The Pennsylvania Senate and House, both controlled by Republicans, passed a resolution Tuesday night to terminate Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s 3-month-old emergency disaster declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic. That declaration “has provided the legal basis for much of the commonwealth’s response to the coronavirus,” PA Post’s Benjamin Pontz reported. “A spokesperson for Wolf said he would disapprove the resolution once it reaches his desk,” Spotlight PA’s Cynthia Fernandez added Thursday. “(But) Republicans don’t plan on presenting the resolution to Wolf at all.” The actions set up a legal battle between the Wolf administration and Republicans.
We’ve had separate criticisms for Democratic and Republican state elected officials over the past three months, variously questioning their decisions, motives and commitment to transparency amid a health crisis that has plunged Pennsylvania and the nation into fear, heartbreak and uncertainty about the future.
But our criticism now is aimed fully at both parties:
Stop the petty partisan maneuvers.
Stop spending time on dueling press releases, news conferences and social media posts.
And stop — we beg of you — this mad dash toward a court battle over who’s in charge.
Stop it all.
Just govern. Just lead.
That’s what Pennsylvanians want.
In case you stopped noticing, we’re still in the midst of a deadly epidemic that has overturned this generation and will likely define the world for the next one. As of Sunday, there had been more than 115,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States, including more than 6,000 across Pennsylvania. Americans are still dying at a rate of about 1,000 per day. In many parts of the nation, confirmed cases are ticking back upward.
What we need — what we have needed all along — is strong bipartisan leadership. Not squabbling over power and decision-making.
And, yes, we’re still talking to both parties. No one is off the hook here.
We are disappointed by what unfolded in Harrisburg last week, and our stomachs are turning at the thought that more time may be wasted on court battles than on helping Pennsylvanians this summer.
In recapping last week’s absurd events, we need only know that they are framed as the “nuclear option” to understand that this not how Harrisburg — or any responsible government — is supposed to function.
The concurrent resolution to terminate Wolf's coronavirus emergency declaration passed “largely along party lines,” as The Associated Press described it. It passed by votes of 31-19 in the state Senate and 121-81 in the state House.
Republicans “say state law requires Wolf to end his (emergency) declaration now that a majority of lawmakers have approved the resolution,” Spotlight PA’s Fernandez reported for a story that appeared in Thursday’s LNP | LancasterOnline. (Spotlight PA is an independent newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer, with partners including LNP Media Group.)
Specifically, Republicans point to this passage in state law: “The General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time. Thereupon, the governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency.”
The Wolf administration has a counterargument to this, Fernandez said. “Democrats and some legal scholars have pointed to a section of the Pennsylvania Constitution that gives Wolf the power to approve or disapprove ‘every order, resolution, or vote,’ except on the question of adjournment, before it goes into effect,” she wrote.
That all sounds like a swell time for lawyers and constitutional scholars. But not so swell for Pennsylvanians who need their elected officials to work together and govern in this moment.
Alas, late Friday, Wolf asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “to intervene in his dispute with legislative Republicans who are trying to end pandemic restrictions he imposed in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus,” the AP reported.
So a court battle it is, when Harrisburg should be prioritizing the safe and measured reopening of businesses, schools and other institutions across Pennsylvania.
And ensuring that hospitals and long-term care facilities have the resources they need.
And ensuring that the most vulnerable state residents are still getting life-sustaining assistance and services during this crisis.
And building a new vision for the state budget for 2021 and beyond that positions Pennsylvania for recovery and prosperity in the “new normal.”
And — because there is an undeniable and incredibly necessary movement for racial justice unfolding across our nation — reforming the state’s policing and criminal justice systems.
We don’t have to look back far to see when the situation was less divisive in our state Capitol. As PA Post’s Pontz noted in a May 22 article, “In the early days of the crisis, there was at least some sense of comity and cooperation between Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-led state Legislature. The Legislature authorized new funding to purchase medical equipment, waived the requirement for a school year to total 180 days, and postponed the Pa. primary election.”
Harrisburg must get back to that cooperation, for the good of all Pennsylvania.
We’re not asking Republicans and Democrats to agree on everything.
We’re asking them to cease these paralyzing fights that are happening at the worst possible time.
Work together. Compromise. Talk to each other instead of at each other through press releases and tweets.
Set an example that future Pennsylvanians will be proud to look back on when we are past the worst of these times.
The stakes are too high to do anything less.