Retired United States Marine Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Hill talks about why openong up Pennsylvania is so important. York Daily Record
Wielding a little-known law often used during natural disasters, Gov. Tom Wolf has closed down schools, bars, restaurants, theaters and stadiums to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the middle of March, he’s been able to temporarily suspend elective surgeries, halt evictions and shutter barbershops — just a smattering of the measures that have intruded deeply into the everyday lives of Pennsylvanians.
The jarring impact on daily life in Pennsylvania has brought new attention to Wolf and the state’s emergency powers law, created to give the governor the ability to respond quickly to crises. It has also unleashed a debate over whether the law is necessary to save lives in a crisis, or merely grants the governor unilateral power.
That authority — rarely questioned before — is being tested in the courts as business groups, conservative activists, and the Republican-controlled Legislature push to change the law or undo Wolf’s actions entirely.
The General Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday to terminate the COVID-19 disaster emergency Wolf issued in March and extended earlier in June. The Senate voted 31-19, with two Democrats siding with Republicans, in favor of the resolution.
The resolution could now lead to a legal battle, and if legislators don’t reach an agreement on use of the powers, the courts could decide for them.
“The governor will be statutorily required to issue an order terminating the declaration in compliance with section 7301 if the House passes the resolution as adopted by the Senate,” Senate GOP spokesperson Jennifer Kocher wrote in a tweet. “He has no discretion in this matter.”
Who gets to decide when Pennsylvania’s emergency declaration ends?
Barring a major change Thursday, Pennsylvania could wake up Friday in a state where the governor says an emergency exists and lawmakers say it no longer does.
“Governor, the people have spoken,” said State Rep. Russ Diamond of Lebanon. Diamond sponsored the resolution and addressed a crowd on the stairs of the capitol Wednesday afternoon. “Our vote last night is our message to you, don’t ignore us. We are experts in communicating with our community, you have ignored us from the beginning. It’ time to stop. Sign the proclamation, let’s get on with the business of running Pennsylvania.”
Wolf, a Democrat, says he does not need a green light from lawmakers to continue the state of emergency and dozens of emergency executive orders.
“I understand that it’s frustrating, and I understand the hardships,” Wolf said during a news conference on Wednesday. “But we have to stay focused on recovery and that ultimately is what’s going to help business. A crisis calls on all of us to make the right decisions even when its hard.”
He says his actions are all about saving lives, and the slowing growth in the number of COVID-19 cases shows the orders — and the actions Pennsylvanians have taken in following them — are working. Pennsylvania can gradually restart, based on data and safety protocols, but the worst thing for the economy would be a second spike, he said.
Republicans say the stay-at-home order, even with some recent loosening, is killing the economy. They say it is possible to protect public health, return to work safely, and maintain full constitutional rights, all at the same time. And they say parts of the state that have seen relatively few cases of the coronavirus should not be under the same restrictions as hard-hit Philadelphia.
Wolf has pushed back, saying the same rural districts with relatively few COVID-19 cases also have hospital systems least well-equipped to handle a surge.
“Ending the disaster declaration is not part of the plan,” Wolf said.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO.
Approximately 150 protesters chanted and carried signs telling Wolf they want Pennsylvania to get back to work. York Daily Record
What would happen if the emergency declaration was ended?
Ending the emergency declaration would not reopen businesses, Wolf said. Rather, it would do the following:
- Burdensome eligibility requirements for more than a million Unemployment Compensation claimants would immediately go back into effect, and employers across the commonwealth would no longer receive relief from charges.
- Certification requirements under the public-school code and child protective services law would end.
- A school meal eligibility waiver, which has allowed more than 300 meal sites to open for distribution of food to school-age children in need, would end.
- Telehealth and other health care services provided by out-of-state providers for Pennsylvanians would end.
- Utility assistance for thousands of families and individuals would end, leaving people without water or electricity.
- Hospitals and alternative care sites would no longer be able to add capacity or repurpose facilities (i.e., beds) without having to abide by the 60-day notice requirement.
- License renewal and training requirement suspensions for health care professionals, child care workers, direct care workers, direct support professionals, among other professional groups who provide life sustaining services to children, seniors, and vulnerable residents would end, meaning all of these workers would need to choose between not returning to work until those credentials could be renewed or trainings completed and the option of returning to work with the understanding that they are practicing out of compliance with Pennsylvania law and regulation, very well opening themselves up to personal liability.
- PennDOT waivers for commercial motor vehicle weight limitations and permitting requirements for the transport and delivery of agricultural feed, food, and dairy products, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies to assist in supply chain challenges would end and motor carriers would be restricted in their ability to directly assist in supporting emergency relief efforts necessary to respond to the pandemic.
- Mortgage foreclosure and eviction moratoriums that offer protection to vulnerable Pennsylvanians at risk of losing their homes during the pandemic would end.
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