In one of their early actions in the 2021-22 legislative session, the state House and Senate both passed bills last week that seek to limit the executive branch’s powers to continuously renew emergency disaster declarations.
Senate Bill 2 and H.B. 55 would amend Pennsylvania’s Constitution to require legislative approval of any emergency declarations from the executive branch that extend beyond 21 days. The legislation appears intended to address the declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been renewed three times over the last 10 months. Some lawmakers are arguing that the governor has abused the power 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 trigger 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.
House Bill 55 now awaits further consideration in the Senate; while S.B. 2 awaits further action in the House.