Pennsylvanians were rightfully furious last month when the Wolf Administration and Attorney General Josh Shapiro botched a simple advertising requirement that will delay justice for thousands of Pennsylvanians who were victimized by sexual abuse when they were children. Their failure to advertise this constitutional amendment question prevents it from appearing on the ballot this year. Now, weeks later, we face another failure of leadership – only this time, the damage was inflicted entirely on purpose.
When the General Assembly approves amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Department of State is responsible for drafting plain-English, nonpartisan ballot questions for voters to decide, with the approval of the attorney general. Lawmakers voted in favor of several potential amendments earlier this year, including two measures to restore checks and balances to a governor’s executive powers.
Instead of taking their responsibilities seriously, the Department of State drafted misleading and biased ballot questions, and a partisan Shapiro signed off on it. Simply put, Wolf and Shapiro are intentionally misleading voters. It is critical for Pennsylvanians to understand what these ballot questions mean so they can vote in favor of the measures that I believe are truly in the best interests of our commonwealth.
Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Governor Wolf has used his emergency powers to take a number of steps without the authorization of the Legislature and without working with local and county officials to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The amendments we passed were very straightforward and easy to explain. One would limit emergency declarations to 21 days and require the General Assembly to approve an extension, if warranted. The other would give the General Assembly the power to end an emergency declaration by passing a simple resolution to that effect. Both measures would mean that no single branch of government could maintain unilateral power during an emergency. It would mandate a cooperative process to avoid the kind of mistakes we have seen this administration make over the past year.
I believe when we work together, government works better. There was nothing partisan about these amendments until the Wolf Administration made them political by actively trying to deceive voters on these ballot questions by poorly explaining them.
All we are asking is for the governor to work with members of the General Assembly when handling disasters that last beyond 21 days to better protect our communities, schools and businesses. I have maintained from the very beginning of this public health pandemic that our goal should be to protect both lives and livelihoods, and I believe these amendments help do that by appropriately requiring cooperation and communication between the branches of government when a prolonged disaster strikes.
I continually heard concerns from the health-care community that the governor’s initial lockdown caused sick people, who did not have COVID-19, to be so scared of the pandemic that they were not going to the emergency room when they needed it. Making matters more problematic was the fact that no elective procedures and medical screenings for life-threatening illnesses could be performed for seven weeks under the governor’s orders.
We are now seeing that cases of depression, mental health crises and food insecurity are skyrocketing. The number of child abuse investigations is plummeting, while domestic violence service providers are bracing for historic increases.
Many of these problems will take months or years to resolve – even after Pennsylvania gets back to work. Many of the harmful consequences that have occurred as a result of the statewide shutdown could have been significantly mitigated if the Wolf Administration would have worked with state lawmakers in the beginning in fighting this pandemic.
We need to send a message to the Wolf Administration that their political gamesmanship and partisan power grab has no place in Pennsylvania government. I strongly encourage Pennsylvanians to join me in voting YES on the constitutional amendments on May 18.
State Sen. Camera Bartolotta represents 46th District, which includes Beaver, Greene & Washington counties.