Thursday, May 25, 2006

Who supports giving state residents the right to directly initiate public referendums over actions of the Legislature... direct initiative?

Lawmaker asks for panel to update state constitution

Wednesday, September 21, 2005By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- A Philadelphia legislator thinks Pennsylvania should create a commission to "bring the state constitution into the 21st century."

"Let's put everything on the table'' to modernize the constitution, which hasn't been overhauled since a constitutional convention in 1968, state Rep. Dwight Evans said yesterday.

Proposed changes could include giving state residents the right to directly initiate public referendums over actions of the Legislature, like its decision in July to increase its members' salaries and those of judges and the governor's cabinet members.

Evans, a Democrat, said his call for constitutional updating resulted "in part'' from the uproar among voters over the 16 to 34 percent legislative pay raise.

"I want to move the passion [that voters] have demonstrated this summer to a positive and productive end -- a serious examination of the parameters in which we [legislators] work," he said.

He urged Gov. Ed Rendell to appoint the constitutional commission, but Rendell wasn't enthusiastic.

"We will talk to Rep. Evans about his request to look at the constitution, but we have no plans for [a commission] at this point," said press secretary Kate Philips.

Only legislators can put an issue before voters in a referendum, as they did in May when a Growing Greener environmental bond issue was sent to the voters and approved.
The Legislature also approved a 1989 referendum on then-Gov. Robert Casey's plan for tax reform, a plan that was soundly rejected by voters.

State voters cannot, on their own, put a referendum issue on a statewide ballot. The most they can do is vote legislators out of office if lawmakers do something they don't like.

"Much has changed since 1968," Evans said. "Some of it has been dramatic, especially in communication and technology. Men have walked on the moon. Wars have ended and others begun."

Evans said civic groups should have a role in a constitutional commission, including the Pennsylvania Economy League, League of Women Voters, NAACP, Urban League and American Civil Liberties Union.

The League of Women Voters has taken a position in favor of direct referendums by voters. It said that 23 states -- but not Pennsylvania -- have some form of "popular initiative,'' where citizens can place statutes or constitutional amendments directly on the ballot.

But the league's executive director, Bonita Hoke, said there are potential dangers with referendums, which would be expensive on a statewide level.

"It means a huge education job for somebody, and the person with the most money will probably win the public's thinking,'' she said. The outcome of the vote could be determined "by who has the best sound bites'' in commercials, she added.

"But we do applaud Rep. Evans for thinking about these issues,'' she said.

Tim Potts, a former legislative aide who now heads a citizens group called Democracy Rising PA, said giving citizens the power of direct initiative "absolutely ... should be on the agenda for this commission."...

No comments: