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August 2022

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DaniRae Renno, Wolf Files Lawsuit Against Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Abortion, The News-Item, Shamokin (July 28, 2022), DaniRae Renno writes that Governor Wolf has filed a lawsuit against a proposed constitutional amendment that would state that there is no constitutional right to abortion. The court had taken no action as of the time of publication.

July 2022

Ashley Murray & Julian Routh, Forthcoming Elections Ruling Could Affect PA, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 1, 2022), Murray and Routh write that the United States Supreme Court’s grant of review to consider the independent state legislature doctrine in next term’s Moore v. Harper could have an impact on the elections of Pennsylvania. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the congressional maps were unconstitutional as drawn, and in 2020 it decided to allow a three-day extension for mail-in ballots.

Stephen Caruso, Pa. Voters May Get to Weigh in on 5 Amendments to Constitution, Tribune-Review (July 9, 2022), Stephen Caruso writes that five proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution may be on the ballot as early as the spring of 2023. The amendments include (1) declaring that there is no right to abortion or funding for abortion in the state constitution, (2) a requirement for voters to present government-issued ID, (3) requiring the state auditor-general to audit elections, (4) allowing the gubernatorial nominee to choose their own running mate instead of holding a separate lieutenant governor primary, and (5) increasing the power of the General Assembly to reject regulations. Since Pennsylvania’s current Constitution went into effect in 1968, only six of 49 proposed amendments have been rejected by voters.

Tom Lisi, State Election Officials Sue Lancaster, Berks, Fayette Counties Over May Primary Certification, LNP Media Group Inc. (July 12, 2022), Tom Lisi writes that the Pennsylvania Department of State has filed lawsuits against three counties to submit one set of primary election results that include mail-in votes from undated envelopes after being told to provide new certified election results. The state argues that allowing three counties to exclude votes that were included in all other counties is an impermissible discrepancy in election administration and would risk a conflict with the state constitution. The county commissioners stated that they had followed a prior court order to count the undated ballots, but keep them separate, and that the state officials had no standing to request new results.

Richard W. Jones, Climate Watch: The Supreme Court’s Ruling and Future Climate Action, Centre Daily Times (July 10, 2022), Richard Jones writes that the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to restrict the power of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases does not stop all efforts to curtail emissions in Pennsylvania, which has a right to clean air included in the state constitution. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the EPA should not have any effect on the ability for Pennsylvania to regulate pollution at the state level.

Jan Murphy, After 2021 Debacle, State on Track to Advertise Proposed Constitutional Amendments, Meadville Tribune (July 28, 2022), Jan Murphy writes that the Department of State has confirmed plans to complete advertisement of proposed constitutional amendments. The six proposed amendments were moved forward by the legislature, which will have to approve them again before they can appear on the ballot. One proposed amendment, which would open the time period for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits, could have appeared on the May 2021 primary ballot had the state department not failed to advertise it properly. All six proposed amendments could appear on the May 16 primary ballot at the earliest.

Colin McNickle, State, Counties Lack Will to Restore Assessment Fairness, Tribune-Review (July 28, 2022), Colin McNickle writes that the General Assembly’s refusal to mandate regular property reassessments is a violation of its taxation duties under Article VIII, Section 1 of the state constitution. By not reassessing properties, an inequality is created when the only properties being taxed based on their market values are recently sold properties.

Curt Schroder, Strip Courts of Venue Power, Times-Tribune (Scranton) (July 27, 2022), Curt Schroder writes that the Supreme Court should not have exclusive authority to establish venue policy for civil cases. He states that the General Assembly should exercise its constitutional authority to establish jurisdiction in civil cases to eliminate any risk that the Supreme Court could alter the current rule that requires medical liability cases to be filed where the injury occurred.

Ford Turner, Benninghoff Seeks High Court Review of District Maps, Morning Call (July 16, 2022), Ford Turner writes that Representative Benninghoff is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the use of race in creating the state’s district map after it was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Benninghoff states that the state constitution limits the division of counties, cities, towns and other jurisdictions.

June 2022

Jim Hertzler, Guest Editorial: Where’s Our Homeowner Property Tax Relief?, Sentinel (June 20, 2022), Jim Hertzler writes that local school districts and taxing bodies have failed to implement a constitutional amendment that would allow up to 100% of a homestead property’s value to be exempted from taxes. Hertzler further states that shifting funding away from public schools and toward “school choice” alternatives may violate the mandate to provide for a system of public education found in Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Paula Reed Ward, Judge to Decide if Shaler Disabled Veteran Must Pay Back Taxes to School District, Tribune-Review (June 22, 2022), Paula Reed Ward writes that Judge Dan Regan of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas will determine whether Article VIII, Section 2(c) of the state constitution, which exempts disabled veterans from property tax, should apply retroactively to unpaid taxes from 2011 through 2017 when the veteran property owner was granted the exemption in 2018.

Editorial, Let People Vote on Banning Domestic Abusers from Office, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 23, 2022), the editorial board writes that the citizens of Pennsylvania should decide whether a conviction for domestic violence should be added to Article II, Section 7’s list of infamous crimes that permanently disqualify a person from holding state office. The board writes that voters should get to decide whether to “restrict their own choices” by voting on the constitutional proposal to add domestic violence as a disqualifying offense.

Abraham Gutman, How a Proposed Change to the PA Constitution Could Reshape the Future of Abortion, Philadelphia Inquirer (June 24, 2022), Gutman writes that the proposed constitutional amendment that states there is no right to abortion in the Pennsylvania constitution would make it difficult to bring a suit challenging any abortion restrictions that the legislature may pass in the future.

Eric Scicchitano, Anti-abortion Amendment, Bills on Transgender Athletes Move Closer to Full Votes in Pa. Senate, Tribune-Democrat (June 6, 2022), Eric Schicchitano writes that the Senate gave second consideration to the proposed constitutional amendment that expressly states there is no constitutional right to abortion or abortion funding in Pennsylvania. The vote, which passed twenty-nine to twenty, moves the proposed amendment closer to final approval by the full Senate.

Nicholas Malfitano, Pa. House Judiciary Committee Chair Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Establish Civil Case Venue, Pennsylvania Record (June 7, 2022), Nicholas Malfitano writes that the state Judiciary Committee has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to establish venue rules for medical malpractice lawsuits. As the judiciary reviews whether the current venue rules should be revisited, the proposed amendment would settle the dispute by clearly giving the General Assembly authority over the venue of medical malpractice cases.

Mark Scolforo, Republicans Face Decision on Constitutional Changes Package, Associated Press (June 7, 2022), Mark Scolforo writes that Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers will need to select which of the numerous proposals for constitutional amendments will be placed on the ballot this year. There are over 80 proposed amendments, including some bi-partisan proposals, but the legislature does not want to put too many proposals to the voters at once. Democratic legislators argue that legislating by amendment avoids the executive branch’s veto power, circumventing checks and balances.

Jonathan Tamari, Pa. Senate Results: David McCormick Concedes to Mehmet Oz in Republican Primary, Philadelphia Inquirer (June 3, 2022), Jonathan Tamari writes that David McCormick conceded to Republican primary election to Mehmet Oz. A Commonwealth Court judge had previously ordered counties to count undated ballots, but McCormick conceded when it became clear that the recount was not finding a significant shift in vote totals from the original count that had determined Oz had won the election.

Bob Kalinowski, ‘Proper Cause’ Not Requirement for Gun Permit in PA, Unlike NY Law Struck Down by Supreme Court, The Citizens’ Voice (June 24, 2022), Kalinowski writes that the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down New York’s gun permit law does not affect Pennsylvania’s permit law. Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides clearer and stronger gun rights than the Second Amendment, and Pennsylvania does not require “proper cause” to carry a firearm.

J.T. O’Toole, Police Lobbied DA, Courts for Probe of Progressive Magistrate, PublicSource (June 30, 2022), O’Toole reports that a deputy sheriff of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department monitored the social media accounts of Magistrate Pappas after a dispute Pappas had with the District Attorney’s office, despite Article V, Section 18 of the Pennsylvania Constitution giving the courts, not the police or district attorney, responsibility for reviewing judicial conduct.

May 2022

Sue Gleiter, Incumbents Patty Kim, Greg Rothman Among Victors in Central Pa. House, Senate Races, Patriot-News (May 18, 2022), Sue Gleiter writes about central Pennsylvania’s primary race winner Perry Stambaugh who believes that the state pension system violates the Pennsylvania Constitution and has introduced a constitutional amendment eliminating school property taxes.

Eric Scicchitano, ‘Abortion is Health Care’: Supporters Rally in Harrisburg Against Potential Bans, Daily Item (May 15, 2022), Eric Scicchitano writes about protests opposing state legislative proposals restricting abortion in Pennsylvania, including two proposed amendments to the state constitution. Both proposals would add language to the Constitution stating that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding in Pennsylvania’s constitution. If passed, the constitutional amendments would bypass Governor Tom Wolf’s expected veto of any legislative restrictions on abortion.

April 2022

Charlie Wolfson, Budget Researchers to Pittsburgh: Tax the Rich, and UPMC, PublicSource (Apr. 14, 2022), Charlie Wolfson writes that budget analysts from the Pittsburgh Budget and Policy Center urged officials to implement separate taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest, and rent. This would effectively raise the income tax on the wealthy while attempting to avoid the Pennsylvania Constitution’s prohibition against taxing individuals at different rates.

March 2022

James Boyle, Judge Blocks Pa. High Court’s Anti-Bias Rule for Attorneys, Law360 (March 25, 2022), James Boyle writes that an attempt to adopt an anti-bias rule by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s disciplinary board was blocked for the second time by Judge Chad Kenney of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Kenney ruled that the revised wording of the rule violated the First Amendment and was too vague, overbroad, and constituted viewpoint-based discrimination. Judge Kenney further explained that the vagueness of the rule as to what is considered harassment or discrimination does not give an ordinary attorney sufficient fair notice as to whether they could be subject to disciplinary action.

Paula Reed Ward, Man Gets Life in 2017 Killing of Penn Hills Man; Judge Delays Sentencing of Accomplice, Tribune-Review (Mar. 9, 2022), Paula Reed Ward writes that counsel for Devante King, who was convicted of second-degree murder, has asked the trial judge to consider that a sentence of life without parole for her client should be considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case next month on whether the sentence for second-degree murder is appropriate when a defendant was not personally responsible for a person’s death. 

February 2022

Mark Scolforo, Wolf Officials Argue to Keep Mail-In Balloting During Appeal, Associated Press (Feb. 24, 2022), Mark Scolforo writes that the Wolf administration has asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to keep the state’s mail-in voting law in place while the justices consider the Commonwealth Court’s decision that struck down the no-excuse mail-in voting as violative of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Bruce Ledewitz, Why do Pennsylvania Courts Have a Say on Mail-in Voting? They Probably Shouldn’t, Pennsylvania Capital-Star (Feb. 10, 2022), Bruce Ledewitz argues that the Commonwealth Court’s decision to strike down no-excuse mail-in voting for the federal election in 2022 violates the Independent State Legislature Doctrine.

Nicholas Malfitano, Counsel for Athletes in City of Pittsburgh’s ‘Jock Tax’ Lawsuit Now Seek Summary Judgment in State Court, Pennsylvania Record (Feb. 7, 2022), Nicholas Malfitano writes that the athletes challenging the constitutionality of the “jock-tax” have filed for summary judgment. The plaintiffs assert that the facilities fee is a tax and that charging non-residents a higher tax than residents violates the Pennsylvania Constitution provision that all taxes must be “uniform.” Additionally, even if the fee is not considered a tax, plaintiffs assert that the fee fails to comply with “provisions of the federal constitution specifically the Privileges and Immunities, Due Process and Dormant Commerce Clauses.”

January 2022

Office of the Governor, Governor Wolf Signs Bills Supporting Health Care Workers and Students, Vetoes Unfair Congressional Map, State News Service (Jan. 26, 2022), The Office of the Governor released information following the governor’s veto of proposed congressional redistricting maps, House Bill 2146. Governor Wolf claims that HB 2146 fails fundamental fairness and fails to deliver on the Pennsylvania Constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections. The governor asserts that the proposed map was the product of a partisan process and urges lawmakers to redraw the map consistent with the Redistricting Principles outlined by the Redistricting Advisory Council.

Victor Skinner, Republicans Take Different Tact to Privatize Pennsylvania Liquor Sales, Pennsylvania Independent (Jan. 21, 2022), Victor Skinner reports on House Bill 2272, a proposed constitutional amendment that would privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores. HB 2272 is in response to Governor Wolf’s veto of a 2016 bill that would have privatized the spirits industry. The proposed amendment would add language to Article III that reads: “[t]he commonwealth shall not manufacture or sell, at wholesale or retail, liquor.”

Chris Ullery, Calls for Santacecilia’s Resignation Continue, Bucks County Courier Times (Jan. 20, 2022), Chris Ullery discusses the public pressure for Doylestown Supervisor, Nancy Santacecilia, to resign after she sent flyers through the Central Bucks School District’s interoffice mail in October. The flyers warned readers against voting for a slate of Democratic school board candidates and cast aspersions on the Rainbow Room, a nearly 20-year-old LGBTQ community youth center in the Doylestown area Municipal government boards cannot remove one of its members from office. Under Article VI of the Pennsylvania Constitution, civil officers can only be removed “on conviction of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime,” but only then by the governor. Even after an order from the state’s highest executive, a public hearing ending in a two-thirds majority vote in the state Senate would be needed to unseat Santacecilia.