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Voters could decide on new ballot rules

After their success in limiting Gov. Tom Wolf’s powers by constitutional amendment, Republicans in Harrisburg are considering a slew of new constitutional changes that could give them an edge in future elections.

In a 30-20 vote Wednesday, the Senate passed an amendment that would put a voter ID requirement in the state Constitution — permanently requiring ID every time you vote. If it passes the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, the bill would go to the public in a ballot referendum.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, who proposed the amendment, said voter ID laws would allow voters to trust the election process.

“Everyone who voted by mail-in or absentee ballot in the last election had to supply proof of identification in order to receive their ballot. This isn’t any additional burden,” she said. “Asking voters to decide if requiring identification every time voters go to the ballot box will build on that and restore that trust.”

Republicans across the country have long sought voter ID laws, which critics say has a disproportionate impact on voting rates among racial minorities and others more likely to vote Democratic. In 2012, then-House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, boasted of the effects when he told colleagues voter ID “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Since then, GOP lawmakers have revived the efforts — with a new push since the November election, in which President Joe Biden won Pennsylvania. The victory sparked baseless claims of fraud from former president Donald Trump and some supporters.

A sweeping bill including many GOP reforms, including voter ID and restrictions on ballot drop boxes, passed the House this week. While that bill would face a veto from Wolf, another new effort — a constitutional amendment to repeal mail-in voting — would not.

State Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, announced the plan this week, although he hadn’t formally proposed a bill as of Thursday.

Diamond said voters have told him “no-excuse mail-in voting has opened our elections up to too many opportunities for possible fraudulent activity, and that as such they have lost faith in the electoral system,” although he didn’t cite any examples.

Republicans can point to new polling to back their effort. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released this month found wide majorities support voter ID rules and signature matching for mail-in ballots, although a ban on mail-in voting is much more divisive.

Food apps face regulation

Lawmakers and regulators are moving to restrict online food delivery services that collect fees to deliver meals.

A new bill in the General Assembly would force companies to get restaurants’ agreement to use their services, while the Attorney General’s Office and Philadelphia officials have made changes to the way the businesses operate.

Delivery companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub surged in popularity through the coronavirus pandemic, with restaurants closed for in-person dining and many diners unwilling to sit in crowded businesses. The companies collect orders online, then pay drivers to collect the meals — while passing fees on to customers.

The convenience comes at a cost to small businesses, which pay commissions on the orders. Customer fees can also make restaurant prices appear higher if diners don’t see a breakdown.

Some cities have already moved to limit the money delivery apps can collect from restaurateurs: Last summer, Philadelphia temporarily capped fees at 15% of a total order, far below what many restaurant owners said they were paying. Since then, other cities have mulled permanent fee limits.

State Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, aims to take that a step further. Earlier this month, she proposed a bill that would cap the fees at 15% statewide while banning delivery apps from offering deliveries without restaurants’ permission.

That would reverse the practice — widely publicized last year — in which some apps allegedly added restaurants to their sites, and even created new websites for restaurants, without the owners’ agreement.

“As we move closer to a post-pandemic economy, we should protect small business owners by guarding against unfair fees and defending their autonomy from unscrupulous tech companies,” Innamorato and fellow legislator state Rep. Nick Pisciottano, D-Allegheny, said in a memo to colleagues. “Please join us and stand with your local pizzeria, your favorite takeout place, neighborhood bar and other local restaurants that need a fair playing field to deliver their delicious food.”

Even law enforcement officials have taken an interest.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the District of Columbia attorney general recently announced a deal with Uber Eats, under which the company must clearly disclose its fees and higher prices as diners prepare to pay.

“This is another step toward making the marketplace more fair for restaurants and consumers — and I call on all food-delivery platform companies to provide this same information as soon as possible,” Shapiro said.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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