CLARION - Pennsylvania voters will vote on three proposed amendments to the state's constitution and a resolution that would address the ability of volunteer fire companies to borrow money.
Republicans and Democrats view the amendments differently.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, the first question on the ballot proposes to amend Article III, Section9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide a new exception to traditional legislative procedure by allowing the General Assembly to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration or a portion of such declaration without needing the Governor's approval.
"Unfortunately the people of Pennsylvania have been ruled like a tyrant (would) for the past 13 months," said Sen. Scott Hutchinson at a breakfast held in Clarion recently. "As we started out there were major decisions that had to be made. That is why we have an executive branch. The governor declared the emergency in quick fashion.
"The problem is when that becomes the normal mode of operations for our state government. That is wrong. After that initial burst it was time to talk outsiders. It was time to listen to the legislators who hear every single day from their constituents who were suggesting better ways for state government to react to the pandemic."
The Democratic Party of Pennsylvania has a different view.
"The first question on your Pennsylvania primary ballot is asking whether partisan legislators should be able to terminate a governor's existing emergency declaration, like the one being used now to fight the pandemic," said the party's webpage. "This would allow partisan politicians to derail nonpartisan emergency response. It could even put Harrisburg gridlock in the way of health experts and first responders."
"Vote 'no' to keep partisan politics out of Pennsylvania's disaster response."
The Pennsylvania Department of State said the second ballot question would amend the constitution 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.
"Unfortunately we had a governor who and his Secretary of Health who had nothing to do with what the people were saying," said Hutchinson. "That's how we ended up with this list of essential businesses. A person has a business and they are told it is not essential. It is essential for them. It puts bread on their table.
"Instead of having 20 people in a backroom decide who gets a waiver and who doesn't, it would have been better to use the CDC guidelines. That would have been better than the nightmare of a waiver process. It was a tragic travesty."
Hutchinson added, "Now, 13 months later, we are still in an emergency situation. As a matter of fact we are in another emergency declaration that is over three years old -- the opioid emergency declaration.
"This is necessary for us to get back to our constitutional republican roots. This will bring checks and balances on the governor."
Hutchison was critical of the way the amendment was written.
"This was written in a way that is the exact opposite of what is occurring. It seems the way it appears that the legislature is trying to take back the balance of power," he said. "What we are trying to do is restore the balance of power. A yes' vote will end this government by executive order."
The Democratic Party also urges a 'no' vote on the second ballot question.
"Just like the first, the second question on your 2021 Pennsylvania primary ballot is asking whether power should be stripped from health experts, emergency responders, and the governor to put it in the hands of the gridlocked Pennsylvania legislature," said the Democratic Party in a press release.
"In this case, the amendment would automatically terminate emergency declarations after just three weeks, and only the legislature would have the power to extend or renew emergencies," said the release. "If this amendment were already in place, it's likely that lifesaving pandemic measures like food assistance, rent support, and more would have ended over a year ago - resulting in the loss of life or home for thousands more Pennsylvanians."
The third proposed amendment would add a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual's race or ethnicity.
The Democratic Party is urging approval of this amendment.
"This amendment offers additional protection against laws or policies that would deny communities of color their legal rights. It codifies the progress many Pennsylvanians have fought for for so long," stated a Democratic Party press release. "While widely spread social media posts suggest this amendment will create unforeseen civil rights vulnerabilities, top attorneys and lawmakers have advised this is false. Leading justice organizations like the ACLU support this measure."
The referendum question is to determine whether Pennsylvania voters authorize making municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies eligible to apply for loans from an already existing state loan program.
Currently, municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies are not authorized to apply for loans from this program.
This referendum does not authorize incurring any additional debt to fund the loan program; it only expands the class of eligible loan applicants.
It also does not expand the purposes for which loans may be made; municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies may only apply for the type of loans already provided for by law and regulation.
The primary election is May 18.