Legislature Passes Constitutional Amendment Limiting Executive Powers During Disaster Emergencies

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

House and Senate lawmakers are seeking a greater balance of power during disaster emergencies, as evidenced by their approval on July 14th, of a constitutional amendment that limits the governor’s powers under such circumstances.

Senate Bill 1166 – which passed the House in a 115-86 vote and the Senate in a 33-17 concurrence vote – provides that a gubernatorial emergency declaration could last no longer than 21 days unless extended by a concurrent resolution passed by the General Assembly. Notably, S.B. 1166 also states that the resolution would not need to be approved by the governor to take effect – a provision that comes on the heels of the state Supreme Court’s ruling that the governor could veto a resolution lawmakers passed to terminate the Wolf Administration’s emergency declaration.

Senate Bill 1166 also prohibits the governor from issuing a new emergency declaration upon the expiration of an existing one without the legislature’s approval via concurrent resolution. According to a Capitolwire story, the Senate bill was introduced shortly after the governor renewed his COVID-19 emergency declaration despite the objections of several lawmakers who “argued it was time for the governor to start working with the General Assembly regarding the virus instead of dictating policy that GOP leaders say has included mistakes – such as the handling of business closures, nursing homes, the state’s health care facilities and unemployment services – that may have been avoided if Wolf had worked with legislators.”

As a Constitutional Amendment, the exact same language must be passed again in the next legislative session that begins in January 2021, before it would be presented as a ballot question for voters to ultimately decide.