January 23, 2023:
Constitutional Amendments: Why We Care
In his first act as House Republican Policy Committee Chairman, Representative Josh Kail brough together experts and advocates to speak on three proposed amendments to Pennsylvania’s Constitution. These three amendments, which reside in SB1, would provide for a two-year window for victims of childhood sexual assault to file previously time-barred claims, require voters to present identification when casting a ballot, and authorize the General Assembly to disapprove regulations. Upon passage in the House these constitutional amendments will appear on ballots across the state for the public’s vote and final determination.
The testifiers that joined the Committee are as follows:
Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair/Huntingdon) – Statute of Limitations
Frank LaRose and Madeline Malisa – Voter ID
David Taylor and Grant Gulibon – Regulatory Veto Reform
Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair/Huntingdon), a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a victim advocate, was the first to speak and share with the Committee his personal trauma and motivation for pursuing HB14. His legislation from 2021, HB14, was incorporated into SB1 of the 2023-24 session alongside the Voter ID and Regulatory Veto Reform amendments.
Rep. Gregory shared his story with the Committee, the lifelong consequences he and other victims experienced, and the need to enable a two-year period in which victims may file lawsuits if the statute of limitations has expired in their case. This pursuit for justice has been fought for decades, and the first legislative proposal to address the statutes of limitations for child sex crimes was attempted in 2018. This initial proposal, a statutory path, posed questions of constitutionality and was found to not be the most assured means to achieve justice. The second proposal, a constitutional amendment, passed both the House and Senate only to then be foiled by Gov. Wolf’s Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar, who failed to do her duty and properly advertise the amendment. This proposal, the third attempt at justice, will enable survivors to finally address the crimes committed upon them as children. Rep. Gregory expressed that, like himself, he wants others who experienced his trauma to “survive and thrive, as they cannot live forever as a victim.”
Following the testimony on the Statute of Limitations amendment the Committee was joined by Madeline Malisa, Senior Fellow with The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), to discuss voter ID. Mrs. Malisa provided her insight into incorporating voter ID into Pennsylvania elections and the need to encourage voter confidence and integrity within our election process. She shared with the Committee that a majority of voters in Pennsylvania from all parties and backgrounds, approximately 65%, support requiring a state-issued ID to vote.
Representatives present had several questions for Mrs. Malisa. Rep. Roae inquired as to why voter ID is such a partisan issue, noting that Democratic Party social events require ID for entry while Democratic legislators so often claim that this requirement is onerous for voters. Rep. Delozier noted that PA’s current requirement to show ID only when at a poll for the first time was unique, to which Mrs. Malisa informed the Committee that 35 states currently require voter ID for each election, Mexico requires photo ID to vote, and furthermore all but one of the countries within the European Union require some manner of voter ID.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose joined the Committee to share Ohio’s recent passage of voter ID laws and insight from our neighboring state. Secretary LaRose shared that Ohioans are entitled to a free photo ID, just as SB1 enables for Pennsylvanians, and that the ID is required for each election. Furthermore, if a voter loses an ID or has religious apprehension towards photography there are mechanisms within the law to assure they have means to prove their identity and vote normally. Overall, the impact on Ohio’s voters is minimal, and no eligible voters were disenfranchised. In fact, the institution of voter ID is by-and-large seen as a fair and reasonable measure to maintain the integrity of elections.
Chairman Kail inquired as to why the Ohio Legislature’s vote was so partisan when voter ID average public support hovers above 65% across party lines. Secretary LaRose expressed that the same political disconnects that are apparent in PA are equally apparent in Ohio, and Democratic legislators are at odds with the will of the people. Representative Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming/Union) asked how voter ID and mail-in voting can coexist while retaining election integrity. The Committee was informed that to both receive and send a mail-in ballot in Ohio a voter must provide substantial identifying information, a signature, and can only request a mail-in ballot for an individual election and not in perpetuity.
Following the information on voter ID, the final amendment to consider within SB1, Regulatory Veto Reform, was discussed with David Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association and Grant Gulibon of the PA Farm Bureau. Mr. Gulibon made clear that support for the Regulatory Veto Reform amendment is not the same as being “anti-regulation,” particularly because, “Pennsylvania’s farm families understand the need for practical regulations, particularly those that protect food security, consumer confidence, and the land, air, and water that make the other benefits of agriculture possible.” The testifiers shared specific examples of regulatory overreach such as the attempts to institute the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without legislative approval, agricultural operations taking years to get the necessary permits to begin operations, COVID-related “orders,” and actions taken by the Department of Revenue that unilaterally changed the state’s capital investment rules overnight and without input from the public. These regulatory actions taken by the Executive Branch are contrary to the intent of the laws crafted by the Legislature, do not allow for adequate public participation, and the requirement that a two-thirds majority is needed to reject these regulations is onerous and unbalanced. Legislative input within the regulatory process is particularly difficult to achieve considering Governor Wolf proposed 474 rulemakings and 507 rules and regulations over the course of his tenure.
The amendment within SB1 would enable a simple majority to disapprove regulations and rebalance the separation of powers within the Commonwealth. Chairman Kail asked Mr. Taylor and Mr. Gulibon how advocacy efforts differ between legislative proposals and the regulations that stem from the offices of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The testifiers both stated that contrary to how they participate in the legislative process, the regulatory process occurs largely in the shadows and there is a larger disconnect between unelected executive agency bureaucrats and the regular people and businesses within PA. Mr. Taylor noted that Governor Wolf acted as if he could ”Throw thunderbolts from on high” as some omnipotent regulator that bent legislative intent to achieve what PA voters would never allow. Rep. Moul described the current role of our regulatory agencies as the “ fourth headless branch of government” which operates outside the will of the people. Immediately, the testifiers shared how the regulatory debacle of the federal MS4 mandate and the nonchalant attitude towards job growth are evidence of executive agencies being grossly out of touch with the will of the people or their representatives. To best characterize the necessity for the Regulatory Veto Reform amendment David Taylor succinctly stated that, “Government will do whatever you can’t stop it from doing.”
It is impossible to know how many jobs and opportunities have been lost to other states and countries due to our lack of Regulatory Veto Reform. It is impossible to have confidence in the results of our elections without voter ID. It is impossible to pursue justice for victims of childhood sex crimes without amending the Statute of Limitations. All of these amendments within SB1 are meaningful to Pennsylvanians, and the House Republican Policy Committee used this hearing to share the reasons why we care about these important proposals. Rep. Klunk (R-York) summarized the need for the day’s hearing and the intent of the constitutional amendment process by stating, “We’re giving the power back to the people.”