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Stories about Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules against 2019 Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment

In 2019, 74% of voters at the election on Nov. 5, 2019, voted to approve the Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment. Results were never certified because the Commonwealth Court enjoined then-Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar from certifying election results pending litigation. On Dec. 21, 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 6-1 ruling, decided that the ballot measure violated the state constitution’s separate-vote requirement for proposed constitutional amendments.

In Pennsylvania, the separate-vote requirement states, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted, they shall be voted upon separately.” Pennsylvania is one of at least six states with a separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. In 2017, the Montana Supreme Court struck down a Marsy’s Law as violating that state’s separate-vote requirement.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd (D) wrote the court’s opinion. She described the ballot measure as “a collection of amendments which added a multiplicity of new rights to our Constitution.” Justice Todd added, “… because those new rights were not interrelated in purpose and function, the manner in which it was presented to the voters denied them their right to consider and vote on each change separately.” Justice Sallie Mundy (R) dissented, writing that the constitutional amendment had a “singular common objective of establishing for victims of crime justice and due process in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.”

Marsy’s Law is a set of constitutional protections for crime victims that have been proposed and adopted in 12 states. The effort to institute Marsy’s Law across the U.S. has been primarily backed by Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation. In 2009, Henry founded Marsy’s Law for All LLC, the national organization advocating for Marsy’s Law. In Pennsylvania, Marsy’s Law for All spent $6.85 million advocating for the constitutional amendment. 

The Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment would have added a section addressing crime victims’ rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution Declaration of Rights. The ballot measure would have provided crime victims with 15 specific constitutional rights, including a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case; a right to provide information to be considered before the parole of the offender; and a right to refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused. The ballot measure would have defined a crime victim as any person against whom a criminal offense or delinquent act was committed or who was directly harmed by the offense or act.

The constitutional amendment had the support of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D), and U.S. Reps. Scott Perry (R-10) and Fred Keller (R-12), and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposed the ballot measure.

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Pennsylvania House passes five constitutional amendments; bill heads back to state Senate

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a bill that contains five constitutional amendments, which voters would decide as distinct ballot measures, on Dec. 15. In April, the state Senate approved the bill as a single constitutional amendment. Since the House changed the bill to include more constitutional amendments, the bill returns to the Senate for final first-session approval during the 2021-2022 legislative session. Topics include the lieutenant governor election, executive order time limits, legislative disapproval of regulations, election audits, and voter identification.

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments require legislative approval during two successive legislative sessions. The legislation would need to be approved again during the 2023-2024 legislative session before voters would decide the changes. The earliest possible date for the amendments is the spring municipal elections on May 16, 2023.

The original version of the bill was a constitutional amendment to allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor. Currently, a party’s nominees for governor and lieutenant governor run on a joint ticket during the general election but in separate primaries. On April 27, 2021, the Senate voted 43-4 to pass the bill. The four votes against the amendment were two Democrats and two Republicans. 

On Dec. 14, the House voted to add the four additional constitutional amendments to the bill. The lieutenant governor amendment also received a grammatical change. Votes on two amendments were along party lines, with all 113 Republicans supporting and all 90 Democrats opposing. On the other two amendments, one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting the changes. Along with the lieutenant governor amendment, the amended bill includes:

  • a constitutional amendment to provide that executive orders and proclamations with the force and effect of law cannot last more than 21 days without legislative approval; 
  • a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to disapprove regulations;
  • a constitutional amendment to require election audits, including elections administration, election machine certification, the list of registered voters, and election results; and
  • a constitutional amendment to require voter identification, regardless of the voting method.

In the 50-seat Senate, Democrats hold 21 seats, Republicans hold 28 seats, and an independent holds one seat.

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Welby wins Pennsylvania House 113 in Nov. 2 special election

A special general was held for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 113 on Nov. 2. Thom Welby (D) won the special election with 9,191 votes, defeating Dominick Manetti (R) and Bonnie Flaherty (L). 

The candidate filing deadline passed on Sept. 13.

The special election was called after Martin Flynn (D) won a special election for state Senate District 22 on May 18. Flynn represented District 113 from 2012 to 2021. 

As of Nov. 5, Pennsylvania has held six state legislative special elections in 2021. Special elections for Senate Districts 22 and 48 and House Districts 59 and 60 were held on May 18. A special election was also held for House District 164 on Nov. 2. Pennsylvania held five state legislative special elections in 2020. 

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Kevin Brobson (R) defeats Maria McLaughlin (D) in Pennsylvania Supreme Court election

Kevin Brobson (R) defeated Maria McLaughlin (D) in the general election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As of 3:00 a.m. EST, The New York Times reported that Brobson had received 52.6% of the vote to McLaughlin’s 47.4%.

Justice Thomas Saylor (R), who joined the court in 1998, did not run for another term because he turned 75 in 2021. Pennsylvania judges must retire at the end of the calendar year in which they reach 75 years of age.

At the time of the election, five judges on the court were elected in partisan elections as Democrats, and two were elected as Republicans. Since Brobson won, the court’s partisan composition will remain the same.

After 2021, the next scheduled election for a seat on the court is in 2022, as current chief justice Max Baer (D) will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 that year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. To read more about Pennsylvania’s 2021 Supreme Court election, click here.



Redistricting timeline updates: Colorado and Utah face deadlines, Pennsylvania holds public hearings

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

Colorado: After the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission approved state legislative map proposals to be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court for review on Oct. 11 (House map) and 12 (Senate map), the deadline for the court to either approve or send back the plans is Nov. 15.

Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) Redistricting Advisory Council continues to hold public hearings on redistricting. Upcoming dates and locations are listed below:

  1. 11:00 a.m. Oct. 27: Penn State Behrend, Pat Black III Conference Center,

Erie, PA

  1. 11:00 a.m. Oct. 29: Drexel University, Creese Student Center, Philadelphia, PA
  2. 11:00 a.m. Nov. 1: Penn State Main Campus, HUB-Robeson Center, University Park, PA
  3. 5:30 p.m. Nov. 3: Mansfield University, Manser Hall, Mansfield, PA

Utah: The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission has until Nov. 1 to submit its full report containing proposed congressional districts, Utah Senate and House districts, and school board districts to the legislature.



Major party candidates selected in Pennsylvania House special election

Party executive committees for the Democratic Party and Republican Party in Lackawanna County have nominated candidates in the special election for District 113 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Republicans nominated Dominick Manetti in an executive committee meeting on July 29. Thom Welby was nominated by the Democratic executive committee on July 1. The official filing deadline is September 13, and the special election is being held on Nov. 2. The winner of the special election will serve until November 2022.

The seat became vacant after Martin Flynn (D) won a special election for state Senate District 22 on May 18. Flynn had represented District 113 since 2012. He won re-election in 2020 with 68% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 113-88 majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with two vacancies. Pennsylvania has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of July, 48 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 18 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Pennsylvania held 44 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Margo Davidson resigns from Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Margo Davidson (D) resigned from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on July 23 after state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) filed criminal charges against Davidson on July 22. The charges included theft, solicitation to hinder apprehension, and election code violations. 

According to Politics PA, Shapiro’s office said Davidson allegedly “‘requested overnight expenses for nights she did not spend in Harrisburg and received personal reimbursements’ from the state ‘for expenses that had been paid for by her campaign,’ and that she’s also been charged for ‘failure to report campaign finance information, as well as soliciting a witness to lie during the course of the investigation.'”

In her resignation letter, Davidson said, “Today, I sadly announce my resignation and take legal responsibility for improper record keeping and reimbursement of expenses…I further take responsibility for and regret not fully participating with the investigation.” Her arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Davidson initially was elected to the state House in November 2010, defeating Maureen Carey (R), 54% to 46%. She was most recently re-elected in 2020 unopposed. 

If there is a vacancy in the Pennsylvania House, a special election must be held to fill the vacant district. As of July 26, there have been 67 state legislative vacancies across the United States this year. Of those 67, 37 are filled through special elections. 

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Redistricting review: Michigan Supreme Court declines to extend redistricting deadlines

In this week’s Redistricting Review, we cover news out of Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Michigan: On July 9, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission’s request to extend the constitutional deadlines for adopting new redistricting plans. The constitutional deadlines – presentation to the public by Sept. 17 and adoption by Nov. 1 – remain in effect.

In light of the delayed delivery of detailed redistricting data by the U.S. Census Bureau, the commission argued that it would “not be able to comply with the constitutionally imposed timeline.” Instead, the commission asked the state supreme court to direct the commission to propose plans within 72 days of the receipt of redistricting data and to approve plans within 45 days thereafter.

The state supreme court asked the Office of the Attorney General to assemble two separate teams to make arguments, one team in support of the commission’s request and another opposed. The court heard oral arguments on June 21. Deputy Solicitor General Ann Sherman, speaking in support of the proposed deadline extensions, said “The very maps themselves could be challenged if they are drawn after the November 1 deadline.” Assistant Attorney General Kyla Barranco, speaking in opposition, said, “There isn’t harm in telling the commission at this point, ‘Try your best with the data that you might be able to use and come September 17, maybe we’ll have a different case.'”

In its unsigned July 9 order, the court said that it was “not persuaded that it should grant the requested relief.” Justice Elizabeth Welch wrote a concurrence, in which she said, “The Court’s decision is not a reflection on the merits of the questions briefed or how this Court might resolve a future case raising similar issues. It is indicative only that a majority of this Court believes that the anticipatory relief sought is unwarranted.”

In response to the court’s order, Edward Woods III, the commission’s communications and outreach director, said that the commission would follow its draft timeline, under which the public input period opens on Aug. 30 and closes on Sept. 30 – past the Sept. 17 constitutional deadline. This suggests that further litigation on the matter might occur.

New York: On July 12, the New York Independent Redistricting Commission (NYIRC) announced that public hearings will begin on July 20. A full list of hearing dates can be accessed here. NYIRC also said it would release its first redistricting proposal on Sept. 15.

Pennsylvania: On July 12, redistricting authorities in Pennsylvania launched a redistricting website and announced a schedule for public hearings on congressional redistricting, the first of which will take place on July 22. A full list of hearing dates can be accessed here.

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Redistricting in Michigan after the 2020 census

Redistricting in New York after the 2020 census

Redistricting in Pennsylvania after the 2020 census



Pennsylvania, Oregon end statewide face-covering requirements

Two states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 25 and July 1.

Pennsylvania Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam lifted the statewide mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on June 28. In accordance with CDC guidelines, vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transportation and at public transportation hubs (like bus stations and airports).

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) ended the statewide mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated people on June 30. Masks are still required on public transportation, at public transportation hubs, and at medical facilities.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 8 states had statewide mask orders. All 8 states have Democratic governors. Seven of the eight states exempted fully vaccinated people from most requirements.

Of the 31 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 16 have Republican governors, and 15 have Democratic governors. Twenty-eight states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Republicans outraise Democrats by 13% in Pennsylvania state legislative races

New campaign finance filings for Pennsylvania state legislative special elections show Republicans outpaced Democrats in fundraising. Between January 1, 2021, and May 17, 2021, Republican general election candidates outraised Democratic candidates by 13 percent.

Republicans have a 28-21 majority in the Pennsylvania State Senate and a 113-89 majority in the Pennsylvania State House. State legislative special elections were held on May 18, 2021, in four districts.

In the election cycle in those districts, six Republican candidates raised $1.13 million compared to $1 million taken in by four Democrats.

The candidates who raised the most money in that period are Martin Flynn (D) in Senate District 22 ($948,983), Chris Chermak (R) in Senate District 22 ($821,136), and Chris Gebhard (R) in Senate District 48 ($146,581).

Campaign finance requirements govern how much money candidates may receive from individuals and organizations, how much and how often they must report those contributions, and how much individuals, organizations, and political parties may contribute to campaigns. All campaign financial transactions must be made through the candidate’s committee. Campaign committees are required to file regular campaign finance disclosure reports with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

This article was published in partnership with Transparency USA. Click here to learn more about that partnership.