Wolf: Pa. voters need to ‘think carefully’ about emergency powers amendments | Friday Morning Coffee

May 7, 2021 7:15 am

Gov. Tom Wolf gives the 2021-2022 budget address virtually (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, his administration, and its Democratic allies in the General Assembly haven’t exactly been subtle about broadcasting their disdain for a pair of Republican-authored constitutional amendments on the May 18 primary ballot that would limit his emergency declaration powers — and those of all his successors.

The administration has held a series of press events, one as recently as Thursday, where officials plugged the flexibility the current declaration has given to healthcare providers

It’s also circulated op-Eds for publication — including this one right here. And Democrats have taken to social media to criticize the proposals, which were borne out of the administration’s pitched battles with the General Assembly over the extent of its emergency powers during the pandemic.

That PR blitz continued Thursday when Wolf taped an appearance on this Sunday’s installment of “Pennsylvania Newsmakers,” the weekly chat show hosted by veteran political analyst Terry Madonna.

There, Wolf argued against what he sees as the shortsightedness of the amendments, one of which would give the General Assembly the authority to unilaterally cancel a disaster declaration, even if the governor doesn’t agree, the online news site Spotlight PA reported.

The other would limit a disaster declaration to 21 days and require legislative authorization to extend it. Disaster declarations currently run 90 days and can be extended as often as the executive branch sees fit, Spotlight PA noted.

“There will be Republican governors in the future,” Wolf told Madonna (Full disclosure: I was a guest on another segment, and did not participate in the interview). “I’m not sure you want to hamstring a governor of any party.”

The amendments, Wolf continued, “would take away a governor’s ability to make decisions during a time of crisis, like a terrorist attack, a big snowstorm or a hurricane.

“In any democracy you need some way of reacting fast. If you take that power away or reduce it you take away our democracy’s ability to respond,” he continued.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Tuesday 8/11/20 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Republicans in the General Assembly have countered that the measures are a critical step toward reining in what they see as an out-of-control executive branch, and returning control to the voters.

“You will get to decide whether to take your power back and ensure that no Pennsylvania governor obtains unchecked power during an emergency,” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, wrote in a Feb. 23 op-Ed for the Morning Call of Allentown. “House Republicans believe no one person should stand in the way of a reasonable and bipartisan approach to emergency management and recovery.”

Speaking to Madonna in remarks taped for broadcast on Sunday, Wolf argued that the Legislature already has sufficient oversight power of emergency declarations, and that his office needed the flexibility afforded to it under current law.

“The Legislature is supposed to be a deliberative body and have oversight. They have that power. And the way we’re doing it right now is pretty good,” he said.

“As with every constitutional amendment, you have to think very carefully.” Wolf noted, acknowledging that Pennsylvania voters may agree or disagree with how he wielded his authority during the pandemic.

They’ll get the final say on May 18. All Pennsylvania voters, regardless of party affiliation, are allowed to vote on them.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
With budget season closing in, state lawmakers are trying to find a way to investigate and legislate at the same time. Stephen Caruso explains how investigation-mania has taken over the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

The Biden administration says it will permanently restore migratory bird protections undone by the Trump White HouseNational Correspondent Jacob Fischler reports.

Legislation now before Philadelphia City Council would provide healthcare benefits to contract workers at Philadelphia International Airport, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a University of Oregon scholar argues that the GOP’s hideous anti-transgender bills are the latest version of conservatives’ longtime strategy to rally their base. And state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester, says the state’s current waitlist system is an injustice to its disabilities community and needs to be fixed.

En la Estrella-Capital: Más de 741 mil votantes de Pensilvania han pedido boletas por correo. Y después del error de publicidad, la legislatura se mueve para traer el proceso de la reforma internamente.

Murder exonerations in Philadelphia are raising questions about decades’ worth of homicide investigations by city police, the Inquirer reports.
School leaders in the Pittsburgh area are pushing the state to increase education funding, the Post-Gazette reports.
Well, this is awful: 584 million gallons of untreated Harrisburg-area wastewater was discharged into the Susquehanna River in 2020, PennLive reports (paywall).
The state Treasury may owe up to $53 million to Lancaster-area residents, LancasterOnline reports.
As part of that coordinated effort also seen in the Pittsburgh area, school leaders in the Lehigh Valley similarly pushed state officials to increase education funding in the new state budget, the Morning Call reports.
In an appearance in Luzerne County, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., touted the reintroduction of his ‘Thin Blue Line Act,’ the Citizens’ Voice reports (paywall).
The York Daily Record profiles a barista who gets by on less than $2,000 a month.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Mike Glass (@orthodoxcaveman)

The Philadelphia school district has seen a rise in teen mental health issues amid rising gun violence and the pandemic, WHYY-FM reports.
Already saddled with a claims backlog, advocates tell WESA-FM that planned upgrades to Pa.’s unemployment system could make things worse.
GoErie profiles this year’s candidates for Erie City Council.
State Dems have expanded their communications teamPoliticsPA has the details.
With vaccine demand decreasing, community health centers are stepping in to try to close the reports.
Some of the Biden White House’s proposed tax hikes are facing opposition from farm state Democrats, Roll Call reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to reader Kirsten Page Giorgione, of Harrisburg, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
He was born in Liverpool, but singer/songwriter/guitarist Marty Willson-Piper spent years playing with Aussie psych-rockers The Church. These days, he’s a globe-trotter, who makes his home in Portugal. And he, too, logs another trip around the sun today. Here’s one of my favorites from his extensive solo catalogue: It’s a b-side from his 1992 solo LP ‘Spirit Level,’ called ‘In Circles.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina dropped a 2-1 decision to Chicago 
in overtime on Thursday — nonetheless, the ‘Canes extended their points streak to 13 games.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.