While Republicans and Democrats play politics over who is the majority party or who sets the rules or who chairs committees, the real-life impact of their delay hits home Friday.
Most are aware that the controversial amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution must be passed by both chambers of the General Assembly in consecutive sessions to appear before voters on a ballot.
Most are unaware that the real deadline for passage is Friday, January 27, 2023.
It is fair to ask why, when the primary election is not scheduled until May 16, 2023, is the deadline is so far in advance.
So we did.
“In order for the Department of State to include the proposed constitutional amendment on the May 2023 primary ballot, the legislature must pass the constitutional amendment by January 27, 2023,” said a spokesperson for the Department of State. “The amendment must be advertised in newspapers for the first time by February 16. The General Assembly must act swiftly to make that possible.”
Uh, say again? Aren’t there 20 days between Jan. 27 and Feb. 16?
The demise of local news in the Commonwealth, as well as across the nation, is one culprit.
Many newspapers in Pennsylvania no longer print a daily edition, opting to print as few as 2-3 times per week. As one example, Harrisburg’s Patriot-News prints on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Also, state statutes call for the ad to be published in two newspapers of general circulation in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties no later than three months before an election. In 2023, that date is February 16.
But wait, there’s more.
It’s not as simple as sending text to the publication and telling them to print the next day.
The Attorney General’s office must give its approval to the ballot question advertisement, as well as drafting and providing the DOS a plain language statement to accompany the ballot question.
A plain language statement is drafted by the Attorney General “in plain English” which indicates the purpose, limitations and effects of the ballot question on the people of the Commonwealth.
Finally, the DOS must translate the advertisements in Spanish and Chinese to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
With the House of Representatives yet to organize, much less debate Senate Bill 1 that holds the amendments, one can now better understand the challenges faced.
So, what happens if tomorrow concludes with no movement? Or, February 16 comes around with no resolution? Can’t the General Assembly adopt SB 1 and have it ready for the November general election?
As SB1 is currently drafted, upon second passage of the amendments, the Secretary of the Commonwealth will “Submit the amendment under section 1(1) of this resolution to the qualified electors of this Commonwealth as a separate ballot question at the first primary election which meets the requirements of section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania.”
That would be May 16, 2023.
“I resigned myself to the fact that it’s not going to be on the May ballot months ago. There’s only so many things I can control,” state Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair) concluded. A survivor of childhood sexual assault himself, he said, “This has been an emotionally exhausting experience for me the past several days.”