Frustrated with what some see as an overreach by Gov. Tom Wolf in his use of emergency powers, a Republican-controlled House Committee Thursday set in motion the so-called nuclear option that would shut down the governor’s emergency declaration during the pandemic.
“Flattening the (COVID-19) curve is one thing,” said Rep. Mark Gillen, R-Berks and Lancaster counties. “Flattening the economy is another and that is what’s going on right now.”
The resolution, approved along party lines by the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Management, now goes to the full House next week where it could be debated.
“We are hearing from our people and they are just fed up.,” Rep, Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon County, said after the hearing. “It’s time to stop this silliness.”
The vote “is only a committee proceeding advancing the bill,” said House Republican spokesman Mike Straub. “We will discuss it with all of our members when we are back next week and determine potential next steps.”
Odds are steep against final passage because it would require Democrats, in the minority of both chambers, to vote against the Democratic governor.
Wolf’s 90-day emergency declaration expires June 4 and Committee Chairman Stephen Barrar, R-Chester and Delaware County, said he believes Wolf will renew the declaration. Said Diamond, “I think it is a given he will.”
The “public is increasingly angry” at Wolf for perceived loss of “God-given rights” such as working for a living, pursuit of happiness, even confusion over the right to worship because of conflict with stay-at-home orders, Diamond said.
Seeing “civil unrest” in Pennsylvania isn’t out of the question, he said.
Small businesses that had to close under government shut down orders, may never re-open, Diamond and other GOP lawmakers said.
“We have flattened the curve because of the actions of Governor Wolf,” said Rep. Chris Sainato, of Lawrence County and ranking Democrat on committee. Flattening the curve refers to COVID-19 caseloads hitting a peak and no longer increasing. “I don’t think we should be taking his power away at this time.”
The governor’s emergency powers are derived from a 1978 law. That law also gives the General Assembly the power to shut down an emergency declaration. As a special type of legislation, a Concurrent Resolution, it could pass with approval of only Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
Under the Constitution, however, Wolf could veto it. So in reality, Democratic support is needed. It takes a two-thirds rather than a majority vote to override a veto.
The emergency power enabled the governor to decide which businesses were life-sustaining, which were non-essential, and which deserved waivers – a process criticized as secretive and arbitrary.
Diamond noted the legislature’s passage of bills to re-open certain sectors of the economy that Wolf vetoed.