PA Senate Passes Three Good Government Bills

A trio of good government bills went before the state Senate, Wednesday, and all three were approved unanimously.  The highest-profile measure would allow for online voter registration, making Pennsylvania the 17th state to offer the option.  “For the health of democracy, elections should be run as smoothly as possible,” ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director Andy Hoover said in a statement.  “Online registration can make the process more precise.  That leads to less delay and fewer problems on Election Day.” 

The other two bills are designed to promote government transparency by requiring lobbying disclosure information and campaign finance data to be filed electronically.  Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the prime sponsor of the campaign finance bill, says the move is designed to increase timeliness, accuracy and transparency.    

State Senator Rob Teplitz (R-Dauphin), who co-chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Reform Caucus, spoke out in favor of all three bills.  “That’s what all of our constituents I believe want to see us doing – is creating openness, transparency, more accountability in government, more access to be able to vote,” Teplitz said on the Senate floor. 

All three measures require House approval before they can be sent to the governor’s desk.

Next Voter ID Battle Set

Perhaps the biggest political battle of the 2012 election year wasn’t over a statewide office or seat in Congress; it was Voter ID.  Ultimately no Pennsylvania voter was required to show photo identification at the polls last November, but the legal battle is far from over.

A new scheduling order from Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson lays out some key dates for the next phase of this debate.   

Will the temporary, partial injunction be extended through this coming May’s primary election? We should find out in March. 

Will the plaintiffs be successful in their attempts to have the law permanently enjoined?  We should find out in July.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 10.05.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you the judge’s ruling in Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID case and you’ll hear reaction to the ruling from Governor Tom Corbett. Also, a celebration of Pennsylvania poetry as an event kicks off in the state capitol this week.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Court Ruling Temporarily Blocks Enforcement of Voter ID

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has issued a partial preliminary injunction against the new law, which essentially means that voters will be asked to show a valid photo ID on November 6th, but they will not be required to do so. 

Governor Tom Corbett says it’ll be a continuation of the soft roll-out that was in place for the primary election this past April.  Corbett addressed the Voter ID issue at an unrelated event, telling reporters it doesn’t matter whether he’s disappointed with the ruling or not.  However, Corbett reiterated his support for the law. “I think it is incumbent upon people to have photo ID, particularly to identify themselves when they are voting.” 

Corbett suggests the Commonwealth is leaning against an appeal of Judge Simpson’s ruling, but notes the ruling is still being reviewed. 

While most Republicans’ reaction has been muted, that’s not the case for the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).  “It’s a violation of the separation of powers, and it’s a violation of the will of the people,” Metcalfe tells Radio PA. 

Metcalfe says the state is fulfilling its responsibility by providing free IDs for voting purposes, but Pennsylvania citizens have the responsibility to obtain one if they wish to exercise the right to vote.  “The state can’t fix lazy,” Metcalfe says.  “If somebody’s too lazy to do what they have to do, we can’t fix that.  We can’t hold every individual by the hand and take them through the process. They have to take on this responsibility.”

Voter ID, ACLU

Vic Walczak

Comments like those offend Vick Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  “These are people who greatly value the right to vote, have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to get these IDs, and for some politician to get up and call them lazy is just beyond offensive,” Walczak said during a conference call with reporters. 

He and other Voter ID opponents who were on that call were hailing the judge’s ruling as a great day for PA voters.  “On Election Day no one will be turned away from the polls because they don’t have one of the photo IDs that would have otherwise been required,” says Ben Geffen with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. 

The state will continue its voter education efforts in hopes that all registered voters will have a valid form of photo ID well in advance of next spring’s primary election, when enforcement of the law is scheduled to begin.  However, the plaintiffs will still make their case for a permanent injunction at a later date.

Last week’s Franklin & Marshall College Poll found that 2% of registered voters say they lack a valid photo ID; 59% favor the law.

Reactions Abound to Voter ID Ruling

Stakeholders are weighing in now that a Commonwealth Court judge has rejected critics’ call for an injunction against Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law.  Here’s a sampling:


ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Vic Walczak:  “Given clear evidence that impersonation fraud is not a problem, we had hoped that the court would show greater concern for the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this law.”

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele: “I am pleased Judge Simpson affirmed the constitutionality of the Voter ID law.  This law will reinforce the principle of one person, one vote.  By giving us a reliable way to verify the identity of each voter, the voter ID law will enhance confidence in our elections.”

State House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny):  “Today’s ruling is a travesty not just for those Pennsylvanians whose right to vote will be stripped away by this law but for all Pennsylvanians and all American citizens.  A threat to one person’s right to vote is a threat to us all.  I sincerely hope the Supreme Court will right this terrible wrong and will overturn this decision in time for the November elections.  The commonwealth’s highest court should see what the rest of the nation so plainly does – that this law is a scam.”

Governor Tom Corbett: “Now that the court has upheld the constitutionality of the law, we can continue to focus our attention on ensuring that every Pennsylvania citizen who wants to vote has the identification necessary to make sure their vote counts.”


As Rep. Dermody alluded to in his statement, the case will surely be appealed to the state Supreme Court ahead of the November 6th General Election.  In the meantime, implementation and outreach efforts continue.  Interested voters can find a full list of acceptable forms of identification online.

Drivers License, PennDOT

Preliminary Injunction Denied for Voter ID Law

A Commonwealth Court judge has denied opponents’ request for a preliminary injunction against Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law.  In his 70-page opinion, Judge Robert Simpson says the petitioners did an excellent job of “putting a face” to those burdened by the photo ID requirement.  However, he writes that he cannot decide the issue based on sympathy for the witnesses.

Judge Simpson also indicated that he’s convinced the law is being implemented in a non-partisan, evenhanded manner so that no qualified voter should be disenfranchised.

The plaintiffs have previously indicated that they would take the case to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Voter ID Arguments to be Heard in Commonwealth Court

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law are asking the Commonwealth Court to block enforcement before the November election.  “Article 1, section 5 of Pennsylvania’s constitution guarantees that elections shall be free and equal,” says Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project.

The petitioners contend that one million Pennsylvanians are eligible to vote but lack the photo ID required under Pennsylvania’s new law.  “If you’ve listed to the proponents of the law… you would have the impression that everyone either has photo ID or they can easily get it.  Their message is that photo ID is used for everything, what’s the big deal,” says attorney David Gersch.  “It is a big deal.”

The hearing before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson starts Wednesday morning, and is expected to continue through most of next week.

Despite critics’ complaints, state officials are standing by the new law.  “Really for this size issue in Pennsylvania, I think the challenges we’re facing are relatively small,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele told reporters in Gettysburg last week.  She was responding to questions about the more than 750,000 registered voters that aren’t already in the PennDOT database.

Letters are going out to every one of them, reminding them of the new law and the complete list of acceptable IDs.  The Department of State has also announced the creation of a new card that can be issued to voters who need identification under the law, and who are unable to provide all the documents they would normally need to obtain a PennDOT ID.

But it’s not enough to assuage the hundreds of protesters who gathered on the state capitol steps Tuesday. Their rally cry: “Voter ID, Not for Me.”  Among the speakers was Sen. Daylin Leach, who says that even the Commonwealth’s lawyers agree there’s no evidence of in-person voter fraud.

“This bill was passed under false pretenses.  That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to repeal the Voter ID bill,” Leach announced to a round of applause at Tuesday’s rally.  Additional rallies are planned in Pittsburgh, Allentown and Philly on Wednesday.

Capitol Rotunda - Facing House Chamber

Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID Law

Five organizations and ten individuals have joined a new lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law.  ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak made the announcement, Tuesday, at the state capitol:VoterID3 

While the lawsuit that’s been filed in Commonwealth Court asserts “phantom claims” of in-person voter fraud, Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says the new law finally gives Pennsylvania a reliable way to verify the identity of a voter.  “You can’t prosecute something you can’t detect,” he explains. 

Ruman believes the law is on solid legal ground and will be upheld in court.  He says the state is working to ensure that everyone who needs a photo ID will get one by the November 6th election. 

Voter ID, ACLU

Vic Walczak address reporters at the state capitol.

State Senate Votes to Expand DNA Testing

Supporters say requiring DNA samples of individuals arrested for serious crimes would be a big boost for law enforcement.  “This bill updates our law to ensure that Pennsylvania investigators have access to the most efficient scientific tools to fight crime,” says state Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), the bill’s prime sponsor. 

Specifically, the bill would expand the eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required, and mandate pre-conviction DNA testing for serious offenses.  Those samples would then be available in state and federal law enforcement databases. 

But critics at the ACLU of Pennsylvania call it a case of government getting bigger before our eyes.  “The government is not able to simply take DNA from people whenever it feels like it,” says ACLU of PA Legislative Director Andy Hoover.  “When someone has been arrested they’re still innocent under the law and they have certain rights.”

The bill (SB 775) does include provisions that would destroy the DNA records of those who’ve been exonerated.  It passed the Senate with a 42 – 6 vote, and now awaits action in the state House.   

Bills Would Make English PA’s Official Language

Two similar bills would ensure that English is the language of state government, and that polices don’t show preference for any language other than English.  State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) says her bill (HB 361) would not force people to speak English, or outlaw any other languages.  “I consider my bill to be an encouragement… It’s encouraging those who come into the country legally, and want to function here, to learn English,” Swanger says.  “How could you function in a state where you couldn’t understand anything, you couldn’t read anything?  It just seems to me it’s very cruel that we don’t make more of an effort to get people to learn English and assimilate into our society.”

State Rep. Scott Perry (R-York) adds that by nixing all documentation and services provided in other languages, the state could save considerable money.  Perry sponsored the second bill (HB 888) knowing that polls show public support for making English the official language of the Commonwealth.  “People have their different reasons: whether it’s cultural, whether it’s for safety reasons or financial reasons, and some people have all of those reasons in mind.” 

The two bills were the subject of a near three hour hearing, Wednesday, in front of the House State Government Committee.  Executive director of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Anne O’Callaghan, testified that the bills were both unnecessary and unwise.  “Passing these bills would announce to the world that Pennsylvania is more concerned with shutting people out than with incorporating them into our society,” O’Callaghan explained. 

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania called it the theater of the absurd.  “The burden is on the supporters of these bills to prove why they’re needed and to prove that English is in some kind of danger,” says ACLU of PA legislative director Andy Hoover.