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House Republicans mount another effort to remove disaster declaration

Harrisburg, PA (AP) — The Republican-controlled Legislature is mounting another effort to strip some emergency disaster powers from Gov. Tom Wolf in the latest partisan fight over how the Democrat has handled the coronavirus pandemic in Pennsylvania.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed two bills, largely along partisan lines, to allow counties to shed Wolf’s existing restrictions and give power to counties to determine which businesses must close or can stay open under a future state health emergency disaster.

Wolf will veto both, his office says.

The chamber also passed a measure to amend the state constitution to give lawmakers the power to end a governor’s disaster emergency after 21 days.

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Harrisburg, PA – Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette/Westmoreland) joined a majority in the state House today in voting to amend Pennsylvania’s Constitution to ensure the Commonwealth’s citizens have a say in the actions of their government during emergency situations.

 

“For the last four months, the governor has made numerous unilateral decisions that have had devastating impacts on our citizens and taxpayers,” Warner said. “From closed businesses and a failing unemployment system to forcing our nursing homes to take in COVID-19-positive cases, directly contributing to the high fatality rate in those facilities, the governor has failed the people and silenced their voices by ignoring the members of the Legislature who were sent here to represent them and their interests.

“The emergency powers granted to the governor by the General Assembly are necessary at times for immediate response, but they are not intended to go on forever. What we are seeing now is an abuse of power by this governor. I intend to do everything I can to ensure this type of abuse never happens again,” he added.

Senate Bill 1166 proposes to amend the state Constitution by requiring passage of a concurrent resolution by the Legislature for any disaster emergency declaration a governor wishes to extend beyond a period of 21 days. This would provide an effective balance between ensuring the governor has the authority to act quickly in an immediate emergency situation while also ensuring the General Assembly is properly engaged in the process of addressing long-term response and recovery processes.

Under the bill, the governor would have to indicate the nature of any disaster and the area being threatened. It also would require the General Assembly to statutorily provide for the manner in which each type of disaster will be managed.

The bill also proposes an amendment to clarify state law to indicate a concurrent resolution to end a disaster declaration need not be presented to the governor for his approval or veto. This action was made necessary after a recent court ruling on House Resolution 836, which sought to end the governor’s COVID-19 disaster declaration.

Finally, it also proposes an amendment that would protect against denial or abridgement of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity.

A constitutional amendment proposal must be approved by both the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions and then be put before the voters in a referendum before it can be enacted. Senate Bill 1166 poses three separate constitutional questions that would go before the voters.