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January 13, 2023

PA House at a standstill on constitutional amendments…

The bipartisanship that handed the PA House speaker’s gavel to Berks County Democrat Mark Rozzi with the support of Republican leadership is already fraying, as lawmakers squared off this week on proposed changes to the Constitution. The sole purpose of a special session called by Gov. Wolf was to pass an amendment to allow childhood sexual abuse survivors to seek legal redress. But Republicans also favor amendments to install a strict voter ID rule and to make it easier for legislators to override executive regulations. With a stalemate over both the amendments and House operating rules, the prospects for bipartisan action have dimmed. In an effort to break the gridlock, Speaker Rozzi announced Thursday a bipartisan, six-person work group to find a way forward. Until then, Rozzi holds the gavel, and he used it Monday to abruptly recess the special session, bringing House business to an indefinite standstill.

Never too late for compromise: In an Inquirer op-ed, C70 chief policy officer Pat Christmas urges legislators to find bipartisan reforms for House rules and election procedures, and quotes Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), who nominated Rozzi for speaker: It’s “time to put aside the letters that come after our names, and it’s time to focus on the title that comes in front of them: Representative. We are representatives of the people who send us here … [and] it is time to put aside the primacy of our parties and find common ground for the people of this commonwealth.”

Special elections set: A state court confirmed today that all three special elections for critical Allegheny County House District vacancies will be held on Feb. 7, providing certainty for voters and local officials. Regardless of the outcomes, the margin in the PA House will remain thin, and we continue to urge Speaker Rozzi and his colleagues to find a constructive path forward with rules reform that incentivizes collaboration and bipartisanship.

While the Senate moves quickly…

In contrast to the gridlock in the House, the GOP-controlled Senate acted with dispatch on controversial constitutional amendments this week, as the powerful State Government Committee advanced along party lines voter ID, election audit, and regulatory override amendments on Monday. By Tuesday, a separate committee had bundled together in one piece of legislation the voter ID and regulatory amendments with the measure concerning childhood sexual abuse, a maneuver to force lawmakers to vote for or against all three proposals at the same time. The full Senate passed the three-part package on Wednesday 28-20, with Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) joining the Republican majority. The amendments now go to the House, where their future is uncertain.

Bad process, bad policy. The proliferation of constitutional amendments in recent years is a dangerous symptom of dysfunction in Harrisburg. The forced passage of such changes along partisan lines, without public hearings and in the middle of a gubernatorial transition, should set off alarms for any Pennsylvanian who cares about good government and the sanctity of our Constitution. As for the measures themselves, Seventy has no position on the sexual abuse amendment but strongly opposes the other two. See the full statement.

Caught Our Eye

Newspapers disappearing where democracy needs them most: Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative identifies 200 counties without a newspaper and 1,600 others (out of 3,143) with only one. As Nancy Gibbs, the director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, points out in a Washington Post op-ed, these “news deserts” are “often the same places that wield disproportionate political power.”

On Our Radar

A shoutout for bipartisanship: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board praises “the historic compromise” that installed Rep. Mark Rozzi to the House speaker’s chair, and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro for appointing C70 CEO Al Schmidt to be Secretary of the Commonwealth. Schmidt, a Republican who served as a Philadelphia City Commissioner before joining Seventy, “is an outstanding choice that fulfills Mr. Shapiro’s pledge of a bipartisan administration. He’s experienced in election administration and has a record of integrity and bipartisan credibility.” Schmidt will leave Seventy Jan. 16.

Independent speaker: A first step? Writing in the Penn Capital-Star, Ballot PA chair David Thornburgh points to new House speaker Mark Rozzi’s decision not to caucus with either party as “a promising development for a politically divided Commonwealth” and urges that legislators follow it up by opening primaries to its million-plus nonaligned voters. Sign our petition to repeal closed primaries.

Recount over; suspicions remain: PennLive reports that the lawyer for the election skeptics who pushed for Lycoming County’s 2020-election hand recount has filed a right-to-know request to see the tally sheets. The recount showed little change from the original results.

Resign-to-run lawsuit: Acting Philly Controller Christy Brady is suing the city because she doesn’t want to leave her post while running in May’s special election to keep it. A longtime controller’s office staffer, Brady was appointed to the top job when Rebecca Rhynhart stepped down to run for mayor.

Krasner trial on hold: The PA Senate indefinitely postponed the Philly DA’s impeachment trial because of legal efforts to stop it and what a Senate GOP spokesperson called the “uncertain status” of House impeachment managers. Then a divided Commonwealth Court weighed in. It remains unclear what happens next.


MLK Day of Action: How to Run for Elected Office

Mon., Jan. 16 3-5 pm


Join PA Sen. Art Haywood and Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez, School Board Director for the East Stroudsburg Area School District, for a virtual advocacy training session on how to make positive change in your community by running for local elected office. Event partners include the Governor’s Commission on African American Affairs, the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs and Seventy. Register.

Ultimate Job Interview: Philadelphia Citizen Sessions with Mayoral Candidates

Tues., Jan. 17, 6:30-7:30 pm

Jan. 31, Feb. 7 and Feb. 21, 6:30-8:30 pm

Fitler Club Ballroom, 1 S. 24th St., Philadelphia

Join the Philadelphia Citizen for a series of public events where a panel of questioners with expertise in hiring—along with audience members—will interview our 2023 mayoral candidates using a job description created by the people of Philadelphia. First up in the series: Former Councilmember Derek Green. Register for the Jan. 17 event.

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