HARRISBURG – Future emergency disaster declarations could not be extended beyond 21 days without legislative approval under a proposed Constitutional Amendment given final approval 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 21 days unless approved for a longer duration by the General Assembly through a concurrent resolution. The General Assembly could also terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration issued by executive order or proclamation without presenting the concurrent resolution to the Governor for approval.
Additionally, Senate Bill 1166 would require the Governor to indicate the nature, each area threatened and the conditions of the disaster, including whether the disaster is a natural disaster, military emergency, public health emergency, technological disaster or other general emergency as defined by statute.
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 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 four months to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through inconsistent business shutdown orders. This proposed amendment, if ultimately approved by the citizens of our state, 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 indefinite consolidation of government control in any one individual makes it impossible to hold government accountable during a crisis, and we have seen the devastating consequences for our lives and livelihoods,” said DiSanto. “Today’s vote stands up against government overreach and is essential for preserving our system of self-governance as well as our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Because Senate Bill 1166 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in the next legislative session and be approved by voters via referendum.
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