Now armed with a new mandate and more power granted to them by Pennsylvania voters, Pennsylvania House Republicans advanced legislation on Tuesday that would end key portions of Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The resolution, which lawmakers can now approve without needing Wolf’s signature, would end crucial components of the declaration, which gives the governor broad authority to issue executive orders with the force of law.
The resolution — House Resolution 106 — would terminate segments of Wolf’s March 6, 2020 emergency declaration. The proposal seeks to reinstate work search requirements for the unemployed, end the administration’s ability to engage in no-bid contracts and eliminate the governor’s ability to enact occupancy limits, business closures and stay-at-home orders — all of which were strategies used by Wolf in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
The resolution would still keep a portion of the COVID-19 emergency declaration in place in order to protect Pennsylvania’s federal COVID-19 aid and maintain a series of regulatory suspensions put in place by the governor.
State Rep. Seth Grove, the chairman of the House State Government Committee, said the resolution would strip away components of the order disliked by Republicans, while preserving more favorable pieces of the state’s pandemic response.
“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. This resolution, as part of that, would, in part, remove the draconian policies imposed on Pennsylvanians over the past year,” Grove said. “What's left is basically federal funding and ensuring that we are able to continue some of the regulatory suspensions that have occurred, removing government out of individuals lives, so we can go back [and] work with the administration on trying to make as many of them permanent as possible.”
The resolution, which must be approved by both chambers of the General Assembly in order to take effect, advanced out of Grove’s committee on Tuesday by a 15-10 vote. But even if the resolution gets approved by the legislature, it likely wouldn’t take effect until the state’s two new constitutional amendments are certified by the Department of State.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, the prime sponsor of the resolution, said Monday in a statement that state lawmakers will continue to approach the emergency declaration in a careful manner. His resolution would keep the remaining parts of the emergency declaration in place until Oct. 1.
“Over the coming weeks and months, the General Assembly will continue its due diligence over the administration’s management of the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration, including how to deal with a regulatory framework significantly altered by use of the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration’s authority,” Benninghoff said. “Pennsylvania voters wanted more responsible and more reasonable emergency management, and we will continue to provide that while ensuring critical services and funding remain intact.”
But while both legislators and Wolf have publicly committed to working together on the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, Wolf said Tuesday that the advancement of HR 106 was a “discouraging development.”
Wolf argued that the actions lawmakers are seeking to terminate aren’t actually listed in his COVID-19 emergency declaration, and that they were enacted after the emergency declaration was already in place. “These actions were taken subsequent to the disaster declaration,” Wolf said. “The constitutional amendment granted them authority to terminate or extend in whole or in part the disaster declaration, and the specific orders are separate and apart from the proclamation.”
Despite the effort from lawmakers to terminate the resolution, Wolf said he remains committed to working with lawmakers on the state’s pandemic response.
“The voters gave the legislature tremendous responsibility,” Wolf added. “The administration stands ready to work with the legislature, but this is a discouraging development.”