Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-led Legislature headed toward a legal clash Wednesday over the emergency declaration he issued at the beginning of the pandemic, with lawmakers voting to end it and Wolf insisting he holds veto power.
In largely party-line votes, the Legislature approved late Tuesday ending Wolf’s 3-month-old emergency proclamation and restarting businesses and other activities shut down as COVID-19 began tightening its grip on Pennsylvania. Retailers and many other kinds of businesses have since been permitted to reopen, but with restrictions.
Supporters of the resolution — which they asserted would do away with many, if not all, pandemic restrictions — maintained that state law authorizes the Legislature to end the emergency declaration unilaterally. Wolf believes that still requires his support and vowed Wednesday to fight the resolution in court.
House leadership also threatened legal action.
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“If the governor chooses to openly violate the plain reading of the law, we will examine all legal actions available to us to act in the best interest of the residents of the commonwealth,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said in a news release Wednesday.
In an earlier letter to House members, Wolf said the resolution that cleared the Legislature would put federal funding at risk and “cripple the commonwealth’s ability to procure resources quickly and decisively.”
Wolf’s office said he will “disapprove” the resolution if it makes it to his desk, but argued that much of the shutdown would not be affected.
“This resolution would not affect the secretary of health’s order including business closure orders, building safety orders, and business safety orders, and therefore the administration’s phased reopening plan and associated orders would remain in place,” Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said in an email.
Republicans argued that Wolf had overstepped his authority, including with a process by which businesses could seek waivers that they said had been too secretive.
“It has become apparent that for the entire state, these decisions are being made by one man, the governor,” argued Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair. “How can we allow one man to continue to make poor decisions for millions?”
Democrats said the resolution was premature and put people’s health in danger.
“No other state has ended its declaration of emergency,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh. “There’s a reason why.”