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Republican Lawmakers Want To Add Voter Referendums With Constitutional Amendments

The Pennsylvania State House chamber.
Matt Rourke

On today’s program: Associated Press reporter Marc Levy discusses how Republican lawmakers hope to enact veto-proof voter referendums; and William Marshall, organizer of Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth commemoration, explains how the historic day has grown through the years to both celebrate and educate.

State Republicans propose constitutional amendment to expand voter ID requirement (0:00 — 6:57)

Republicans in the state legislature are looking to expand voter ID requirements and limit vote-by-mail through constitutional amendments rather than legislation, which Gov. Tom Wolf threatened to veto.

“There is one particular bill like that in the Senate that would require a voter, every time they vote in person, to show identification. And if you're voting by mail, you would have to put a photocopy of your identification into the envelope with your ballot and mail it in. And both of those represent an expansion of the state's voter ID requirement,” says Associated Press reporter Marc Levy.

Some, though, have pointed out that this is an apparent switch to the Republican party’s stance on mail-in voting.

“In 2019, Republicans were nearly unanimous in dramatically expanding the ability to vote by mail. That bill didn't necessarily expand the state's photo ID requirements. It did contain a certain ID requirement for getting a mail-in ballot. But what they're talking about now would certainly expand photo ID requirements or voter ID requirements,” says Levy.

To amend the constitution, a proposal must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions before it goes to the voters for their consideration.

“May of 2023 is the earliest that it could get to the ballot,” says Levy. “It would still require a floor vote in the Senate and a floor vote in the House, and then they'd have to repeat that process in early 2023.”

Juneteenth is now an official holiday in Pittsburgh (6:59 - 18:00)

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to make Juneteenth the next federal holiday. The legislation now goes to President Biden for approval.

Juneteenth is a celebration marking the end of slavery and the emancipation for hundreds of thousands still in bondage years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, those enslaved in Galveston, Texas were informed of the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. Now, cities all over the country recognize this holiday with festivals, speakers and music. Pittsburgh for the first time is celebrating this day as a city-wide holiday.

William Marshall, CEO of Stop the Violence-Pittsburgh, is one of the organizers of the multi-day festivities in the city.

Marshall says the U.S. Congress’ action on Juneteenth is long overdue.

“You really have to understand the significance of the holiday because people try to equate it with the Fourth of July, but during the Fourth of July in 1776, America held Black people in slavery,” he says. “So we didn’t become independent or gain our freedom until 1865. So it’s very important that people recognize it for the holiday it is.”

Marshall says when people think about this holiday, they don’t connect it to the Civil War and the struggle of those who fought and suffered at the hands of slavery.

“It’s an American holiday, sometimes we have the misunderstanding that this is a Black holiday when it is in fact an American holiday,” Marshall says. “It’s America’s second Independence Day.”

Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth will have events throughout the city this week and next; you can find out more here.

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.

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