EXCLUSIVE: The Emergency Declaration Shutdown in Pennsylvania is Over on Friday, and the Secretary of Health Has No Power for a Blanket Order Shutting Down Businesses [UPDATED]
The reopening of Pennsylvania and the end of the emergency declaration is now de facto law, regardless of what the governor or Democrats claim, sources tell Lancaster-blog.
Further, the Secretary of Health has no power to continue the state’s shutdown.
As first and exclusively reported by Lancaster-blog, the Republican-led State Senate on Tuesday evening passed 31-19 and put directly into the record a resolution that ends Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 lockdown and emergency declaration, effectively ending the state shutdown immediately.
The leadership of the State House of representatives have threatened legal action should Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf or Secretary of Health Rachel Levine try to interfere with the General Assembly’s ending of the state of emergency.
“If the governor chooses to openly violate the plain reading of the law, we will examine all legal actions available to us to act in the best interest of the residents of the commonwealth,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said Wednesday.
Senate Republicans filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Wednesday afternoon asking the appellate bench to “command” Wolf to terminate his disaster declaration.
“Governor Wolf’s failure to issue an executive order or proclamation ending the COVID-19 state of disaster emergency is unlawful, unreasonable, and without just cause,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in the lawsuit. “Governor Wolf has no discretion to refuse to issue an executive order or proclamation ending the COVID-19 state of disaster emergency.”
In an earlier letter to House members, Wolf threatened action and said the resolution that cleared the Legislature would put federal funding at risk and “cripple the commonwealth’s ability to procure resources quickly and decisively.”
Wolf’s office said he will “disapprove” the resolution if it makes it to his desk, but Republicans say it does not need his signature and he doesn’t have the power to veto it.
The Legislature’s plan is to deliver the resolution to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s office directly, bypassing the governor. It will be entered into the record on Friday.
Wolf’s office also claimed, without providing any supporting law, that Levine, a transgender pediatrician with no public health policy experience who relies on unsupported models to support Wolf’s authoritarian positions, could still keep businesses shutdown.
“This resolution would not affect the secretary of health’s order including business closure orders, building safety orders, and business safety orders, and therefore the administration’s phased reopening plan and associated orders would remain in place,” Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said in an email.
Legal experts Lancaster-blog spoke to said that Levine does not have such authority, especially with the removal of the emergency declaration. The Health Secretary may have the power to shut down individual businesses that are an imminent health threat, but not a blanket, pre-emptive shutdown based on vague precautions.
“That’s not how his power of office works,” a lawyer said.
Republicans say that Wolf has overstepped his authority, including with a process by which businesses could seek waivers that they said had been too secretive. “It has become apparent that for the entire state, these decisions are being made by one man, the governor,” argued Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair. “How can we allow one man to continue to make poor decisions for millions?”
[Headline corrected: Originally it read “Secretary of State” not “Secretary of Health.]