HARRISBURG – Future emergency disaster declarations could not be extended beyond 30 days without legislative approval under a proposed Constitutional Amendment approved by the Senate today, according to State Senator John DiSanto (Dauphin/Perry), who co-sponsored the measure.
Under current law, an emergency declaration from the governor can last up to 90 days and be renewed indefinitely. 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 also would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity. The change would bring the state Constitution into line with the equal protections afforded by 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 upon which Pennsylvania’s government was founded.
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. The General Assembly approved House Resolution 836 yesterday to end the disaster declaration and allow businesses to reopen statewide, although the governor has indicated he will challenge this action in court.
“This legislation is essential for preserving our system of self-governance as well as our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said DiSanto. “The indefinite consolidation of government control in any one individual makes it impossible to hold government accountable during a crisis and it is vitally important we reassert our constitutional principles and stand against government overreach.”
Because Senate Bill 1166 would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters via referendum.
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