In a perfect example of folks incorrectly responding to improper actions by politicians, Pennsylvania voters approved what, on the surface, appear to be salutary ballot initiatives to constrain the power of Governor Tom Wolf (D) – and any future PA governor.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians approved two proposed amendments to alter the state constitution and restore power to lawmakers. The first amendment allows the Pennsylvania General Assembly to terminate a governor’s emergency declaration by majority vote, while the second requires that executives seek legislative approval for disaster declarations beyond 21 days. The secretary of health may still be able to uphold certain regulations under state law, according to The Center Square.
Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?
But, here’s the thing. The PA State Constitution does not grant a governor the power to “declare a disaster emergency,” so the legislature should have no need to “terminate or extend” such a thing. All PA legislators are compelled by their oath, therefore, to call for the impeachment of such a governor. There is no question of this, and by possibly inserting language into the PA Constitution that suddenly refers to some “power” of a governor to “declare a disaster emergency”, this ballot initiative invents something that never existed.
And it gets worse, because the second ballot question that succeeded reads:
Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?
Again, this implies, or, to be precise, overtly assumes, that any PA governor simply can declare a “disaster emergency” – something that might appear in legislation passed in PA in the mid-2000s, but is NOT a power granted to the Governor or the legislature of the state by the PA Constitution.
And the state “”Plain English” overview of this ballot question admits this:
Joint Resolution No. 2021-1 proposes adding a new section to Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. This amendment incorporates disaster emergency declaration and management powers directly into the Constitution by:
- Granting the Governor authority to declare a disaster emergency declaration by proclamation or executive order;
- Requiring each declaration to indicate the nature, location and type of disaster;
- Granting the General Assembly authority to pass laws providing for the manner in which each disaster shall be managed;
- Limiting the duration of a Governor’s declaration to 21 days, unless otherwise extended, in whole or in part, by a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly;
- Preventing the Governor, upon the expiration of a declaration, from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts, unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution expressly approving a new declaration.
Meaning: none of that previously existed in the PA Constitution.
Meaning: rather than now changing the PA Constitution to fit the unconstitutional assumption of dictatorial power committed by Governor Wolf, the state legislators should have upheld their OWN oaths to the PA Constitution and removed him from office for his crimes against their most fundamental state rules.
Additionally, Wolf breached the Contract Clause, and the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution, and this new pair of amendments to the PA Constitution place the state in contempt of those same provisions of the federal Constitution, so, if challenged and brought before a strict-constructionist US Supreme Court, these new PA amendments would be ruled unconstitutional on a federal level.
It doesn’t take much effort to understand the frustration and justified anger many PA residents feel towards Wolf and other politicians who arbitrarily claim the power to close other peoples’ businesses and threaten them with fines, arrests, and manhandling by cops. It also doesn’t take much effort to see that both of these amendments are dangerous ways in which the state constitution will be changed to grant this governor and future governors precisely the kinds of power they were never intended to have.
These are not victories, unless one is on the side of creating dangerous political power over free individuals.