Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Files Another Lawsuit Against GOP Lawmakers

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Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is once again attempting a lawsuit arguing that Republican lawmakers improperly bundled five state constitutional amendment proposals for approval by the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Wolf’s new lawsuit filed late last week in Commonwealth Court is similar to litigation he previously tried to take directly to the state Supreme Court, and comes less than two weeks after the Judges said no but that the governor was free to sue in the Commonwealth Lower Court.

Wolf, whose first draft was introduced in July, argues that combining the five proposed amendments violates state constitutional rules that prevent bundling changes with multiple unrelated topics.

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House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman defended the approach, saying the bill’s passage this summer “met all statutory and constitutional standards and we continue to believe the bill is consistent with the Constitution”.

The new documents filed by Wolf argue that the Legislative Assembly violated vote-recording procedures when amending the constitution and that “nothing less than an independent vote on each proposed amendment to the constitution” is required.

“The bundling of amendments was calculated to protect Republican lawmakers from scrutiny of their positions on the various amendments,” Wolf’s attorneys wrote, “particularly the General Assembly’s attempt to nullify related constitutional rights to abortion”.

Gov. Tom Wolf argues that Republicans are wrongly grouping together five proposed amendments unrelated to the state constitution. Pictured: Governor Tom Wolf delivers remarks at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on November 19, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Women’s Conference)

One of the proposed amendments would state that the Pennsylvania Constitution does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or publicly funded abortions. Wolf and his acting secretary of state, Leigh Chapman, say that alone is “deceptively composed” and would require two separate votes.

“The existence of a constitutional right to abortion does not necessarily mandate public funding for the procedure,” according to one of the legal documents Wolf filed Friday. “Proposals are independent and can and should be self-contained.”

Wolf has vetoed other bills from Legislative Republicans aimed at limiting access to abortion.

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He also claims that the proposals would alter “several existing constitutional provisions” without sufficiently informing voters.

Other aspects of the bundled amendments bill would require all voters to show ID, let gubernatorial candidates choose their own running mates, give lawmakers a way to overturn regulations without facing a veto and establish election audits by the state auditor general.

Amendments must be passed by both houses in two consecutive two-year sessions before being submitted to voters for the final say. The five-amendment package passed both the State House and the Senate during the current session, along largely partisan lines, and could get a second ballot early next year.

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If approved by a majority of lawmakers again, they could be placed on the May 16 primary ballot as five separate questions. A sixth question, allowing for a two-year litigation window on child sex abuse claims that are otherwise too old to prosecute, could also be on the ballot next year.

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