The State Senate this week approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the length of future emergency disaster declarations unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly, moving it one step closer to a voter referendum, according to Senator Pat Stefano (R-32), who strongly supported the measure.
“The current emergency declaration has been in place for over ten months. The blanket authority given to the Executive Branch under this declaration has been used to change and suspend state laws, prevent shuttered businesses from reopening with safety measures in place, and spend state and federal taxpayer dollars with no oversight or input from the legislature,” Stefano said. “This measure is important to ensure that there are checks and balances in place so that no governor will have unilateral power to circumvent the Constitution to enforce his or her will on the people.”
Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Under Senate Bill 2, the emergency declaration would be limited to 21 days unless the General Assembly approved a longer duration. It also clarifies that the legislature is not required to present the resolution ending the declaration to the governor for his consideration.
“Many of the problems that occurred during the response to COVID-19 were due to the governor’s exercise of unilateral authority,” Stefano said. “These problems included 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 also provides for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.
Senate Bill 2 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. As a constitutional amendment, the legislation must be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions before being put on the ballot for voters to decide. The measure was approved by the General Assembly in the previous legislative session.