Proposed State Constitution Amendments to Limit Governor’s Emergency Powers and to Ensure “Racial Equality” Go to PA House
Amidst the constitutional showdown in the state supreme court between Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf and the state legislature, a pair of constitutional amendments — one limiting executive emergency powers, the other addressing “racial equality” — passed the Pennsylvania Senate and now goes to the state House of Representatives.
This queer pairing of two unrelated amendments – one clearly that needs to be decided for clarity, the other more like a legislative virtue signal – is basically a somewhat cynical parliamentary move to ensure both amendments pass both chambers with bipartisan support.
Pennsylvania’s amendment process requires that a resolution pass both chambers of the legislature by simple majority and then, after being advertised in newspapers in all 67 of Pennsylvania counties, it goes to voters as a ballot question.
If the amendments were to eventually reach the ballot, they would do so separately, meaning that a voter could theoretically vote for one and not the other.
The first amendment would require legislative approval for a disaster emergency declaration to last longer than 30 days. (This is the crux of the issue of Gov. Wolf’s heavy-handed lockdown and the legislature’s current action to end his powers.)
The second amendment in question grants extra legal protections on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Constraining the governor’s authority during emergencies has been pushed by a bipartisan coalition in both houses
The next stop for the amendments is the House State Government Committee, where Chairman Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) said he has “no specific plans at this point” to consider them.
The right of the governor to order business closures and the governor’s phased reopening plan could continue without emergency powers is a question currently before the state Supreme Court.
Supporters of the amendment say that recalibrating checks and balances in times of emergency is important no matter what happens in the current dispute.
“A proposed constitutional amendment is what I consider the long game. It is a serious and dramatic remedy for when the operating principles of state government diverge too far from the checks and balances that are central components to our system,” said Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne). “It is time for the legislative branch to have a shared responsibility to help the people of Pennsylvania prepare, recover, and respond to emergencies.”
The Pennsylvania Constitution already forbids state government from discrimination on the basis of color and race, so it’s unclear why it’s needed except as a sign of the times where legislators want to appease protesters and mobs with redundant gestures, laws and resolutions.