Campaigns & Elections

Here’s what to watch this week in Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania State Capitol

The Pennsylvania State Capitol Wikimedia Commons

It’s shaping up to be quite an eventful fall in Harrisburg. Republican lawmakers have officially begun a controversial audit of the state’s 2020 election, Gov. Tom Wolf is facing pushback over a new statewide indoor mask mandate for schools and a House panel is in the midst of a sweeping review of the state’s ethics laws.

Here’s what to watch this week.

Brace yourselves, subpoenas are (most likely) coming

There’s been no bigger issue in Pennsylvania politics as of late than the state Senate’s “forensic investigation” into the state’s 2020 and 2021 election results. GOP lawmakers say the review is necessary to “evaluate how our election code is working” rather than an attempt to relitigate the 2020 presidential election. The effort has attracted scorn from Democrats, who have framed it as a partisan ploy to appease former President Donald Trump. They argue he has made baseless claims about widespread election fraud. 

Regardless of your ideological stance, the state Senate’s audit is about to take a huge step forward with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman calling for the Senate panel in charge of the audit to begin issuing subpoenas to the Pennsylvania Department of State, a move that could come as early as Wednesday. 

The great mask debate

Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to go around state lawmakers and implement a statewide indoor mask mandate at all public and private schools has agitated Republican lawmakers who are already expressing an interest in trying to halt the masking order by whatever means necessary. Jake Corman, the top-ranking Republican in the Senate, has joined parents suing the administration over the policy, and GOP leaders have requested age-specific COVID-19 data to back up their thinking behind the mask requirement. House lawmakers are also planning to return to session early the week of Sept. 20, presumably to address the mask mandate. So, it’s unclear if anything will happen on that front this week, but it’s still an issue to watch. 

The pandemic’s silver lining

Within the Keystone State’s borders, more than 28,000 people have died from the COVID-19 virus, businesses have suffered and the pandemic has changed the way of life for countless Pennsylvanians. But lawmakers will take time this week to review certain positive aspects of the pandemic that local governments have experienced when the House and Senate Local Government committees hear from local officials. The committees will meet Monday at 10 a.m. in the state Capitol.

Examining campaign finance laws in Pennsylvania 

As part of the House State Government Committee’s review into state ethics laws, the panel’s Subcommittee on Campaign Finance and Elections will hold two hearings on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The first, scheduled for 9 a.m., will examine lobbying reform and disclosure – a subject area near and dear to House Speaker Bryan Cutler. The next hearing, scheduled for 2 p.m., will look at ballot order selection and randomization. With Pennsylvania’s election laws in the spotlight, these will be two hearings to watch.