Pennsylvania’s two-session vote requirement for constitutional amendments and party control of the state House

Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on November 8 for the first time in 12 years. The Associated Press called 102 seats for Democrats and 101 seats for Republicans. The change in party control may affect a package of constitutional amendments passed earlier this year by Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

In Pennsylvania, for the state Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot, the amendment must receive a simple majority vote in each legislative chamber during two successive sessions.

On July 8, 2022, a package of five constitutional amendments was passed by both the Republican-controlled House and Senate. These amendments are:

  • An amendment that would allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor
  • An amendment that would say that constitution grants no right to an abortion
  • An amendment that would require voters to present a voter ID when casting their ballots
  • An amendment that would provide for the auditing of elections and election results by the Auditor General or, when the Auditor General stands for election, an independent auditor
  • An amendment that would allow the legislature to pass concurrent resolutions, which the governor cannot veto, to disapprove regulations

The amendments passed by a 28-22 vote in the Senate and a 107-92 vote in the House. In the Senate, 26 Republicans, one Democrat, and one independent passed the legislation, while 20 Democrats and two Republicans opposed the package. In the House, 106 Republicans and one Democrat voted to approve the amendments, while 84 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted against the amendments.

Currently, the Pennsylvania Senate consists of 28 Republicans, 21 Democrats, and one independent; while the House consists of 113 Republicans and 88 Democrats (with two vacant seats). Heading into the 2023 legislative session, the Senate will consist of 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Democrats won 102 seats in the House, but two members will be resigning. Rep. Austin Davis was elected lieutenant governor, and Rep. Summer Lee was elected to Congress. In October, Rep. Tony DeLuca died. Until special elections occur for these three seats, Republicans will hold 101 seats and Democrats will hold 99 seats.

When it comes to passing a constitutional amendment through the state legislature, most states (36 of 49) require legislatures to approve the amendments during one legislative session. Thirteen states, however, require the constitutional amendment to pass through two legislative sessions before being put on the ballot, or, in four of those states, that amendment may be passed in one session if the amendment has a supermajority rather than a simple majority of the votes.

The two-session requirement to pass a constitutional amendment through the state legislature decreases the likelihood of the amendment making it on the ballot. Between 2010 and 2022, 66 constitutional amendments were referred to the ballot within the thirteen states that require two legislative sessions or a supermajority. However, 40 other constitutional amendments did not make it through the second session in these states. If each of these states had a single session requirement, there would have been 106 constitutional amendments referred to the ballot during this time period, meaning that 37.7% of these constitutional amendments failed to make the ballot because they failed during the second legislative session.

When there was a change in party control between legislative sessions during this same time period, 79% of the constitutional amendments (11 out of 14) failed in the second legislative session.

In Pennsylvania, between 2010-2022, half of all constitutional amendments failed in the second session. Out of the 14 amendments that passed in the first session, seven passed the second session, while the other seven failed to pass.

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