Pa. voters to settle dispute: Should a governor’s emergency powers be limited?

Regional News

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania voters will get to settle a long-running dispute between Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature over a Governor’s power during a disaster declaration.

Restaurants, like Flinchy’s, were served COVID’s coldest dish when Governor Wolf ordered a couple shutdowns.

“One person should never have that much power, ever,” said Matt Flinchbaugh, owner of Flinchy’s in Camp Hill.

Since March 2020, Wolf has unilaterally renewed disaster declarations allowing him to close businesses, issue mandates, and implement restrictions citing the COVID-19 emergency.

“Everything is happening behind the black curtain. Nothing to see here. That’s not how you govern,” Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Greene, Beaver, Washington Counties) said.

Republicans are pushing a Constitutional amendment to limit a Governor’s emergency powers to 21 days. After that, he or she would need legislative approval.

“Show us the data and the science behind it and why it’s necessary to take certain actions,” state Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County) said.

Maybe the legislature agrees to extend the declaration. Or, “We have the ability to say ‘enough’s enough,'” Senator Martin said.

Senator Maria Collett (D-Montgomery, Bucks Counties) wants to make one thing clear.

“No other state legislature has done this regardless of party. regardless of size,” Senator Collett said.

Democrats can’t stop it, but they sure do oppose the idea of requiring legislative approval before an emergency declaration is made.

“In no way is this body equipped to make decisions in any sort of urgent manner,” Senator Katie Muth (D-Berks, Chester, Montgomery Counties) said.

Senator Collett and Muth are on the same page.

“All they’re thinking about is making a power grab today so they can pander to a base that mistakenly thinks that ending the emergency declaration in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis is key to economic recovery,” Senator Collett said.

The Governor calls it “dangerous,” saying disaster response could be hamstrung or ended after a short, arbitrary deadline.

But Wolf can’t veto a constitutional amendment. It’ll be up to the voters. And some can’t wait to make a declaration of their own.

“What the Governor did, and Dr. Levine, was completely out of control and it was bad for our state,” Flinchbaugh said.

Should a governor’s emergency powers be limited?

Think about it, because that question’s coming to the ballot during the primary election on May 18. 

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