Pennsylvania Voters Roll Back Governor’s Emergency Powers

Pennsylvania voters this week approved two constitutional amendments to limit the governor’s power to extend emergency declarations – a hot button issue throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first constitutional amendment will allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution, which would not require the governor’s signature, to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration.

The second constitutional amendment will limit emergency declarations to 21 days. Any extension beyond that time period will require legislative approval. It will also give more power to the General Assembly to manage disasters and emergencies.

Currently, the Pennsylvania constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote by lawmakers to end a governor’s disaster declaration and, legally, the governor could issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it without any limitations.

According to The Hill:

Official vote tallies Wednesday morning showed both measures winning by about 7 percentage points, though thousands of ballots are left to count. About 71 percent of precincts have reported results already.

Support for the measures broke down largely along partisan lines, according to the early vote tallies. Voters in rural and exurban counties largely approved the move to limit a governor’s power.

Both questions were failing by wide margins in Philadelphia and in surrounding suburbs in Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties.

In Maryland, one such proposal was introduced during the 2021 session, but did not advance in the General Assembly. HB 17, introduced by Delegate Cox, would have curtailed the Maryland governor’s executive authority, and placed much more responsibility for longer-term emergency actions in the hands of the General Assembly.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: National Debate on Health-Triggered “Shutdown Powers” Continues