Pa. voters give legislature more power to override governor during emergency declarations

Written by on May 20, 2021

Pa. voters give legislature more power to override governor during emergency declarations

The state’s current COVID-19 emergency order is set to expire this week.

By Sam Dunklau / WITF and Katie Meyer / WHYY

May 20, 2021

Photo | Hayden Mitman / WLVR

Pennsylvania voters have approved a pair of constitutional amendments to change how the state manages disasters, according to the Associated Press.

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House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff and Speaker Bryan Cutler applauded supporters for giving state lawmakers more oversight of a governor’s emergency response.

In a statement, both played down concerns they will now cancel the COVID-19 disaster declaration, saying they’re ready to “responsibly” manage the pandemic.

Former Republican Congressman and pro-amendment lobbyist Ryan Costello says the long-term nature of the pandemic helped make the case for voters.

“If at some point in time an emergency declaration no longer requires just a rapid response, it requires a longer term set of policies, the legislature has a constitutional role in determining what those policies are.”

He says it’s possible the legislature could now be heavy-handed during emergencies but that he doesn’t see that scenario playing out:

“Governing requires good-faith compromise by both sides, and I think most voters expect that from elected officials,” Costello says. 

Opponents of the effort have the option to take the issue to court in the coming months, but Republican House leaders are warning against such a move. A spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf says he’s not commenting on the vote until after it’s made official next month.

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