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There’s now a 4th ballot question for Pa. primary voters

I’ve been referring to three ballot questions for the Pennsylvania primaries on May 18. All are proposed amendments to the state Constitution. They are important, because two of them challenge the executive branch’s exclusive right to declare states of emergency. The third has to do with basic equal rights provisions that should be a no-brainer.

But now there is a late entry - a fourth question, this one a statewide referendum that will help some paid first-responder organizations get loans to upgrade their equipment and facilities to make them more contemporary for the constituents whom they serve.

Here is what the question says: “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 (relating 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, 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?”

If you’ll recall when I wrote a recent column about the three constitutional amendment questions I criticized the length of the sentences in the wording of the two proposed amendments on limiting the governor’s emergency declaration powers - 71 and 74 words.

Well, this one is even longer - a sentence of 96 words.

Most writing experts suggest a sentence of no longer than 25 to 30 words for maximum comprehension.

If any of you are baffled by what this mouthful means, let me be your translator. Actually, it’s pretty simple. If you vote “yes,” it will mean that this measure will be extended to paid municipal fire companies and ambulance services. The original legislation included just volunteer organizations.

Pennsylvania voters approved the incurring of indebtedness of up to $100 million in four previous statewide referendums. Originally, this indebtedness funded a loan program for volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads.

This referendum does not authorize any additional debt to fund the loan program; it only expands the class of eligible loan applicants. It also does not expand the purposes for which loans may be made; municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies may only apply for the type of loans already provided for by law and regulation.

The bill passed the General Assembly, a prerequisite before going to the voters. To strengthen fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania, the bill contained key provisions including improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and this ballot question to expand the existing “Emergency Services Loan Assistance Fund” to include municipal fire departments. If passed, $15 million would be set aside for these loans.

I support this legislation as a logical extension of measures to help volunteer fire companies throughout the state, the majority of which serve our entire region.

I also want to remind you that if you are registered as neither Republican nor Democrat and don’t generally vote in the primaries, you can vote on these four ballot questions. You can’t vote for any candidates, just the questions.

Amending the Constitution is a process reserved entirely for the people of Pennsylvania, not the partisan interests of the governor’s administration. Every amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution since 1790 has been put before the people for their approval. It is in your hands to determine how your government should function.

The same is true for statewide referendums. In the end, you, the voter, have the final say.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.