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It’s “do or die” time for an extensive election reform bill pending in the Pennsylvania Legislature, the proposal’s chief architect said Monday.

Without action this month, House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said the momentum for reform – and the appropriate time to implement the changes – may dissolve.

“It’s really do or die right now,” he said during a briefing with reporters. “There’s a lot going on right now. The best thing that can happen is for the governor to actually engage in election code changes so we can actually get this done. If he’s not willing to do it, that’s on him.”

Grove’s House Bill 1300, dubbed the Voting Rights Protection Act, features a handful of reforms with bipartisan support, including provisions that allow early in-person voting beginning in 2025, monitored drop boxes, standardized ballot curing rules, curbside voting and pre-canvassing for poll workers up to five days before an election.

But the bill biggest change – expanding the state’s voter identification law – could be its undoing and, so far, it’s unclear if Grove is willing to drop the controversial provision to preserve the rest of the bill.

“If Gov. Wolf’s administration wants to come to a compromise … we are more than willing to discuss things with them, but they need to actually pick up the phone and call,” he said.

Grove maintains he hasn’t heard from the Department of State or Wolf’s staff since the end of April about collaborating on a reform bill.

“We need a comprehensive approach to the fix in Pennsylvania’s election system,” Grove said. “We have a great proposal that addresses all of those concerns in a reasonable and rational way … and we are more than happy to engage with the Wolf administration [about the proposal].”

Ellen Lyon, a state department spokesperson, told The Center Square on Monday the agency is “happy to work with the administration and the legislature to enact common sense election reforms that will further expand voter participation, allow counties to begin canvassing mail ballots before Election Day and improve election administration with the use of electronic poll books.”

“We believe that voters and our dedicated election officials would welcome these changes,” she said. “We hope the legislative priorities will focus on these common sense changes and not on creating barriers to voting for eligible Pennsylvanians.”

Wolf said last week he’s against voter I.D. expansion and will block any policy that increases barriers to access. Under current law, first time voters at a polling place must provide identification. HB 1300 would implement the ID requirement each and every time a resident casts a ballot in-person.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokesperson, said the governor has been engaged in election reform with the General Assembly for the last year and wants to continue the conversation about expanding convenient voting options.

“At the same time, the governor has been clear, both privately and publicly, that he is always willing to have a conversation on election reform, but a proposal aimed at disenfranchising voters – by implementing unconstitutional voter ID, and restricting existing voting options – is a complete nonstarter,” she said.

Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Williamsport, sponsored a constitutional amendment last week that pivots the voter I.D. question to voters instead. Grove said “it’s an interesting concept,” but prefers getting the policy into statute.

“We think it won’t disenfranchise any individual the way we have it [written],” he said. “We are trying our best to meet my colleagues halfway on a really good proposal. We’ll see. Hopefully the governor has actually read the bill, reviewed the bill, sees all the great stuff we are trying to do to help citizens vote and rebuild trust in the election process.”

The administration, however, believes the proposal has nothing to do with protecting voters rights or increasing access.

“It is an extremist proposal fueled by disproven conspiracy theories which will undermine confidence in our election system by doubling down on misinformation,” Kensinger said. “They don’t like the outcome of the November election and now they are retaliating against the voters, as their counterparts in other states have done, by pushing a proposal disguised as ‘election integrity.’”

“The governor will always defend our democracy and the right to vote for every Pennsylvanian regardless of political party,” she added.

Grove said if a compromise can’t be reached by the end of the month – the same time frame during which the General Assembly will approve the state’s annual spending plan – the effort will move to the back burner as lawmakers address other priorities, like congressional redistricting.

“We may have to move off election issues if this doesn’t get signed now,” he said. “The fall is too close to the fall elections for counties to get these changes in.”

He added that lawmakers remain wary of implementing sweeping election code changes during the 2022 campaign cycle, which will feature open races for the U.S. Senate and the governor. It’s a hard lesson learned from the decision to approve expanded mail-in voting in late 2019, just six months before the 2020 presidential primary election, Grove said.

“I’m not sure that we are going to put Pennsylvania in a position of changing major laws and the ensuing chaos that was seen with the 2020 election,” he said.

Grove’s committee scheduled a voting meeting for HB 1300 on Tuesday morning. He anticipates a floor vote on the House next week.

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Congress

White House tells states to prevent evictions, as House Democrats press Biden administration to act

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The White House told state and local governments that they have the power to prevent evictions, following the end of the eviction moratorium.

The Biden administration said in a statement on Monday that while the federal government provided $46.5 billion to prevent renters from being evicted, some states and cities have been “too slow to act” by not providing the money to tenants.

There is “no excuse for any State or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet the critical need of so many Americans,” the statement continued. “This assistance provides the funding to pay landlords current and back rent so tenants can remain in their homes or apartments, not be evicted.”

The ban on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic expired over the weekend, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was unable to extend it following the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 29 that said only Congress could do so through new legislation.

The Congressional Black Caucus has pressured the White House to take action on evictions, the Associated Press reported. Additionally, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.)  spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday at the Capitol, where Bush was camped out with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) over the weekend to protest the evictions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic House leadership said in a statement on Sunday that they were calling “upon the Treasury Department to indicate how the funds that it has already transferred to states and communities can be more effectively distributed to renters and landlords.”

The statement also noted that the Senate is unable to pass an extension of the eviction moratorium, so there was no point for the House to do so.

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Court & Law

Trump Ally Tom Barrack secures $250 million bond to leave jail

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Thomas Barrack, a friend and ally to former President Donald Trump, reached an agreement Friday with prosecutors to be released from jail on a $250 million bond, after being arrested for allegedly violating foreign lobbying laws.

A federal magistrate made the order to allow Barrack to leave jail on the bond, which is secured by at least $5 million in cash and the requirement he wear a GPS bracelet to monitor his location, according to CNN.

Barrack is set to appear in court Monday for his arraignment. The bail comes after he was arrested Tuesday on charges of violating foreign lobbying laws, obstructing justice and making false statements.

Barrack, who was chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, was arrested and charged with illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, purportedly to advance the UAE’s interests with the Trump administration.

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Federal Agency

Justice Department limits federal government’s ability to obtain journalist communications secretly

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The Justice Department on Monday issued new guidelines that limit the federal government’s ability to obtain journalists’ communications secretly.

“The United States has, of course, an important national interest in protecting national security information against unauthorized disclosure,” Attorney general Merrick Garland wrote in a memo announcing the new guidelines, according to the Associated Press.

The guidelines prohibit federal investigators from obtaining journalists’ records, including phone and electric communications. It also prohibits the federal government from compelling testimony from journalists.

The new guidelines come after the White House announced on June 5 that it would change its policy towards journalists. The change comes after discovering that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump had secretly obtained the records of journalists from CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

The only circumstances the government can obtain records is if the journalist is a target of a criminal investigation, is an agent of a foreign power, or if obtaining the information could prevent death or bodily harm, according to NBC News.

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