Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Strikes Down Marsy's Law

On today's program: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court strikes down a proposed constitutional amendment that would build victim’s rights into the state constitution; and Julie DeSeyn, United Way Chief Programming and Policy Officer, discusses how the local chapter is helping Pittsburghers through the pandemic. 

Commonwealth Court rules out Marsy’s Law
(0:00 - 11:05) 

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court threw out a proposed state constitutional referendum on a 3-2 ruling. The amendment lays out certain protections for victims in the court of law.

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough says the proposed amendment, Marsy’s Law ,“simply embraces too many disparate matters to effectively convey it’s import to it’s voters within the 75 words mandated by statute for ballot questions.” 

Jennifer Storm, acting victim advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, says the common language in the amendment adequately captures the issue at hand, which she believes is victim’s rights. 

“We felt that the plain English statement that the Attorney General’s office put out was very clear, very concise. It delineated those rights that were going to be elevated from the statute into the Constitution, and obviously 1.7 million voters weren’t confused, and they voted in favor of that,” Storm says. 

Because the court voted against the adoption of the amendment, the ballots that voted in favor will not be counted. 

“We’ve never said that none of the provisions in Marsy’s Law should not be in the Constitution,” says Mary Catherine Roper, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who opposes the amendment. “What the court ruled is that you can’t cram 15 changes into a single question for the voters to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” 

Roper believes the legislature should have introduced all changes to the Constitution separately, whereas Storm believes combining the changes would be more efficient. 

“Victims rights as a matter are combined. To parsen them out and to do that many separate Constitutional amendments would be arduous, it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Storm says. 

Storm says they plan to appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court. 

United Way on delivering assistance during the pandemic
(11:15-18:00) 

The pandemic forced many Pittsburghers to turn to organizations, like United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, for help getting food, rental assistance or aid. 

Chief Programming and Policy Officer Julie DeSeyn says United Way was more prepared than most when the pandemic first hit, but the volume of those in need was more than usual. 

“On a typical day we would handle 400 or 500 contacts, and we were at 800 to 1,000 contacts in April and May. It went down a little bit as we moved into the summer and more resources came into the market, but it has been ticking back up.”

DeSeyn says United Way was able to partner with other local organizations to distribute over 800,000 meals between March and the end of December. DeSeyn says the basic needs are in highest demand since before the pandemic: rent, utilities, and food. The scope of the issue now, however, is more intense. 

The federal government passed a second stimulus bill before the end of 2020, but President-Elect Joe Biden has called this a down payment, claiming that more aid is needed moving forward. 

Moving forward, DeSeyn says United Way plans to be more strategic and thoughtful in addressing future long term issues brought forth from the pandemic, specifically when it comes to helping women in the workforce. 

“The number of women in the workforce has declined significantly, it’s at its lowest point in decades.” 

Pittsburgh residents can call 211 for United Way resources.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.