In this update:
Proposed Constitutional Amendments One Step Closer to Voter Input
The General Assembly recently approved a measure that would put five proposed amendments to the state constitution on the ballot for voters to decide. The measure must be approved again in the 2023-24 legislative session to go before the voters, who will have the final say on these public policy and process matters.
The proposed amendments would:
The process of amending the constitution is lengthy and deliberative, and will give citizens across the commonwealth the appropriate time to weigh the merits of the proposals and have their voices heard.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Abortion
One of the constitutional amendments approved by the General Assembly would reaffirm the Pennsylvania Constitution does not guarantee any right to abortion or public funding of abortion. This is the current judicial interpretation, but one that is being challenged in court by abortion providers seeking taxpayer funding for elective abortions.
The amendment would ensure that abortion policy in Pennsylvania continues to be determined by the people’s elected representatives, the General Assembly and Governor, through the existing Abortion Control Act. It does not ban, criminalize or otherwise prohibit a woman from seeking an abortion in Pennsylvania.
Federal courts have long held that the federal constitution does not require taxpayer funding of abortion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in 1985 that the state constitution also does not require such taxpayer funding.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean abortion is banned nationwide, but that individual states have greater authority to determine abortion policy. The proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution ensures the state legislature, and ultimately voters, determine if public money should fund elective abortions.
The measure must be approved by the General Assembly again in the next legislative session before the proposed amendment can go before the voters.
Crime Victims will Receive More Support Under New Law
Legislation passed by the Senate and signed into law this month gives crime victims legal standing in court, updates crime victim compensation, provides notice of events in the judicial process and enhances victim confidentiality for domestic and sexual violence crimes.
Act 77 of 2022 ensures victims can now stand in court and assert their own rights and it gives them recourse when their rights are ignored.
Giving victims standing was part of Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment to guarantee crime victims’ rights. More than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians voted in favor of the amendment in 2019. However, the outcome was set aside by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court due to a technicality with the ballot question.
New Laws Aim to Improve Information Sharing and Health Outcomes
Bipartisan legislation designed to improve the ability of health care providers to treat the overall health of patients is now law.
Act 32 and Act 33 of 2022 amend the Mental Health Procedures Act and the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Control Act to allow for sharing of patient information among providers, facilities and insurers. The changes would also meet existing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements to ensure patient confidentiality.
Under current law, mental health and physical health information cannot be fully shared among providers in Pennsylvania. The proposed changes would bring Pennsylvania in line with the majority of states that already share this information and are seeing improved patient outcomes.
Call 988 for Suicide Prevention and Crisis Support
Pennsylvanians now have an easier way to connect to behavioral or mental health crisis services. Dialing 988 will connect callers directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The Lifeline’s trained crisis response professionals support individuals considering suicide, self-harm, or any behavioral or mental health need for themselves or people looking for help for a loved one. Lifeline services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost to the caller.
988 counselors located at 13 crisis call centers around Pennsylvania can immediately provide phone-based support and connections to local resources.
National Guard Needs Mentors for At-Risk Teens
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs needs adult mentors to work with at-risk teens in the Keystone State ChalleNGe Academy (KSCA) at Ft. Indiantown Gap.
The program provides Pennsylvania teens who are struggling an opportunity to achieve the discipline and skills necessary to succeed as productive and responsible citizens through an engaging and structured residential experience. Cadets will be guided to improve their academic standing and increase their potential for future employment or further education.
Each mentor will be counted on to meet with a cadet on a routine basis to ensure they are progressing in residency and then achieving their post-residency goals. Mentors will participate in training sessions during the residential phase to ensure they are fully prepared for their critical role. All mentors will be required to pass state and federal level background checks as a condition of volunteering. You can read more about the program and volunteer here.
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