The State and Local Tap: Pennsylvania voters pass constitutional amendments to limit governor’s emergency orders

The State and Local Tap

Our weekly summary of state and local news reviews the results of Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primaries and summarizes the Sixth Circuit Court’s ruling that Ohio can sue the Census Bureau over delayed data.

Ballot Measures Update

Nineteen statewide measures have been certified for the 2021 ballot in five states so far.

One new measure was certified for the 2021 ballot last week: Texas Changes to Eligibility for Certain Judicial Offices Amendment (2021).

One additional 2021 initiative in Maine has been certified to the legislature, which means it will go on the November ballot if legislators do not enact it.

Forty-three statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 21 states so far.

One new measure was certified for the 2022 ballot last week:Oregon Right to Healthcare Amendment (2022).

Signatures have been submitted and are pending verification for four additional 2022 initiatives in California and Michigan.

States in session

Twenty-four states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin—are in regular session.

Local Ballot Measures: The Week in Review

In 2021, Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage of elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population and all state capitals. This encompasses every office on the ballot in these cities, including their municipal elections, trial court elections, school board elections, and local ballot measures. Ballotpedia also covers all local recall elections, as well as all local ballot measures in California and a selection of notable local ballot measures about elections and police-related policies. Recent and upcoming local ballot measure elections are listed below:

  • May 11 in Oklahoma: Voters in the Edmond Public Schools District approved two bond propositions.
  • May 18 in Pennsylvania: Voters in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Philadelphia approved three local ballot measures. The measures included two law enforcement initiatives to ban solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail and ban the use of no-knock warrants by Pittsburgh police.
  • May 18 in Oregon: Voters in Multnomah County approved a measure to renew a property tax to fund the Oregon Historical Society.

Special Elections

Thirty-eight state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 16 states so far this year, with 25 elections having taken place already. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 11 of the seats, and Republicans previously controlled 14. No seats have changed in partisan control as a result of the special elections.

In special elections between 2011 and 2020, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year.

An average of 57 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past six even years (2010: 30, 2012: 46, 2014: 40, 2016: 65, 2018: 99, 2020: 59).

An average of 88 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 94, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77).

Upcoming special elections include:

May 25

Alabama House of Representatives District 78 (primary)

June 8

New Hampshire House of Representatives Merrimack 23 District

June 12

Louisiana State Senate District 7 (primary)

Recall elections defeated in 2 Idaho school districts

Two Idaho school districts held recall elections for school board members on May 18. In Idaho Falls School District 91, voters were asked if they wanted to recall Zone 3 representative Lara Hill, and in the Nampa School District, they were asked if they wanted to recall Zone 4 representative Kim Rost. Both recall efforts were defeated.

For recalls to be approved in Idaho, a majority of voters must cast ballots in favor. The total number of votes cast in favor of recall must also be higher than the number of votes cast for the official in his or her last election. In Nampa, a majority of voters cast ballots in favor of recalling Hill, but they did not meet the 591-vote threshold to remove her from office. In Idaho Falls, a majority of voters cast ballots against the recall.

The effort to recall Hill began after the Idaho Falls board of trustees voted 3-2 on Sept. 30 to move high schools in the district from in-person instruction to a mixture of in-person and online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Superintendent George Boland said the goal was to reduce the number of coronavirus cases and related quarantines and absences at the high schools. Hill voted in favor along with Elizabeth Cogliati and Hillary Radcliffe. 

Recall supporters also attempted to remove Cogliati and Radcliffe. The effort against Radcliffe did not collect enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot. The effort against Cogliati was on the ballot on March 9. A majority of voters cast ballots against the recall, defeating the effort.

Supporters of the effort to recall Rost said she was not representing the majority of her constituents in the Nampa School District and had demonstrated a lack of leadership. Rost said her volunteer service for the district had been unwavering for 16 years and that transparency and accountability had been at the forefront of her goals as a trustee. 

A separate recall effort was on the ballot in the Nampa School District on March 9. The recall asked whether voters wanted to remove Zone 2 representative Mike Kipp from office. A majority of voters cast ballots against the recall, defeating the effort.

Hill was first appointed to the five-member Idaho Falls board of trustees in September 2018 and was later elected in November 2019. Rost was elected to a four-year term on the five-member Nampa board of trustees on May 16, 2017.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 227 recall efforts against 279 elected officials. Of the 49 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 29 were recalled for a rate of 59%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.

Pennsylvania voters pass constitutional amendments to limit governor’s emergency orders

On May 18, Pennsylvania voters approved two constitution amendments on the governor’s emergency powers, which were a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the coronavirus pandemic. According to unofficial results on May 19, both Question 1 and Question 2 received 54% of the statewide vote.

Question 1 allows the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which would not require the governor’s signature, to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration. Question 2 limits the governor’s declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes on a concurrent resolution to extend the order.

Voters also approved the other two statewide measures on the ballot by votes of 71%-29% and 72%-28%, respectively. Question 3 added a provision to the state constitution prohibiting the denial or abridgment of rights on account of an individual’s race or ethnicity. Question 4 expanded the state’s loan program for volunteer fire companies to municipal fire companies and EMS service nonprofits.

Measures to ban solitary confinement, no-knock warrants approved in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh

In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, voters approved a ballot initiative to ban solitary confinement in the county jail. The ballot initiative received 70% of the vote. In Pittsburgh, which is also located in Allegheny County, voters approved a ballot initiative to prohibit the police from executing warrants without knocking or announcing themselves. It received 81% of the vote.

Philadelphia voters also approved a charter amendment to provide for an expanded Board of License Inspection Review that can hear and decide cases in three-member panels.

Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas announce end to $300 pandemic-related federal unemployment benefits

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R), Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R), and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) announced on May 17 that their states will opt out of the $300 weekly add-on to state unemployment benefits from the federal government. Indiana will end enhanced federal benefits on June 19. Oklahoma and Texas will end the federal payments on June 26. 

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte (R) became the first governor in the U.S. to announce his state would opt out of all federal unemployment benefit programs on May 4. Montana will opt out of the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits on June 30.

Since Gianforte’s announcement, at least 21 additional states have also announced plans to end enhanced federal unemployment benefits related to COVID-19. All 22 states that are ending pandemic federal unemployment benefits have Republican governors. Five states that have Republican governors have not announced an end to federal pandemic-related unemployment programs.

The American Rescue Plan, signed on March 11, 2021, extended federal unemployment benefit programs related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including the federal government’s $300 per week add-on to state unemployment benefits, through Sept. 6, 2021.

Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina end mask requirements

Governor Jared Polis (D) ended Colorado’s statewide mask requirement on May 14. Masks are still required for unvaccinated visitors to nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals, and in certain school settings. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people must still comply with federal law, which requires masking on public transportation and at public transportation hubs like bus stations and airports.

Governor Larry Hogan (R) ended Maryland’s statewide mask mandate on May 15. The state still requires vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks in schools and hospitals, and on public transportation.

Governor Roy Cooper (D) ended North Carolina’s statewide mask mandate for vaccinated and unvaccinated people on May 14. Masks are still required for all people, regardless of vaccination status, on public transportation and in healthcare settings.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 21 states had statewide mask orders, including 17 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and four of the 27 states with Republican governors. Of those 21 states with statewide mask orders, at least 15 states exempted fully vaccinated residents from most indoor and outdoor masking requirements.

Sixth Circuit rules Ohio has standing to sue Census Bureau over delayed data

On May 18, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Ohio has standing to sue U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (D) over the Census Bureau’s plan to release redistricting data to the states by Sept. 30. The statutory deadline for releasing the data was April 1. 

The Sixth Circuit found that Ohio meets all three requirements for standing to bring a lawsuit: “First, Ohio suffered (and continues to suffer) an informational injury because the Secretary failed to deliver Ohio’s data as the Census Act requires. Second, the injury is traceable to the Secretary because Ohio’s informational injury is the direct result of the Secretary’s failure to produce the required data. And third, Ohio’s injury is redressable.” 

The panel unanimously remanded the case to the district court for further consideration. The three judges on the panel were Martha Daughtrey (a Bill Clinton (D) appointee), David McKeague (a George W. Bush (R) appointee), and Amul Thapar (a Donald Trump (R) appointee). 

How we got here: The state filed its lawsuit (Ohio v. Coggins) against the Census Bureau on Feb. 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The state asked that the court “issue an injunction either prohibiting the defendants from delaying the release of Ohio’s redistricting data beyond March 31, 2021, or else requiring the defendants to provide the state with Ohio’s population data at the earliest date this Court deems equitable.” Judge Thomas Rose, a George W. Bush (R) appointee, dismissed the lawsuit on March 24, stating Ohio was requesting an order that “pretends that the Census Bureau could provide census-based redistricting data by March 31, 2021. The Court cannot ‘order a party to jump higher, run faster, or lift more than she is physically capable.’” The state appealed Rose’s decision to the Sixth Circuit, which heard oral argument on May 12. 

Tennessee Representative Mike Carter dies

Tennessee state Representative Mike Carter (R) died from pancreatic cancer on May 15, 2021.

Carter was first elected to the 29th District on Nov. 6, 2012. He was subsequently re-elected four times, most recently in 2020. 

Governor Bill Lee (R) said in a post on Twitter, “I will miss Mike Carter who was a leader, friend and brother in Christ. Maria and I pray for the Carter family and we give thanks for his life.”

Tennessee uses special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature when 12 months or more remain in an unfilled term. However, the legislative body in the county where the vacancy occurred may also appoint an interim officeholder until the special election is held.

This is the sixth vacancy in 2021 caused by the death of a serving legislator. So far this year, there have been 48 vacancies in 28 state legislatures. Twenty-nine (29) of those vacancies have been filled.

Pennsylvania statewide election held

The statewide primary for Pennsylvania was held on May 18. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for Nov. 2. Four state legislative special general elections were also on the ballot.

Candidates ran in elections for the following offices: 

Four state legislative special elections

State Senate Districts 22 and 48 and state House Districts 59 and 60. One Democratic candidate won election in Senate District 22. The other three seats were won by Republican candidates. No seats were flipped.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court (one seat)

Maria McLaughlin (D) was unopposed and advanced to the general election. She faces Kevin Brobson (R), who defeated two challengers in the primary. Justice Thomas Saylor (R) was not able to file for re-election due to Pennsylvania’s mandatory retirement age.

Pennsylvania Superior Court (one seat)

Timika Lane (D) advanced after defeating two challengers in the Democratic primary. Megan Sullivan (R) advanced unopposed from the Republican primary.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (two seats)

Lori A. Dumas (D) was one of two projected winners in the Democratic primary. Candidates Amanda Green-Hawkins (D) and David Spurgeon (D) were too close to call for the second seat as of May 20. Andrew Crompton (R) and Stacy Wallace (R) advanced to the general election without opposition.

Ballotpedia also covered local elections in the following areas: 

  • Harrisburg
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Allegheny County
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools

Lori McCann appointed to the Idaho House of Representatives

Governor Brad Little (R) appointed Lori McCann (R) on May 17 to represent District 6A in the Idaho House of Representatives. The seat has been vacant since April 29, when former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R) resigned.

McCann’s professional experience includes working as a professor at Lewis-Clark State College, where she was also the director of the paralegal and legal assistant programs. McCann also worked as a paralegal at her family’s law firm and helped manage her family’s property and livestock business.

As of May 20, there have been 48 state legislative vacancies in 28 states so far this year. Thirty-one (31) of those vacancies have been filled. McCann is one of 15 Republicans to fill state legislative vacancies in 2021.