Citizens Amend PA Constitution to Limit Emergency Powers
Voters saw through Gov. Tom Wolf’s flimflam that they would fall for a partisan political maneuver, risk the loss of government benefits, and even jeopardize their safety, if they voted “yes” on two constitutional amendments to limit a governor’s emergency powers. Voters also saw through how the Governor’s Department of State worded the two ballot questions to alter the true intent of the amendments and, with wide margins on both questions on Tuesday, they put the General Assembly back in its rightful place as an equal branch of government.
Now 90 days of emergency powers, extended four times by the governor, will be limited to 21 days, unless the Genera Assembly agrees to an extension.
The second approved amendment declares the Governor can’t veto a legislative resolution that ends an emergency.
“The voters have dethroned our Imperial Governor and ensured that emergency declarations can never be abused this way again,” said David N. Taylor, PMA President & CEO. “Our amended constitution reestablishes the balance between the branches of state government and protects the right of citizens to petition the government for redress, even during an emergency. From now on, the stakeholders will be able to work through their elected representatives to make sure their concerns are heard and their rights are respected. ”
The General Assembly’s repeated attempts to have some say in establishing best practices to battle the virus, and outlining courses of action for the reopening of businesses, many of which were closed arbitrarily, were rejected by the Governor and his rubber-stamp state Supreme Court. It wasn’t until this past February, with the creation of a vaccine task force, that that Governor asked for input from lawmakers, and the results were immediate and remarkable: Pennsylvania jumped from the bottom among states in its effectiveness rolling out the vaccine to among the first.
Legislative leaders are delighted that the people of Pennsylvania, through their lawmakers, will now be part of the process moving forward.
“The primary election results demonstrate our system of government works better when we work together,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte) and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) in a statement. “We took our case to the people of Pennsylvania, and the people voted ‘yes’ to restore liberty and ensure the fundamental principles of our democracy remain in place even during times of an emergency. This decision by the people is not about taking power away from any one branch of government, rather it’s about re-establishing the balance of power between three equal branches of government as guaranteed by the constitution.”
In their statement, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) said that “the people of Pennsylvania have exercised their vote and resoundingly reaffirmed their desire for a government with strong checks and balances that works in their interests and not for its own power. In doing so, they have rejected the mutation of emergency authority into unilateral, one-person control that seeks expediency over the rule of law.”
Among other disastrous moves made during the pandemic, the Governor’s Department of Health forced nursing homes to take in residents infected with the virus. The economic damage, moreover, came early and grew worse.
Almost every other state relied on federal guidelines for businesses closures established by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to distinguish essential from non-essential business. But the Wolf administration never presented any rationale for its decisions on businesses, and many were bewildering. Pennsylvania, for instance, was the only state to halt all outdoor construction projects and end car sales.
Thousands of businesses closed. Tens of thousands of people were thrown out of work. The balance in the state’s unemployment compensation plummeted from being 200 percent funded to $1.4 billion in the red.
Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, the jobs are available are but not being filled. No incentive exists to return to the workforce given the enhanced governmental benefits for those remaining on the sidelines. This, while the Wolf administration recently announced that the suspension of work search requirements, suspended by the legislature through 2020 and then extended by executive branch, would stay in place until September.
The governor has been silent about his next steps – his latest extension of the emergency ends this week. But House leaders warned against legal action:
“To those contemplating litigation to stop the enforcement of the emergency disaster-related amendments: Think twice before again ignoring the voice of the people,” Cutler and Benninghoff said. “To use the courts to continue to grasp on to power is to ignore a fresh mandate from those you represent and will confirm the worst fears of a public that wants to change course in the management of emergency periods.”