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A guide to Pa.’s 2021 primary ballot questions

The primary election is May 18. Photo Tyger Williams

All Pennsylvania voters — yes, that includes independents and minor-party members — will be asked to consider four ballot questions on May 18. Two of them are widely considered non-controversial. The other two? A different story. Below, Spotlight PA breaks down the basics of what they would do, who is in favor, and who is opposed.

Question 1

What would it do? Currently, only Pennsylvania’s governor can end a disaster declaration, like the one the state is currently under to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. State law gives the General Assembly the option to pass a resolution to terminate the declaration, though the state Supreme Court ruled last year the governor still gets the final say. The legislature can overturn a governor’s veto with support from two-thirds of members.

This proposed constitutional amendment would allow a majority of lawmakers to terminate the declaration at any time, without the governor’s consent. What happens after that is the matter of some debate.

Who is in favor? This proposal, borne out of a contentious response to the Wolf administration’s approach to the pandemic, has been championed by the House and Senate Republican caucuses, with support from a few Democrats.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity has also launched a campaign to urge a “yes” vote on the question.

Who is opposed? Most Democrats including Gov. Tom Wolf are urging Pennsylvanians to vote “no,” as is the grassroots Democratic group Turn PA Blue.

Question 2

What would it do? This question asks voters to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to limit a disaster declaration to 21 days. It could only then be continued with the consent of the legislature.

At the moment, a disaster declaration lasts 90 days and can be renewed as many times as deemed necessary by the governor. The measure would also prevent the governor from issuing a new disaster declaration based on the same or similar facts.

Who is in favor? Who is opposed? The same parties as question 1.

Question 3

What would it do? This proposal amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to enshrine discrimination protections to Pennsylvanians based on race and ethnicity.

Who is in favor? This amendment is supported by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. “Discrimination based on race is cooked into the DNA of this nation and we must take action to explicitly prohibit racial and ethnic discrimination in Pennsylvania’s Constitution,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia), the amendment’s sponsor.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is also in favor: “The proposed equality amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution has the potential to expand protections against racial and ethnic discrimination, protect against unintentional but still disproportionate impacts on people of color, challenge discriminatory actions by non-governmental entities, while still permitting race-conscious programs that increase equality.”

Who is opposed? While not opposed, the League of Women Voters cautioned in its ballot guide there could be potential downsides.

“If passed, this law could add opportunity to bring ‘reverse discrimination’ cases,” the league wrote. “Thus, if a Caucasian person felt they were discriminated against by a State-run operation or agency in hiring, admissions, or denied opportunities, they could sue under this new law.”

Question 4

What would it do? This is a statewide referendum (as opposed to a constitutional amendment) that would allow municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel, as well as EMS companies, to apply for a loan through an existing state-run program for volunteer companies. The money can be used to modernize or purchase equipment.

Who is in favor? The measure passed the legislature with unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans. The Pennsylvania Fire Emergency Services Institute is urging a “yes” vote, as is the Pennsylvania Career Fire Chiefs Association.

Who is opposed? Spotlight PA could not identify any opponents.

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.

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