Tagstate house

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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Rep. Barbara Cooper, Tennessee’s oldest serving lawmaker, dies

Tennessee Rep. Barbara Cooper (D) died on Oct. 25, 2022.

Cooper was first elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1996. According to U.S. News & World Report, she was the oldest serving lawmaker in Tennessee history. Cooper most recently ran for election in 2020, winning with 72.7% of the vote.

If there is a vacancy in the Tennessee General Assembly, there are two ways a vacancy can be filled. When 12 months or more remain in an unfilled term, a special election must be held within the allowable time frame set by law. If fewer than 12 months remain in a term, members of the legislative body in the county that the vacancy occurred must vote on a replacement.

As of Nov. 1, there have been 132 state legislative vacancies in 42 states during 2022. Sixty-two of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 132 vacancies, 68 are Democratic and 62 are Republican. Democrats have filled 36 vacancies, while Republicans have filled 25.

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54.10% of state legislatures are Republican, 44.32% Democratic

At the end of September 2022, 54.10% of all state legislatures in the United States were Republicans, while 44.32% were Democrats. There are 7,383 state legislative seats in the country.

Republicans controlled 62 chambers, while Democrats held 36. The Alaska House of Representatives is the only chamber organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

Democrats held 863 state Senate seats and 2,409 state House seats, losing one Senate seat since last month. Republicans held 1,092 state Senate seats and 2,902 state House seats, gaining two House seats since last month.

Independent or third-party legislators held 40 seats, including 33 state House seats and seven state Senate seats. There were 67 vacant state House seats and 10 vacant state Senate seats.

Compared to September 2021, Democrats have gained two state Senate seats (861 v. 863) and lost 29 state House seats (2,438 v. 2,409). Republicans have gained one state Senate seat (1,091 v. 1,092) and lost 10 state House seats (2,912 v. 2,902). 

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State senators

State representatives 

Alaska governor signs bill to formally recognize federally recognized American Indian tribes

On July 28, 2022, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) signed House Bill 123 (HB 123) into law, which would formally recognize 229 federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska. The bill was approved by the state legislature on May 17, 2022, before going to the governor’s desk.

“House Bill 123 codifies in law what Alaskans have long recognized: the important role that Native Tribes play in our past, present, and future,” said Gov. Dunleavy in a statement.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-38), who sponsored the bill, called this action long overdue. “While the inherent sovereignty of Alaska Tribes has been consistently affirmed in Federal policy, in rulings by the Supreme Court, and by Executive Order in 2018, the signing of House Bill 123 provides formal recognition in statute for the first time in our State’s history,” she said.

HB 123 adds a section to Alaska state statute that recognizes federally recognized tribes. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, a federally recognized tribe is “an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Initially, the move for the state to recognize American Indian tribes in Alaska came from a ballot initiative that was intended to be placed on the 2022 ballot. The initiative was filed by Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake, Chaa yaa eesh Richard Peterson, and La quen náay Liz on August 11, 2021. The Alaskans for Better Government PAC was registered in support of the measure. 

“With a respectful partnership we’ll have more ways to enhance the lives of Alaskans by streamlining services; partnering to amplify federal and state funding for deep, sustainable, and long-term impact; and tapping in to the 10,000 plus years of Indigenous brilliance, diversity, and knowledge of our Native homelands that so many now call home,” the Alaskans for Better Government campaign said, “The basis of any good relationship is respect, and too often when sovereign governments cannot work together our Tribal peoples disproportionately bear the price of injustice, diminishing equity, liberty, and freedoms for all.”

In Alaska, the initiative process for state statutes is indirect. This means that rather than a campaign submitting signatures to put the initiative directly on the ballot the initiative first goes to the state legislature. The state legislature then has a chance to approve or reject the measure. If the state legislature rejects the measure, the measure goes to the ballot for voters to decide. If the state legislature approves the measure, it goes to the governor’s desk for approval.

The Alaskans for Better Government campaign submitted 56,200 signatures on January 13, 2022. Of that total, 47,199 signatures were found to be valid on March 3, 2022. The number of required signatures to send the initiative to the state legislature was 36,140.

In 2021, several legislators introduced House Bill 123, which Alaskans for Better Government described as “functionally identical and… written to serve the same purpose” as the ballot initiative. Instead of considering the initiative, the state legislature approved HB 123 in May.

Since the measure was passed by the state legislature, it will not appear on the ballot but instead will go into effect immediately.

Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka called this formal recognition a ‘historic step’. 

“The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions, and maintain freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for each other,” she said. “We have strengthened our tribal governments and have initiated multiple efforts to continue our path to self-determination and self-governance. The formal recognition through this legislation is an historic step for us to have a successful relationship with the state.”

Additional reading:

Alaska 2022 ballot measures

Newcomers will represent at least 32% of Vermont’s state legislative seats next year

Fifty-seven state legislative seats up for election in Vermont this year are open, meaning no incumbents filed to run. This represents 32% of the state’s legislature, a marked increase compared to recent election cycles.

Since no incumbents are present, newcomers are guaranteed to win all open seats.

Vermont restructured its House and Senate during the state’s redistricting process. Previously, the state had 117 state legislative districts containing 180 seats. After redistricting, there are 125 districts, still containing 180 seats.

While the number of open seats increased this year, other competitiveness metrics—like the number of contested primaries—decreased compared to the 2020 election cycle.

Across all districts, there are 24 contested primaries, representing 10% of all possible primaries.

A contested primary is one where there are more candidates running than nominations available, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

There are 17 Democratic primaries, a 23% decrease from 2020. Republicans are holding seven contested primaries, the same number as in 2020.

Overall, 276 major party candidates filed to run for the state’s 150 House and 30 Senate seats this year: 174 Democrats and 102 Republicans.

Vermont has had a divided government since Republicans won the governorship in 2016. Democrats hold a 91-46 majority in the House, with 12 other seats held by minor party or independent officeholders and one vacancy. The party holds a 21-7 majority in the Senate, with two seats held by minor party officeholders.

Vermont’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for Aug. 9, the 12th statewide primary date of the 2022 state legislative election cycle.

Additional reading:

Vermont House of Representatives elections, 2022

Vermont State Senate elections, 2022

Primary watch: number of contested state legislative primaries is up 25% compared to 2020

There are 25% more contested state legislative primaries this year than in 2020, including 55% more Republican primaries and 8% more top-two/four primaries. Democratic primaries are down 9%.

These figures include elections in 37 states that account for 4,672 of 6,166 state legislative seats up for election this year (76%).

A primary is contested when there are more candidates running than available nominations, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

Since our last update on July 25, we have added post-filing deadline data from Minnesota. Overall, 11 states in this analysis have Democratic trifectas, 19 have Republican trifectas, and seven have divided governments.

Of the 37 states in this analysis, 34 are holding partisan primaries. Three states—California, Nebraska, and Washington—use top-two primaries.

The number of Democratic primaries has increased in 11 states, decreased in 19, and remains the same in three. The number of Republican primaries has increased in 30 states and decreased in four. The table below shows partisan statistics for the three states with the largest increases and decreases so far.

In addition to a state’s political makeup and party activity, redistricting is another reason for an increase in primary competitiveness.

After redistricting, some states—like Arkansas—hold elections for every district, while in other years, fewer districts are up each cycle. This creates more opportunities for primaries to occur. Or, like in West Virginia, redistricting creates new districts and, by extension, more primary opportunities. Currently, the total number of possible primaries affected by these changes is up 1.4% compared to 2020.

For states like New Mexico and South Carolina, where only one chamber is up for election every two years, only those chambers holding elections in 2022 that also held elections in 2020 are included.

Ballotpedia will continue to update these figures as information becomes available. In addition to this analysis, Ballotpedia collects competitiveness statistics at all levels of government, available here. This data is calculated following candidate filing deadlines and readjusted at the time of the primary to account for any changes to candidate lists.

33% of Washington state legislative incumbents face contested top-two primaries

Thirty-one of the 95 Washington state legislators who filed for re-election—22 Democrats and nine Republicans—will face contested primaries on Aug. 2. This represents 33% of incumbents who filed for re-election, lower than in 2020 but a higher rate than other recent election cycles.

Washington is one of three states holding top-two state legislative primaries this year. Under this system, all candidates appear on the same primary ballot regardless of their party affiliation and the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election.

Under this system, a primary is contested when more than two candidates file to run in the same district, at which point at least one candidate is guaranteed to lose.

Historically, however, incumbents tend to advance to the general election in Washington.

Between 2014 and 2020, 127 incumbents faced contested primaries in the state, four of whom—two Democrats and two Republicans—lost. This gives incumbents a primary win rate of 98%.

Twenty-seven incumbents are not seeking re-election this year, an increase compared to previous election cycles. This represents 18% of all seats in the Washington State Legislature.

Washington does not have term limits, meaning each of these incumbents either chose to retire or seek some other office.

Overall, 292 candidates filed to run in Washington’s top-two state legislative primaries this year: 126 Democrats, 142 Republicans, and 24 independent or minor party candidates.

All 98 House seats are up for election along with 24 of the state’s 49 Senate seats.

Washington has had a Democratic trifecta since 2017 when the party won control of the Senate in a special election. Democrats currently hold a 57-41 majority in the House and a 29-20 majority in the Senate.

Washington’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for Aug. 2, the 10th statewide primary date of the 2022 state legislative election cycle.

Additional reading:

Washington House of Representatives elections, 2022

Washington State Senate elections, 2022

Contested state legislative primaries down in Kansas House this year

Fifteen percent (38) of 125 possible contested state House primaries in Kansas this year are contested by multiple candidates. One-hundred and twenty-five state House seats are up for election this year.

A primary is contested when more candidates file to run than there are nominations available, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

The 38 contested primaries this year include 12 Democratic primaries and 26 Republican primaries. For Democrats, this is the same as in 2020. For Republicans, that number decreased 10% from 29 in 2020 to 26 in 2022.

Seventeen of the 38 contested primaries feature an incumbent, representing 17% of incumbents who filed for re-election. This is the lowest rate of incumbents in contested primaries in the chamber of the past five election cycles.

Overall, 228 major party candidates—93 Democrats and 135 Republicans—filed to run for the state’s 125 House districts.

Twenty-three House districts are open this year, meaning no incumbents filed. This guarantees that at least 18% of the chamber will be represented by newcomers next year.

Kansas has had a divided government since voters elected Gov. Laura Kelly in 2018. Republicans currently hold a 29-11 majority in the Senate and an 86-39 majority in the House.

Kansas’ primary elections are scheduled for Aug. 2. The Kansas Senate holds elections every four years during presidential election cycles.

Additional reading:

Kansas House of Representatives elections, 2022

Two house resolutions pass in Missouri

Since March 21, 2022, there were two house resolutions that passed in the Missouri House of Represenatives. There were no bills to pass both the House and Senate and be signed by Gov. Mike Parson (R). So far in the 2022 session, eight bills and resolutions have been passed. The following are the passed resolutions since March 21:

House Resolution 3268 allows the Missouri House of Representatives to hire any necessary staff for the interim period between the 2022 and 2023 sessions. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Jason Chipman (R) and was adopted on March 24 with a vote of 147-0. 

House Resolution 3737 affirms support for Ukraine and calls for action to be taken to decrease U.S. dependency on Russian oil. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Nick Shroer (R) and adopted on March 30 with a vote of 93-42. 

The Missouri General Assembly is the state legislature of Missouri. It is a bicameral legislature composed of a 34-member Senate and a 163-member House of Representatives. Senators are term limited to two four-year terms and representatives are limited to four two-year terms. The Missouri General Assembly is a part-time legislature. The 2022 session convened on Jan. 5 and will adjourn May 13. 

Missouri is one of 23 Republican state government trifectas in the U.S. The Republican Party controls the office of governor and both chambers of the General Assembly. There is a 24-10 Republican majority in the Senate and a 108-49 majority in the House. The Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers. In the event of a veto issued by Gov. Parson, the Republican majority is large enough to override the veto without any votes from members of the Democratic Party. 

Upcoming dates in the Missouri General Assembly: 

  • April 15 is the last day to place House Consent Bills on the Senate Calendar
  • April 18 there will be no session due to the Easter Holiday

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Michigan House of Representatives approves changes to unemployment insurance benefits administration

The Michigan House of Representatives on Jan. 27 approved a package of bills proposing changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance benefits administration. The legislation comes after an audit discovered the UIA paid at least $8.5 billion in improper benefits between March 2020 and December 2021.

The package includes bills prohibiting the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) from charging employer accounts for improperly paid benefits, requiring the UIA to approve or deny unemployment insurance claims within 15 calendar days during times of regular claim volume, and requiring the UIA to track monthly the amount of money in the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund (UTF). The UIA would also be required to report to the state budget director and legislative appropriations committees if the UTF balance dropped below certain levels.

The House sent the package to the state Senate for consideration.

Unemployment insurance refers to a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

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