HARRISBURG – Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) joined his colleagues in the House Wednesday in approving a proposed constitutional amendment that would place limits on a governor’s emergency declaration powers.
Specifically, House Bill 55
seeks to amend the Constitution to state that a governor’s disaster emergency declaration may last no longer than 21 days, unless extended by concurrent resolution of the General Assembly.
“COVID-19 is unlike anything we have ever experienced, but that should not mean turning our backs on the Constitution or the system of government that has served us well throughout our history,” Owlett said. “We are not a dictatorship where one person or a small group of people makes all the decisions. We are a republic with elected senators and representatives who represent the voices of the citizens of our districts who need and deserve to be heard. This has not been happening for the last 10-plus months of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Owlett said the amendment proposal would give all Pennsylvanians the opportunity to decide via referendum whether to change the way future emergencies are handled. He believes requiring legislative approval to extend a disaster emergency beyond 21 days would ensure the voice of the people is better represented in these situations.
Currently, the governor may issue disaster emergency declarations lasting up to 90 days and may then renew the declarations multiple times with no limits.
“In addition to the COVID-19 declaration, which is nearly a year old, the governor continues to renew his opioid disaster emergency declaration which has now been going on for more than three years,” Owlett said. “I’m certain we can all agree both situations require serious action, but that can and should be done with input from the people of this Commonwealth, not just the governor and his inner circle.”
Constitutional amendments require identical proposals to be approved in two consecutive sessions by both the House and Senate. Once that occurs, the proposal can be placed before the voters on a referendum. This question could appear as early as the May 18 primary election.
House Bill 55 also includes two additional amendment proposals that would appear as separate questions on the ballot. They include prohibiting the denial or abridgement of equality of rights on the basis of race and ethnicity by adding it to the Declaration of Rights section of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and clarifying that a resolution terminating or extending a disaster emergency declaration need not be presented to the governor for signature.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler