By Michael Geer, PA Family President
On Friday, March 6, 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a 90-day emergency disaster declaration, giving him very broad, sweeping powers over day-to-day life in Pennsylvania. This emergency declaration was in response to an impending pandemic, spawned by a new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.
This emergency declaration gave him the unilateral power to close schools, shut down businesses (or keep some open), restrict travel and even confine people to their homes.
And in a matter of days of that declaration, Gov. Wolf did just that and more. He ordered all elective surgery to cease (except at abortion clinics – a favorite constituency of his). Business-shutdown decisions often seemed arbitrary – or even politically motivated. Businesses that found themselves on one list (compiled behind closed doors) were privileged to stay open, while those on another, much longer list were ordered closed with little explanation why, and left with an unworkable, frustrating appeals process and almost universal denials.
Corporate big-box stores like Walmart, Home Depot and Costco flourished, while small family businesses – like restaurants and retail shops – were devastated, with thousands closed, never to reopen. Many of our fellow Pennsylvanians were suddenly thrown on the unemployment rolls, with state agencies woefully unable to handle the surge.
Some nursing homes faced staggering death tolls because of decisions made under these emergency powers. Family members were prevented from being with loved ones in the hours and moments before they died. Houses of worship were at the mercy of one person – the governor – as to whether they could even meet.
No one person should ever have such power – at least not for an extended period.
And yet, today, more than a year later, Gov. Wolf retains that immense power – for good or for bad – well beyond the 90-days of his original order. How? With the stroke of a pen, every 90 days he renews the emergency declaration. He’s done it four times already, and he can continue to do so as long as he’s governor. Unless…
That is, unless citizens in this May 18th primary election vote to approve two amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution to bring sensible limits to any governor’s emergency power declarations. In simple terms, those two amendments would:
1) Allow the General Assembly (PA House and Senate) to end any emergency declaration by a simple majority vote of both chambers.
2) Limit any emergency declaration to 21 days, and any extensions beyond that would require a majority vote of the House and Senate.
These constitutional amendments were proposed because Gov. Wolf has largely rebuffed attempts by elected members of the legislature – Republican or Democrat – to have a say (on behalf of their constituents) in the pandemic mandates and emergency orders. He even vetoed a bipartisan resolution last June to end his unilateral power, and got the courts to agree with him. And so, his power remains unchecked and the voice of the people through their elected representatives is muffled.
That’s why I support these constitutional amendments that will restrain the emergency powers of this and future governors, restore the balance of power between the branches of government, and still allow for appropriate, timely responses to future emergencies and disasters that may confront the Commonwealth and its people. Please vote in the May 18th primary!
Details on these and other ballot questions, along with information about candidates for public office can be found on our voter guide website at pafamilyvoter.com.