PA Senate Passes Two Bills With Bipartisan Support to Reign in Executive Branch Overreach
The Pennsylvania state Senate passed two pieces of legislation to throttle down Gov. Tom Wolf’s powers in a raucous debate after Republicans used parliamentary procedures to shut down Democrat attempts to amend the measures.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had to demand order in the chamber multiple times on Wednesday as Democrats seethed and shouted over his ending debate on a bill that reigns in the broad regulatory power of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The bill in question would require the environmental agency to get approval from the Legislature before it implements so-called greenhouse gas emission policies.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, would prevent the Keystone State from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state cap-and-trade scheme that would severely damage job growth and businesses in the state at a time of record unemployment.
Democrats wanted to amend and water down the measure with a variety of poison pill amendments, but Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, motioned to fast-track the bill for a vote, which passed despite the protest of Senate Democrats.
Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny complained that the move deprived the Democratic minority of its opportunity to discuss legislation.
“I don’t understand how you can sleep at night and go back to your constituents’” a frustrated Costa said on the floor. “You will rue the day you proceeded down this path.”
Other Democrats were equally as melodramatic.
“We stopped democracy on the floor of the Senate,” Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said, calling the Republican maneuver a “nuclear option.”
Corman, however, defended the GOP majority’s action, saying it was part of the procedural rules unanimously approved at the start of its legislative session in January 2019.
He also said the legislation provided an important check on the executive branch, which is in the midst of the regulatory process that will allow it to enter the cap-and-trade compact.
The bill ultimately garnered some bipartisan support, and senators voted 33-17 to send it to Wolf, just one vote less than what is needed to override the veto Wolf has already pledged.
Wolf said he also plans to veto another bipartisan Senate bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland and passed 39-11, allowing local school districts authority over school sports and extracurricular activities during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In July, Wolf suggested, citing no granular data or justification, that school sports should be held off until Jan. 2021. He has since given up that position.
Corman said districts needed their authority enshrined in state law so that Wolf could not amend guidelines for sports in the future.
“What the governor gives us, the governor can take us away,” Corman said on the floor. “Without statutory authority … the decision is still at the whim of the chief executive.”
The Senate will reconvene on Monday and Lancaster-blog will be there again.