HARRISBURG – After a year marred by critical mistakes by the Department of State, the Senate State Government Committee reviewed a proposal today to restore public confidence in the process of amending the state Constitution, according to Senator David G. Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), the committee’s chairman.
Earlier this year, an unprecedented error by former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar derailed a constitutional amendment to protect victims of child sex abuse. Boockvar resigned in disgrace.
Two months later, the Department of State published ballot questions that were widely criticized as biased.
A Williamsport Sun Gazette editorial stated that these questions “included language that sounds like the governor making his arguments for why he thinks these amendments are a bad idea.” A Lehighton Time News editorial noted: “the wording is about as clear as mud.” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said, “The governor is so desperate to cling to power that they crafted this language to mischaracterize the amendment.”
“The Department of State’s reputation was hurt badly by Secretary Boockvar’s horrible mistake and the misleading wording of two proposed amendments earlier this year,” said Argall.
The hearing featured two former Department of State officials: Carol Aichele, the Pennsylvania Secretary of State from 2011-2015, and Shannon Royer, her Deputy Secretary for External Affairs and Elections.
During his testimony, Royer said, “Senate Bill 940 goes a long way in helping to ensure that we will never face another situation like we experienced with the childhood sexual abuse amendment. This is a commonsense reform that will restore confidence in how Pennsylvania administers the advertising of constitutional amendments.”
Senate Bill 940 would give the responsibility of advertising proposed constitutional amendments to the Legislative Reference Bureau, a non-partisan bureau responsible for drafting legislation and publishing the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
The non-partisan bureau would also be responsible for drafting the wording of ballot questions for proposed amendments, in order to prevent political bias. The legislation will be considered for a vote by the Senate State Government Committee in the near future.