Senate Approves Senator Ward’s Constitutional Amendment Requiring a Legislative Vote on Extended Disaster Declarations

Senator Ward urges the Senate to pass her proposed constitutional amendment requiring a legislative vote on extended disaster declaration.

Harrisburg – The state Senate today overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored  by Senator Kim Ward (R-39) that would limit future emergency disaster declarations to 30 days unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly.

Under current law, an emergency declaration by the governor can last up to 90 days and renewed by him indefinitely. 

 “Governor Wolf issued his emergency declaration on March 6. More than three months later, citizens and employers continue to live under his restrictions, even though Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 cases peaked seven weeks ago,” Ward said. “Any long-term state of emergency warrants the engagement of the General Assembly which is not presently required under our state Constitution.” 

Senate Bill 1166 would limit the length of an emergency declaration to 30 days unless approved for a longer duration by the General Assembly.  The bill was amended by the Senate to also provide 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.

The bill would ensure greater cooperation between all branches of government during an emergency and restore the system of checks and balances that Pennsylvania’s government was founded upon.

The need for the legislation has been highlighted by Governor Wolf’s refusal to work with the General Assembly during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The governor has used the disaster declaration for nearly 100 days to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through his business shutdown orders.

“As we have found over the last three months, the governor has repeatedly muted the concerns of constituents brought forth by their legislators,” the Senator said. “The governor does have the ability to veto legislation, but he should not have the autonomous power to restrict inherent and protected freedoms of Pennsylvanians for the length of time in which he has and continues to do so.” 

Senate Bill 1166 passed the Senate 44-6 with bi-partisan support and now goes to the state House of Representatives.  Because Senate Bill 1166 would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, its provisions must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions before it is placed on the ballot for consideration by Pennsylvania voters.

“This legislation will give the people the ability to exercise their right to alter how long-term emergency orders are imposed upon them,” Ward said.  “This Constitutional amendment will ensure Pennsylvanians are governed – not ruled – even in times of emergencies.” 

Also this week, the Senate and House approved a resolution to immediately end the disaster declaration issued by Governor Wolf on March 6 and renewed on June 3 for another 90 days. The Governor believes he has the ability to veto the resolution but nothing in statute gives him that authority.  This sets the stage for an expected legal challenge.

CONTACT: Caitrin Wilson cwilson@pasen.gov