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.

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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 .

Spring Cleaning Efforts

The daily Update of legislative activity at the Pennsylvania General Assembly includes the following reports today.

In the State House of Representatives, House Bill 633 has received the second of three required considerations and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee for review of its fiscal impact. As previously noted, the proposal would have all required campaign finance reports filed electronically to facilitate public access.

In the State Senate, Senator James Brewster (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties) has re-introduced four bills that he had brought up in the previous session of the Legislature. They represent a pointed effort to clean up some of the financial aspects of legislators’ service, and they have been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Senate Bill 643 would limit Cost of Living Adjustment of legislators’ compensation to once every ten years.

Senate Bill 644 would eliminate per diem allowances to legislators and provide for reimbursement of expenses only after proper documentation has been submitted.

Senate Bill 645 would prohibit leasing of state-owned vehicles to legislators.

Senate Bill 646 would prohibit legislators from soliciting or accepting gifts of property and services of monetary value for the personal use of themselves or others. The bill would apply to favors, entertainment, hospitality, loans, and other items of monetary value, and would apply to transfers from individuals seeking business or financial relationships with legislators, individuals conducting activities regulated by the Legislature, individuals participating in legal proceedings involving legislators, as well as to individuals having interests that might be substantially affected by the performance of a legislator.

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.”

Reviewing What Has Been Reported

In today’s daily Update of activity reported by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, we saw three pending Senate bills that we previously mentioned in our blog postings.  Each of the three has been given two of its required three considerations on the way to passage by the State Senate.  Today’s Update indicates that the three bills have now been reported out of the Committee on Appropriations as they were submitted and have been returned to the full Senate for further action.

Senate Bill 48 is a proposal that plans to decertify existing voting machines should be first reviewed by a study Commission and approved by the Legislature.  Senate Bill 133 would allow candidates for the office of Governor to select their own running mates for the position of Lieutenant Governor (similar to the way candidates for the office of President and Vice-President campaign as a team).  And, Senate Bill 178 proposes that required campaign finance reports be filed electronically, in order to facilitate their processing and to make them more quickly available to the public.

Remember that more detailed information about bills and other legislative activity can be found on the Pennsylvania Legislature’s website at:  https://www.legis.state.pa.us.   There you will find links that will help you search for specific bills, legislative calendars, committee activity, and much else that you might like to know.

Since mid-March, we have provided our own summaries of Pennsylvania’s legislative activity relating to the State’s election laws in a revised fashion, in an effort to make them a bit easier for our League members to find, to comment upon, or to request further information.  In the absence of responses, we wonder whether or not we are meeting your expectations, needs, and desires.

Have the postings been helpful?  In what way?  Have they piqued your interest? Prompted you to contact your state legislator or others to express your support or disapproval of any of the proposed pieces of legislation?  Do you feel better equipped to express concerns and to discuss the issues with family members, friends, and fellow league members?  Do you find the blog easier to access and to use?  We hope that you will find time to let us know, so that we can evaluate how we might improve the postings or, if so desired, discontinue the effort.

We have made some 13 postings in the past six weeks, setting out notes about 32 various legislative bills affecting Pennsylvania’s election laws.  Here is a listing of the bill numbers with an abbreviated, unofficial caption of the subject matter of each.  Let us know which, if any, might have caught your attention, and what others might have escaped ours.  We welcome and appreciate your feedback.

Bills in State House of Representatives:

  22  (amend the way Pennsylvania reapportions Congressional districts and state legislative districts)

  23  provide statutory procedures for reapportionment and redistricting)

  56  (“reinventing” our state government for the 21st century)

795  (campaign finance reform)

892  (procedure for voters to update the signature they used when they registered to vote)

902  (modification of legislators’ term limits)

966  (require nonprofit organizations to report campaign contributions)

969  (eliminate requirement for certain filing fees by political candidates)

974  (allow municipalities to grant property tax credits in consideration  of volunteer service performed by taxpayers to government)

1059  (establish a system for voting by mail)

1183  (set an earlier date for Pennsylvania’s presidential primary)

1235  (provide ballots in Braille for the blind)

Bills in the State Senate:

  22  (revise PA procedures for reapportionment and redistricting)

  48  (require legislative review of plans to decertify existing voting machines)

133  (allow candidates for governor to name their own running mates

178  (require electronic filing of candidates’ campaign finance reports)

411  (make available “no excuse” absentee ballots)

412  (modify eligibility to serve as an election official)

413  (facilitate filing requirements for judges seeking “retention election”

414  (ease requirements for filing absentee ballots)

415  (allow disabled voters to have permanent eligibility to receive absentee ballots)

416  (allow counties to establish Voting Centers)

417  (clarify requirements for a write-in candidate to be declared a winner)

418  (modify the required number of ballots that must be printed)

419  (allow counties to conduct all mail voting for small precincts)

420  (update the motor-voter procedures for pre-registering young drivers)

421  (eliminate straight political party option on ballots)

422  (establish a State Elections Advisory Board)

509  (update procedures for submission of absentee ballots by military personnel)

525  (adopt a direct ballot initiative procedure for Pennsylvania)

549  (require that local election results be filed electronically with the State)

558  (revise PA reapportionment and redistricting procedures) h

Variations on the Theme of Redistricting

Among the bills reported to have been introduced in Pennsylvania’s State Senate yesterday was Senate Bill 558, a reintroduction of a proposal for reform of the State’s redistricting and reapportionment procedures.  The bill has been introduced by Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Monroe Counties), and it has been referred to the Committee on State Government for consideration.

Not unlike some other reform proposals, the bill has been set forth as a Joint Resolution and calls for an amendment to the State Constitution.  In his December 2018 Memorandum summarizing the proposal, Senator Blake described his intent as follows:

“…amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to reform the manner in which our State Senate, State House, and Congressional Districts are redrawn. As a candidate for the Senate and as a sitting senator, I have consistently held the position that legislators should not have a direct hand in drawing their own legislative districts – we should not be choosing our voters, voters should be choosing us.”

Nonetheless, the bill provides for selection of members of a Redistricting Commission by the leaders of the majority and minority leaders of the Legislature’s two dominant political parties.  There does not seem to be included in the bill provision to ensure that voters of other political parties, Independents or voters unaffiliated with one of the two major political parties would have a seat of the table.

The Senator’s Memorandum itemizes the bill’s salient features as follows:

“Therefore, my legislation would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution in the following manner:

  • The “Legislative Reapportionment Commission” would be renamed as the “Legislative Redistricting Commission.”
  • The Commission would be tasked with both state and federal redistricting to be completed concurrently in one plan.
  • It would remove legislators from direct approval or rejection of plans: No Commission members may be elected officials or members of their staff at the local, state, or federal levels of government.
  • The Commission would consist of 9 members: House and Senate majority and minority leaders would appoint 2 commissioners each, totaling 8 legislative appointments. The selection of a neutral 9th commissioner, who would serve as chairperson, would require a super-majority approval with at least 6 of 8 commissioners voting in favor.
  • Failure to achieve at least 6 of 8 votes in favor of a chairperson would require an appointment by the Supreme Court.
  • Commission meetings would be required to be held in public and comply with all laws which apply to open meetings.
  • As soon as the Commission certified census population data, it would draft a preliminary plan and hold at least 2 public, geographically-dispersed hearings throughout the Commonwealth.
  • The approval of the preliminary plan would require a super-majority approval with at least 7 of 9 commissioners voting in favor.
  • Failure to achieve a super-majority approval of the plan would require a revised plan to be drafted and approved by the commission in the same manner.
  • If an aggrieved person filed an appeal and the Supreme Court found the plan contrary to law, the Commission must redraw and adopt a final plan with at least 7 of 9 commissioners voting in favor.
  • Failure to achieve a super-majority approval of the preliminary, revised, or final plan would automatically require the Supreme Court’s redistricting of the Commonwealth.
  • All plans must be completed by the end of the calendar year following the census.

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Helping Voters to See

Two bills have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature that are intended to assist voters in seeing information.

Senate Bill 549 was introduced by Senator Stafano (R-Fayette County to require that campaign finance information submitted by local political candidates be forwarded by county election officials to the State for publication on the State’s website, thereby making the information more quickly accessible to the public.

House Bill 1235 was introduced by Representative Markosek (D-Allegheny County) to require that ballots in braille be made available to blind voters who request them, thereby affording the voters greater independence and privacy in casting their ballots, a provision that has been adopted in three other states.

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

Following the State Senate’s example, the House also re-starts the move to reform PA’s redistricting process.

In the Pennsylvania House of Representatives yesterday, House Bills 22 and 23 were introduced by Representatives Murt (R-Philadelphia County) and Representative Samuelson (D-Northampton County).  The bills are counterpart to Senate Bill 22, which was recently introduced in the State Senate by Senator Boscola, as previously noted on this blog site.

The House bills call for the State Constitution to be amended in order to provide for establishment of an independent commission of citizens to have authority for Congressional reapportionment and State legislative (i.e., State House of Representatives and State Senate) redistricting.  HB 22 is similar to a measure that was considered during the 2017-18 legislative session — HB722 , which had the support of a majority of the House legislators.   HB 23 provides for legislation that would implement the new redistricting procedures once the Constitutional amendment has been enacted, Reportedly, both these new bills have been endorsed by Fair Districts PA, a leading non-partisan coalition of advocacy groups seeking to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.

Like the Senate bill, the House bills would replace Pennsylvania’s existing Legislative Reapportionment Commission with an independent 11-member Redistricting Commission, with authority to draw House and Senate district lines drawn and also to have responsibility for Congressional redistricting.

Under the House bills, a final redistricting plan would have to be based upon the approval of at least seven of the Commission members, including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two independent or third-party members.  If the Commission is unable to agree upon a final plan, the Commission would use a process of elimination [that is, ranked choice voting] — voting until only one plan remains. The bills’ sponsors pointed out in their introductory Memorandum “that elimination voting process is an improvement over HB 722 from last session because, it keeps the responsibility for redistricting within the Independent Redistricting Commission until the process is completed.” Nonetheless, an aggrieved voter would still have the right to petition the State Supreme Court to bar implementation of the Commission’s final plan on grounds of unconstitutionality.