Constitutional Amendment Would Restore Oversight of Gov.’s Emergency Powers

Jan. 13, 2021, Harrisburg, Pa. — The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee has passed House Bill 55, which proposes a constitutional amendment preventing a governor from extending a disaster emergency declaration beyond 21 days without the approval of the General Assembly. Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Stephen Bloom issued the following statement in response:

The Commonwealth Foundation endorses the constitutional amendments outlined in House Bill 55.

For 313 consecutive days, Gov. Wolf has exercised unilateral emergency powers which have significant impact on the daily lives and livelihoods of Pennsylvania citizens. Despite diligent efforts by the General Assembly to restore responsible legislative oversight on the governor’s executive authority, the state Supreme Court has allowed this unprecedented concentration of executive power to remain unchecked.

To restore a proper constitutional balance of legislative, executive and judicial powers, lawmakers have wisely chosen to pursue an amendment to the state’s constitution. This amendment will allow the citizens of Pennsylvania to vote directly on reasserting the peoples’ voice to determine public policy impacting their own lives and livelihoods through their duly elected representatives and senators.

Any reasonable person understands the necessity of allowing a governor to quickly respond to emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, any reasonable person also understands that no governor should be allowed to unilaterally make his or her unchecked emergency powers indefinite.

House Bill 55 also includes a distinct constitutional amendment proposal that adds race and ethnicity to Pa. Constitution Article 1, §29, which prohibits denial or abridgement of equal rights under the law.

Both amendments were passed with bipartisan support in both the Pa. House and Senate in SB 1166 during the previous legislative session, which concluded last year. If the amendments pass for a second time in both chambers during this session, they would be put to voters via a referendum on the ballot.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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