A constitutional amendment that seeks to limit emergency declaration powers by the governor is set to go before voters at the ballot box.
Senate Bill 2, passed last week by the House and Senate, would amend Pennsylvania’s Constitution to require legislative approval of any emergency declaration from the executive branch that extend beyond 21 days. The legislation was authored in response to the 90-day emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which have been renewed three times over the last 10 months. Some lawmakers have argued that the governor has abused the powers of his office by continuing to renew declarations that directly impact their constituencies without soliciting input from the General Assembly.
While the PA Chamber agrees that emergencies must be dealt with appropriately, the fact remains that continued disaster declarations do come at a heavy cost to the business community. Last session, when discussing the governor’s ongoing emergency declaration related to the opioid abuse epidemic (a declaration that has been renewed 12 times over the last three years) our organization testified and sent communications to lawmakers about how these ongoing declarations impact the business community for example, by triggering the Price Gouging Act. This exposes businesses, manufacturers and retailers to potential enforcement action from the state’s Office of Attorney General for excessively long periods of time. For example, pricing restrictions from late winter snowstorms remained in place through the Fourth of July.
As required, constitutional amendments must be passed during two consecutive legislative sessions before they are placed on the ballot at the next election. Last year, the General Assembly passed S.B. 1166 – legislation that mirrors S.B. 2. As the same bill has now passed in two consecutive sessions, it will be presented to voters on the May primary ballot.