Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA
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HARRISBURG — After scoring a victory at the ballot box, Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature are moving to end parts of Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus disaster declaration.
A state House committee voted 15-10 on Tuesday to terminate sections of the emergency order which waive certain regulations and allow agencies to avoid the traditional procurement process.
GOP lawmakers said the resolution would also prevent Wolf from using the declaration to close businesses or impose occupancy limits because of COVID-19, though the administration has repeatedly said its power to order such mitigation measures is separate from the proclamation.
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Wolf in a statement called the vote “a discouraging development” following a “productive meeting with the legislature” after the May 18 primary. Just over 53% of voters during that election backed curtailing the governor’s emergency powers in what was widely seen as a referendum on the administration’s pandemic response. Unofficial election results show 2.2 million people voted on the questions, representing roughly a quarter of registered voters.
The two approved constitutional amendments allow a simple majority of lawmakers to terminate a disaster declaration at any time without the governor’s consent, limit the length to 21 days, and transfer power to extend an emergency order from the executive to the legislature.
“The people of Pennsylvania spoke loud and clear in the May 18 election to empower the General Assembly and provide checks and balances within emergency declaration provisions,” Rep. Seth Grove (R. York), chair of the State Government Committee, said Tuesday. “This resolution … would, in part, remove the draconian policies imposed on Pennsylvanians over the past year. What’s left is basically federal funding and ensuring that we are able to continue some of the regulatory suspensions that have occurred.”
Wolf noted the legislature is taking action before the Department of State has certified the election results, meaning the Pennsylvania Constitution has yet to be amended. Democratic lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to table voting on the resolution Tuesday for that reason.