Response to “Education is the Great Determinant–Part One”

Hello and welcome to the first response post of the summer! If you’re reading this and you haven’t read “Education is the Great Determinant,” go do that and then come back. Firstly, I would like to  Continue reading

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On being Compact and Contiguous

The daily Update of legislative activity from the Pennsylvania General Assembly reported that on June 7, 2019, a bill amending the State’s election laws was introduced in the State House of Representatives. The bill’s sponsors are Representatives Garth Everett (R-Lycoming and Union Counties) and Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties) — respectively, the majority and minority chairs of the House Committee on State Government.

House Bill 1588 stipulates that, during the three-year period from December 2019 through November 2022, there should be no power to establish, abolish, divide, consolidate, or alter election districts, but with one exception.  During the 13 month period from December 1, 2019 until the end of 2020, election districts may be combined if “the boundary of each resulting district is composed entirely of portions of the original boundaries of the election districts which were combined.”

The Update included no link to a prior Memorandum by the bill’s sponsors which would customarily provide a preliminary notice or explanation of the purpose of the bill.  The bill has been referred for consideration to the Committee which the sponsors chair.  Absent any changes, should the bill eventually be enacted into law, its terms stipulate that it would take effect immediately.

We do notice in the text of the bill that it reflects changes to language of existing law which had been enacted immediately before the previous decennial census of the population.  That language (which would now be superseded if this new bill is enacted) similarly provided that there would be no power to change election districts during the three year period from July 2009 through November 2012, except that, during the 18-month period from July 2009 through-2010, election districts could be divided if “the boundary of each resulting district is composed entirely of clearly visible physical features conforming with the census block lines or portions of the original boundary of the election district which was divided.”

A curious quid pro quo.  It may be worth watching to see what impact the change would have.

Return to Proposals Already Made?

The following activity was noted in the daily Update of legislative news from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

In the State Senate, Senate Bill 22, co-sponsored by Senators Boscola, (D-Lehigh County) and Follmer (R-Dauphin) was laid on the table and then removed from the table.  You may recall that this bill calls for an amendment to the State Constitution which would establish an 11 member independent commission of citizens to have responsibility for legislative redistricting and reapportionment of the population into representative Congressional districts.  The bill had received the first of three required considerations by the Senate in April, when the Committee on State Government (of which Follmer is the Chair), by a vote of 6-4, reported it out to the Senate in the form in which it had been committed.

Also, in the Senate, Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia County) has re-introduced a proposal which was put forth in the previous legislative session and seen in some other bills pending in the current session.  Senate Bill 608 would change Pennsylvania’s voter registration system from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system, when an individual transacts business with PennDOT or other state agencies.  The automatic registration system would be modeled after a similar law in effectively used in Oregon.  The Bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

In the State House of Representatives, Representative Jeff Wheeland (R-Lyoming County) has introduced House Bill 1579, resurrecting a call to buttress Voter ID requirements.  As he described the bill in his Memorandum introducing the bill:  “In light of challenges to photo ID laws in other states and a Commonwealth Court ruling that nullified Pennsylvania’s 2012 voter ID law, I am proposing a bill that applies the voter ID requirement to each and every election and includes both photo and non-photo options on the list of acceptable forms of ID. “

Wheeland proposes that, if a voter is unable to present a valid photo ID, then that voter would be required to present two forms of non-photo ID.   Pointing out that 35 states require voters to show some form of ID at the polls, he says that his proposal “strikes a balance between the goal of protecting the integrity of each vote cast and the goal of ensuring that eligible voters possess or can obtain necessary valid ID.“  The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

If any of these bills are of concern to you, your comment about them or other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited.  Your thoughts would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information. Thank you. fff

A Vision for Summer 2019

What used to be the future, but now isn’t… (for those among you who do not get the reference, please see “A Vision for the Future” published by me, Nick Jacobson, in 2018).

That said, hello again! As yet another summer begins, the League of Women Voters of the Lewisburg Area has hired me once more to organize some blog operations. This year, however, instead of just hearing from me, (at least) every other week, a new author will post an article on the blog. The articles may be stand-alone or may be the start of series that will be published throughout the summer.

On off-weeks, I will write a response to one of the recent posts and the blog will be open to others who would like to respond, including League members and other students. If you are reading this now and thinking “I would like to write a blog post this summer” then reach out to us! There is plenty of blogspace to go around.

To more easily locate the blog posts from students, at the top of the website, you should see a menu option titled “Young Minds.” Clicking on this option will take you to the list of student blogs posted, beginning with the most recent and ending with my first post in 2018.

With that said, please spread the news far and wide! And make sure to check back on the blog for new posts. Like last year, we are planning on posting new blogs on Fridays, although responses may appear throughout the week.

And the first blog of 2019 (present one excluded) will be this Friday, the 7th of June… stay tuned for the words of Sam Howe!

Who’s on First?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s daily Update of legislative activity reports today that, yesterday, Senator Williams (D-Philadelphia County) introduced Senate Bill 693. He proposes that in his district the names of candidates on election ballots be listed alphabetically by surname (as they are now), but that the name of the person whose name appears first on the ballot be rotated so that a candidate whose name is at the top of the list on the ballot will be different in each of the wards of his district. This will allow each of the candidates to share the privilege of having his or her name at the top of the ballot and be the first name the voters see. (The proposal has been noted in a previous blog post. It may or may not express a concern of other candidates whose surnames — like that of Senator Williams — begin with a letter near the end of the alphabet). Senate Bill 693 has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Your comment about this bill and other legislative activity reported on this blog is invited, would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic activities. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you may have used the information. Thank you.

Two new bills and a Request

In the daily Update of legislative activity from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, we note that two new bills pertaining to elections laws were introduced yesterday in the State’s House of Representatives.

Representative Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh County) has introduced House Bill 1474. As he described it in an introductory memorandum to his fellow legislators: “In Pennsylvania, there is a varying process regarding the filing of candidate finance reports for statewide and local candidates. Statewide legislative and judicial office candidates file campaign finance reports with the Department of State, which are then posted on the department’s publicly accessible website. Local candidates file their finance reports with their respective county Board of Elections, and voters must contact each county to view each finance report. This discrepancy results in inefficiency and places an undue burden on voters.” In an effort to enhance transparency in the voting process, his bill would require all county Board of Elections to file these reports with the Department of State for publication on the department’s publicly accessible website within 30 days of receipt of all local candidates’ campaign finance reports. The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government.

Representative Matthew Dowling (R-Fayette and Somerset Counties) has introduced House Bill 1506. He explained in an introductory memorandum that voters may learn only days before an election that, for whatever reason, they might not be able to go to the polls to cast their ballots in person. When that happens, they can vote by absentee ballot. But, the Election Code provides that the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is the Tuesday of the week before an election. When the request is received, Election officials must mail the ballot to the voter, and the voter must fill it out and return it by 5 p.m. of the Friday immediately preceding the election, lest it not be counted. That possibility of disenfranchisement is the focus of Dowling’s bill, which would extend the timeline so that a legally cast absentee ballot received by 5 p.m. on the Monday prior to election day will be counted. The bill would also allow counties to begin mailing absentee ballots as early as the fourth Tuesday prior to an election. The b ill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Your comment about these new proposals is invited, would be much appreciated, and will help us to learn whether the information provided by our contributed blog postings has been useful or effective in increasing your knowledge or involvement in civic participation. If you have read this posting, please let us know what your thoughts are and how you have used the information. Thank you.

Another call for easier access to absentee ballots

The Pennsylvania Legislature’s daily Update of activity reports that yesterday Representatives Sims (D-Philadelphia County) and Goodman (D-Schuykill County) have introduced a bill in the State House of Representatives to ensure that all voters be allowed to receive an absentee ballot upon request with “No Questions Asked.” The bill, like previous proposals on the subject, has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Abolish the Office of Lt. Governor?

The daily Update from the Pennsylvania General Assembly today reports that Representative Dawn Keefer (R-York County) has reintroduced a proposal that was made during the Legislature’s 2017-2018 session. House Bill 1454 proposes that the Office of Lieutenant Governor be eliminated in light of the limited duties that are constitutionally assigned to that office and in order to save money in light of the State’s current financial condition .

Notes of Some Interesting Proposals

A number of interesting bills proposing election reforms were acted upon yesterday by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  The daily Update of legislative activity from the Legislature indicates the following:

In the State Senate, House Bill 227 (previously passed by the State House) has now received the first of three required considerations by the State Senate).  The bill, as noted in earlier posts, proposes to correct an inconsistency in current law that provide different ballot access requirements for school board candidates within the some of the State’s school districts.

Also, in the State Senate, Senate Bill 412 has received the first of its required three considerations. The bill’s sponsors, Senators Stefano and Folmer, propose that Pennsylvania’s Constitution be modified to eliminate a provision which excludes federal, state, county, and municipal employees from serving as poll workers. In their memo introducing the bill, they say: “Given the challenges elections officials have in finding volunteers, this provision is an additional – and unnecessary – headache.” The bill, as amended in the Committee on State Government, would prohibit government employees and appointees only from serving as inspectors or judges of elections.

Senate Bill 413 has also received the first of three required considerations.  The bill would eliminate the requirement that the names of judges being considered for retention election be shown on a separate ballot or on a separate column on ballots.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 178 (previously passed by the State Senate) has now received its first of three required considerations by the House.  The bill, as noted in previous posts, proposes that required campaign finance reports be filed electronically.

Also, two new bills have been introduced by Representative Tina Davis (D-Bucks County).which have been referred to the Committee on State Government for its consideration.  The first of these is House Bill 1420, an eleven page document, co-sponsored by 21 other Representatives proposing a Joint Resolution to amend the State Constitution.  To summarize the proposal, perhaps it is best to cite the explanation provided by the Representative  in her Memorandum introducing the bill to her fellow legislators:

“Our signatures are central to our identities, yet they change throughout the course of our lives for many reasons. Age, disability, and illness often can have a significant effect on our handwriting and the way we sign our names.

“The variations in our signatures are rarely scrutinized in our day-to-day lives but when performing our most important civic duty – voting – the smallest change may result in our vote being rejected. People who vote absentee are at the greatest disadvantage because they often do not know that their ballot was discarded on account of a mismatched signature.

“In an effort to preserve the voting rights of Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot voters, I am proposing a change in ballot procedures which will notify absentee voters of a perceived signature mismatch and provide them with the opportunity to verify their signature. To ensure that county boards of elections and absentee voters have sufficient time for this process, my legislation will also extend the amount of time that county boards have to submit election returns to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

“Oftentimes, it is voters who are already marginalized, such as people living with disabilities, that are affected most by perceived ballot signature mismatches. All qualified voters deserve to have their vote counted. Please join me in supporting this legislation to ensure that no absentee voter is excluded from the democratic process on account of their handwriting.”

[Incidental Notes:  If you are searching for that Memorandum, it has been reported (apparently by clerical mistake or oversight, hopefully to be corrected) with HB 1421. My offhand reaction to the proposed House Bill 1420 ? — (Please forgive my sarcasm, but —- Just what we need: more complexity in election administrative procedures embedded among the concrete principles a the State Constitution].

Representative Davis has also introduced House Bill 1421. The text of this bill proposes the following provisions for new law: “ A lobbyist or principal may not: * * * (xi)  Engage in lobbying a State official or a State employee on the State official’s staff after serving as a campaign consultant for the State official or after having a pecuniary interest in a campaign consultant that rendered campaign consulting services for the State official. This prohibition shall only apply for the term in which the State official was elected and for which the campaign consulting services were provided.”   A campaign consultant would be defined as a person who receives compensation for campaign-related professional services rendered to a campaign to elect an individual to office.

A Busy day for the Legislators

The daily Update of activity from the Pennsylvania General Assembly today reports the following among yesterday’s legislative actions.

House Bill 57, one of seven bills seeking to establish “best practices” and to “reinvent” some of the state government’s operations has received its first consideration.  This bill proposes to abolish the follow entities, which have been suggested as being now outdated or unnecessary: (1)  the Advisory Committee on Probation within the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, (2)  the Industrial Resource Center Strategic Advisory Board within the Department of Community and Economic Development, (3)  the Joint Committee to review the cost-of-living supplements, (4)  the Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission, (5)  the Public Television Broadcasting Advisory Council, (6)  the Pennsylvania Quality Leadership Awards Council, (7)  the Small Business Advocacy Council within the Department of Community and Economic Development, and (8)  the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee within the Department of Health.

House Bill 633 has also received the first of three required considerations by the House of Representatives. This bill, similar to one in the Senate, would require electronic filing of campaign finance reports by candidates and  political action committees that do not already file their reports electronically.

In the State Senate, Senate Bill 178 (relating to the electronic filing of campaign finance reports) has been returned from the Appropriations Committee and has been amended on its third consideration by the Senate to modify language regarding the required format for such reports.

Senate Bill 48 (requiring that plans for decertification of voting machines be first reviewed by a study commission and the Legislature) has now been given its third consideration and was passed by the Senate.

Also passed by the Senate is Senate Bill 133 (allowing gubernatorial candidates to select their own running mates, much as the President and Vice-President campaign as a team at the federal level).  That bill will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 602 is a novel bill that as been introduced by Senator Williams (D-Philadelphia County). It proposes that the alphabetical listing of candidates’ names on ballots in his county be “shifted” (or rotated) among the wards, so that the each candidate would share in the advantage of have his or her name shown as the first name on the ballot.  (For example, if Ward 1 lists the candidates as Alexander, Brown, and Carson, then Ward 2 would rotate the names and list them as Brown, Carson, and then Alexander.  Ward 3 would list them as Carson, Alexander and then Brown).  The bill has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Three bills that we have not previously mentioned, but which were passed by the House of Representatives earlier in this legislative session, have now been given their first consideration in the Senate.  In light of recent issues that have arisen in the Lewisburg area relating to intergovernmental cooperation, perhaps it might be of interest to mention the bills here.  House Bills 510, 511, and 512 have proposed a change in law to enable local municipalities greater flexibility and cost savings when entering into intergovernmental agreements.  As described in the sponsor’s earlier introductory Memorandum, “Under current law, in order to enter into an Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement, all municipalities involved must go through the formality of enacting an ordinance detailing the specifics of the agreement. The formal enactment of an ordinance requires the publication of a legal notice and the entry of the new ordinance into the ordinance book, both of which are costly and time-consuming endeavors for municipalities.  The focal bill of this package is former HB 479, which amends the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Law…by permitting a municipality to adopt a resolution instead of enacting an ordinance, unless specifically required by any other state law.”