As calls mounted in the state Capitol for lawmakers to reform Pennsylvania’s policing tactics and oversight, a Senate committee advanced a measure Monday to terminate the state’s emergency declaration for COVID-19.
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted 7-4 on party lines Monday to advance a resolution repealing the declaration that Gov. Tom Wolf issued in March and renewed in May, which has armed him with broad executive powers to contain the pandemic.
The House approved a version of the same measure last month in a late night, 117-85 vote.
Since then, stay-at-home orders have lifted in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. Half the counties have entered the “green phase” of the state’s three-tiered reopening plan, which allows all businesses to reopen as long as they limit their indoor capacities and follow federal guidelines for social distancing.
The resolution the House passed last month was aimed at repealing Wolf’s regulations for business during the pandemic.
But an amendment that Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, introduced Monday broadened the scope of the resolution so that it would terminate Wolf’s emergency declaration in full.
Republicans who supported the measure argued that Wolf flouted public will this spring when he repeatedly vetoed legislation that would loosen his shutdown orders.
Democratic lawmakers, however, said that executive power is essential during emergencies.
Sen. Pam Iovino, D-Allegheny, said crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic require “a single chief decision-maker” with experts guiding his decisions.
“[This resolution] would strip our commonwealth’s chief decision maker of that command and authority,” Iovino said.
Democrats further said that ending Pennsylvania’s emergency declaration now would jeopardize the state’s eligibility for federal relief funding.
Mastriano said he received personal assurances from the White House that the state would still qualify for federal relief funds if it terminated its emergency declaration.
But Democrats such as Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, said they would not vote for the measure until those assurances were in writing.
The resolution can now advance to the full Senate for a floor vote.
House Republican leaders said last month that a state Supreme Court ruling supports their right to end Wolf’s emergency orders. But they are less certain whether Wolf could veto the resolution, or simply issue a new declaration after the current one ends.