HARRISBURG –The House of Representatives approved a Senate-proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution today that could improve the way that state government responds to emergencies by adding accountability and controls to future disaster declarations, according to Senator Scott Martin (R-13), who sponsored the bill.
Senate Bill 2 would limit emergency declarations to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves a longer duration. The bill would ensure greater cooperation between all branches of government during an emergency and restore the system of checks and balances that Pennsylvania’s government was founded upon, Martin said.
The legislation has been approved in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions. The question of whether to amend the constitution will now be decided by voters via referendum.
“Throughout the pandemic, the voices of many Pennsylvanians have been silenced by Governor Wolf’s unilateral actions and arbitrary orders. Now, state residents will have an opportunity to ensure their voices are heard,” Martin said. “We have seen the consequences of one person or one branch of government wielding too much authority for an indefinite period of time, and the results are not good.”
Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Governor Wolf has used the disaster declaration for nearly a year to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through his business shutdown orders.
This consolidation of power has led to numerous problems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including flawed guidance that negatively impacted long-term care settings, delayed Unemployment Compensation payments to displaced workers, and individual businesses and entire industries being shuttered longer than necessary.
The bill also would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity. The change would bring the state Constitution into line with the equal protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution.
The measure is also sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39) and Senator John DiSanto (R-15).
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