The Lead

Despite vote to limit emergency powers, Pa. Gov. Wolf extends COVID-19 disaster declaration

By: - May 20, 2021 3:30 pm

Governor Tom Wolf speaking with the press. Governor Tom Wolf today presented his fall legislative agenda for worker and family support and protections, COVID-19 recovery, and government reform. The initiatives were introduced to focus the General Assembly after a spring and summer of Republican efforts to curtail the administration’s efforts to manage the pandemic and keep the public safe. Harrisburg, PA – August 25, 2020

Pennsylvania voters decided to restrict his emergency powers, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has renewed the COVID-19 disaster declaration — which was set to expire Thursday — for the fifth time.

The decision comes two days after Pennsylvanians voted in favor of limiting declarations to 21 days and allowing the Legislature to end an emergency with a majority vote. The constitutional amendments passed with more than 53 percent of the vote — roughly 1 million votes each, according to unofficial tallies.

During a Wednesday press conference, Wolf said he would honor the referenda results. 

But in a statement his office released Thursday, Wolf said the declaration allows more medical professionals to administer vaccines, provides families with access to food, and ensures counties and businesses are eligible for federal disaster recovery funding.

“COVID-19 vaccinations have increased dramatically in recent weeks and we are making significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said. “As previously announced, we are lifting all mitigation measures on Memorial Day, but we need just a little more time under this current disaster declaration to ensure that we do not risk valuable resources that will help Pennsylvania recover from the pandemic.

Though restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on May 31, the mask mandate will be in effect until 70 percent of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated.

In a pandemic rebuke, Pa. voters move to limit Wolf’s emergency powers; approve referenda questions on racial justice and fire depts

House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the Capital-Star Wednesday that the chamber’s majority Republican leadership will discuss what to do when it reconvenes for voting sessions next week.

Gottesman said that the caucus’ legal analysis concluded that lawmakers could take action at that point to end Wolf’s emergency declarations, even if the amendment still isn’t official.

Following the announcement of the extension, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said legislative leaders engaged with the governor to discuss next steps. In the future, Ward said the General Assembly will operate under the framework established by the constitutional changes approved during the primary. 

“As part of this transition, the governor will be handing over specific information to the General Assembly that has not been shared previously,” Ward said in a statement. “These details are needed by the General Assembly to take the necessary next steps to expedite the reopening of our state.”

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