County) has introduced HB 2623, the bill he described in a preliminary Memorandum in July. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on State Government. Part of his description of the bill recites:

    “As a member of the class of 2007, which changed the House of Representatives’ arcane operating procedures and helped improve and enact the Open Records Law, I support any legislation that creates greater transparency. While neither federal nor state law requires candidates to release federal tax returns, some candidates do so to build trust with the electorate and show accountability. Sadly, in recent years, there have been candidates who have preferred to keep their federal tax returns private to protect their personal interests and potentially hide their motives for seeking office. If a candidate is unwilling to be honest and open about their finances, how can voters have confidence in them to make decisions in their best interests as their elected official?

    “Pennsylvania’s voters have a right to know to if a conflict of interest exists due to a financial relationship between a candidate and another person or entity. While current state and federal laws require financial disclosure and campaign finance reporting, those reports are based on the candidate’s word. Without assurances and concrete facts, voters are asked to trust blindly. Please join me in instilling confidence in Pennsylvania’s voters while guaranteeing the accountability of candidates for state and federal office.”

    The bill proposes that the requirement apply to candidates for general offices from the President of the US to Justices of the State’s courts.

  36. Blue Jacket July 31, 2018 / 10:08 am

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity today reports that Representative Jim Cox (R-Berks County) yesterday introduced House Bill 2575. The bill has six co-sponsors and has been referred to the Committee on State Government for review.

    Cox’s earlier introductory Memorandum to his fellow legislators in April indicated that the bill would follow through on the following recommendations which had been included in a study report issued by the Joint State Government Commission in December. [I’ve inserted a few words in brackets for clarification].

    — “Increase the financial incentive for poll workers to attend training to [at least] twenty dollars (currently it is five dollars). It is important that we properly compensate people for the time they take to invest in the electoral process in the Commonwealth.
    — Change criteria for printing paper ballots. This will allow counties to conduct elections more efficiently by taking into account actual voter participation levels when determining how many ballots to print, instead of the number of registered voters. [The law would stipulate that the number of paper ballots o be printed should be at least 10% greater than the number printed in the three immediately preceding comparable elections.]
    — Add language in the Election Code to make it clear that the Pennsylvania Secretary of State shall only certify voting equipment that is secure, auditable, and transparent.”

    The Representative states, “I believe that this legislation is crucial to ensuring that Pennsylvania’s elections are conducted in a fair and efficient manner.”

    This seems to be the same part of the movie I saw when came in. I guess it’s time for me to leave now.

  37. Blue Jacket July 24, 2018 / 10:04 am

    Not prone to favor Pennsylvania legislators’ propensity to propose “noncontroversial resolutions” as part of the rights and privileges accompanying their responsibilities for legislating, I hesitate to call attention such resolutions that are often (too often !) reported in the daily Updates of activity from the State Legislature. However, a proposed resolution reported today admittedly appears to have some merit and relevance to the work of promoting suffrage and participation in government.

    With 35 co-sponsors, Representative Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware and Philadelphia Counties) has introduced House Resolution 1019. It should be of interest to everyone, particularly including supporters of the League of Women Voters. In her Memorandum introducing the proposal, Representative Donatucci makes the following remarks:

    “…a resolution recognizing August 26, 2018 as “Women’s Equality Day” in the Commonwealth.

    “Forty-five years ago, the Congress of the United States designated August 26th as “Women’s Equality Day”. This recognition was made at the behest of Congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York, a leader in the women’s movement at the time. The August date commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This historic vote was the result of a peaceful civil rights movement that had its genesis in Seneca Falls, New York.

    “Thanks to groundbreaking women advocates such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, to name a few, American women have exercised their suffrage for 97 years. Joining their foremothers, today’s advocates continue to fight for equality for American women. It is their goal to ensure that women’s rights grow beyond the right to vote.

    “My resolution celebrates the accomplishments of these brave women who fought for the right to vote and renews our support for efforts promoting women’s equality.”

    The text of her proposed resolution gives a fairly concise history of progress that has been made by women’s leadership in civic activity. A copy of the resolution can be found at:

    May we all mark the date on our calendars in remembrance, celebration, and with a commitment to add our own footprints to the trail blazed before us.

  38. Blue Jacket July 18, 2018 / 9:11 am

    The State Legislature’s Update of legislative activity reports that yesterday, Representative Boback (R-Luzerne) has introduced House Bill 2562, proposing the establishment of a State Elections Law Advisory Board, pursuant to a recommendation contained in last December’s study and report election concerning the security of Pennsylvania’s voting equipment and elections procedures. According to her introductory Memorandum, “The purpose of the board would be to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding possible changes to the Pennsylvania Election Code, as well as other election-related matters.”

    The proposed Board would include four legislative leaders (or their designatee), the Secretary of the State (or designatee), and 20 individuals appointed by the Governor, including members of “groups advocating for voting rights.” The text of the bill can be found at:

  39. Blue Jacket July 6, 2018 / 10:39 am

    Three legislative bills are noted in today’s Update of yesterday’s activity at the State Legislature.

    House Bill 2399 proposes to require that names of magisterial district judges who are seeking reelection be printed on primary and election ballots as candidates for all parties eligible to conduct a primary. (Leaves one wondering if that might reduce the number of write-in votes on the ballots of parties that have no opposing candidate seeking election).

    House Bill 2445 is a reintroduction of a bill that was brought up in the 2015-16 legislative session. It seeks to prohibit lobbyists from serving as campaign consultants or having financial interests in the campaigns of legislators. The bill’s co-sponsors point out that millions of dollars are expended by lobbyists to the campaigns of legislators and that the number of lobbyists in Pennsylvania is five times the number of legislators, That the lobbyist then endeavor to influence the votes of the very legislators they help to elect fosters the existence of corruption in the State’s government.

    House Bill 2527 asks that campaign finance reports of candidates for local offices, currently required to be filed with county officials, should be forwarded to the Department of State for publication on the State’s website, thereby making those reports uniformly available statewide with the reports of candidates for state offices.

    The three bills have been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

  40. Blue Jacket June 27, 2018 / 10:14 am

    Nothing of relevance to those interested in election laws or voting appears in this morning’s Update of session activity in the State Legislature.

    The local newspaper reports that Pennsylvania’s legislators are bound for a summer recess. Left pending among legislative issues are bills related to the proposal that an independent commission of citizens be established with authority for reapportionment and defining boundaries of legislative districts., bills related to gun control, and a proposal that the number of members in the State’s House of Representatives be reduced. Advocates for reform of the State’s redistricting procedures have asked the Governor to consider calling the Legislature back into a Special session to see if the issue can be resolved.

  41. Blue Jacket June 23, 2018 / 9:03 am

    The State Legislature’s Update of session activity reports that a total of 143 pending items were acted upon yesterday. Many of these were actions taken by either one chamber of the Legislature upon bills that had been passed in prior days by the other chamber. Numerous of these have now been passed by both chambers and will now be sent to the Governor for consideration and signature as new laws.

    One bill in particular, mentioned in yesterday’s posting is House Bill 153, relating to the proposal to reduce the size of the Legislature. Having been passed by the Senate and sent back to the House of Representatives for further consideration (without a call for reduction in the size of the Senate), the House has referred the matter to the Rules Committee.

  42. Blue Jacket June 22, 2018 / 10:15 am

    Of 100 items which were acted upon yesterday in the State Legislature, we note only one in this morning’s Update of session activity. The Senate gave a Third and Final Consideration and passed (by a vote of 42-7) House Bill 153, which proposes a Constitutional Amendment that would reduce the number of legislators in the State House of Representatives from 203 to 151. This is the same version of the bill that had been passed and enacted in the 2015-2016 session of the Legislature.

    However, in the current 2017-2018 session, the House passed a modified version of the bill in March which included a provision for a reduction in the number of legislators in the Senate from 50 to 38. Since the two versions differ, the bill must now be returned to House to see if it will accept the Senate’s version of the bill. If the House agrees, the bill would be sent to the Governor for his consideration and signature and would then be placed upon a ballot for voters to consider.

    In other legislative news, the local Daily Item newspaper today reports that the Republican legislators are, for a third time, requesting the US Supreme Court to review the legality of the State Supreme Court’s decision which declared the State’s Congressional district boundaries unconstitutionally gerrymandered and which imposed new Congressional district boundaries for the State. The US Supreme Court has twice rejected the Republicans’ requests. But, perhaps “the third time is the charm” The legislators’ new request is said to be 60 pages long. As the US Supreme Court winds down its current term, it has recently declined to give substantial guidance in two other cases involving claims of gerrymandering. In a Wisconsin case, the court indicated that Democratic party and independent voters had not shown sufficient standing to sue upon a claim that a redistricting map had been favor of Republicans. And, in a Maryland case, the court ruled unanimously that Republicans had waited too long to challenge a 2011 redistricting map that they alleged was gerrymandered in favor of Democrats. It will be interesting to learn whether the Court sees the Pennsylvania Republican legislators’ request as having greater merit to warrant the Court’s consideration.

  43. Blue Jacket June 21, 2018 / 12:57 pm

    This morning’s Update from the State Legislature indicates that 125 bills and resolutions saw some activity yesterday. In addition, Representative Boback’s bill (HB564) to require an assessment of high school students’ knowledge of civics and government has now been signed into law by the Governor as Act No. 36 (2018).

    Senate Bill 22, pertaining to Congressional reapportionment and legislative redistricting has been given its First Consideration by the House of Representatives. The bill was passed by the Senate, as noted in previous posts, on June 13.

    Five other bills in the House of Representatives related to redistricting proposals were reported out of the Rules Committee, were given their First Consideration, and have been re-committed to the Rules Committee for further review. These bills, as noted in previous postings, are House Bills 2332, 2368, 2379, 2403, and 2449.

    A new bill, HB 2519, has been introduced and proposes to lower the threshold requirement for gifts to public officials to be reported.

    In the Senate, House Bill 153, pertaining to a Constitutional Amendment which would reduce the size of the House of Representatives, has now been reported out of Appropriations.

  44. Blue Jacket June 20, 2018 / 10:17 am

    This morning’s Update of yesterday’s activity reported by the State Legislature is quite lengthy. It seems like the day might have been one for late Spring cleaning, as the House and the Senate report an aggregate of 105 bills or resolutions on which some movement occurred.

    Of particular note is the mention of Senate Bill 22, the somewhat controversial proposal to amend the State Constitution so as to establish a citizens’ commission to perform the work of reapportionment and redistricting legislative boundaries, independent of the State Legislature. In its latest version,, you may recall that the bill was amended to propose an additional Constitutional amendment to provide for regional districts form which appellate court judges would be elected. Some have seen that amendment as something of a poison pill proposed by the Republican majority in light of the ruling earlier in the year by the State Supreme Court that the last redistricting had resulted in an unconstitutional gerrymander. (The majority of the Court’s judges are currently members of the Democratic party). The thought is that, if those seeking to reform legislative redistricting are committed to the passage of the bill, they would have to accept this new version calling for regional judicial redistricting. Yesterday, the House of Representatives referred the bill to the Rules Committee.

    Among other bills noted, we see that House Bills 2101 through 2104, which had been considered and amended by the Committee on State Government, were given a First Consideration yesterday and have now been referred to the Rules Committee. The bills relate to a package of bipartisan proposals under the heading “Reinventing State Government for the 21st Century,” — suggested reforms in the organizational structure of the State’s various departments in an effort to make them more responsive to the economic and political needs local communities. A earlier blog post had mentioned these bills. Further detailed information about them can be found by entering the Bill numbers of the Legislature’s Bill Search page:

    If you are inclined to check out those bills, then you might also be interested in considering Senate Bill 595, which proposes a significant modernization of the manner in which notaries public can authenticate documents by use of electronic means for remotely located individuals. The bill has received its First and Second Considerations by the State Senate and has been reviewed by the Committees on State Government and Appropriations. Although the proposal may seem far-fetched and may (as the sponsoring legislator suggests) put Pennsylvania in the forefront of progress on the matter, it appears to be in keeping with work that has been done by the Commissioners of Uniform Laws and the American Society of Notaries since 1999.

    Notwithstanding the volume of activity that transpired, we note with a bit of wry smile that the House still found time to entertain the introduction of more “noncontroversial resolutions,” including HR990 by which a legislator proposes that the month of July be designated “Lake Appreciation Month.” Is it any wonder, then, that the Legislature finds it necessary to catch up occasionally and act upon 105 matters in a single day?

  45. Blue Jacket June 19, 2018 / 8:44 am

    The Legislature’s session Update reports this morning that In the Pennsylvania State Senate yesterday, House Bill 153 (which has previously been passed by the House of Representatives) has had its second required consideration and has been sent to Appropriations for review of its fiscal impact. The bill proposes that the State Constitution be amended to reduce the size of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives from 203 members to 153.

  46. Blue Jacket June 14, 2018 / 9:16 am

    A correction to yesterday’s posting which indicated that the House Committee on State Government would b meeting to consider HB 153 and HB 110. The House had already passed those bills earlier in the year, and it is now the Senate’s Committee on State Government which met yesterday to consider them. After consideration, both bills were reported out of Committee without change and the Senate has now given both bills a First Consideration.

    In other news from the Legislature’s Update of session activity, we note that a bill pertaining to the State Sunshine Act is progressing in the House of Representatives. Those who are interested in the meetings of State agencies and the public’s participation in those meetings may wish to take note of the proposal. The bill — House Bill 1531, sponsored by Representative Jim Christiana of Beaver County — had earlier in the session been reviewed and amended by the House Committee on State Government and yesterday was reported out of the Rules Committee. In its current form, the bill would require that all State agencies publish, at their meeting sites and their websites, the Agendae of their public meetings at least 24 hours prior to the meetings. The Agency must list each item of official business that is to be deliberated or acted upon at the meeting. A number of exceptions to the requirement are included in the bill in order to allow for emergency items that may arise and require consideration.

  47. Blue Jacket June 13, 2018 / 10:49 pm

    Today, the Legislature’s Update of its section activity includes a report that Senate Bill 299 was passed by the State Senate yesterday. The bill, as has been previously noted in these posts, proposes that incumbent Magisterial District Judges need not file a petition for nomination with 100 signatures in order to have the candidates’ names placed on a ballot for re-election.

    We are also informed that the House Committee on State Government has scheduled a meeting today to consider House Bill 153 (which proposes reducing the number of legislators in the House of Representatives to 151) and House Bill 110 (the so-called Taxpayer Protection Act).

    The Taxpayer Protection Act proposes that the State Constitution be amended to limit the amount that the Government can spend in any fiscal year. The limit on spending would be tied to the amount that had been spent in the previous fiscal, adjusted by the sum of (a) the 3-year average percentage change in the Consumer Price Index and (b) the average percentage increase in the State population. That all sounds very similar to the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) which Colorado implemented by an amendment to that State’s Constitution about 10 to 15 years ago. Colorado found it rather difficult to un ravel the financial difficulty that ensued when its economy suffered a downturn and the Constitutional amendment conflicted with a requirement that education be adequately funded. Query, whether Pennsylvania will eventually also discover that it may not be advisable to cement such well-intended limitations in a Constitution rather than in statute.

    The Update also reflects that the State Senate amended Senate Bill 22 — the measure which would reform the State’s reapportionment and redistricting procedures by establishing an independent commission of citizens to perform the function, rather than continuing the Legislature’s control of the process. Yesterday’s amendment came up as the Senate was giving the bill its required Third Consideration. The amendment to the bill adds a requirement that the Constitution be amended to also require regional elections of State judges, a controversial issue that may not yet have been adequately considered by the public. It was submitted by Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lititz). We have difficulty discerning on his website any direct connection to committees considering issues related to the judiciary, state governmental structure, or elections.
    Nonetheless, that amendment to Senate Bill 22 was passed, to the chagrin of Fair Districts PA and other groups which had thus far endorsed and urged passage of the bill.

    In another State, this type of amendment is sometimes referred to as a “rat” and tests the commitment of a bill’s supporters. In effect, the sponsor of such an amendment is saying, if you really want this bill (here, calling for an independent citizens’ commission to control redistricting), then you must also swallow the rat and accept an additional, perhaps unpalatable requirement (namely, that judges be regionally elected).

    Today, we see that a motion was made to restore the bill to its previous version (without yesterday’s amendment), but the motion failed by a vote that was largely along party lines. As amended yesterday, the bill was passed by the Senate by a vote of 35-14. Fair Districts PA has today disseminated an email message to its followers, announcing that the organization can no longer support passage of the bill in its current form.

    There is a quotation, the origin of which is not clear, but which is sometimes ascribed to an ancient Chinese proverb or curse. Robert F Kennedy paraphrased it and added to its popularity during a speech in 1966 — “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged – will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”

  48. Blue Jacket June 12, 2018 / 11:20 am

    The morning Update of legislative activity from the State Capitol includes a report that on June 6 the House of Representatives concurred (by a vote of 167-27) in a recent amendment offered by the State Senate to Representative Boback’s bill (HB 564) – the bill which had initially proposed to require high school students to pass a test on civics and government in order to graduate. As amended, the bill now requires that schools conduct only an “assessment” (not a test) of students’ knowledge of civics and government, that passing the assessment will not be a condition for graduation, and that a Certificate of Recognition will be awarded to those students who achieve a perfect score on the assessment (rather than to all students who achieve a passing score). As so amended, the bill was presented to the Governor yesterday for his consideration and signature.

    In the State Senate, SB 299 was amended yesterday by a vote of 46-3. The bill proposes to relieve incumbent magisterial judges from having to file a nominating petition bearing 100 signature in order to have their names appear on a ballot for re-election. As amended, the bill includes a stipulation that, if an incumbent judge files a Certificate of Nomination in lieu of a Nominating Petition, he or she will not be permitted to challenge the Nominating Petition filed by another candidate.

  49. Blue Jacket June 8, 2018 / 10:39 am

    Wow! In the wake of Majority Leader Reed’s action earlier this week (mentioned in our posting of June 6), we now see in this morning’s Update of Pennsylvania’s State legislative activity a report that a spate of six proposals related to reapportionment and redistricting have been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

    (Talk about D-Day? All six are proposals are by Democrat legislators. Reed’s action, referring his own proposal- HB 2449 – to the Rules Committee which he Chairs seems to have opened the beachhead for other legislators).

    We see no introductory Memoranda summarizing the proposals, four of which have been introduced as Joint Resolutions calling for reforms by Constitutional amendment, and two are submitted as calls for changes to statute. Since the text of each proposal is 10 to 15 pages long, it would take some time to review them and, therefore it seems inappropriate to attempt to dash off a summary now. Perhaps, all we should do at the moment is list the bill numbers and the names of the sponsoring legislators for those who might like to inquire further. As we see further action develop with regard to the proposals, we will try to set forth a summary and comment.

    As always, the text of each bill can be found by way of the legislative search page:

    HB 2332 introduced by Representative Neilson (D- Philadelphia County)
    HB 2368 introduced by Representative Sims (D-Philadelphia County)
    HB 2379 introduced by Representative Davis (D- Bucks County)
    HB 2402 introduced by Representative Samuelson (D – Northampton County)

    HB 2352 introduced by Representative Conklin (D – Centre County)
    HB 2365 introduced by Representative Daley (D – Montgomery County)


  50. Blue Jacket June 6, 2018 / 9:09 am

    This morning’s Update of legislative activity reports that two proposals by Representative Reed (R-Indiana County), Majority Leader and Chair of the House Rules Committee, were referred yesterday to the House Rules Committee for consideration. As described in Reed’s preliminary memorandum of May 2, 2018, the bills are:

    HB 2448, which “would remove the exclusion of independent or non-affiliated voters from Pennsylvania’s primary process. All such voters would have the opportunity to choose which primary ballot they wish to record on Primary Election Day. With nearly 750,000 of our state’s voters now registered as independent or non-affiliated, the time has come stop excluding them from a significant portion of our electoral process. Too many races, especially local races, find finality in the spring election, and these voters should not be left out.”

    HB 2449, which “would replace the current process for determining the districts for the General Assembly and Pennsylvania’s congressional districts. Thus far, the debate about the proper method of drawing electoral boundaries has been about choosing between elected officials or a potentially biased “independent” commission. This proposal would establish a truly independent commission for the purpose of the decennial drawing of boundaries. The commission would be selected in a similar fashion as a jury is selected: randomly from all eligible voters. The members of the commission would be seated in a way that preserves party and geographic balance.”

    HB 2449 appears to present the House with the option of reforming Pennsylvania’s Congressional and legislative redistricting process in a way that differs substantially from the manner set out in an amended version of House Bill 722. The latter bill, which has been pending for some time, had been amended by the House Committee on State Government in a way that was intended by that Committee’s Chair to maintain the Legislature’s (and political party) control of the redistricting process.

  51. Blue Jacket June 5, 2018 / 10:05 am

    This morning’s Update of legislative activity indicates that yesterday Senate Bill 22 has been now been given its second consideration in the State Senate and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee for review of what fiscal impact it might have upon the State budget. The bill, as amended so far, proposes that the State Constitution be amended to reform the way in which Pennsylvania conducts its reapportionment and redistricting of Congressional and State Legislative districts.

    If passed by the Senate, the bill would have to be transmitted to the State’s House of Representatives, which has its own version of an amended reform bill (HR 722). The two bills would need a good amount of reconcilement

    Fair Districts PA, an organization that endorses the establishment of an independent commission of citizens to conduct the redistricting process, has indicated support for the amended version of Senate Bill 22 as a compromise measure. However, a news report yesterday indicated that several other organizations have expressed reservations about the bill’s provisions. A copy of their views has been published at:

  52. Blue Jacket May 31, 2018 / 9:27 am

    The daily Update of activity in the State Legislature reports that Representative Reed (R-Indiana County), the Chair of the State House of Representatives has introduced HR946, proposing that the operating rules of the House (Rule No. 43, in particular) be changed to limit to three full terms of service the time for which a member can serve as Chair of a standing committee, with the exception of the Chair of the Appropriations Committee. The proposal has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

    In his initial Memorandum, submitted on May 2, Reed had expressed a broader intention, entitled “Proposed Legislation – Government Reform Package,” in which he proposed that (a) redistricting of legislative boundaries be performed by an independent commission of citizens, randomly selected, much like the way juries are selected for service to the courts, but with provisions to assure fair party representation, and (b) that party primaries be open to independent voters. Those aspects of his initial intention are not included in the Resolution now being offered for consideration, although the topics have been discussed among other proposals in the Legislature.

  53. Blue Jacket May 26, 2018 / 3:08 pm

    In the Update of legislative activity received yesterday, we note that on Thursday (May 24) Senate Bill 1034 was laid on the table in the State House of Representatives for a second time since February and was again removed from the table — perhaps an indication that the members of the House are (still) not yet ready to consider the bill. The bill (which had been passed unanimously by the Senate in January) merely reflects the repeal of the Congressional District boundaries that had been described in 2011 after the 2010 census report, and which were found to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

    It is also noted that the House has referred Senate Bill 1038 to the Committee on State Government for consideration. This bill (which was unanimously passed by the Senate on May 23) would authorize political candidates to distribute unexpended campaign contributions to nonprofit organizations. (It is interesting that the bill includes no mention of any criteria or limitations that might be expected of a candidate when selecting a nonprofit organization to receive such funds. It will be interesting, also, to see whether or not the Committee on State Government sees any potential for conflict or abuse of a politician’s discretion to make such distributions).

  54. Blue Jacket May 24, 2018 / 12:30 pm

    Today’s Update of activity at the State Legislature confirms that Senate Bill 22, as amended in the Committee on State Government, was received and was given its First Consideration by the Senate on May 22.

    Also noted is the Senate’s Final Consideration and passage of Senate Bill 299, which would waive the requirement that, in order to have their names appear on a ballot for re-election, incumbent candidates for the position of Magisterial District Judge file a petition signed by at least 100 individuals. There is a like bill still pending in the House of Representatives, based on the premise that studies have shown incumbent Magisterial Judges frequently experience threats and dangerous encounters with people and families who have previously appeared before them in court. The waiver of a requirement that the candidate gather signatures would, it is thought, minimize the risk of such encounters. ……Query whether new (non-incumbent) candidates do not experience threats or dangerous encounters when gathering signatures on a petition for nomination.

    And, we see that the Senate has now given a Second Consideration to Representative Boback’s House Bill 564. As initially proposed in the House, the bill would have made Pennsylvania one more State to require, as a condition for graduation from high school, that students pass a civics education test equivalent to what immigrating individuals must pass to attain citizenship. The House amended the bill to delete the requirement for a test as a condition for graduation, to substitute instead a call for school districts to conduct an “assessment” of students’ knowledge of civics and government, and to issue a Certificate of Recognition to students who receive a passing grade on the assessment. As so amended, the House passed the bill in April by a vote of 191-4. The Senate then received the bill and referred it to the Committee on Education, which amended the bill further to stipulate that Certificates of Recognition would be issued only to students who achieve a “perfect score” on the assessment. As so amended the bill was given a First Consideration by the Senate on May 22, and a Second Consideration on May 23. Query whether this represents progress in accomplishing the sponsor’s initial goal.

  55. Blue Jacket May 23, 2018 / 9:06 pm

    It is unusual for me to be offering postings twice in one day. However, today I cannot help commenting further with regard to the issue mentioned in my posting earlier today.

    A little while ago, I received an e-mail update from Fair Districts PA about the changes that have been made to Senate Bill 22 by the Senate Committee on State Government. Fair Districts is an organization that I trust on the matter, and surely it has the best information about the status of the legislative redistricting proposal. The organization’s e-mail indicates that the proposed Constitutional amendment called for by Senate Bill 22 would be followed by “implementing legislation.”

    Yet, when I read the text of the amended version of Senate Bill 22, I see that it recites: “(c) The General Assembly shall prescribe by law the qualification to serve as a commission member. Each commission member shall possess all of the following qualifications, in addition to any qualifications prescribed by law:…”

    The bill then sets out in six subparagraphs an itemized list of specifically detailed criteria for qualifications of citizens who wish to be nominated for positions as members of the Redistricting Commission — criteria which (if I am properly reading the quoted text of the bill) would be included in the State Constitution…in addition to any qualifications prescribed by law. (See my earlier post for brief descriptions of some of the detail specified in those six subparagraphs).

    Gosh, I certainly hope that they know what they are proposing to cast in stone.

  56. Blue Jacket May 23, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Well, today’s Update of legislative Committee action confirms that the Senate Committee on State Government did meet yesterday (May 22) and voted to approved an amended version of Senate Bill 22,which proposes that the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to provide for establishment of a “Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Commission” comprised of citizens who are registered voters.

    The proposed amended version of the bill has been reported out of the Committee for further consideration by the Senate. It is quite lengthy and tedious. Rather than attempt to summarize it here, this citation should take you to the full text:

    Perhaps, the bill is so detailed as to produce a squeaky clean procedure for establishment of the proposed 11 member Commission. That such detail would be embedded in a Constitution leaves open the possibility that, if all consequences of that detail have not been taken into account, the surgery needed to correct errors or omissions may take years to accomplish. As Sir Edmund Burke cautioned centuries ago, perhaps there is some wisdom in attending to the faults of the state as one would attend to the wounds of a father. Hopefully, the crafters of the proposed Constitutional changes have taken into consideration the experience and examples of things done in other states.

    In any legislative bill, there is, of course, the possibility of further fine tuning up to the time of final action. And, even afterwards, a technical revisor or editor may set out a bill amending the grammar or text of a bill that was voted upon. That is particularly important when wording for a Constitution is being considered.

    Some of the detailed provisions in this bill caught my eye as I wonder how I might have worded them. The proposed Commission is to be constituted by December 31 in “each year ending in a zero” and is “to expire” after all required redistricting plans have been filed and appeals have been exhausted. Section 17 of Article II of the Constitution is apparently to have both a subsection “(m)” and an “(m1).” One subsection, “(u),” gives a good example of the need for editing: “A district that does not include the residence that a member of the Senate was elected whether or not scheduled for election at the next general election shall elect a senator at the election.” Surely, that must mean something to someone somewhere.

    But, there are more significant issues that might warrant further consideration. The list of qualifications for a citizen to be chosen as a Commission member is very lengthy and specific. One thinks of a Constitution as setting out broad principles and standards. This bill, however, seems to focus on pinpoint tailoring of eligibility. A candidate must be a voter who has been continuously registered with the same party or has had the same political affiliation for 3 years, has voted in 2 of the past 3 elections, does not have an immediate family member who has been a public official or judicial officer for 5 years, does not have a spouse who has served as a staff member or consultant to government officials for 5 years, is not a lobbyist, has not been nominated as a candidate for office for 5 years, etc. And, after completing service on the Commission, the member cannot serve as a staff member, consultant or lobbyists at the federal or state level, and the member’s spouse cannot hold an elective office or be appointed to a position or hold office in a political party for 5 years, etc. All this in a Constitution?

  57. Blue Jacket May 22, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    It has been awhile since our last report of legislative activity. The Legislature was in recess for the party primaries, but is now back in session. We had received a notice that the Senate Committee on State Government would be meeting yesterday (May 21) to consider Senate Bill 22 and proposals for reform of reapportionment and redistricting procedures. However, yesterday, Fair Districts PA sent an e-mail indicating that the Committee is meeting today (May 22) to consider the issue and to vote upon an amendment to the Bill. The Fair Districts organization’s email indicates that the amendment removes some provisions from the original version of the bill and adds others, which reflect a compromise but retain the goal of establishing an independent commission of citizens to perform the function of reapportionment and redistricting.

    You can read the Fair Districts summary of the changes at this web address:

    Apparently, Fair Districts supports the bill with the proposed amendment. I wonder if the amendment doesn’t go too far in preserving the legislators’ control of the process. But, whether or not the amended version is approved, the bill still calls for the reforms to be embodied in an amendment to the State Constitution. For, better or worse, that means Pennsylvania is still several years away from seeing a citizens’ commission established by law.

    In the meantime, there is still ill-feeling about the power exerted by the Chair of the House Committee on State Government, as he appears to make no bones about his mission to defeat any bill that weakens his party’s control of the Legislature. You’ll note that Fair Districts is urging citizens to contact the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to express a desire that the House version of the redistricting reform bill be referred to a Committee other than the Committee on State Government. Fair Districts mentions that the House Rules Committee might be a more palatable choice.

    Here, too, I wonder. Does the Rules Committee really have a record of being any less dilatory or obstructive to the progress of reform bills being considered? Or, do I — like Shakespeare’s Caesar said of Cassius — think too much?

  58. Blue Jacket May 12, 2018 / 9:56 am

    Today’s Update from the State Legislature includes a notice that the Committee on State Government will be meeting at noon on May 21, 2018 (a Monday), in Room 8E-B of the East Wing of the State Capitol to consider Senate Bill 22 — the bill that proposes that the State Constitution be amended to provide for a citizens’ commission to have authority and responsibility for Legislative and Congressional redistricting. The bill has been in Committee since February 27, 2017, The topic has had at least two public hearings in which it and alternative proposals have been considered.
    It might be well to remember that a Committee “meeting” is not a “public hearing,” and that legislative proposals may change or be modified by vote of the Committee before the bill is reported out, with or without amendments, for further consideration by the Senate. Still we might expect to see numerous members of the public at the Capitol to express their support, either silently by their presence or by calls and visits to legislators’ offices Not unlike expectant parents in the waiting room of a maternity ward, one might say.

  59. Blue Jacket May 11, 2018 / 11:50 am

    Sometimes a bill in the Legislature is worded so pin-pointedly that one wonders if the bill isn’t intended to address only a specific constituent groups’ special concern rather than the general rules of law that apply to society in general. Such, it seems, is a bill mentioned in today’s Update of activity in the State Legislature.

    A Senator representing various counties in the southern part of the State has introduced SB 1168, which proposes only that the court of common pleas shall — no longer “may” — certify to the county board of elections for a referendum vote of the residents a question, if raised by 5% of the voters in “any borough not divided into wards, which…had a population of not more than 3,000,” which proposes to reduce the number of borough council members from seven to five or to three.

    We note that the bill recites that “Upon receipt of the certified election results, the court shall enter a final decree granting or denying the request of the petitioners.” Hmmmm…..The bill as drafted took the time in the initial part of its provisions to change the word “may” to “shall.” A clear mandate to the court. But, does the bill intentionally leave some discretion to the court in its later language? That is, based on the language used, can we safely presume that the court’s decree must be in accordance with the results of the election?

    It sounds like something is brewing in a particular borough down south. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Local Government for consideration.

  60. Blue Jacket May 4, 2018 / 11:27 am

    Hmmmm. What were we saying yesterday about Spring being a time for new ideas?

    Today’s legislative Update from the State Legislature reports that a new bill, HB2319 has been introduced in the House of Representatives by a legislator from Chester County. It proposes that incumbent Magisterial District Judges be relieved of the need to file petitions evidencing 100 signatures in order to have their names placed on a ballot for re-election, but that they be allows to file a Certificate of Nomination instead.

    Sound familiar? About three weeks ago, the same proposal was submitted in the State Senate as SB299. by a legislator from Adams County.

    The new House bill’s sponsor indicated in his preliminary Memorandum that “Requiring them [incumbent Magisterial District Judges] to petition for signatures often leads to dangerous encounters with people they have had to judge in court, or their family members. In a recent study by EB Jacobs and Penn State University, nearly 37% of PA District Court Judges reported some sort of hostile behavior while they were out petitioning, and 10% of those judges experienced physical harm and threats.”

    Oh, dear. Must we now search for ways to insulate our elected officials from having to encounter the very individuals who elected them? Might we not instead consider appointing all Magisterial Judges on a merit based system, without need for any of them (incumbent or not) to campaign for election?

    And, if we are really fearful that our elected officials might be in danger of “dangerous encounters” and “hostile behavior” of the electorate, perhaps we can ask ourselves whether we really need a bi-cameral Legislature instead of currently having two legislators (a Senator and a Representative, each at a cost of $87,000 per year– more than twice the average of all states) spending their time developing identical pieces of legislation. Was Nebraska wrong to have implemented a unicameral legislative body? Are States like Texas and Nevada wrong to have their Legislatures meet biennially? Or, do we have a full- time bicameral Legislature laden with costs, redundant operations, and power struggles because “that’s the way things are done”?

    Wasn’t there recent series of bills by some Pennsylvania legislators proposing to update and reform Pennsylvania’s government for the 21st century and to make it more responsive to the needs of people?

    Just sayin’.

  61. Blue Jacket May 3, 2018 / 11:43 am

    The fresh air of Spring appears to have at last arrived for good in central Pennsylvania. Blossoms of dogwood, magnolia, and sakura delight the eye. Even in today’s Update of legislative activity we sense signs of fresh thought wafting through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

    Representative Paul Schemel (R-Franklin County) floated an idea last November when the winds of winter were approaching — why not try to control the expense of maintaining PA’s Legislature by reducing legislators’ salaries? Now, he has introduced his proposal as House Bill 2314, and it has been referred to the Committee on State Government

    Schemel pointed out in his introductory Memorandum: “Since 1967 our Commonwealth has lost nine congressional seats, we have amassed a pension liability in excess of $75 billion (which the “landmark” pension reform of 2017 does not address) and we resorted to borrowing $1.5 billion to close this year’s budget. In return for a significant annual investment of taxpayer dollars, the political website FiveThirtyEight lists Pennsylvania fifth worst in the nation in political corruption. Satirist Dave Barry last year quipped that his home state of Florida’s legislature, being among the least costly in the nation, provides taxpayers with ineptitude and corruption for a fraction of the cost of other states. Pennsylvania cannot even claim the distinction of low cost ineptitude.”

    Schemel’s bill calls for reducing legislators’ salaries from the current level of $87,000+ annually to $25,000 and compressing the calendar of the Legislature’s sessions.. By doing so, he says, “we would limit both the time which legislators will tolerate being in session and reduce the opportunity for political corruption which comes with Members’ financial dependence on their elected positions.”

    He appeals to his colleagues in the Legislature: “…Look to our sister states whose part-time legislatures are filled with competent and willing elected officials…. You cannot look to a list of legislative accomplishments in Pennsylvania as a defense of our full-time status.”

    Schemel’s Memorandum points out, “There are many avenues which we may consider, this is only one. I invite you to offer ideas and to join the conversation by joining me in co-sponsoring this transformative legislation.”

    Indeed. One topic that is comes to mind and continues to vex me is the astounding number of “Noncontroversial Resolutions” that the Pennsylvania Legislature addresses. In today’s Update from the Legislature, I counted some 27 items labeled as “Noncontroversial Resolution under Rule 35.” That’s only one day’s worth ! Everything from designating next week as “Drinking Water Week” in Pennsylvania to recognizing May 12 as “National Train Day.” There are another 3 or 4 other items reported as actions on bills to give certain portions of State highways or particular bridges names or titles in honor or memory of some noteworthy individual. Is this really constructive use of a legislator’s time? At $87,000 a year? Researching and composing Memoranda in support of such resolutions, having them printed and calendared for consideration? Might there not be another way to accomplish announcement and publication of such actions without losing the significance of the commemorative action for the constituent, group, or issue involved?

    But, let’s focus on reports of other constructive actions. Another bill that Representative Schemel has introduced is HB 2309. It proposes that the terms of legislators be limited: 3 full terms for Senators, 6 terms for Representatives, effectively holding each elected legislator to 12 years of consecutive service before having to wait a full year before again running for re-election. That bill has now been referred to the Committee on State Government.

    One other bill we noted in today’s Update is House Bill 2311, introduced by Representative Michael Corr (R-Montgomery County). It proposes that individuals be prohibited from running simultaneously for more than one elected position in the same election. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

    In the field of geopolitics, Spring is said to be a time of re-birth, for development of new ideas, and fresh starts. Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of these ideas about the Legislature discussed and earnestly considered? As Nanki-Poo sings in the Mikado, “As welcome as the flowers that bloom in the Spring. Tra-la.”

  62. Blue Jacket May 2, 2018 / 10:02 am

    Today’s Update of legislative activity from the State Legislature shows the signs of progression in the making of laws. Six bills are reported to have now been presented to the Governor for his decision to sign or veto them. None of them pertain to elections or voting.

    In the House of Representatives, we note one new bill related to elections that has been introduced and referred to the Committee on State Government. According to its sponsor’s introductory memorandum, Following up on a study of the Joint State Government Commission’s Report that had been issued in December 2017, HB2323 proposes that, “the Pennsylvania Election Code be amended to improve the integrity of voting equipment in Pennsylvania.”. The law would require that voting machines purchased in the Commonwealth will produce a permanent paper record for each vote cast. In the event of a recount of an election, the paper record would be used to verify the accuracy of the votes cast on the voting equipment.” You may recall that PA’s Department of State issued a directive to this effect last month; this bill would in effect make it a statutory requirement.

    Among other bills that caught our eye, we noted HB1970 — “”An act declaring what offices are incompatible.” Now, that’s an interesting title. The bill was introduced in December 2017 considered by the Committee on State Government and has already received its first consideration. The sponsor’s introductory memorandum explains that the legislation “prohibit a Senator or Representative from holding the position of solicitor of a municipality, municipal authority or school district.” We shouldn’t mix religion and politics in our postings, but, in this instance, we can’t resist a smile as we recall something in the Bible: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:13-15. Perhaps, our legislators do have some understanding of the concept of “conflict of interest.” One can wonder how they might feel about codifying provisions in law governing legislators employed in non-governmental businesses.

  63. Blue Jacket May 1, 2018 / 12:01 pm

    The State Legislature’s daily Update of activity today reports that House Bill 638 (eliminating the ability of school board candidates to cross-file as candidates for more than one political party) has now been referred to the Senate Committee on State Government. The bill has already been passed by the State House of Representative on April 18 by a vote of 114-77.

    In the House of Representatives, Resolution 83 has been placed on the table and removed from the table five times since it was first reported out of the Committee on State Government in April 2017. The Resolution pertains to the advisability of studying and replacing the system that is used to count votes of legislators on the floor of the House of Representatives. The current system is reportedly very old, requires significant maintenance, and is prone to malfunction. The matter was again on the table and off the table yesterday.

    Although the Legislature’s Update does not include mention the continuing struggle to address the State’s reapportionment and redistricting procedures, a report from Fair Districts PA has provided a report of some of the behind-the-scenes activity. You may recall that a public hearing on the issue was held by the Senate Committee on State Government on March 27. That hearing included testimony on Senate Bill 22 (favored by the Fair Districts PA group) which would have redistricting responsibilities assigned to an independent commission of citizens. A similar, companion bill (HB722) to the same effect remained pending in the House of Representatives.

    Fair Districts PA reported that the House Committee on State Government conducted a Committee meeting on April 11 and voted to revise HB722, apparently deleting the proposal for an independent citizens’ commission and ensuring that the Legislature would remain in control of redistricting. (We have not seen a copy of the bill as reportedly amended). However, another bill, HB 563, had been introduced and proposed that the responsibilities for both Congressional and State legislative redistricting be performed by a citizens’ commission. Fair Districts PA indicated that it supported that alternate bill. Now, Fair Districts PA reports that the House Committee on State Government has again met, impromptu, and voted to revise the alternate bill, again removing the proposal for a citizens’ commission to have authority for redistricting. (Again, at this time we have seen no official report of the bill as so revised).

    As the issue develops, it is interesting to follow the tenacity of the legislators and the persistence of Fair Districts PA. Since Pennsylvania’s Constitution has long recognized the authority of the Legislature in redistricting, the legislators have a legitimate claim that the procedures not be changed. However, Fair Districts PA seems to have a legitimate claim that the continuing implementation of gerrymandered voting districts by the legislators on behalf of the major political party leaders raises questions of conflict of interest, usurpation of power, and unfair lack of representation and participation by the citizenry in their government. It is of concern that much of the political maneuvering by the legislators goes on in impromptu meetings with little opportunity for meaningful public input.

    “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a quote attributed to many nineteenth century political philosophers, including Thomas Jefferson. We’ll leave you with what might be a more pithy statement “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner” (James Bovard, Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty).

  64. Blue Jacket April 26, 2018 / 11:59 am

    An Update of legislative activity received today indicates that Senate Bill 1038 was given its Second Consideration in the State Senate yesterday. As previously noted, the bill pertains to the disposition of residual or unused campaign funds and would allow such funds to be distributed to nonprofit organizations.

    The Update also mentions that House Bill 444 (which had been passed by the House of Representatives previously) has been “placed on the table,” pursuant to one of the Senate’s procedural rules. As initially presented in the House of Representatives in early 2017, the bill sought to clarify a discrepancy in the State’s statutes regarding the number of signatures required on a petition to place a school board candidate’s name on a ballot. (Some school districts extend into municipalities of differing classifications and require differing numbers of signatures for nomination–25 signatures in some districts, 100 signatures in others). But, now, in the Senate, the bill seems to have given rise to some concern about a requirement in the bill that a school board candidate indicate his “residence,”, as opposed to saying that the candidate indicate the “address at which he is duly registered and enrolled.” ……Interesting, isn’t it? The legislators are so concerned about the word residence, but suggest using a phrase that overlooks the advisability of saying “he or she” or “enrolled as a registered voter.”

    But, who am I to criticize? For, if you read the posting I offered yesterday about PA’s effort to address the need to improve civic education, you probably noticed that I left unattended numerous typographical errors. Hopefully, a corrected copy of the posting can be substituted soon.

  65. Blue Jacket April 25, 2018 / 6:48 pm

    Joe Foss was a WWII veteran Marine Corps General who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt for his service in the Battle of Guadalcanal. In 2001, Joe was enroute to give a speech at West Point, but was detained by airport security officials in Arizona, when he was found wearing the medal and carrying a souvenir replica of a bullet and a commemorative nail file. Not recognizing the medal or the person, the airport security officials demanded that the items be confiscated. Ultimately, Joe was able to keep the medal and the nail file by agreeing to have them shipped back to his home address before being he was allowed to board his plane. Joe reportedly said that he was less concerned about the delay in his travel than by the fact that the airport personnel did not recognize what the medal was.

    That same year, Joe and his wife established the Joe Foss Institute to “educate our youth on the importance of America’s freedoms and to inspire them to public service.” Joe did not live long after that, but the Institute has gone on to carry out his wishes for improving America’s civic education. By 2014, the Institute undertook an initiative to respond to reports about the nation’s growing lack of knowledge about civics. The program has endeavored to provide classroom education, materials for teachers, and scholarships for students in the effort to improve knowledge and understanding of the principles upon which our government was founded.

    The Initiative posits that, as they attain the voting age, the nation’s youth should be able to pass the U.S. Citizenship Test—the same test that immigrants are required to pass when they apply to become citizens of—as a condition of graduation from high school. As of 2018, it is reported that 23 states have enacted this same or similar requirement and 12 other states have been considering such legislation.

    Coincidentally, you may recall that the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center has conducted annual surveys of the public’s knowledge of civics and government. In 2014 the Center’s survey indicated that, among other things: (a) although 1/3 of those surveyed could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many could not name a single one; (b) just over 27 percent of Americans know that it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto; and (c) one in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent to Congress for reconsideration. Subsequent survey results have been as disappointing, if not worse.

    In February, 2017, Representatives Karen Boback (R-Lackawanna, Luzerne), and William Kortz (D-Allegheny) introduced HB 564 in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, proposing that Pennsylvania be among the states enacting a requirement of civics knowledge for graduation from high school. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education for consideration. It was ultimately reported out of Committee on April 9, 2018, bearing a substantial change to its terms.

    The bill was changed in Committee by deletion of the requirement that students pass the US Citizenship Test as a condition of graduation. Instead, the amended bill provided that, beginning with the 2020-21 school year, and every two years thereafter, Pennsylvania’s schools “administer at least once to students during grades 7 through 12 a locally developed assessment” of US history, government and civics. The word “assessment” is not defined in the amended bill, except by stating that “each school entity shall determine the form of assessment,” and that a school “may” use the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Test to satisfy the requirements.

    Students who receive a passing grade are to receive a “Certificate of Recognition,” and the State’s Department of Education is subsequently to survey the schools and post on post, on its publicly accessible website, data concerning how many students took the “assessment,” how many attained a passing grade, etc.

    Within a week after having been reported out of Committee, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 191-4. In its amended form, the bill now goes to the State Senate for its consideration.

  66. Blue Jacket April 19, 2018 / 9:42 am

    A further Update about legislative activity.

    House Bill 638, mentioned in yesterday’s posting, is today reported as having been given its Third Consideration and was passed by the State’s House of Representatives, 114-77.

    In other activity, a series of new bills (HB2101 though HB2105) has been introduced in the House under the primary sponsorship of Representative Bloom (R-Cumberland County). This forward thinking and far-reaching plan would realign, consolidate and eliminate some of the State’s governing entities. Under the title “Reinventing State Government for the 21st Century,” the effort includes HB2104 by Representative Matt Dowling (R-Somerset and Fayette Counties), which proposes a Department of Local Government and Community Affairs (DLGCA). He indicates that the Commonwealth’s focus on economic and community development has become “watered down” since former Governor Ridge’s consolidation of those topics into the current DECD.

    Dowling’s introductory Memorandum recites, in part:

    “Pennsylvania has the second most local governmental entities of any state with almost 5,000 local governments. This proposal would merge different state agencies to create a new state department to address local community needs and concerns…. This department would be comprised of powers and authorities from the Department of State and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

    “The department would be overseen by a cabinet secretary who would act as Secretary of the Commonwealth, which is a constitutional position. The department would oversee and assist counties across the state with managing elections. The department would also handle local government grant and tax credit programs transferred from DCED. Similar to the newly created Department of Business, Tourism and Workforce Development, the DLGCA would have an office of Local Government Consultant. The role of this office would be as a liaison between the department and local governments assisting with grant applications and other issues facing local government. DLGCA will be divided into: Center for Local Government, Bureau of Elections, State Athletic Commission, Office of Local Government Consultants”

    The five bills have now been referred to the House’s Committee on State Government and would appear to be well worth following.

  67. Blue Jacket April 18, 2018 / 11:20 am

    A brief note of information derived from a reading of the State Legislature’s daily Update.

    In the State House of Representatives, a Resolution was presented yesterday to discharge the Committee on State Government from giving further consideration to House Bill 563. As introduced, the bill proposed that the State Constitution be amended to consolidate the responsibility for legislative reapportionment and Congressional redistricting in a single independent commission of eleven members. (Perhaps, this is some sign that the Legislature is homing in on which proposals for reform of the redistricting process will and will not be given further consideration).

    Also , the House has given a Second Consideration to House Bill 638, which would clarify statutes which currently allow candidates for school boards to “cross-file” and have their names appear on the ballot as candidates for both political parties in uncontested races. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee for review of what fiscal impact, if any, the bill might have.

    In the State Senate, SB 299 has been returned from the Committee on State Government (which voted in favor of the bill 12-0) and has been given its First Consideration. As noted in a previous posting, the bill would eliminate the need for incumbent Magisterial District Judges to gather signatures and file a petition for re-nomination as a candidate for re-election.

    The Committee on State Government also voted 12-0 to approve Senate Bill 1038, which would allow candidates to disburse residual campaign funds to 501(c)(3) organizations. The Senate then gave the bill its First Consideration.

  68. Blue Jacket April 17, 2018 / 11:52 am

    This morning, the State Legislature’s Update of pending bills reports a busy day at the Capitol yesterday. We note two bills that might be of interest to LWVLA members.

    House Bill 638, described in a previous posting on this blog on March 14, 2018, after receiving a first consideration in the House of Representative, was removed from the table yesterday. In its latest rendition, we note only that use of the phrase “Justice of the Peace” has been changed to “Magisterial District Judge,” wherever it appears.

    Perhaps of more interest, Senate Bill 1078 yesterday received its second consideration and is on the Senate’s calendar for a third consideration today. The bill proposes to allow municipalities and school district boards to meet in executive session for discussions of the topics emergency preparedness, public safety and security. Our Senator for the 23rd District, Gene Yaw, is one of 12 co-sponsors of the bill. The Senate is scheduled to convene at 1:00 pm. If you would like to see the action without traveling to Harrisburg, you can see the session via live streaming on your computer at:

    As mentioned in a posting yesterday, the Senate Committee on State Government will be meeting today at noon, and the Committee’s agenda includes two bills related to election laws,

    However, LWVLA has scheduled a luncheon Forum meeting with the County Commissioners at 11:30 a.m. Perhaps, we can learn a bit about what plans are in store, if any, for changing the county’s voting machines.

    Which meeting might offer the bill of fare that is easier to digest?

    In other news, the local newspaper reports that an overflow crowd appeared at the Capitol yesterday to express support for Fair Districts, Inc., and the proposal to require that the State Constitution be amended to require that legislative redistricting be conducted by an independent citizens rather than by the Legislature. As previously reported, a second public hearing on the issue is scheduled for April 24.

  69. Blue Jacket April 14, 2018 / 1:24 pm

    This morning’s Update from the State Legislature tells us that the Senate Committee on State Government has scheduled a meeting for noon on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The Committee’s agenda includes consideration of two bills related to the State’s Election Code.

    Senate Bill 299 proposes that, in order to have their names placed on the ballot for election, incumbent Magisterial District Judges need only file a “Certificate of Nomination,” in lieu of filing a petition signed by 100 voters, as is currently required. According to the introductory Memorandum of its sponsoring Senator, “Any non-incumbent candidate is still permitted to collect the signatures and run in a contested election.” Query: Fair? Does it promote greater participation in government by the electorate?

    Senate Bill 1038 proposes that candidates for political office be allowed to dispose of residual campaign funds not only (a) by using them for permissible expenses or (b) by returning them to the contributors pro rata, as is currently allowed, but also (c) by distributing the funds to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Query: So, if the candidate chooses to distribute the unused campaign funds to, say, only the NRA, would that be consistent with the wishes of everyone who contributed the funds?

    In passing, we should mention that the Senate’s Committee is also holding a public hearing on April 24, 2018, to give further consideration to redistricting reform. We note that Fair Districts, Inc., and LWVPA have expressed deep disappointment about the House Committee on State Government’s submission of an amendment to House Bill 722 on April 11 so as to allow the legislative leaders to control reapportionment and redistricting. The Legislature’s Bill Information web page does not yet show the text of the House Committee’s action.

    As initially submitted, HB722 was intended as a companion to Senate Bill 22, which proposed that redistricting functions be handled by an independent commission of citizens, not by the legislators. However, in a prior public hearing, on March 27, some testimony by former political party leaders argued that the function is properly that of a Legislature; and, on that same day, the sponsor of SB 22 testified that she was “not wed” to any specific provision of the initial bill. She also submitted SB1060, in which she suggests that perhaps the responsibility for redistricting could be initially left with the Legislature.

    Otto Von Bismarck has been credited with having restated, “Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.”

  70. Blue Jacket April 10, 2018 / 11:11 pm

    A newsletter from Senator Yaw’s (R-23rd PA Senatorial district) office today advises that the Pennsylvania State Senate will be reconvening on April 16, 2018.

    The Legislature’s daily Update indicates that the Committee on State Government will be holding a second public hearing on the issue of redistricting of Congressional voting districts.
    The hearing will be held at 10:00a.m. on Tuesday April 24, 2018 in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building of the State Capitol in Harrisburg.

    As warm weather approaches, I should think that this hearing will be as well attended as was the previous one and that it will be both informative and interesting to LWVLA members truly concerned about our State legislators’ plans about the issue.

    Perhaps, this is a good time to remind LWVLA members that new and pending bills in the PA Legislature, including information about the background and status of those bills, can be found by accessing the Legislature’s website. A cite that will bring you directly to the search page for State legislation is:
    Why not copy or write down that web address for future reference?

    You can also find legislation that your State Senator or Representative has introduced by visiting his or her individual website. Simply click on (select) the tab for “Senate” or “House” at the top of the Legislature’s webpage. Then, you’ll be able to click on the legislator’s name and be taken directly to his or her website. And, there, you will find links to sponsored bills as well as a means for contacting the legislator. If you have concerns that you’d like to share or questions you’d like to ask, this is an easy way to speak up and request answers from your legislator. (It is also an effective way to make use of the Internet services and e-mail that you are likely already paying for, and a meaningful way to keep yourself informed and involved in the government that your tax dollars support).

    Bills sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw:
    Bills sponsored by Representative Fred Keller (R-85th PA Legislative district):

    While we are at it (and, since there seems to be a bit of a lull in State legislative activity), you might find the following links helpful if you are interested in tracking the progress of federal bills and the legislative activity of your US Senator or member of the House of Representatives:

    Bills in Congress:
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Bob Casey:
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey:
    Bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Representative Tom Marino (R-PA)–District 10 (to be 12) :

  71. Blue Jacket April 10, 2018 / 10:58 am

    With regard to laws affecting voting and elections, it seems to have been rather quiet in the Legislature lately. But, this morning, the legislative Update reports that Senators Alloway (R-Adams County) and Reschenthaler (R-Alleghany County) have introduced Senate Bill 299. They stated in their preliminary Memorandum to fellow legislators that the proposed legislation would:
    “change the way in which an incumbent magisterial district judge gets on the ballot for re-election. As former MDJs, we realize the difficulties placed upon these members of the judiciary, which are prohibited from engaging in politics, except during the period of time in which they are seeking re-election. Therefore, our legislation will change the election code and permit incumbent MDJs to file a certificate of nomination for re-election, as opposed to collecting the 100 signatures, as is currently required. Non-incumbent individuals seeking the office will still be required to collect the requisite number of signatures.
    “To be clear, this is not retention, which is constitutionally prohibited for district judges. Our legislation merely changes the way in which an incumbent gets on the ballot, in recognition of the fact that members of the judiciary are statutorily prohibited from engaging in politics, except during their re-election cycle. Any non-incumbent candidate is still permitted to collect the signatures and run in a contested election.”

    Forgive me my inability to understand. Is the intent to make it easier for incumbents to be re-elected ?
    The bill as been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

  72. Blue Jacket March 28, 2018 / 10:37 am

    In updating news of legislative activity, we note that two bills mentioned in our posting yesterday (SB 263 and SB 762) have been reported as passed by a vote of 48-0 in the State Senate.

    Yesterday was a special day at the State Capitol; for, the Legislature’s Committee on State Government held a public hearing on the issue of redistricting of the State’s Congressional and State legislative districts. The issue has long awaited action in the Legislature

    Before a crowd of approximately 250 people gathered by presence in the main hearing room or by televised viewing in adjoining hearing rooms, 11 of the Committee’s 14 members entertained testimony and asked questions about several proposals to reform the way Pennsylvania sets the boundaries of its voting districts.

    The individuals presenting testimony knew their subject and seemed to be in agreement that changes are needed. Senator Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin), Chair of the Committee, and Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), Democratic Chair of the Committee, welcomed them and invited the other members of the Committee to ask questions and express their own perspectives.

    Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), the catalyst behind Senate Bill 22, shared her own frustration in running for office under the current redistricting procedures. She explained why she put together a bipartisan group of her colleagues to study and set forth a proposal for formation of an independent commission of citizens to have the responsibility for preparing district boundaries, instead of continuing to entrust the work to the State’s legislators.
    Pointing out that her bill is in part a reintroduction of a proposal she had made in a previous session of the Legislature, she said she had studied a similar arrangement in California that effectively performs the function in that State, and which has significantly improved the electorate’s confidence in their legislators.
    When asked by Senator Folmer why she favored California’s approach, as opposed to Arizona’s procedure, she indicated that she was impressed by the fact that California voters, through an initiative and referendum, had demanded that there be an independent commission of citizens, not one of party leaders or legislators with vested interests in retaining power. (In passing she allowed that she wouldn’t mind seeing an initiative and referendum procedure in Pennsylvania; but, she acknowledged that that is an issue for another day).
    Another concern expressed by Senator Folmer centered on the proposed reform’s reliance upon a Special Master, a single individual, to develop an acceptable map in the event that the citizens’ commission could not reach agreement. Boscola pointed out that, by analogy, under Pennsylvania’s current system, if the Legislature cannot reach agreement, the State Supreme Court steps in and engages a single individual or firm to prepare a new map. Nonetheless, Folmer’s concern seems to have persisted. Several times during the hearing he mentioned that, whatever approach the Legislature takes, he wishes to “do it right.”
    Senator Alloway asked Boscola what her objective or goal was in seeking reform. She indicated that she wishes to see Pennsylvania’s districts established by a procedure that is fair and transparent to voters and which respects the Constitutional criteria of compactness, contiguity of geographical boundaries and preservation of community interests. Senator Alloway seemed to challenge that view, asserting that what is fair in the eyes of some may not be fair in the eyes of others. Senator Boscola urged her colleagues to support the bill, but said that she was “not wed” to any of its provisions if better suggestions could be offered.

    Later in the hearing, Carolyn Kuniholm of FairDistricts PA, echoed Senator Boscola’s call for an independent citizens’ commission, and urged the Committee to support SB22. She provided the Committee with a further in-depth review of the problems of the State’s current redistricting process. Partisanship has become entrenched in gerrymandering and is causing political gridlock, economic stagnation, and the electorate’s lack of confidence in its representatives. Gerrymandering is, she said, the worst in the nation when one considers the efficiency gap shown in voting results, and is repugnant to the Constitution. Again Senator Alloway asked what the goal of the movement for reform is, and again the answer came – fairness, competitive districts, and improvement of voter participation and confidence in their government. And, again, Alloway suggested that what is fair to one may not be fair in the eyes of another. When asked if there might not be another way to improve voter participation, Kuniholm mentioned that the League of Women Voters has recently conducted a study which might lead to a conclusion that a hybrid of an open primary system might help.

    Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and Jay Costa (D-Alleghany) offered two other approaches to revise the redistricting process. Blake’s bill (SB464) would engage a commission of9 members to be responsible for both Congressional and statewide redistricting. Costa’ bill (SB767) suggests that the reforms could be implemented by legislation, until a longer term remedy could be developed by Senator Boscola’s proposal to amend to the State Constitution or by another approach.

    Two former state political party chairmen, Alan Novak (Republican) and T.J. Rooney (Democrat), testified and presented their case for retaining the Legislature’s authority for redistricting. They insisted that the process should be the responsibility of the representatives of the people, the body that was elected and is accountable to the electorate. Senator Anthony Williams gave an impassioned rebuttal, pointing out that the legislators are clearly “untrusted” to handle the process, whether or not they are responsible. His remarks drew applause from those in attendance at several points during the hearing.

    In review, the most searching and profound questions to those testifying seemed to have come from by Senator Andrew Dinnniman (D-Chester). It was truly enjoyable to hear his perspectives. Among his observations, he suggested that citizens are asking for more than reform of the redistricting process. He pointed out that, perhaps, the question we should be asking is what process will result in greater participation and confidence of the electorate.

    In sum, it was a day long in coming. Perhaps, the Legislature has begun to sense the public’s frustration and desire for an end to gerrymandering and partisan gridlock.


    Timing is sometimes everything. As if to address a concern that was raised in yesterday’s public hearing about the provisions of Senate Bill SB22, Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) has now introduced Senate Bill 1060, a Joint Resolution, proposing that the State Constitution be amended to reform the redistricting process in a different manner. The Chair of the Committee on State Government had expressed concern yesterday about the possibility that SB22 might rest in a Special Master, a single individual, the authority for resolving disagreement about proposed redistricting plans.
    Perhaps, she saw it coming. For, in a preliminary Memorandum to her fellow Senators, on February 8, Senator Boscola had said that an alternative approach “would effectively model a break-through, bipartisan compromise recently put forward in our neighboring state of Ohio.”
    In her new Senate Bill 1060, introduced yesterday, Boscola appears to indicate that the alternative might be to allow the Legislature to retain first authority for redistricting. Each legislative chamber would be required to approve by three-fifths vote proposed maps for state legislative and Congressional districts. But, in the event that the General Assembly does not muster the required three-fifths support, an eleven-member bipartisan Redistricting Commission would be asked to hold public hearings across the state and then to develop and approve new maps. Composition of the Commission would be solely independent citizens, appointed in a process that “includes a series of random selections by lot.” 4 members would be individuals registered with the largest political party in the state; 4 would be individuals registered with the second-largest political party; and 3 would be individuals with affiliations to neither of the two largest parties. In order for a redistricting plan to be approved, it would have to receive 7 votes in the Commission, with at least 1 vote coming from each of the Commission’s subgroups.

    It will be interesting to see how the Committee Chair and FairDistrictsPA react to this new bill.

  73. Blue Jacket March 27, 2018 / 9:27 am

    In this morning’s Update of State legislative activity, three bills related to the State’s election systems are reported to have made further progress in the Legislature yesterday.

    Senate Bill 761 (proposing that the State Constitution be amended to allow candidates for the positions of Governor and Lieutenant Governor be allowed to campaign as a team) has been referred by the House of Representatives to the Committee on State Government. As noted in a previous blog post, the bill has already passed the State Senate.

    Senate Bill 263 (proposing the elimination of the requirement that permanently disabled voters file a written confirmation of their continuing disability every four years in order to qualify for an absentee ballot) has now been returned from the Appropriations Committee for the Senate’s further consideration.

    Likewise, Senate Bill 762 (proposing that the State’s SURE system be made subject to external audit has been returned from the Appropriations Committee for the Senate’s further consideration.

    In the House of Representatives, Representative Frankel (D-Alleghany) has introduced a joint Resolution that proposes to urge Congress to pass the “Secure Elections Act.”
    The proposed federal law might provide some financial assistance. The bipartisan federal bill, introduced by Sen. Lankfor (R-OK) and Sen. Harris (D-CA), proposes that grants be made available to states wishing to replace voting machines, provided that the new machines include a voter-verified paper ballot. States might also be allowed to apply for money to improve election procedures, if the procedures conform with recommendations of an advisory committee regarding post-election audits. The bill also suggests that an insurance pool be started for states that must conduct recounts for close elections; and require voting-equipment manufacturers to provide prompt notification of possible cybersecurity incidents.
    Frankel points out that many counties in Pennsylvania lack needed funds to replace outdated voting machines and that it might cost as much as $26 million to purchase voting equipment in his county alone.

  74. Blue Jacket March 21, 2018 / 11:30 am

    An Update of State legislative activity related to election laws indicates the following actions in the State Senate yesterday.

    Senate Bill 761 (mentioned in my posting on 3/20/2018, referring to a proposal to allow candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to campaign together as a team) is now reported to have been returned from the Appropriations Committee, has received a third consideration, and was passed unanimously by the Senate.
    The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for that chamber to consider. If passed by the House, it must be reconsidered and passed again by both chambers in the 2019-2020 session before it can be placed on a ballot for consideration as a Constitutional amendment by voters.

  75. Blue Jacket March 20, 2018 / 11:23 am

    An Update of State legislative activity yesterday related to election laws indicates the following actions in the State Senate.

    Senate Bill 263 (a reintroduction of a proposal that was made in the 2015-16 legislative session) would eliminate the requirement for disabled voters with permanent absentee voter status to submit a written statement every four years asserting that they remain disabled and continue to qualify for permanent absentee voter status. Now, having received a first consideration in November, 2017, it was given a second consideration yesterday and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee, to review what fiscal impact the bill might have.

    Senate Bill 761 proposes to amend the state’s Constitution to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mate (similar to the process by which Presidential candidates select their running mates and campaign as a team). Having received a first consideration in December, 2017, the bill it has now been given a second consideration and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 762 proposes to require an external performance audit of the Pennsylvania Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE system) by the Auditor General and the process by which voter registrations records are entered and maintained. (SURE is the centralized voter registration and election management system designed to secure the accuracy and integrity voter registration records. The Department of State reviews county compliance with the requirements of the system, but no comprehensive external audit of the system has ever been done. Having received a first consideration in December 2017, it has now been referred to the Appropriations Committee.

    House Bill 444 had been passed by the State’s House of Representatives in December, 2017, by a vote of 191-0. It proposes to correct an inconsistency in current law that creates different ballot access requirements for candidates for school board within the same school district. In order to clarify the law, the bill would require that all candidates for School Director be required to submit 25 signatures for nomination. A minor amendment to the text of the bill was made by the Committee on State Government, and the Senate had given it a first consideration in December, 2017. It is reported that, yesterday, it was laid on the table and then removed from the table, (perhaps a suggestion that the Senate wishes more work on the bill before it is given further consideration on the floor).

  76. lwvlablog March 17, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    LWVLA Candidates Night Participation Policy
    1. The LWVLA will invite candidates registered with the Secretary of State and Local Board of Elections and Declared Write-in candidates, if any, for the office in question to participate in our events. All candidates will be invited simultaneously and in the same manner, which will include email. If an email address is not available for the candidate, regular mail may be used for that candidate. Invitations will specify this new policy.

    2A. If an invited state or local candidate is unable or decides not to appear at a scheduled Candidates Night, the event will still be held. This is the case even if only one candidate for an office with a scheduled panel appears. Unopposed candidates may appear alone.

    2B. Federal Races- In cases where more than one candidate for a federal office is present, but not all the candidates, the League will follow the same format as originally planned with those candidates who are in attendance. Names of absent candidates will be announced as the office arises. If only one candidate is present, the debate for that office will be cancelled.

    3. No substitutes or stand-ins for the candidates will be allowed.

    4. The moderator will announce that all candidates were invited to participate. In announcing that a candidate is not participating, the moderator will present a brief statement that a candidate either did not respond or declined or was unable to participate without any editorial comment.

    5. The candidate or candidates who attend will have an opportunity to make opening and closing statements and to express their positions on issues and respond to questions submitted by our League and the audience. Should a candidate, that committed to attend, advise our League in writing, that he/she is unable to appear due to extra ordinary circumstances, and at the discretion of our League’s Board, may then submit a written statement to be read by the moderator equal in length to the opening statement of the candidate or candidates present on the panel for that office.

    6. All media outlets that typically cover LWVLA events will be notified of this policy in the press releases, media interviews, social media and other communications prior to the events.

    7. The League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area Candidates Night events will be conducted in accordance with other event rules as provided to candidates with their invitations.

  77. Carole Madle March 17, 2018 / 2:12 am

    Thanks to Janice Bigelow for getting this set up and to Blue Jacket for blogging the updates on state legislative actions/inactions. Anxious to see what else shows up.

  78. Blue Jacket March 16, 2018 / 9:22 am

    An update of recent activity of the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members

    The Legislature’s Update of activity reports that, yesterday, Senator Stefano (R-Fayette) has introduced Senate Bill 1085 to improve transparency in local elections. The bill proposes that counties, upon receiving required reports of campaign contributions, would then convey this information to the Department of State to post on their public website for review.

  79. Liz Clement March 15, 2018 / 5:58 pm

    Me too…I’ve always been proud to be a part of LWVLA. Kudos to Janice – this blog looks fantastic!

  80. Susan Warner-Mills March 15, 2018 / 4:16 pm

    Me Too! Nice job, Janice, getting this great blog up and running

  81. Anonymous March 15, 2018 / 4:15 pm

    ME TOO! Nice work, Janice, getting this up and running!

  82. Blue Jacket March 15, 2018 / 9:08 am

    An update of recent activity in the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members.

    League members may recall that House Bill 722 is one of two bills concerning legislative reapportionment procedures which have been supported by the League and Fair Districts, Inc. The bill proposes “to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission to provide a nonpartisan process for redistricting in the Commonwealth for State Senate, State House and Congressional districts.” It was introduced in May, 2017, and was referred to the Committee on State Government. The Committee has taken no action on the bill since that time. Yesterday (March 14, 2018), a Joint Resolution was introduced in the State House of Representatives to discharge the Committee from further consideration of the bill. However, the companion or counterpart to this bill is still pending in the State Senate (The companion bill is SB 22, which is also supported by the League).

  83. Blue Jacket March 14, 2018 / 11:17 am

    3/14/2018. A further update of recent activity of the State Legislature that might be of interest to LWVLA members
    The Pennsylvania Legislature’s daily Update of activity indicates that, on 3/13/2018, the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 153, which proposes an amendment to the State Constitution in order to reduce the size of the House of Representatives from 203 legislators to 151. This is the second year in which a bill containing that proposal has been passed and, if it were also to pass the Senate in that form this year, it would be placed on a ballot for the voters to consider in the upcoming election.
    However, this year’s version of the bill also includes another provision, calling for a reduction in the size of the State Senate from 50 members to 38. That provision was not in the version of the bill which was passed last year. It is conceivable that the Senate could pass a bill that does not call for a reduction in the size of the Senate (thereby making the proposal identical to last year’s legislation). Should that occur, the House would have to consider the Senate’s version and, if the House accepts the Senate’s change, the measure would be placed on the ballot for the voters to consider.
    But, if the Senate accepts and passes the bill in its new form (calling for a reduction in the size of the Senate as passed by the House yesterday), the issue would again have to be considered and passed by both the House and Senate again next year before it could be placed on a ballot for the voters to consider.

    In other action, the House has given its first consideration to a recent bill (House Bill 638) which would eliminate the ability of candidates for certain judicial positions and school board positions to “cross-file” petitions to represent both political parties. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Simmons (R-Lehigh County), indicates that, historically, such positions have been thought to be nonpartisan. But, once the candidates are elected and take positions on issues, voters are increasingly perceiving them to be partisan. So, voters are confused when they see candidates’ names shown on the ballot as representing both political parties. Eliminating the ability to cross-file petitions might provide some clarification for voters. The bill must be considered twice more before the House votes upon it.

  84. Blue Jacket March 13, 2018 / 12:32 pm

    So do I.
    In an effort to help keep the members of the LWV of the Lewisburg area informed of Pennsylvania’s legislative activities, perhaps the following notes about new and pending legislative bills might be of interest. If you have interest or questions about the bills, you might consider contacting your State Representative or State Senator. Also, information about bills can be found on the Legislature’s wesbsite at:

    An Update of the State Legislature’s activity today indicates that Senator Costa (D-Alleghany County) yesterday (3/12/2018) introduced Senate Bill 1068, which is reported as having been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration. The title of the bill is “Preventing Foreign Corporate Influence on State and Local Elections.” An excerpt from the Senator’s earlier Memorandum about the bill best summarizes its purpose, indicating that it is intended “to address an alarming loophole in federal and state election law allowing foreign influence in our state elections.” The Memorandum further explained the bill as follows:
    “Recent reports regarding foreign interference in the 2016 election through ads purchased on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms demonstrate just how easy it is for a foreign government or corporation to influence the U.S. election system. As countless federal lawmakers and election officials closely studying this issue have put it, ‘a major foreign power infiltrated U.S. elections with the specific goal of sowing conflict and distrust among American voters with their own government.’ These lawmakers and election officials are not talking about the winners and losers of the 2016 election, they are talking about a breach of national security.
    “Federal campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions or expenditures in U.S. elections – at the federal, state and local level. Shockingly, however, this does not prohibit corporations that are registered in the U.S., but still have foreign ownership, from making contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures (“super PACs”) that are then spent on state and local elections.
    “What’s more, the [US Supreme Court’s 2010] decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission makes it nearly impossible to discern whether a contributing corporation is significantly owned by a foreign national by making it very difficult to track the corporation making the contribution through a super PAC, let alone its ownership.
    “This problem requires an amendment to our Election Code to ban foreign influence in our elections and require that donations are made in a transparent way. My legislation would prohibit foreign-influenced corporations – those with a foreign owner holding at least 5% ownership or foreign owners holding at least 20% ownership – from making independent expenditures, electioneering communication expenditures or contributions to super PACs to spend in state and local elections in Pennsylvania. It would require the CEO of any corporation making such an independent expenditure to file a statement certifying that it is not a foreign-influenced corporation.
    “State and local elections are the foundation of federal elections. Foreign money spent for the purpose of infiltrating or influencing an election, whether it be federal or local, affects the very functioning of American democracy at all levels.”

    In other news, an Update of legislative activity reports that another bill (House Bill 111) has been “Laid on the Table” for a fifth time. The bill was introduced as a Joint Resolution in the Spring of 2017 to amend the State Constitution. It proposes that the way in which judges of the State’s three statewide appellate courts are chosen be changed by establishing a bipartisan citizens’ commission to appoint the judges on a merit system, instead of the current partisan election system.
    The Update also indicates that a new bill (House Bill 2137) was introduced yesterday by Representative Hahn (R-Northampton), proposing that, for reasons of school safety and security, public schools be used as polling places for elections only as a last resort. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

  85. JANICE BIGELOW February 16, 2018 / 12:47 am

    I like the LWV of the Lewisburg Area

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