The state legislature flexed its new constitutional authority last week and voted to end Governor Tom Wolf’s ongoing COVID-19 Disaster Emergency Declaration. The concurrent resolution received bipartisan votes in both chambers, with one Democrat joining all 28 Republicans and one Independent in the Senate and eight Democrats voting with all 113 Republicans in the House to approve the measure.
During floor remarks, Republicans argued that with a majority of the Wolf administration’s mitigation orders having already been lifted, an increase in the number of vaccinations and a decrease in COVID caseloads, an emergency declaration was no longer necessary. The administration – which had strongly opposed giving the General Assembly the authority to end emergency declarations with a simple majority – and legislative Democrats raised concern over the future of programs and federal funding that tied to the emergency declaration.
To that point, the General Assembly also passed legislation – which the governor signed into law – that extends the regulatory flexibility the administration utilized over the past year as part of the disaster declaration. This extension lasts until Sept. 30.
May Primary Election voters approved two changes to the state’s constitution as it relates to a governor’s emergency powers. The first measure gives the General Assembly the ability to end or extend an emergency disaster declaration by a simple majority vote. The second measure would limit emergency disaster declarations to 21 days, but allow the General Assembly to approve an extension via a concurrent resolution. Prior to these changes, governors could issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it indefinitely, and the General Assembly could only end a declaration by a 2/3 majority vote. The PA Chamber had supported the constitutional amendments as a way to restore checks and balances to the emergency declaration process.
According to the Wolf administration, the declaration will officially end once the state certifies the May 18 Primary Election results.