Senate Committee Advances Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Strengthen Emergency Response

HARRISBURG –The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Senator Pat Stefano (R-32), approved a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution today to bolster the state’s efforts to respond to emergencies by limiting the length of future disaster declarations, according to prime sponsors Senators John DiSanto and (R-15) and Scott Martin (R-13).

The measure is also sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39).

Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Governor Wolf has used the disaster declaration for nearly a year to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through his business shutdown orders.

This consolidation of power has led to numerous problems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including flawed guidance that negatively impacted long-term care settings, delayed Unemployment Compensation payments to displaced workers, and individual businesses and entire industries being shuttered longer than necessary.

Senate Bill 2 would limit emergency declarations to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves a longer duration. Limiting the length of an emergency declaration 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.

In encouraging passage of the bill, Senator DiSanto said, “I have personally talked to hundreds of constituents and received thousands of emails from those harmed by the governor’s orders. With extraordinary powers comes extraordinary responsibility, and regrettably this administration has demonstrated an utter lack of transparency and accountability.”

“Allowing one person to hold such an extraordinary amount of power for an extended period of time will inevitably lead to oversights and mistakes that harm Pennsylvania citizens,” Senator Martin said. “This Constitutional amendment would restore the balance of power and ensure the voice of the people is represented as we respond to future disasters.”

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.

Because Senate Bill 2 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. The bill was approved by the General Assembly during the last legislative session.

 

CONTACT:         Chuck Erdman cerdman@pasen.gov (Senator DiSanto)
                              Terry Trego ttrego@pasen.gov (Senator Martin)