Oberlander looking forward to 2021 house sessions
By Randy Bartley
When the Pennsylvania Legislature reconvenes on Jan. 5 it will face a variety of issues including the COVID-19 virus, economic issues and election reform.
"There is absolutely discussion about election reform," said Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-63). "After the primary election we had a report prepared that gathered information from the counties asking them about challenges in the primary, timelines and things that needed to be changed.
"We did attempt to make some of those changes through House Bill 2626 but that was, unfortunately, stalled in the (state) Senate. But that doesn't mean that we won't take that up again in the new session."
Oberlander said that bill included proposed time lines and increased penalties for election crimes.
"There were some court cases that we need to re-visit on things such as signature requirements," explained Oberlander.
Oberlander said there have been recent calls for the state legislature to select the electors for the Electoral College.
"There have been some comments that the Pennsylvania Legislature should be able to pick the electors for the Electoral College but that ability was given away, by law, in 1945," Oberlander said. "That was taken out of the hands of the legislature. Those duties were given to the Pennsylvania Department of State based on the popular vote. We would have to change the law in order for us to select the electors."
Oberlander, who is the majority whip in the House, said mail-in voting would be "refined."
"Drop boxes are not legal," Oberlander said. "Some counties used them. They need to be secure and it should be one person, one vote. There should not be any ballot harvesting. That is against the law and is being litigated.
"The issue of signatures on ballots was appalling. There has to be some measurement that the person who actually cast that vote was the person who was registered to vote. The (Pennsylvania Supreme) Court made that decision and it is certainly is a concern for us."
Oberlander said regardless of the outcome, she wants people to be sure that there was integrity in the election.
"We need to have confidence in the results whether we liked the result or not," said Oberlander. "When we come back into session we will be addressing those issues. The State Government Committee is working on those bills. We will certainly continue to pursue the integrity we all expect to have in our elections."
The state legislature and the governor also must adopt a budget by the end of June 2021.
In May 2020, the legislature approved a partial, stopgap budget amid uncertainty about how COVID-19 would impact state finances. In order to avoid raising taxes or borrowing, the legislature used the federal stimulus money to pay the salaries of state-employed public health and safety front-lineworkers.
The funds went to agenciesincluding the Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania State Police, and the Department of Health.
"That was a one-time shot," said Oberlander. "That was done so the state could continue to provide the core services we have to provide. We did not want to tax the people of Pennsylvania when they are already being challenged by the virus.
"This permitted us to balance our budget without a tax increase. Revenues are bouncing back but we will have to make some very difficult decisions in June."
COVID-related actions expected
COVID-19 has caused liability issues for many facilities and organizations.
"The number one priority for many organizations such as hospitals and school districts is limited liability," said Oberlander.
The legislature sent Gov. Tom Wolf the Coronavirus liability protection bill, which he vetoed.
"The bill would have made it more difficult to sue schools, health care providers and businesses in cases where people contracted Coronavirus and blamed one of those entities. The protections would only be in effect during a governor-declared disaster emergency," said Oberlander.
"We need help in getting the 136 members we need to vote for that so if (Wolf) vetoes that we can override his veto," she said.
"For the first six months of the session we will be working on committees and looking at bills that did not make it through the last session," Oberlander explained. "It is a little bit slower start."
Overshadowing everything is the Coronavirus.
"We can't exist in crisis forever," Oberlander said. "I would love to see life get back to normal."