The new year may still be a few days away, but lawmakers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly are already preparing for 2023 as they seek sponsors for a range of bills for the new legislative session. Hundreds of co-sponsorship memos have been sent between state lawmakers already, offering a glimpse into their priorities as they ready themselves for a return to Harrisburg in January.
Below, we’ve highlighted 10 policy plans that stood out among those circulated in the leadup to the new year.
Allowing voters to fix signatures on mail ballots
Controversy continues over whether the state’s election law should be interpreted to allow voters to “cure” or fix errors on their mail-in ballots. As for signatures on those ballots, one Philadelphia Democrat wants to require county boards of election to notify voters when their ballot signature doesn’t match the one counties have on file. Under this legislation from state Rep. Regina Young, counties would then be required to direct voters to provide proof of their identity and affirm that they were the one who signed the ballot – an option that Young called a “sensible solution” in a letter to House members.
‘Lifeline Scholarships’ for students in low-performing schools
Lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly plan to introduce legislation establishing “Lifeline Scholarships” in Pennsylvania. These are measures which would go to students living in the attendance boundary of a low-achieving school to “offset costs associated with choosing an alternative academic setting,” according to a co-sponsorship memo from GOP state Rep. Clint Owlett, the bill sponsor in the House. Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro said he supports the general idea, though the bill is likely to receive some pushback from the state’s leading teachers union before it reaches his desk.
Halting an automatic gas tax increase
Pennsylvania’s gas tax is set to automatically increase in 2023 thanks to a trigger mechanism in a 2013 transportation law. The tax will rise by more than 3 cents per gallon, prompting lawmakers to introduce measures to ease pain at the pump. State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would halt next year’s gas tax increase. In a memo to other state senators, Langerholc said he intends to introduce separate legislation creating a mileage-based user fee on electric vehicles to help generate additional funds for transportation projects.
Banning TikTok from state-owned devices and networks
The clock might be ticking on the use of TikTok in state government. As security concerns swirl over the social media app, governments at all levels are beginning to consider banning TikTok after FBI Director Chris Wray suggested that China could have the ability to manipulate the app. In the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Treasury has already banned the app on its devices, and state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill is hoping to prohibit TikTok from being downloaded and used across all state government agencies. Phillips-Hill wrote that the app presents an “unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the commonwealth” – citing concerns raised by officials at the CIA and FBI.
Updating gubernatorial disability and succession procedures
U.S. Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s stroke in May of this year left him temporarily unable to fulfill his duties as lieutenant governor as he underwent a procedure to implant a pacemaker and defibrillator. Republicans have since criticized Fetterman over how he handled the delegation of his duties as they examine whether to update the law governing disability procedures in the executive branch. State Sen. Dave Argall, a Schuylkill County Republican, led hearings on the topic this year, and is now introducing a bill to require the governor, lieutenant governor and General Assembly to communicate with each other when the governor or lieutenant governor is incapacitated. The measure would also update antiquated language in the law.
A 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases
For the past several years, House Democrats have introduced bill after bill to tighten the state’s gun laws. There have been proposed bans on semiautomatic weapons, safe storage requirements and magazine limitations – but most of the party’s gun law reforms have failed to gain momentum. Citing data from researchers at the Harvard Business School – who concluded that mandatory waiting periods could prevent roughly 900 gun deaths per year – state Reps. Benjamin Sanchez and Mike Zabel are proposing a 72-hour waiting period in Pennsylvania, writing in a recent memo to colleagues that the “time has come for us to take action to protect our friends and families.”
Banning legislators from getting state cars
State Rep. Brad Roae, a Crawford County Republican, has been one of the General Assembly’s loudest advocates for getting rid of state-owned and state-leased cars for legislators. While the House passed a rules change getting rid of the option late last session, Roae wants the ban to apply to both chambers next year. “It is hard to calculate the cost of lawsuit damages the state would have to pay if there were a serious injury or death caused by a legislator with a bad driving record driving a state car,” Roae wrote in a co-sponsorship memo in which he requested support for the bill. “PennDOT and the State Police need state vehicles to perform their jobs, but legislators don’t need state cars to haul their briefcases.” Getting this to the governor’s desk means Roae will have to convince lawmakers to let go of a benefit they currently have.
Codifying abortion rights into the state constitution
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling still weighs heavily on the minds of Democratic lawmakers now that the federal right to an abortion is no more. State Reps. Danielle Friel Otten and Liz Hanbidge plan to introduce a constitutional amendment that would outline “the right to choose or refuse an abortion, the right to choose or refuse contraceptives, and the right to choose or refuse fertility care” in the state constitution. In their co-sponsorship memo, the lawmakers write that the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision “makes it imperative” that the right to abortions and other reproductive services are enshrined in the constitution.
A bill to open Pennsylvania’s primary elections
If you’re an Independent who wants to vote in primary elections, you may just be in luck. State Sens. Dan Laughlin and Lisa Boscola have joined forces on legislation to open up Pennsylvania’s primary elections to Independents. In a letter to Senate colleagues, the senators wrote that the state’s number of independent voters increased by more than 50,000 from 2017 to 2021 – and said that their legislation would allow people who have checked “no affiliation” or “none” on voter registration forms to vote in party primaries. The duo said opening up primaries to unaffiliated voters is a “vital step toward ensuring the strength of our democracy.”
The #MeToo in Pennsylvania General Assembly Act
Building off the #MeToo movement, Democrats in the state Senate are reintroducing a bill they say will improve accountability in the General Assembly surrounding sexual harassment and make it “a safe place for all.” The forthcoming bill outlines multiple reforms, including a ban on the use of non-disclosure agreements that mask the names of lawmakers accused of harassment and requiring “credibly accused members” to repay any settlements that used taxpayer dollars. The bill, sponsored by at least nine Senate Democrats, would “protect legislators, staff, employees, and other stakeholders,” the bill sponsors wrote.