PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — During the coronavirus pandemic, all 50 governors declared states of emergency that have been ongoing since last March.
On Wednesday afternoon, House Republicans in Harrisburg approved a constitutional amendment to limit a governor’s power to declare a public emergency, similar to a bill approved Tuesday night by Senate Republicans.READ MORE: Port Authority Operating Two-Car Trains For Steelers Ravens Game
Governor Tom Wolf has declared a 90-day state of emergency four times during this pandemic. But now the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed a constitutional amendment to limit his declaration to just 21 days unless the General Assembly agrees to continue it longer.
“It really restricts and limits the governor’s ability, along with his cabinet, to manage a pandemic. In this case, going forward,” Pennsylvania Sen. Jay Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday. “To think that over the course of the past 10 months that we’d have to come back every 21 days to reauthorize the governor’s ability to do this is, quite frankly, ridiculous.”
Costa says the amendment forces future governors into a political negotiation with lawmakers over how to handle an emergency.
“It shouldn’t be 253 General Assembly members, legislators,” says Costa. “It should be the folks who have the science and the knowledge of the data and interpret that to do what’s in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians.”
But Republican lawmakers argue they should be involved in the decision-making.READ MORE: Judge Won’t Dismiss 25 Murder Counts Against Ohio Doctor
“The Legislature, the elected voice of the people, is trying to resume their normal role as a counterbalance to the executive branch, being the voice of the people who elected them,” says former Pennsylvania Rep. Steve Bloom, now vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg think-tank.
“And yet because of the governor’s power to keep extending the declaration, they’re shut out.”
Bloom says most emergencies are short, but this amendment makes sense for the long ones.
“It says that instead of 90 days with indefinite extensions, it can only happen for 21 days without the Legislature weighing in, saying, keep the declaration in effect.”
In a statement, Governor Wolf says without an emergency declaration during the coronavirus pandemic, the state could lose federal funding for the pandemic.MORE NEWS: Wife Of Greene County DA Granted A Protection From Abuse Order
There have been legislative efforts in some states to curb a governor’s emergency powers, but this is the first attempt, experts say, to change a state’s Constitution. If both the House and Senate approve the same version of the constitutional amendment, it will be on the ballot for May 18’s primary.