By Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, Senator Scott Martin and Senator John DiSanto
The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges that clearly require the cooperation of all branches and levels of government. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in Pennsylvania, where Governor Wolf has maintained nearly absolute power to take any action he has deemed necessary over the past year, regardless of the opinion of lawmakers or the general public, and without any sense of transparency to justify his actions.
As a result, an extraordinary number of employers have faced shutdowns and restrictions that go far beyond the recommendations of national health experts – unless a business benefited from a secretive and inconsistent waiver process the Wolf Administration oversaw. He displaced workers who were thrust into an unemployment system that could not handle the volume of new claims, the initial rollout of the vaccine was badly botched, and the needs of long-term care residents have been routinely ignored, all to the detriment of our citizens.
Lawmakers recently approved a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that we sponsored that would provide a stronger system of checks and balances in how state government responds to emergencies to avoid these kinds of negative consequences. The measure would give voters the final say on whether the governor should be permitted to keep an emergency declaration in place for an indefinite period of time, or whether lawmakers should have the power to limit future emergency declarations if the governor abuses his power or deeply infringes on the rights of citizens.
The intent of this amendment is not to further divide state government; the goal is to require the governor to work collaboratively with lawmakers and local emergency officials to avoid the kind of negative consequences we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, the Wolf Administration is doing everything in its power to prevent this amendment from being approved by voters. The governor’s latest attack on this bipartisan effort to restore the balance of power came last week, when the Department of State grossly perverted the language of the amendment that will appear on the ballot for voters this spring.
Instead of simply informing voters what the amendment would do, Governor Wolf’s Department of State included politically charged and prejudicial language into the ballot question to scare Pennsylvanians into voting against their own interests. The slanted and biased wording of these questions is a disgusting and clear attempt to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by presenting the amendment as a threat to the ability of state agencies to respond to emergencies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, nothing in the bill would prevent the governor and state agencies from responding to any emergency situation. Any governor could declare a state of emergency to respond in the days following any sort of catastrophe; however, the amendment would ensure these powers would not be open-ended and the Governor is still accountable to the citizens of this Commonwealth.
Amending the state Constitution is intended to be a deliberative process between the General Assembly and the people of Pennsylvania. The only role of the Executive Branch is to present the question to voters in a fair, even-handed way. It is deeply disappointing that Governor Wolf, his Administration, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro who approves the wording, have proven incapable of performing that one simple task without attempting to subvert this process for political gain.
The only way we can fight back against the governor’s political gambit is by ensuring that this amendment is approved at the ballot box – no matter how badly the questions are worded.
Our plea to Pennsylvanians is simply this: do not allow Governor Wolf to manipulate you. Do not allow him to succeed in consolidating the power to run, or ruin, your life. Vote YES on the proposed constitutional amendments this spring.
CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535