MAY 18, 2021 PRIMARY ELECTION VOTER GUIDE​

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Candidate lists haven't been finalized yet, but there will be several statewide races on the ballot where registered Republicans and Democrats will select nominees for vacancies on the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts. There are also four statewide ballot questions with proposed changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution. There will also be local elections held in BucksChesterDelawareMontgomery and Philadelphia counties.

PENNSLYVANIA APPELLATE COURT ELECTIONS
  • PA Supreme Court: Chief Justice Thomas Saylor (R) will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 later this year and must vacate his seat. Justice Max Baer, a 73-year-old Allegheny County Democrat, is in line to succeed him because of his seniority on the Court. Currently, Democrats hold a 5-2 majority on the seven-member court.

    Dating to 1684, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation. The Supreme Court’s administrative powers and jurisdictional responsibilities are vested with the seven-member court by the Pennsylvania State Constitution and a collection of statutes known as the Judicial Code.  The seven justices receive over 3,000 requests for appellate review.  Most often, but not exclusively, the Court reviews:

        • Requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court;
        • Direct Appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued;
        • Requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings; and
        • Requests to deliver a body from illegal detention

    Candidates must be Pennsylvania residents for at least one year and members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Bar at the time of filing nomination petitions for the office. Terms are 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Associate Justices earn $215,037 per year and the Chief Justice earns $221,295.

  • Superior Court: Judge Susan Gantman (R) is retiring. Currently, Republicans hold an 8-7 majority on the 15-member court.
     

    Established in 1895, the Superior Court is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts, meaning cases heard in lower courts (e.g. Court of Common Pleas) can be heard again in the Superior Court on appeal. It is responsible for:

        • Appeals in criminal and most civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas; and
        • Appeals on matters involving children and families.

    Candidates must be Pennsylvania residents for at least one year and members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Bar at the time of filing nomination petitions for the office. Terms are 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Judges earn $202,898 per year and the President Judge earns $209,153.

  • There will be two vacancies on the Commonwealth Court: President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt (R) is retiring and Judge Drew Compton (R), who was appointed to his seat in 2020 to fill an unexpired term, must run to retain his seat. Republicans hold a 7-2 majority on this nine-member court. Find candidate ratings from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
     

    The Commonwealth Court was established in 1968 and is unique to Pennsylvania. One of two statewide intermediate appellate courts, the Commonwealth Court is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth. Cases are generally heard by panels of three judges in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, although, on occasion, they may choose to hold court in other locations. Cases may also be heard by a single judge or by en banc panels of seven judges. Commonwealth Court is responsible for:

        • Original civil actions brought by and against the Commonwealth; and
        • Appeals from decisions made by state agencies and the Courts of Common Pleas

    Candidates must be Pennsylvania residents for at least one year and members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Bar at the time of filing nomination petitions for the office. Terms are 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Judges earn $202,898 per year and the President Judge earns $209,153.

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STATEWIDE BALLOT QUESTIONS

Voters across Pennsylvania will weigh in on three proposed changes to the state constitution. Learn more at Ballotpedia.

Legislative Resolution to Extend or Terminate Emergency Declaration Amendment

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1 proposes to amend Article III, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide a new exception to traditional legislative procedure by allowing the General Assembly to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration or a portion of such declaration without needing the Governor’s approval.

Currently, Article III, Section 9 establishes a general rule that all orders, resolutions or votes requiring approval by both the House of Representatives and Senate must be presented to the Governor for his approval or veto. Resolutions for the adjournment of the General Assembly are exempted from this process. If the order, resolution or vote is approved by the Governor, it becomes law. If the Governor vetoes the resolution, it does not become law unless two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to override the veto. The proposed amendment would create an additional exception to this customary legislative procedure for concurrent resolutions to terminate or extend, in whole or in part, a disaster emergency declaration issued by the Governor.

The proposed amendment will also have the effect of reversing a recent ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which held the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited the General Assembly from passing a concurrent resolution to terminate the Governor’s Covid-19 disaster emergency declaration without presenting it to the Governor for his approval. It will change the law to allow the General Assembly to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration through a concurrent resolution approved by only a majority of the members of the House and Senate, without having to present the resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto.

The proposed amendment is limited in that it only changes the traditional legislative process for terminating or extending disaster emergency declarations issued by the Governor. The amendment will not alter the current legislative procedure with respect to which orders, resolutions or votes of the General Assembly must be presented to the Governor for his approval on any other subject matter.

Emergency Declaration Amendment

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1 proposes adding a new section to Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This amendment incorporates disaster emergency declaration and management powers directly into the Constitution by:

  • Granting the Governor authority to declare a disaster emergency declaration by proclamation or executive order;
  • Requiring each declaration to indicate the nature, location and type of disaster;
  • Granting the General Assembly authority to pass laws providing for the manner in which each disaster shall be managed;
  • Limiting the duration of a Governor’s declaration to 21 days, unless otherwise extended, in whole or in part, by a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly;
  • Preventing the Governor, upon the expiration of a declaration, from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts, unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution expressly approving a new declaration.


Currently, disaster emergency declaration and management powers are delegated by statute to the Governor. The Governor has the sole authority to issue and manage all disaster emergency declarations, which cannot extend beyond 90 days unless renewed by the Governor. The General Assembly may override a Governor’s disaster emergency declaration by concurrent resolution that must be presented to the Governor for his approval or veto.

If approved, the amendment would transfer certain of the Governor’s existing authority to respond to and manage disaster emergencies to the General Assembly. The Governor would retain the authority to issue an initial disaster emergency declaration but the declaration’s permissible length would be reduced from 90 to 21 days. The sole authority to extend a declaration would lie with the General Assembly; presently, this power rests with the Governor.

Upon expiration of the initial declaration, the amendment prohibits the Governor from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts without the approval of the General Assembly. The Governor would no longer have unilateral authority to manage disasters, but would have to do so consistent with the laws passed by the General Assembly.

If approved, the General Assembly would be required to pass new laws establishing the manner in which each type of disaster shall be managed. If added to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the proposed amendment cannot be modified or repealed except by a judicial decision finding all or part of the proposed amendment unconstitutional or by the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment.

Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1, if approved by the electorate, will add a new section to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This amendment creates a constitutional prohibition against restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity.

Generally, inclusion of this amendment within the Pennsylvania Constitution signifies that freedom from discrimination based on race or ethnicity is an essential principle of liberty and free government. This amendment applies to all Pennsylvania state, county and local governmental entities, and guarantees equality of rights under the law. The amendment, if enacted, will become a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution. As such, its provisions must be applied consistent with the other provisions of the Constitution.

This equal right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination will exist independent from any such rights under the United States Constitution or corresponding federal law. If the current federal protections proscribing racial or ethnic discrimination are abolished,  the prohibition against such discrimination will remain in the  Pennsylvania Constitution. The amendment is limited in that it creates a right only under Pennsylvania law.

Once added to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination under the law cannot be eliminated except by a judicial decision finding the amendment unconstitutional or the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment. If approved, the General Assembly may pass new laws to implement the amendment, but it may not pass a law inconsistent with it.

Making Municipal Fire and Emergency Medical Services Companies Eligible for Loans

Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. §7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

The purpose of the ballot question is to determine whether Pennsylvania voters authorize making municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies eligible to apply for loans from an already existing state loan program. 

Pennsylvania voters approved the incurring of indebtedness of up to $100,000,000 in four previous statewide referenda: $10,000,000 on November 4, 1975; $15,000,000 on November 3, 1981; $25,000,000 on November 6, 1990; and $50,000,000 on November 5, 2002. Originally, this indebtedness funded a loan program for volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads. 

Currently, municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies are not authorized to apply for loans from this program. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has determined that municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies are most in need of loans to replace outmoded or unsafe equipment and buildings to meet the increased demands for a higher level of service in the communities they serve. If approved, the referendum will allow municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies to apply for loans from the program, consistent with the existing law and regulations. 

The Office of the State Fire Commissioner administers the loan program, and has promulgated regulations to govern the loan application process. Upon successful application, the Office authorizes loans for the purposes and in amounts specified by the Emergency Management Service Code and the Office’s regulations. These loans may be used for establishing or modernizing facilities to house firefighting apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles. They may also be used for the purchase of new firefighting apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of these organizations’ duties. 

This referendum does not authorize incurring any additional debt to fund the loan program; it only expands the class of eligible loan applicants. It also does not expand the purposes for which loans may be made; municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies may only apply for the type of loans already provided for by law and regulation.

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