Expired opioid declaration stems from new limits on Wolf’s powers. What does this mean for pandemic restrictions?

Written by on September 1, 2021

Expired opioid declaration stems from new limits on Wolf’s powers. What does this mean for pandemic restrictions?

By Megan Frank

September 1, 2021

Screenshot of Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 update press conference.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s opioid disaster declaration expired and the General Assembly refused to renew it.  

It had been in effect for three years and was re-upped 15 times by Gov. Tom Wolf.

But, Wolf’s no longer able to step in, due to a new state constitutional amendment that limits his powers. 

WLVR’s Megan Frank spoke with Lafayette College political science professor John Kincaid about what the changes mean. 

Listen to the story.

Megan Frank

“Professor John Kincaid, it’s great to be with you today.”

John Kincaid

“Well, thank you, it’s great for you to invite me.”

Frank

“So, there was a question on the May primary ballot — it asked voters if there should be a limit on the governor’s emergency powers.  Voters decided that it should be state lawmakers, not the governor, who can extend emergency declarations past 21 days.  Do you think this question would have ended up on the ballot in the first place, if COVID hadn’t happened?”

Kincaid

“Oh, no, absent the pandemic I don’t think we would have had this kind of result at all. The governor’s emergency powers and actions during COVID were so vast in scope and so different from anything historically, it created a unique situation, which was a window of opportunity for the Republicans in the legislature to get the amendment through and have them voted on by the people.”

Frank

“And, how much of this change to the governor’s powers is political?”

Kincaid

“So, we have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature and they’re very polarized on many issues, and COVID being one of them, that is coloring the process here.” 

Frank

“Due to this amendment, Gov. Wolf’s opioid disaster declaration is not being renewed. What are some other consequences of this change?” 

Kincaid

“We’re seeing a consequence right now, the governor has now taken a position that the state should mandate mask-wearing at all schools across the state. Now, he could issue a declaration, but it’d only last for 21 days.” 

Frank

“So, the governor still has the power to issue a mask mandate for schools, but you think it’s unlikely that he will because of limitations on his power?” 

Kincaid

“All he could get would be a 21-day mandate, and maybe not even that. Part of what the amendment provides is that the legislature can terminate an emergency before the end of the 21 days and it doesn’t require the consent of the governor. So, if he implemented a 21-day emergency mask mandate in schools, the next day, the legislature could turn around and terminate it.” 

Frank

“Do you think the governor will be hesitant to make declarations? 

Kincaid

“I think so. At least declarations, like mask-wearing, is another long-term mandate. The 21 days are not sufficient. That is a severe limitation on the governor’s emergency powers.” 

Frank

“Do you think an emergency declaration can still be effective, even if it lasts for only 21 days?”

Kincaid

“Well, a lot of emergency declarations are for incidents like a flood or a hurricane or something like that, so 21 days is probably not too problematic. But with the COVID situation, obviously, 21 days is far too short.” 

Frank

“Did Gov. Wolf win or lose on this issue of emergency powers?”

Kincaid

“Whether you think he’s a winner or a loser depends on which side of the political fence you stand on. I will not take a position on that, OK?”

Frank

“That’s OK, thanks for sharing your insight,”


Kincaid

“Ok, thank you very much, Megan, I appreciate it.”

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