2021 Primary Election: 4 Statewide and 2 Local Ballot Measures

There will be up to six questions on the May 18, 2021 primary election ballot for Pittsburgh area voters that will affect city, county, and state laws and policies.

The following information comes from the League of Women Voters (LWV) Pennsylvania and Vote411.org.

Vote411 is LWV’s nonpartisan voter education site that lets voters see which candidates and referenda will be on their ballot and learn more about them.

For All Pennsylvania Voters:

Ballot Question 1: PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE III, SECTION 9

TERMINATION OR EXTENSION OF DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration–and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration–through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?

What this means (provided by LWVPA):

If you vote YES, you agree to give the Legislature, by a simple majority vote, the sole power to take away the Governor’s existing authority to make disaster emergency declarations and coordinate with relevant Pennsylvania agencies.

If you vote NO, you disagree with giving the Legislature, by a simple majority vote, the sole power to take away the Governor’s existing authority to make disaster emergency declarations and coordinate with relevant Pennsylvania agencies.

Background on proposed amendment: This amendment arises from the conflict between the Governor and Legislature over the Governor’s Covid-19 emergency declarations, including stay-at-home orders, school and business restrictions, etc.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that under current law, the Governor could veto the Legislature’s concurrent resolution to end the Governor’s emergency declaration. The Legislature then fell short of the two-thirds legislative vote required to overturn the veto.

Background on legislative procedure: Currently, under Article III, Section 9, all bills and concurrent resolutions by the General Assembly must be presented to the Governor for his approval or veto. If approved by the Governor, the bills or concurrent resolutions, become law. If the Governor exercises a veto, the bills or concurrent resolutions do not become law unless two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to override the Governor’s veto. The proposed amendment with respect to emergency disaster declarations would create a fourth exception to the customary legislative procedure of a two-thirds legislative vote to override a Governor’s veto.

Other: Only four states currently require a legislative vote to extend or terminate a governor’s emergency declarations (Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, and Minnesota).

Ballot Question 2: PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE IV

DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATION AND MANAGEMENT

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

What this means (provided by LWVPA):

If you vote YES, you agree to change existing law to limit any Governor’s disaster emergency declaration – no matter the severity – to 21 days (from 90), unless, and until, the Legislature votes by a simple majority to extend the disaster emergency declaration; and take away the Governor’s authority to act in emergency and disaster situations.

If you vote NO, you disagree with changing the existing law that provides any Governor with the power to issue emergency declarations without a 21-day limitation or a simple majority vote by the legislature; and any Governor retains authority to act in emergency and disaster situations.

Background on proposed amendment: This amendment arises from the conflict between the Governor and Legislature over the Governor’s Covid-19 emergency declarations, including stay-at-home orders, school and business restrictions, etc. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that under current law, the Governor could veto the Legislature’s concurrent resolution to end the Governor’s emergency declaration. The Legislature then fell short of the two-thirds legislative vote required to overturn the veto. Current law sets an emergency declaration at 90 days and gives the Governor authority to act on, and manage, emergencies and disasters. The Legislature does have the ability to end the Governor’s emergency declarations by passing a concurrent resolution to end the emergency  declaration and if vetoed by the Governor, vote by two-thirds to override the Governor’s veto.

Other: Only four states currently require a legislative vote to extend or terminate a governor’s emergency declarations (Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, and Minnesota).

Ballot Question 3: PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE I

PROHIBITION AGAINST DENIAL OR ABRIDGEMENT OF EQUALITY OF RIGHTS BECAUSE OF RACE OR ETHNICITY

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

What this means (provided by LWVPA):

If you vote YES, you agree that all levels of Pennsylvania government, entities, and institutions be prohibited from discriminating against individuals because of their race or ethnicity.

If you vote NO, you disagree with changing Pennsylvania law since current state and federal laws, including the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, already provide protections against discrimination by all levels of Pennsylvania government, entities, and institutions.

Background on proposed amendment: This constitutional amendment was introduced in the wake of police brutality cases and protests as an amendment to a different constitutional amendment bill to restrict a Governor’s emergency declaration powers (See Ballot Question 1).

Article 1, Section 26, of the Pennsylvania Constitution currently prohibits discrimination by the Pennsylvania government “against any person in the exercise of any civil right.” This proposed amendment focuses on protecting individuals from racial and ethnic discrimination by Pennsylvania governmental entities. The PA Constitution and federal laws, such as the Equal Protection Clause, provide broad protections against discrimination. However, this amendment focuses on prohibiting discrimination against the individual under PA law solely for race and ethnicity. This is a state-specific change separate from federal law (Fourteenth Amendment). If passed, this law could add opportunity to bring “reverse discrimination” cases. Thus, if a Caucasian person felt they were discriminated against by a State-run operation or agency in hiring, admissions, or denied opportunities, they could sue under this new law.

The language of this amendment does not outright ban racial and ethnic considerations by all levels of Pennsylvania government, entities, and institutions. However, it could be construed that the specific prohibition against individual racial and ethnic discrimination could open the door to elimination, or the support of, race and ethnic-conscious considerations by State-run agencies or operations for under-represented groups under Pennsylvania Law. Any interpretation of this law would be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, if passed, any resulting consequences, good or bad, would likely be upheld because this is an amendment ballot question voted on by the Pennsylvania voters. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Michigan ballot initiative which resulted in a ban on race considerations in state-run schools because the case was not about the merits of race-conscious policies. Rather, as Justice Kennedy stressed in the controlling opinion, it is about “whether, and in what manner, voters in the States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions…”

Ballot Question 4: STATEWIDE REFERENDUM – ACT 2020-91

MAKING MUNICIPAL FIRE AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES COMPANIES ELIGIBLE FOR LOANS

Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. §7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?

What this means (provided by LWVPA):

If you vote YES, you support expanding PA’s loan program to paid municipal, as well as volunteer, fire and emergency medical services companies.

If you vote NO, you support keeping PA’s loan program available to volunteer fire and emergency medical service companies and not to paid municipal fire and emergency medical services companies.

Background:  This constitutional amendment was referred to the ballot as an exception to the normal procedure for passing constitutional amendments. “When a major emergency threatens or is about to threaten the state” the General Assembly may refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot with a two-thirds vote of each chamber. Specifically, here, the General Assembly determined there is a need for paid municipal fire departments and emergency medical service companies to update their facilities and equipment. Under current PA law, only volunteer fire and EMS companies are authorized to apply for loans from this program. The loan program’s fund for volunteer companies was last approved by PA voters at $50,000,000 in 2002. If approved, this new law would allow paid municipal fire and emergency medical service companies to also obtain loans from the program. The State Fire Commissioner administers these loans under specified codes and regulations. This bill does not expand the amount of money in the funds nor the purposes for which the loans can be used, it only addresses expanding the eligible pool of loan applicants.

For All Allegheny County Voters

Proposed Ordinance Special Election Question

PROHIBITING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL

Shall the Allegheny County Code, Chapter 205, Allegheny County Jail, be amended and supplemented to include a new Article III, which shall set forth standards governing conditions of confinement in the Allegheny County Jail?

Explanation of Ballot Question

If this question is approved by a majority of those voting, Chapter 205 of the Allegheny County Code, Allegheny County Jail, shall be added to include Sections 205-30 and 31 governing, regulating and documenting the conditions of confinement. The conditions of confinement affected by the proposed ordinance would prohibit solitary confinement (more than 20 hours per day) except for limited circumstances and not to be used as punishment and prohibiting the use of restraining chairs, chemical agents or leg shackles.

The Jail Warden shall prepare a monthly report regarding use of solitary confinement and lock downs.

A YES vote is in favor of the above Ordinance provisions. A NO vote opposes the above Ordinance provisions.

If approved, the Warden’s reporting requirements begin 30 days after approval. All other provisions begin 180 days after approval.

Background (provided by LWVPgh):  A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates in the Allegheny County Jail in September 2020 and pending in federal district court in the Western District of Pennsylvania alleges that inmates seeking mental health treatment are being punished with solitary confinement. Several states, such as Colorado, have limited the use of solitary confinement in their prison systems.

For All City of Pittsburgh Voters

City of Pittsburgh Proposed Home Rule Charter Amendment Special Election Question

PROHIBITING NO-KNOCK WARRANTS

Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended and supplemented by adding a new Article 10: Powers of the Pittsburgh Police, containing Section 1001, which shall bar employees of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police from executing warrants at any residence without knocking and announcing themselves?

Explanation of Ballot Question

If this question is approved by a majority of those voting, Article 10, Section 1001, Powers of the Pittsburgh Police will be added to the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter, requiring Pittsburgh Police to physically knock and announce themselves before forcibly gaining entry to execute warrants. “No knock” procedures shall be prohibited.

A YES vote indicates a vote in favor of this change and a NO vote opposes this change. If approved by a majority of those voting, this amendment shall take effect upon the certification of the May 18, 2021 Municipal Primary Election results.

Background (provided by LWVPgh): No knock warrants became widely used as part of the “War on Drugs,” but today our criminal justice system is viewing differently the approach to crimes solely involving drugs, in part, because of the racial discrimination that may be involved in enforcing drug laws.

The death of Briana Taylor in Louisville KY during the execution of a “no knock” warrant demonstrated the risks to human life from the use of this type of warrant. Since then, a number of municipalities have banned no knock warrants including Louisville, KY. Pittsburgh City Council has also introduced legislation to ban the use of no-knock warrants by Pittsburgh Police officers.

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