(HARRISBURG) – Future emergency disaster declarations could not be extended beyond 30 days without legislative approval under a proposed Constitutional Amendment approved by the Senate today, according to Senator Ryan P. Aument (R-36), who supported the measure.
Under current law, an emergency declaration from the governor can last up to 90 days and can be renewed indefinitely.
Senate Bill 1166 would limit the length of an emergency declaration to 30 days unless approved for a longer duration by the General Assembly. 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 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.
“One of the biggest failures of the COVID-19 response was the Governor’s refusal to work with anyone but those within his administration, creating an echo chamber of ideas and a lack of transparency,” Aument said. “The reforms proposed in this constitutional amendment will ensure collaboration during future emergencies between the co-equal branches of government in a way that will challenge assumptions about the best way to handle problems and take actions that can earn the confidence of the people of Pennsylvania.”
The need for the legislation has been highlighted by Governor Wolf’s unilateral decisions to use the disaster declaration for nearly 100 days to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through his business shutdown orders.
“Let me be clear, this reform is not partisan,” said Aument. “It is not a Republican attack against a Democratic Governor. Rather, it is essential to a properly functioning government, because the balance of power is central to a free and civil society. As such, we must protect this principle by ensuring that the people assembled in the form of the Legislature can operate as a co-equal branch of government during future emergencies, and by ensuring that no future governor – Republican or Democrat – can ever again have this much unchecked power over the people of this Commonwealth.”
Because Senate Bill 1166 would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters via referendum.
Aument also introduced legislation along with colleague Senator John Yudichak that would statutorily limit the length of the emergency declaration, similarly to Senate Bill 1166. Aument’s Senate Bill 1174 goes further to require the automatic creation of the Disaster and Recovery Task Force once an emergency is declared in Pennsylvania. Additionally, under the bill the Governor would be required to notify the General Assembly of any actions his or her Administration intends to take during the declared emergency at least 12 hours prior to the issuance of such orders.
The Senate approved a resolution on Tuesday to end the disaster declaration issued by Governor Wolf on March 6 and renewed on June 3.
CONTACT: Ryan Boop (717) 787-4420