Begin Main Content Area

​Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of Pennsylvania

This notice contains information about questions that will be on the ballot in the Municipal Primary to be held on May 18, 2021.

The ballot questions propose three separate amendments to the Constitution of Pennsylvania, based on a joint resolution of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania.

If one or more of the ballot questions is approved by a majority of the people voting on it, each amendment approved will become law.

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania first proposed the amendments during the 2020 session and approved them for a second time during the 2021 session of the legislature, as required by Article XI, Section 1 of the Constitution.

This public notice is part of the process of amending the Constitution of Pennsylvania. The Secretary of the Commonwealth is required to publish:

  • A copy of the joint resolution proposing the amendments.
  • The text of each question that will be on the ballot.
  • A “Plain English Statement” prepared by the Office of Attorney General explaining the purpose, limitations and effects of each ballot question upon the people of this Commonwealth.

Text that appears in bold print are the changes to the words of the Constitution that are proposed by the General Assembly.  If the amendment is approved, the words underlined would be added to the Constitution and the words in [brackets] would be deleted.

If you need help reading this advertisement or need the text of the proposed amendment in an alternative format, call or write the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Election Services and Notaries, Room 210 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120, 1-877-868-3772 (option 3), ra-elections@pa.gov.

Veronica Degraffenreid
Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth


JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 2021 – 1

Proposing separate and distinct amendments to the Constitution of Pennsylvania, in declaration of rights, providing for prohibition against denial or abridgment of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity; in legislation, further providing for action on concurrent orders and resolutions; and, in the executive, providing for disaster emergency declaration and management.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby resolves as follows:

Section 1.  The following separate and distinct amendments to the Constitution of Pennsylvania are proposed in accordance with Article XI:

(1)  That Article I of the Constitution of Pennsylvania be amended by adding a section to read:

§ 29.  Prohibition against denial or abridgment of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity.

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the race or  ethnicity of the individual.

(1.1) That section 9 of Article III be amended to read:

§ 9.  Action on concurrent orders and resolutions.

Every order, resolution or vote, to which the concurrence of both Houses may be necessary, except on the [question of adjournment]questions of adjournment or termination or extension of a disaster  emergency declaration as declared by an executive order or proclamation, or portion of a disaster emergency declaration as declared by an executive order or proclamation, shall be presented to the Governor and before it shall take effect be approved by him, or being disapproved, shall be repassed by two-thirds of both Houses according to the rules and limitations prescribed in case of a bill.

(2)  That Article IV be amended by adding a section to read:

§ 20.  Disaster emergency declaration and management.

(a)  A disaster emergency declaration may be declared by executive order or proclamation of the Governor upon finding that a disaster has occurred or that the occurrence or threat of a disaster  is imminent that threatens the health, safety or welfare of this  Commonwealth.

(b)  Each disaster emergency declaration issued by the Governor under subsection (a) shall indicate the nature, each area threatened and the conditions of the disaster, including whether the disaster is a natural disaster, military emergency, public health emergency, technological disaster or other general emergency, as defined by statute. The General Assembly shall, by statute, provide for the manner in which each type of disaster enumerated under this  subsection shall be managed.

(c)  A disaster emergency declaration under subsection (a) shall be in effect for no more than twenty-one (21) days, unless otherwise extended in whole or part by concurrent resolution of the General  Assembly.

(d)  Upon the expiration of a disaster emergency declaration under subsection (a), the Governor may not issue a new disaster emergency declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts and circumstances without the passage of a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly expressly approving the new  disaster emergency declaration.

Section 2.  (a)  Upon the first passage by the General Assembly of these proposed constitutional amendments, the Secretary of the Commonwealth shall proceed immediately to comply with the advertising requirements of section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and shall transmit the required advertisements to two newspapers in every county in which such newspapers are published in sufficient time after passage of these proposed constitutional amendments.

(b)  Upon the second passage by the General Assembly of these proposed constitutional amendments, the secretary of the commonwealth shall proceed immediately to comply with the advertising requirements of section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and shall transmit the required advertisements to two newspapers in every county in which such newspapers are published in sufficient time after passage of these proposed constitutional amendments. The Secretary of the Commonwealth shall:

(1)  Submit the proposed constitutional amendment under section 1(1) of this resolution to the qualified electors of this Commonwealth as a separate ballot question at the first primary, general or municipal election which meets the requirements of and is in conformance with section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and which occurs at least three months after the proposed constitutional amendment is passed by the General Assembly.

(1.1) Submit the proposed constitutional amendment under  section 1(1.1) of this resolution to the qualified electors of this Commonwealth as a separate ballot question at the first primary, general or municipal election which meets the requirements of and is in conformance with section 1 of  Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and which occurs at least three months after the proposed constitutional amendment is passed by the General Assembly.

(2)  Submit the proposed constitutional amendment under section 1(2) of this resolution to the qualified electors of this Commonwealth as a separate ballot question at the first primary, general or municipal election which meets the requirements of and is in conformance with section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and which occurs at least three months after the proposed constitutional amendment is passed by the General Assembly.


PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE III, SECTION 9

RELATING TO TERMINATION OR EXTENSION OF DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS

Ballot Question

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1 proposes to amend Article III, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide a new exception to traditional legislative procedure by allowing the General Assembly to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration or a portion of such declaration without needing the Governor’s approval.

Currently, Article III, Section 9 establishes a general rule that all orders, resolutions or votes requiring approval by both the House of Representatives and Senate must be presented to the Governor for his approval or veto. Resolutions for the adjournment of the General Assembly are exempted from this process. If the order, resolution or vote is approved by the Governor, it becomes law. If the Governor vetoes the resolution, it does not become law unless two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to override the veto. The proposed amendment would create an additional exception to this customary legislative procedure for concurrent resolutions to terminate or extend, in whole or in part, a disaster emergency declaration issued by the Governor.

The proposed amendment will also have the effect of reversing a recent ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which held the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited the General Assembly from passing a concurrent resolution to terminate the Governor’s Covid-19 disaster emergency declaration without presenting it to the Governor for his approval. It will change the law to allow the General Assembly to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration through a concurrent resolution approved by only a majority of the members of the House and Senate, without having to present the resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto.

The proposed amendment is limited in that it only changes the traditional legislative process for terminating or extending disaster emergency declarations issued by the Governor. The amendment will not alter the current legislative procedure with respect to which orders, resolutions or votes of the General Assembly must be presented to the Governor for his approval on any other subject matter.


PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE IV

DISASTER EMERGENCY DECLARATION AND MANAGEMENT

Ballot Question

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1 proposes adding a new section to Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This amendment incorporates disaster emergency declaration and management powers directly into the Constitution by:

  • Granting the Governor authority to declare a disaster emergency declaration by proclamation or executive order;
  • Requiring each declaration to indicate the nature, location and type of disaster;
  • Granting the General Assembly authority to pass laws providing for the manner in which each disaster shall be managed;
  • Limiting the duration of a Governor’s declaration to 21 days, unless otherwise extended, in whole or in part, by a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly;
  • Preventing the Governor, upon the expiration of a declaration, from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts, unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution expressly approving a new declaration.

Currently, disaster emergency declaration and management powers are delegated by statute to the Governor. The Governor has the sole authority to issue and manage all disaster emergency declarations, which cannot extend beyond 90 days unless renewed by the Governor. The General Assembly may override a Governor’s disaster emergency declaration by concurrent resolution that must be presented to the Governor for his approval or veto.

If approved, the amendment would transfer certain of the Governor’s existing authority to respond to and manage disaster emergencies to the General Assembly. The Governor would retain the authority to issue an initial disaster emergency declaration but the declaration’s permissible length would be reduced from 90 to 21 days. The sole authority to extend a declaration would lie with the General Assembly; presently, this power rests with the Governor.

Upon expiration of the initial declaration, the amendment prohibits the Governor from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts without the approval of the General Assembly. The Governor would no longer have unilateral authority to manage disasters, but would have to do so consistent with the laws passed by the General Assembly.

If approved, the General Assembly would be required to pass new laws establishing the manner in which each type of disaster shall be managed. If added to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the proposed amendment cannot be modified or repealed except by a judicial decision finding all or part of the proposed amendment unconstitutional or by the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment.


PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT – ARTICLE I

PROHIBITION AGAINST DENIAL OR ABRIDGEMENT OF EQUALITY OF RIGHTS BECAUSE OF RACE OR ETHNICITY

Ballot Question

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

Joint Resolution No. 2021-1, if approved by the electorate, will add a new section to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This amendment creates a constitutional prohibition against restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity.

Generally, inclusion of this amendment within the Pennsylvania Constitution signifies that freedom from discrimination based on race or ethnicity is an essential principle of liberty and free government. This amendment applies to all Pennsylvania state, county and local governmental entities, and guarantees equality of rights under the law. The amendment, if enacted, will become a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution. As such, its provisions must be applied consistent with the other provisions of the Constitution.

This equal right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination will exist independent from any such rights under the United States Constitution or corresponding federal law. If the current federal protections proscribing racial or ethnic discrimination are abolished,  the prohibition against such discrimination will remain in the  Pennsylvania Constitution. The amendment is limited in that it creates a right only under Pennsylvania law.

Once added to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination under the law cannot be eliminated except by a judicial decision finding the amendment unconstitutional or the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment. If approved, the General Assembly may pass new laws to implement the amendment, but it may not pass a law inconsistent with it.