HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives voted on party lines Tuesday to put an end to the governor’s pandemic disaster emergency declaration, less than a month after voters dramatically expanded lawmakers’ powers to control such declarations.
The 113-90 vote sent the Republican-penned measure over to the Senate, where the GOP also holds a substantial majority. If it passes the Senate, Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration, extended since March 2020, would expire as soon as the state’s May 18 primary election results are fully certified.
"The people have spoken," House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said after the vote. "That’s why it went to referendum."
House Democrats said the majority Republicans were playing games with people’s health and well-being, saying the end of the declaration would leave people homeless, children with less food and utilities cut off, among other consequences.
Wolf, a Democrat, has no role in signing or vetoing the resolution.
Hours before the House Republicans unveiled and pushed through an amendment to end the declaration almost immediately, Wolf said he was in favor of a proposal to extend his disaster declaration. He said policymakers needed to address the passage of the constitutional amendment.
"I support what they’re doing. We’re all trying to make this work out," he said. "And I have some maybe constitutional concerns at the margins but I think you know we’re all trying to make sure this works, this is the change that the people of Pennsylvania wanted, so it’s on us to make it work."
After an unrelated news conference outside the state Capitol, Wolf said "there are some things that are moot now that maybe weren’t two weeks ago now the things, mitigation’s been lifted. So there’s some things like that. But we’re all trying to figure out how to make it work."
State regulations that have been suspended or waived under the disaster declaration will go back into effect, although that process in some cases may take months. The resolution may also affect Pennsylvanians’ ability to get additional food subsidies.
It ends Wolf’s waiver of a work-search requirement for hundreds of thousands of people who collect unemployment benefits and stops the administration’s use of emergency procurement procedures.
(Office of Gov. Tom Wolf) ((Office of Gov. Tom Wolf) )
Other than a masking order, all mitigation orders have already been phased out, and Wolf’s administration had outlined a schedule for resumption of job search requirements.
House Republicans said that if the Senate also passes the resolution, Wolf will be prevented from issuing any new disaster declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wolf’s office has said repeatedly that measures designed to limit the spread of the virus are unaffected by the constitutional amendments because they are authorized under powers given to the health secretary.
In the state Senate, a vote was possible as early as Wednesday on a bill that would repeal the state secretary of health’s powers to order people who haven’t tested positive for a disease to obey travel restrictions, wear masks, undertake a specific hygienic practice or isolate at home.
It also would prohibit so-called "vaccine passports" by local governments, state agencies or colleges and universities.
Voters on May 18 put a 21-day limit on future disaster emergency declarations and gave lawmakers authority to extend them if both the House and Senate agree. The pair of constitutional amendments was put on the ballot by Republican majorities in the Legislature.
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