A new election means new ballot questions, and the often confusing legal language that comes with them. Below is an explainer to help voters sift through the legalese of the big ballot questions this primary. Five questions will appear on all Allegheny County ballots outside of the city of Pittsburgh, and six will appear on ballots within the city.
Pittsburgh City Ballot Question: No-knock warrant ban
Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended and supplemented by adding a new Article 10: Powers of the Pittsburgh Police, containing Section 1001, which shall bar employees of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police from executing warrants at any residence without knocking and announcing themselves?
This is motivated by the death of Louisville, Kentucky, woman Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in March 2020 after they entered her apartment without prior notice. The initiative would require officers to knock and identify themselves as police when executing a warrant at a residence. After doing so, officers would then have to wait at least 15 seconds for occupants to answer and open the door. The use of body cameras would be required before, during, and after any search, which also goes for any arrest resulting from the search.
Allegheny County Ballot Question: Solitary confinement limit
Shall the Allegheny County Code, Chapter 205. Allegheny County Jail, be amended and supplemented to include a new Article III, as set forth below, which shall set forth standards governing conditions of confinement in the Allegheny County Jail?
This countywide ballot measure is for largely banning the practice of solitary confinement — confining someone in a space for more than 20 hours a day — at the Allegheny County Jail. Wardens would be required to provide monthly reports on the use of solitary confinement and prove why isolation was necessary, even in circumstances like lockdowns or when an inmate posed a threat to others.
Pennsylvania Statewide Ballot Question: Municipal fire department reform
Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. §7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?
State referendum ACT-2020-91 asks whether "municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies" should be eligible to apply for loans from an existing state program aimed at volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services, and volunteer rescue squads. Currently these entities are not authorized to apply for loans from this program. However, the Pennsylvania General Assembly determined that additional loans are needed for applicants to replace outdated equipment, modernize buildings, and purchase new vehicles in order to better serve communities. If approved, the measure would also expand the class of eligible loan applicants.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1
Termination or extension of disaster emergency declarations
If approved, this would amend Article III, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow the General Assembly to "terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration or a portion of such declaration without needing the Governor’s approval." Currently, only the state governor can end a disaster declaration. This proposed amendment would allow a majority of lawmakers to terminate the declaration at any time. This proposed amendment was pushed by state Republicans, who currently control the legislature, but not the governorship.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2
Disaster emergency declaration and management
This second amendment question, also pushed by state Republicans, proposes adding a new section to Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. If approved, this would, among other things, limit the governor's disaster declaration to 21 days, after which it can be extended.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3
Prohibition against denial or abridgement of equality of rights because of race or ethnicity
The third amendment question proposes adding an amendment to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution that effectively prohibits "restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity." This guarantees anti-discrimination protections at the state level, separate from the United States Constitution and federal laws.