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January 2023

Staff, Pushing Abuse Window Over the Finish Line, Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) (Jan. 10, 2023), a staff writer states in an op-ed that lawmakers have shown a bipartisan willingness to back the proposed constitutional amendment opening the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The op-ed argues that getting the amendment onto the ballot as quickly as possible is an important step to benefit victims who have already been waiting on the amendment for years longer than necessary. [Following publication of this article, the January deadline passed without the proposed amendments being confirmed in the House.]

Eric Scicchitano, PA Senate Committee Votes to Combine Constitutional Amendments into Single Bill, Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) (Jan. 11, 2023), Eric Scicchitano writes that Senate Republicans voted to combine constitutional amendments concerning voter ID, regulatory disapproval, and exceptions to the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims into a single bill. Any proposed amendments must be adopted by the end of January if they are to meet the advertising requirement needed to appear on the May 2023 primary ballot. [No special session followed publication of this article, resulting in the January deadline passing without the proposed amendments being confirmed in the House.]

Paula Wolf, Liquor Control Board Price Jump Draws Backlash, Lehigh Valley Business (January 13, 2023), Paula Wolf writes that the decision by the Liquor Control Board to increase the prices of thousands of goods by 4% has been criticized as being poorly timed and lacking transparency. Senator Mike Regan characterized the price increase as an additional tax on the products, saying that the state constitution gives the legislature sole power to levy taxes.

Editorial Board, We Need Serious, Comprehensive Strategies for Improving Air Quality in Lancaster County, Lancaster Newspapers (January 15, 2023), the Editorial Board writes that the poor air quality of Lancaster County and surrounding counties has the potential to cause serious health effects and that citizens should urge officials to address the issue. The editorial suggests that citizens vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow environmental regulations to be nullified by the legislature, reminding voters that the state constitution grants the right to clean air and water.

Peter Hall, Commonwealth Court Opinions on Krasner Impeachment ‘Create More Questions Than Answers’, Penn Capital-Star (Jan. 15, 2023), Peter Hall writes that, in an opinion released by the Commonwealth Court explaining a prior order that declared the articles of impeachment against District Attorney Krasner not constitutionally valid, one justice reconsidered his agreement with the prior order. This change of heart makes it unlikely that the court would have sufficient votes to enforce the order if requested, leaving the impeachment proceedings on uncertain grounds. The Senate has voted to indefinitely postpone the impeachment trial and cancelled session days through January, noting that the period to appeal the order ends on January 30.

Francis Scarcella, Removed Shamokin Councilman to Seek Seat Again in Spring, Daily Item (January 22, 2023), Francis Scarcella writes that former Shamokin City Councilman Joe Leschinskie has announced that he will be running to regain the position after being removed in 2022. Leschinskie had been removed after a judge determined that his 2009 felony conviction was for an “infamous crime” and that he was barred from holding office by the state constitution.

Patrick Beaty, To Really Fix Harrisburg We Need to Fix the PA Constitution, Pennsylvania Capital-Star (January 27, 2023), Patrick Beaty writes in an op-ed that legislative disfunction and uncertainty is largely due to the legislature’s constitutional authority to create its own rules. Beaty suggests that the constitution be amended to create permanent reforms in the manner in which both legislative chambers operate.  

Alexandra Ross, City to Review Pitt, UPMC Property Tax Exemptions, Pitt News (January 30, 2023), Alexandra Ross writes that Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey issued an executive order calling for an audit of all tax-exempt property in the city. The mayor’s office stated that the order is meant to ensure that all organizations meet the criteria to qualify as purely public charities under the Pennsylvania constitution. Over one-third of city property is owned by a tax-exempt organization, so the audit is expected to take significant time to complete. 

February 2023

Bruce Siwy, Study, Recent History Shed Light on Voter ID Laws; SB 1 an Attempt to Amend Pa. Constitution by Voter Referendum, Beaver County Times (February 20, 2023), Bruce Siwy writes that a proposal to add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution may have little effect on state voting system. A recent poll suggests that 74% of Pennsylvanians are in favor of photo ID requirements for voters, but those opposing the proposed amendment argue that voting should be made easier, not more difficult for voters. A separate study concluded that voter ID laws motivate supporters of both parties to vote, mitigating the benefit gained by either party. 

March 2023

Matthew Santoni, Pittsburgh Gun Laws Weren’t in Contempt of Earlier Deal, Law360 (March 3, 2023), Matthew Santoni writes that Pittsburgh cannot be sanctioned for violating a 1995 settlement agreement that it would “abide by and adhere to” state law. The Commonwealth Court dismissed a request to hold the city in contempt for passing new gun laws in 2019 despite state preemption, stating that a finding of civil contempt requires a “definite, clear and specific” court order and that a vague agreement to follow the law is too broad to enforce. 

April 2023

Bruce Ledewitz, With Pa.’s Highest Court Depleted, Shapiro, GOP Senate Leaders Let Voters Down, Pennsylvania Capital-Star (Apr. 10, 2023), Bruce Ledewitz writes that by failing to appoint a replacement justice for the seat vacated by the death of Chief Justice Max Baer on September 30, 2019, Governor Josh Shapiro and Republican leaders of the State Senate have been derelict in their duties as set forth by the state constitution. Article V, Section 13 states that a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “shall be filled by the Governor” and approved by two-thirds of the State Senate. The vacancy has resulted in many decisions where the court was tied 3-3, meaning such cases will remain contested until January 2024 when a new justice will take office following election in November.

May 2023

Eric Scicchitano, Split Vote Moves Constitutional Workers’ Rights Proposal Out of Pa. House, The Daily Item (May 4, 2023), Eric Scicchitano writes that a proposed amendment to the state constitution seeking to establish the right to collective bargaining has passed the House of Representatives. The amendment would protect workers’ rights and prevent any law that interferes with workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain from being passed. Republicans opposing the amendment expressed concerns over unions’ potential ability to override existing state laws through collective bargaining should it be implemented. Scicchitano writes the amendment will face difficulty passing through the Republican-controlled Senate.

June 2023

Eric Scicchitano, Legislators Working to Replace ‘Unconstitutional’ System to Allocate State Education Funds (June 8, 2023), Eric Scicchitano writes that the Basic Education Funding Commission met to develop a new, equitable funding formula to allocate state funding to Pennsylvania’s public schools. In February, Judge Jubelirer of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the state’s previous funding system violated Article III Section 14 of the state Constitution because it created funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts. Although an appeal has not yet been filed, the pending motion to reconsider the ruling could result in a formal appeal.

Zack Hoopes, House Committee Clears Bill that Would Nix Constitutional Question in Off-Year Elections, The Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA) (June 29, 2023), Zack Hoopes writes that the state House of Representatives passed House Bill 1488, which would remove municipal elections from the state’s election code as it applies to constitutional ballot questions. This change would result in ballot questions only being voted on in the November elections of even years. Hoopes writes that out of the 49 constitutional amendments that have been put to voters since 1968, only 14 were presented during a presidential or gubernatorial election, which have higher voter turnout. The House also passed House Bill 283, which would require legislators to hold a public meeting in their districts to discuss proposed constitutional amendments between the legislature’s first and second passage of the amendment.

July 2023

Mike Crowley, To Sue or Not to Sue: City Council Considers Reassessment Question, The Meadville Tribune (PA) (July 18, 2023), Mike Crowley writes that the Meadville City Council is considering taking legal action against Crawford County to force a countywide property reassessment. Crowley writes that Crawford County has not conducted a full-scale reassessment since 1969 and thus property owners of similarly valued properties often pay different amounts in property taxes. He writes that this non-uniformity violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, which requires uniformity in taxation.

Megan Tomasic, Pennsylvania Lawmakers Won’t Appeal Landmark School Funding Ruling, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 24, 2023), Megan Tomasic writes that Republican lawmakers did not file an appeal against the Commonwealth Court’s ruling that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is unconstitutional. Tomasic writes that the House Republican Caucus is working toward changing the system; however lawmakers have not been able to pass a budget, which includes $550 million in basic education funding and $100 million in funding for the state’s 100 most financially disadvantaged school districts.

Staff, LETTER: Voucher Amendment Abused the Legislative Process, The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) (July 25, 2023), a staff writer argues that House Bill 479 violates the Pennsylvania Constitution because the Senate’s amendment altered the original intent of the bill. The state constitution prohibits amendments to a bill that changes the original intent of the bill and additionally prohibits the combination of two bills into one bill. HB 479 passed the House as a one-page ambulance mileage reimbursement bill; however, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended the bill to include a 20-page provision regarding school vouchers.

August 2023

Zack Hoopes, Judge Sides With Harrisburg Council Candidate who Will Stay on Ballot, The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA) (Aug. 8, 2023), Zack Hoopes writes that a Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Engle ruled that Lamont Jones shall remain on the ballot for election to the Harrisburg city council. Hoopes writes that the plaintiffs in the case, two Harrisburg voters, argued that Jones’s position on the city council would be in violation of the State Constitution, which prohibits public officials who have been convicted of infamous crimes from serving. Hoopes writes that although Jones has been convicted of three “infamous crimes,” he is in the process of seeking clemency and is likely to receive a pardon by the time he would be sworn in as a city councilman.

Tim Cwiek, Trans Man with Felony Conviction in Pa. Granted Name Change, Pennsylvania Capital-Star (Aug. 9, 2023), Tim Cwiek writes that Butler County Common Pleas Judge S. Michael Yeager granted a name change to a transgender man despite the fact that he was on parole for a drug-related felony conviction. The name-change law in Pennsylvania forbids felons who are on parole from getting a name change, which advocates for transgender individuals claim violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. Cwiek writes that Judge Yeager did not rule on the constitutionality of the name-change law and left the issue for resolution by the state legislature. However, Judge Christine A. Ward of Allegheny County did hold that the name-change law is unconstitutional in 2021.

Kate Huangpu, Some Shapiro Cabinet Picks Still Have ‘Acting’ Titles, Morning Call (Allentown, PA) (Aug. 19, 2023), Kate Huangpu writes that two of Governor Josh Shapiro’s picks for top cabinet positions have not been confirmed by the state Senate. However, acting secretaries have essentially the same powers as confirmed secretaries. Huangpu writes that Republicans in the Senate intend to introduce an amendment to the state Constitution, which would limit the powers of secretaries who have not been approved by lawmakers.

Staff Writer, Pa. House Republicans: Brown Introduces Resolution to Simplify Removal of Local Elected Officials, Targeted News Service (Aug. 22, 2023), a staff writer reports that the Pennsylvania House Republicans issued a news release stating that they have introduced an amendment to the state Constitution, which would speed up the process of removing elected officials from their positions. The proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to enact legislation that would allow a municipal officer to be removed for absenteeism from meetings, dereliction of duty, inappropriate moral conduct, or abuse of power.

September 2023

Bruce Siwy, Pa. Governor Implements Automatic Voter Registration, Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) (September 21, 2023), Bruce Siwy writes that Governor Shapiro announced that Pennsylvania residents will automatically go through the voter registration application process, provided they do not opt out, when they receive a new or renewed ID card. Siwy writes that state Senator Cris Dush charged that Governor Shapiro violated the state Constitution by not gaining the consent of the Legislature.

The Battle for In-State Tuition, Explained, The Pitt News (September 20, 2023), The Pitt News writes that Pennsylvania lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would provide select universities with additional funding, which would afford in-state students a significant discount to tuition. The Pitt News writes that the bill needs a two-thirds majority vote in order to pass from the House to the Senate. The Pennsylvania Constitution states that educational institutions “not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth” may only be granted appropriations if a two-thirds majority is reached in both the House and the Senate.

A Fracker in Pennsylvania Wants to Take 1.5 Million Gallons a Day From a Small, Biodiverse Creek. Should the State Approve a Permit?, InsideClimate News (September 17, 2023), InsideClimate News writes that an oil and gas company has applied for a Water Management Plan with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in order to use Big Sewickley Creek for fracking operations. Local advocates believe withdrawing the amount of water needed for fracking will harm the creek’s ecosystem and potentially lead to the extinction of the Southern Redbelly Dace. Advocates argue that the DEP should deny the company’s permits outright under Article I, Section 27 of the state constitution, which states that all residents have the right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the environment.

Marc Stier, Opinion: School Vouchers in Pennsylvania Would Violate the Principles of ‘Public’ Education, Pennsylvania Capital-Star (September 17, 2023), Marc Stier writes that the voucher program supported by Pennsylvania Republican legislators likely does not meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The education clause, which was added to the constitution in 1873, specifically requires funding of “public schools.” Stier writes that although “public schools” was changed to “public education” in 1967, this does not alter the meaning of the clause.

October 2023

Nicholas Malfitano, Senior Residence Claims East Allegheny School District is Singling Out New Buyers with Tax Increase Appeals, The Pennsylvania Record (Oct. 11, 2023), Nicholas Malfitano writes that a senior residential development company argues that East Allegheny School District has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Uniformity Clause by filing to reassess the value of recently bought properties but not doing the same for properties that have not been recently bought. Malfitano writes that the School District’s selective spot assessments of recently-purchased properties results in the disparate treatment of owners of recently-purchased properties by forcing them to pay a disproportionate share of the property tax burden.

Aman Jain, $250 Property Tax Rebate from Northampton County for Volunteer Firefighters, EMS Approved, ValueWalk (Oct. 9, 2023), Aman Jain writes that Northampton County Council recently approved a property tax rebate of $250 for eligible firefighters and EMS volunteers. The tax rebate may violate the state’s Uniformity Clause, which requires all residents to be taxed the same, because it allows volunteer firefighters and EMS members to pay almost half of the $500 average county property tax bill. Jain writes that the rebate is expected to overcome the legal challenge.

November 2023

Nicholas Malfitano, Somerset Cnty. Wants Dismissal From Suit Detailing Abuse by its Former District Attorney, Pa. Record (Nov. 15, 2023), Nicholas Malfitano writes that Somerset County filed a motion to dismiss from a lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed that the ex-District Attorney of Somerset County, Jeffrey Thomas, sent her sexually violent text messages then broke into her home and physically and sexually assaulted her. The suit claims that Somerset County officials knew that Thomas had a history of harassment and sexual assault but did not take action to discipline or sanction him. Somerset County’s motion for dismissal claims that pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution, it lacks the authority to “hire, train, supervise, discipline and/or remove” a district attorney who is an elected county official.

Matthew Santoni, Judge Says Undated Pa. Mail-In Ballots Should Count, Law360 (Nov. 21, 2023), Matthew Santoni writes that United States District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled that counties should count mail-in ballots although they have missing or incorrect dates on their outer envelops because the date is not material to the voter’s eligibility and cannot be grounds for tossing a ballot under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Santoni writes that the ruling effectively undoes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in November 2022 ruling that the election code required voters to date the outer envelopes of mail-in ballots. The Supreme Court was split 3-3 on whether the date requirement was material to the vote.

December 2023

Min Xian, A Key Factor in Determining Property Taxes Varies Wildly Across the State, Beaver Cnty. Times (Dec. 17, 2023), Min Xian writes that the Pennsylvania Constitution requires taxes and property assessments to be uniform; however, it does not mandate when such assessments must occur. Xian writes that the assessed value of a property does not always reflect its true market value and that the reliability of the assessed value heavily depends on how recently the county performed a reassessment. Xian writes that the state legislature would need to amend municipal codes in order to enact any potential change regarding tax assessments.

Jaqueline McCool, Pittsburgh ‘Jock Tax’ is Unconstitutional, Pa. Court Affirms, Law360 (January 10, 2024), Jaqueline McCool writes that the Commonwealth Court held that Pittsburgh’s ‘jock tax’ violates the Uniformity Clause of the state Constitution. The tax requires nonresident athletes to pay a 3% tax on the income they earn while working in the city if the athletes utilize publicly funded facilities. McCool writes that the Court found that the city could not sever the word “nonresident” from the statute in order to make it constitutional as the word’s removal would violate the legislative intent of the statute.