Republican state lawmakers, frustrated by the governor’s power to veto laws, are now abusing Pennsylvania’s constitutional amendment process to get what they want.
The legislature is supposed to use its power to override the governor’s veto, if enough legislators disagree with the veto. Instead, they are proposing amendments to our constitution – the foundational document of our state government – to get around the governor’s check on their power.
This is not how the system was designed to work. Our constitutional amendment process was never meant to be a workaround for failed legislation or to threaten the courts into doing the legislature’s bidding. Our state constitution, like our federal constitution, is intended to protect individual rights and liberties while respecting the equal and independent work of each branch of government. This idea isn’t radical; it’s the bedrock of our entire system of government.
This is not the way a government “by the people” works. Remember what happened in the spring of 2021: three amendments were added to our constitution during an election that saw turnout of only about one-quarter of registered voters. Municipal primary elections always have the lowest turnout – so that’s when the amendments went on the ballot.
Two of these amendments took away most of the governor’s ability to respond to ongoing emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and gave it to the legislature. Meanwhile, at the height of the Omicron surge, Pennsylvania’s hospitals were full to bursting, schools were cancelling classes or moving to online instruction, businesses were closing, and Pennsylvanians were struggling to keep their families safe while putting food on the table.
That way, the issues that the people have been asking for – real redistricting reform, a minimum wage increase, criminal justice reform, fair funding for our schools, and others – can finally stand a chance of seeing the light of day.
Our system of checks and balances and the separation of powers has worked for over two hundred years. There is no reason for Pennsylvania’s constitution to be mangled now, just because some lawmakers can’t accept no for an answer.