HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – The big topic last week at the PA State Capitol is the budget, which was approved by the House yesterday and by the Senate this afternoon. Friday evening, the budget was signed by Governor Tom Wolf.
However, a five-part Constitutional Amendment that advanced through the Senate late last night, is also receiving a lot of attention.
The Senate Rules Committee advanced the amendment in an 11-6 vote along party lines just before midnight Thursday.
Protestors, pro-choice advocates, and Democratic lawmakers rallied outside the Capitol around noon on Friday to express their opposition to the effort. Some protestors entered the Capitol and chanted at Republican lawmakers as they made their way into the House chamber. Their chants still echoed throughout the Capitol into the evening hours.
The bill includes five amendments. The amendment targeting abortion reads in part: “This constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.”
Other amendments in the bill include universal voter ID, mandatory election audits, allowing gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates, and asserting legislative authority to disapprove regulations
Senate Democrats were outraged last night, and today, saying the amendment circumvents the legislative process.
“They said, ‘hey, we’re going to use the rules here to circumvent the process, undermine the will of the people and try to ram something through in the middle of the night so that people don’t have a chance to tell us how much they’re against these kinds of measures,’” said Sen. Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery) referring to Senate Republicans. “All they’re doing is undermining the will of the people, and they know that. They know that the policies they’re trying to pass are unpopular,” Collett added.
“Government serves to empower people, and that means everyone having access to whatever care they need,” said Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery/Chester/Berks).
Senate Democrats offered eight amendments of their own, all were voted to be tabled along party lines.
Republicans disagree and say it will not ban abortion. According to a spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, the constitutional amendment protects the status quo with regard to current law, prevents Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court from forcing taxpayers to pay for others abortions, and that the constitutional amendment “cuts both ways,” meaning the legislature could also allow abortions up to 9 months.
“This amendment does nothing to change the current law. All it does is say that the legislature and the governor, as opposed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, will determine the laws on abortion in our Commonwealth,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) on the floor of the Senate.
On the other side of the Capitol, a few hours after the Senate debated the amendment, the House began discussing the bill. Representative Clint Owlett (R-Bradford/Tioga/Potter) supports the measure, and says it will leave it to the people of Pennsylvania to decide.
“I support putting this question and all of the other questions before the voters,” said Owlett.
House Democrats disagreed with Republicans, and expressed concern about the future of women’s rights.
“This legislation paves the way for extreme abortion bans,” said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), who serves as the Democratic Chairman of the House Health Committee. “Pennsylvania knows you can’t put lipstick on this legislative atrocity,” Frankel added.
Constitutional amendments are the only way to bypass the governor’s veto. The amendment has to pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions and then put up for referendum. Meaning, both chambers will have to pass it again in January for it to be on the ballot in the spring.
The House passed the omnibus bill around ten o’clock Friday night with a vote of 107-92.