PLBC condemns S.B. 1166

HARRISBURG, June 15 -- Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., and members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus condemned the House majority’s decision yesterday to push forward a proposed amendment to the state constitution while blocking discussion on further amendments.

A total of 63 amendments had been filed by representatives from both parties.

“It is inconceivable that a bill of this size would be pushed through without the proper time to debate and discuss other amendments,” said Kinsey, chairman of the PLBC. “To amend the state constitution without a public hearing or discussion is unacceptable.”

“Now is the time to break down barriers and make resources accessible during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, not create more challenges that ultimately put Pennsylvania lives at risk,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware. “This legislation is just the latest attempt by the majority party to reopen the commonwealth irresponsibly and tie the hands of those who have the power to effectively protect our most vulnerable neighbors from the coronavirus and any future health crises.” 

“An amendment to the state constitution needs ample time to be properly considered before it gets rushed though in this way,” said Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Phila. “As legislators, we can’t do our due diligence and go over every bill thoughtfully when we’re precluded from debating on amendments. There is too much at stake to rush this process.”

“The words in this constitutional amendment calling for racial equality mean absolutely nothing without real action,” Rep. Harris said. “These words are toothless without the supportive protection of continuing to rework how law enforcement interacts with Black and Brown communities, properly funding all schools so all children get a proper education regardless of ZIP code, and increasing access to capital for Black- and Brown-owned businesses, among other things. Without action, these words carry no weight in Pennsylvania,” added Harris, D-Phila.

“I’m sad to say, Senate Bill 1166 is yet another reckless attempt at a power grab from majority leadership in the House and Senate,” said Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware. “In Delaware County, we have seen a positive turnaround in limiting the spread of a deadly virus that has hit our community harder than most. Lives were saved. I don’t think I need to mention that if the state would have listened to the majority party in the House and Senate, and reopened statewide in March – like they proposed -- we would currently be experiencing the same type of alarming surges in COVID-19 now seen in states like Florida.” 

Senate Bill 1166 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit denying legal rights on the basis of race or ethnicity, limit a governor’s declaration of a disaster emergency to 21 days unless extended by the General Assembly, and prohibit a governor from being allowed to veto a legislative termination or extension of a disaster emergency declaration.

The filed amendments included proposals that would have extended protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, religious creed, gender identity or national origin; amend the allowed duration for a governor’s declaration of disaster emergency to 90 days instead of 21; allow for property tax reductions for owner-occupied homes; and constitutionally allow the legislature to convene remotely during an emergency.