Pa. Governor’s Emergency Powers Out of Step with Most States

Pennsylvania’s COVID state of emergency declaration, which allows the Governor to shut down restaurants, stores or schools with little notice, has been in effect for over 300 days. This despite the legislature’s attempt to end the emergency declaration in July 2020.

Pennsylvania’s emergency powers rules make our state sixth-worst in the nation, tied with others like New York and Delaware, according to the Maine Policy Institute’s Balance of Power Index. The report identifies our governor as having some of the broadest emergency powers, including consideration of how an emergency is declared and terminated; its length; the ability to alter existing laws; and how long extraordinary measures can continue after termination of the order.

A plain reading of state law says the legislature can curtail the governor’s emergency powers with a concurrent resolution, but the partisan State Supreme Court ignored the law last year by requiring the governor to sign the concurrent resolution—granting him veto powers over one of the only checks on his power.

Pennsylvania’s prolonged mitigation measures are among the most severe, harming livelihoods and leading to higher deaths per million than states with fewer restrictions like Florida, Ohio, and Texas. For example:

  1. Wallethub ranked Pennsylvania as the second most restricted state in the nation. Only California has more restrictions on businesses, travel, and individual restrictions like mask mandates.
  2. Leisure and hospitality employers are still reporting a 25% drop in jobs compared to last year. Last summer, industry leaders estimated about half of the 600,000 Pennsylvanians who work in the restaurant industry have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently.
  3. Reservation data from OpenTable shows restaurants on the platform in Pittsburgh are down 75% from one year ago. By contrast, Florida has experienced a 30% to 50% reservation decrease. Indoor dining in Philadelphia is prohibited until January 16th.
  4. CNN’s back-to-normal Index ranks Pennsylvania 8th worst in economic recovery, with only California, New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Illinois experiencing more COVID restrictions.
  5. The SPN state jobs report from November estimates payroll jobs are down 459,000 from January 2020. That puts Pennsylvania 46th in recovering payroll jobs.

If one individual can dramatically upend the day-to-day lives of Pennsylvanians without consent from other elected officials, that power is bound to be overused or abused. HB 55, sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove, passed committee on January 13th and restores the balance of power in the commonwealth by restoring lawmakers’ ability to end an emergency after 21 days, or agree to extend a declaration of emergency in coordination with the governor.

The genius of our government and the secret to America’s and Pennsylvania’s prosperity is three co-equal branches of government. That distribution of power makes it difficult to infringe on the freedom of our friends and neighbors to live their dreams and pursue their happiness. It’s critical that we restore the balance of power in Pennsylvania via HB 55.