What you need to know about the 2021 Pa. primary ballot questions

By: - April 27, 2021 6:30 am

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In addition to casting a vote in municipal and judicial races, Pennsylvania voters will have to vote “yes” or “no” on May 18 on four ballot questions. 

The first is a statewide referendum asking voters if they favor making municipal fire departments eligible to apply for loans from an existing state loan program. 

The question reads: 

“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?” 

The other three ballot questions are proposed amendments to the state Constitution. 

The first two proposed amendments have to do with emergency declarations, such as those implemented by Gov. Tom Wolf during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Republican lawmakers accused Wolf of executive overreach, arguing that Wolf’s declaration, which closed schools and businesses and implemented restrictions on gatherings and mandated mask wearing and social distancing, were an abuse of power. 

Wolf has defended his use of the declaration, saying it has allowed him to suspend evictions statewide during the pandemic and increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allotments to Pennsylvanians in need. 

Legal challenges to Wolf’s disaster declaration were taken to the state Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the declaration. 

In September, the House attempted to override Wolf’s veto on a piece of legislation that would have abruptly ended Wolf’s disaster declaration, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for the override. 

Opting for a different approach in the new year, Republican lawmakers proposed legislation to limit executive powers by way of a constitutional amendment. 

The ballot questions were the subject of controversy again in February when GOP lawmakers accused the Wolf administration of writing the questions in a “prejudicial” manner. 

The ballot questions read as follows:

Proposed Constitutional Amendment, Article III, Section 9:

“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?”

Proposed Constitutional Amendment, Article IV:

“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?”

The last proposed amendment pertains to equal rights protections in the commonwealth.

It reads as follows: 

Proposed Constitutional Amendment, Article I: 

“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?”

As stated above, all Pennsylvania voters will be allowed to vote on the statewide ballot questions regardless of party affiliation. For more information on the ballot questions or for the Spanish translation, visit the Department of State website here.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.