Today quickly developed into a classic shit show in Harrisburg and we hadn’t even eaten lunch yet.
At noon, House and Senate Republicans gathered on the steps of the Capitol building and pronounced that Pennsylvania’s coronavirus Disaster Emergency was over.
To business owners who’ve been shut down or depleted for months because of these draconian orders from Governor Tom Wolf, State Rep. Russ Diamond announced, “Open your doors! Mind your business!”
Of course, he wasn’t saying to get your nose out of his business. In fact, he was announcing that the state, for the most part, was getting its collective nose out of yours. It was time to Reopen Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Spar Over Disaster Emergency Resolution
The night before, Diamond and his colleagues in the State House and Senate – including local Rep. Jerry Knowles and Mike Tobash and Sen. Dave Argall – passed a concurrent House Resolution 836 which effectively ends the Disaster Emergency declaration Wolf initially signed on March 6 and renewed 90 days later, last week on June 3.
So, that’s it, right? It’s over?
Representatives and Senators Say Yes
Those in both chambers of the General Assembly who voted in favor of HR836 seem to believe so. All they had to do was pass this concurrent resolution, and per the Disaster statute in the Pennsylvania Constitution, it would end the Governor’s Disaster Emergency.
Rep. Knowles says in a statement released to The Canary, “It is time for all of us to move forward. Approximately 2 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation and have yet to get their money because of a faulty system. We need to reopen our businesses so employees can get back to work and feed their families. It is imperative to rebuild the economy and the only way to do it is to get businesses up and running in a responsible way.”
But Wolf refused to sign the executive order or proclamation on Wednesday, as the General Assembly says he must, per the Constitution.
Finger-Wagging Wolf Says No
But at 1 p.m., shortly after the General Assembly gathered on the Capitol steps, Governor Wolf held his own press conference. Wolf acted and spoke defiantly. He wagged his finger several times and went back into threatening mode.
We remember that stance quite well here in Schuylkill County. Never forget, he called us all “cowardly” and “selfish” for wanting to get back to a responsible means of doing business. He called that “surrendering” to the virus.
Wolf laid out a laundry list of threats that he says would happen if the Disaster Emergency ended via HR836. Per a statement from the Governor’s office Wednesday:
- 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 our 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.
At one point, he called the concurrent House Resolution “meaningless” and also said there was no time to work together with the General Assembly to plan a course forward. Wolf made it abundantly clear that he thinks he, and he alone, is in charge during the pandemic emergency.
So, by the end of the press conference, it was clear that Wolf wasn’t backing down from his stance and didn’t think the Disaster Emergency was finished because of that House Resolution 836.
As Republicans suggested on Tuesday night when they passed HR836, a court battle looms. And they’re not wasting time trying to pressure Wolf’s signature to a proclamation or executive order ending the Disaster Emergency.
On Wednesday, in Commonwealth Court, they filed a lawsuit against Wolf to force that signature.
“Governor Wolf has refused to perform the mandatory and ministerial duty of issuing an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency originally declared March 6, 2020, and amended and renewed on June 3, 2020,” the lawsuit reads.
Further, the lawsuit, filed by State Sens. Joe Scarnati, Jake Corman, and the Senate Republican Caucus, states precedent and the Constitution which should force Wolf to sign that order immediately:
Section 7301(c) of the Emergency Management Services Code provides that the General Assembly “by concurrent resolution may terminate a state disaster emergency at any time.” The Supreme Court has described this provision “[a]s a counterbalance to the exercise of the broad powers granted to the Governor,” and has re-stated, plainly, what the provision means on its face: “the General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time.” Friends of Danny DeVito v. Wolf, 68 MM 2020, 2020 WL 1847100, at *9 (Pa. Apr. 13, 2020).
Though Wolf insists he has the power to veto that concurrent House Resolution, the GOP says that’s not true, per the Emergency Management Services Code. They say the words “at any time” in the code means they don’t have to take their concurrent resolution to Wolf for his review. The GOP says that would make that part of the EMSC “meaningless and superfluous” and “the General Assembly could not end a state of disaster emergency at all, let alone at a time of its choosing.”
“Governor Wolf has no discretion to refuse to issue an executive order or proclamation ending the COVID-19 state of disaster emergency,” the lawsuit states plainly.
Read the Full Lawsuit
Here’s a copy of the full lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court Wednesday afternoon:
GOP sues tom wolf