Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives voted to end Governor Tom Wolf’s coronavirus Disaster Emergency declaration Tuesday night.
The vote on concurrent Resolution 836 was 121-81. It got unanimous support from Republicans in the House plus 12 members of the Democrat caucus.
Among those representing Schuylkill County in the State House, Representatives Jerry Knowles and Mike Tobash voted in favor of ending the Disaster Emergency. Representative Neal Goodman voted against it.
Rep. Tobash posted this to his Facebook page soon after the vote:
Earlier Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate voted to approve HR 836 and send it back to the House for a concurrence vote. That vote also garnered some bipartisan support, passing the Senate 31-19.
By rule, Republicans argue citing legal precedent, Governor Wolf must now sign a proclamation ending his coronavirus Disaster Emergency declaration.
Rep. Andrew Lewis, who recently tested positively for COVID-19 sent this to constituents on Facebook soon after the vote:
Pennsylvania House Votes to End Disaster Emergency – Is It Really Over?
Rep. Russ Diamond, who sponsored the original HR836 told us on Facebook when we asked if businesses can legally reopen tomorrow, “Terminated means it’s over.”
That means the Green, Yellow, and Red phases … done.
Business closure orders? Done.
Try as they might, House Democrats tried arguing that Tuesday’s vote in the House would not end the Disaster Emergency declaration. They argued that this must be presented to Governor Wolf and he had the power to veto it.
However, Republicans argued that does not apply in the passing of a concurrent resolution in relation to a disaster emergency. They said that Article 3, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution – which requires presentment of a concurrent vote to the governor, which he could veto – only applies to legislation.
Wolf, they say, issued a Disaster Emergency declaration under his power granted by Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Services Code. Republicans said they’re acting on Tuesday under that same code. (See the bottom of this article under the “Update” subheading.)
Majority Leader Rep. Bryan Cutler said in his closing argument before the successful vote, “He (Wolf) was empowered through this statute to issue the disaster emergency. He was empowered to issue the business closure order. We are not legislating. This is not that. We, as a body, are following the statutory authority provided by the Emergency Management Services Code.”
Cutler argues the Supreme Court gives Pennsylvania’s General Assembly the power to vote by concurrent resolution to end any disaster emergency at any time.
So, is the Disaster Emergency in Pennsylvania really over? Short of Governor Wolf signing that proclamation that Republicans say he must now sign, yes. It’s over.
“Businesses will finally be treated equally within the state and in surrounding states,” Cutler said, responding to fellow House members who shared stories of Pennsylvanians in border counties going to Ohio and West Virginia to eat at restaurants or get haircuts.
Legal Fight Expected
Even if Wolf signs that proclamation as Republicans say he must, some on the GOP side of the aisle believe they’re in for a legal fight.
Rep. Frank Ryan of Lebanon County said in a Facebook comment that he believes the Republicans are on firm footing with their action Tuesday but they do expect a legal battle ahead.
Cutler said on the House floor, “We are within our Constitutional rights. We stand here ready and willing to work with the Governor. We are a co-equal branch of the government. This is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.”
Republicans did say that some things won’t change because restrictions in place are delegated under a different authority.
“Health care orders will stand. Nursing homes will continue to be safe,” Cutler said Tuesday.
Democrats, for the most part, opposed ending the Disaster Emergency
“This is an unconstitutional resolution,” argued House Minority Leader Rep. Frank Dermody.
He also used scare tactics to influence members to vote against ending the disaster emergency declaration, particularly how this might affect Pennsylvania’s ability to collect federal aid to combat the pandemic in the future.
Republicans rejected that assertion on all accounts. And they even cited a letter sent to them by the governor earlier in the day which indicated that Wolf knew he’d have to sign a proclamation to end his Disaster order.
And tweets from Pennsylvania House Democrats seem to indicate they know they’ve lost here.
#PAHouse Republicans unanimously vote to take $1.5 billion in federal #COVID19 aid out of PA and give it to other states, remove National Guard help from our nursing homes & food banks, and make it harder for essential workers to get protective gear.
— PA House Democrats (@PaHouseDems) June 10, 2020
An hour before that, they called what the Republicans (and some of their own caucus) were doing amounted to a “power grab”.
#PAHouse Republican Power Grab will:
Cost you $1.5 billion in federal aid
Remove health care from first responders
Take PPE away from essential workers
End National Guard support in nursing homes and food banks.
All over hurt GOP feelings.
— PA House Democrats (@PaHouseDems) June 10, 2020
Rather than do what he’s obligated to do, Gov. Tom Wolf unleashed his press agents to send a statement to the mainstream media which is terrified to report the plain and simple facts on Tuesday’s action.
Wolf is bound by the Pennsylvania Constitution to either sign an Executive Order or Proclamation ending his Disaster Emergency declaration. And he’s supposed to do it promptly. Instead, according to a report from WHTM-TV’s Alex Peterson, he got this statement from Wolf’s office:
“Only the Governor can terminate the Disaster Emergency,” Wolf’s saying.
The language is very clear here on what Wolf must do now that the General Assembly passed this Concurrent resolution. And nowhere in this language below does it indicate that the governor, alone, can end a Disaster Emergency:
Declaration of disaster emergency.–A disaster emergency shall be declared by executive order or proclamation of the Governor upon finding that a disaster has occurred or that the occurrence or the threat of a disaster is imminent. The state of disaster emergency shall continue until the Governor finds that the threat or danger has passed or the disaster has been dealt with to the extent that emergency conditions no longer exist and terminates the state of disaster emergency by executive order or proclamation, but no state of disaster emergency may continue for longer than 90 days unless renewed by the Governor. 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. All executive orders or proclamations issued under this subsection shall indicate the nature of the disaster, the area or areas threatened and the conditions which have brought the disaster about or which make possible termination of the state of disaster emergency. An executive order or proclamation shall be disseminated promptly by means calculated to bring its contents to the attention of the general public and, unless the circumstances attendant upon the disaster prevent or impede, shall be promptly filed with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Legislative Reference Bureau for publication under Part II of Title 45 (relating to publication and effectiveness of Commonwealth documents).
In short, Wolf is out of his element here. He’s pretending to be an overnight lawyer in refusing to sign a proclamation or executive order ending his Disaster Emergency. Remember, just a day prior, he couldn’t even state for certain that face masks weren’t a requirement to be worn by the public.
The House has been sitting on this resolution for a while now, giving Wolf the benefit of the doubt. But Wolf is bound by the language above. Ultimately, his word is not the be all and end all here, no matter what his pouting words-by-proxy state above.
The General Assembly indicated Tuesday that it wants to work with Wolf together to fight the spread of this virus. However, it appears Wolf just wants to be the savior no one in Pennsylvania needs or wants.