What do you think when you hear the words “constitutional convention”? Based on recent lamentations about the sorry state of civic knowledge in younger generations, probably not much if you’re a millennial. But for those of us with a more than a passing knowledge of American history, the phrase conjures up vague recollections of the gathering in Philadelphia in 1776 to create and ratify the soon-to-be United States of America’s Constitution. In other words, they’re a historical signifier – a phrase with little relevance outside the classroom and history buffs’ conversations.
While nowhere near as well known, Pennsylvania not only has its own constitution, but its own provisions for a constitutional convention. If you’re drawing a blank trying to recall one of these taking place, don’t feel too bad: Since 1776, a constitutional convention has only taken place in the commonwealth five times, most recently in 1967/68 – and the last time the document was comprehensively revised was in 1874.
If PA Sen. John Eichelberger and PA Rep. Steve Bloom have any say in the matter, that number will soon be six.
What makes their effort so noteworthy, regardless of outcome, is the two GOP lawmakers’ willingness to buck the status quo in Harrisburg. Instead of simply toeing party lines and accepting legislative inertia on hot-button topics like term limits, the size of the General Assembly and whether or not to allow spending without an enacted budget in place, Eichelberger and Bloom are attempting to place action and responsibility for these and other flashpoints with voters through a limited constitutional convention.
It’s a brilliantly provocative way to move the needle on a host of issues that would otherwise likely be marginalized, delayed and tabled.
As the Pennsylvania Bar Association explains it, “Our constitution contains a provision that establishes a detailed procedure for amending single sections. Under that procedure, the legislature must enact a statute proposing the amendment to a section of the constitution in two successive legislative sessions, and after each enactment, a majority of Pennsylvania citizens must vote affirmatively for the proposed constitutional changes in a general election.”
Whatever the revisions that do make it to a vote, one section of the document is sure to stand the test of time once again: Article 1, Section 2 – the very wording that authorizes the conventions in the first place.
“All power is inherent in the people … For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government.”
John Eichelberger and Steve Bloom: See above.
Katie Klunk: For the second year in a row, the PA Rep. is trying to get a domestic violence bill – “Laurie and Barbara’s Law” – passed that would require law enforcement to investigate potentially lethal domestic violence situations like the one that claimed the bill’s namesakes, Laurie Kuykendall and her friend, Barbara Schrum, in 2015.
PA school districts: One bright spot in a summer filled with lawmakers’ attempts to eclipse public school funding through charter expansion came via the state Supreme Court, which ruled that school districts do indeed have the power to limit the growth of charter schools.
Mike Turzai: Just another bad week in a bad summer for the Republican Speaker of the House. His continued leadership on the budget funding crisis – or, more precisely, judging by the House’s conspicuous absence from Harrisburg, his lack thereof – is roundly criticized on a regular basis. Add in the announcement of the first challenger for his seat in next year’s election, and it’s easy to understand why he’s been incommunicado.
Scott Wagner: Continuing to prove that facts are elective in his bid to unseat Gov. Tom Wolf next year, the GOP state senator unveiled a campaign video that featured him asserting that “80 percent of the school tax bills in the state of Pennsylvania went up over last year.” While the statement makes for a great sound bite, even Wagner’s campaign acknowledged that there was no statistical basis for the claim – spokesman Jason High said that it was “simply a guess that Scott made based on his own personal experiences and the feedback that he’s heard from people around the state.” Coulda been worse – at least Wagner didn’t assign responsibility for the number to his friend Jim.
Kathleen Kane: Yes, we did say that the odds of the disgraced former AG’s name ever appearing in W/L again after her conviction were slim at best, but this would warrant mention even if we weren’t in the dog days. Kane finds herself in the crosshairs once again now that a federal appeals panel reinstated a lawsuit brought against her by a number of former state prosecutors and a former police commissioner for trying to intimidate them into dropping their criticisms of her tenure.