Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Bill Introduced To Allow Citizens To Exercise The Power We Have To Directly Amend The State Constitution, Make New Laws, Repeal Laws

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) has introduced
Senate Bill 538 that would authorize voters to directly propose and vote on amendments to the state constitution, establish new laws or repeal existing laws, without action by the General Assembly.

“Today, 26 states and the District of Columbia have some form of ballot initiative process, and of that number 21 states provide for direct statutory initiatives. Proponents of this process point to the advantages of direct democracy,” said Sen. Boscola.  “They claim that elected representatives can, at times, become consumed with their power and take actions that represent their own self-interest and not the interest of the people. 

“Initiatives can be used to make the will of the people law on issues that elected officials are unwilling to address,” said Sen. Boscola.  “I believe that giving more power to the people to impact changes or needs is a good thing—and long overdue.”

This bill is especially timely, given all the attempts by Senate and House Republicans to amend the constitution as a way to get around the authority of their co-equal branches of government-- the Governor and the Courts.

If Republicans truly believe their rhetoric-- “People deserve to have their voices heard” [Senate Republican Leader Kim Ward]-- then this is the ultimate megaphone.

The bill was referred to the Senate State Government Committee for action.


The late Sen. Jim Rhoades (R-Schuylkill) pushed a proposal for 20 years to amend the state’s constitution to allow citizens to exercise a power they already have to directly enact new laws or repeal laws through citizen-led initiatives and referendums without the Senate and House.  Read more here.

His last bill-- Senate Bill 137-- was given a hearing by the Senate State Government Committee in May of 2007, but never saw action before his tragic death in 2008.  Read more here.

Groups as different as the conservative Commonwealth Foundation and Common Cause supported the legislation.

Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation said in testimony at that 2007 hearing--

Senate Bill 137 would “... help give life to the currently inanimate provision in Article I, Section 2 of our state constitution which declares “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.

“Currently, the people of Pennsylvania cannot exercise this “inalienable and indefeasible right” because there is no enabling language in either statute or the constitution to “alter, reform or abolish their government.” 

Barry Kauffman of Common Cause said at the hearing-- "Our organization has been a strong advocate of initiative and referendum for nearly two decades. Citizens recognize these tools for what they are, essential legislative safety valves necessary to ensure an effectively functioning representative democracy.''  Read more here.

“Initiative,” is a process to let citizens exercise the power they already have to make laws by collecting a certain amount of signatures from register voters, based on the number of votes cast in the last election for governor to put a proposed law or constitutional change on the election ballot without waiting for the General Assembly to act.

“Referendum,” would establish a similar process to overturn laws or constitutional amendments passed by the General Assembly.

As news coverage at the time said, “Some lawmakers fear the initiative bill will flout the power, which they alone now have, to enact new laws.  Others don’t want to give citizens the ability to overturn laws the Legislature enacts.  Others fear it will cause citizens groups to gain too much influence.”  Read more here.

G. Terry Madonna, the political commentator at Franklin & Marshall College, said the General Assembly historically has shown no interest in giving more power to voters.  Read more here.

[Posted: April 13, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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