Voters remove governor’s emergency powers

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Pennsylvania voters had their say on Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the pandemic on Tuesday and decided to take away some of his emergency powers.

With 81% of constituencies reporting, voters were in favor of limiting the emergency powers of the executive, from 54% to 46%, according to the Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats and Republicans were fight about it for a year shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting up a long battle between public health and the impact on the economy.

The governor, state and federal health officials, and Democrats have argued that a healthy economy depends on the health and safety of its residents.

But Republicans have argued that one should not be at the expense of the other, forging ahead with ballot issues to try to limit a governor’s executive powers.

The results

By the end of election night, it was unclear whether primary voters in Pennsylvania were siding with the Democrats or the Republicans. AP had not yet announced the results.

Early Wednesday, 54% of voters chose to limit executive power in an emergency, and 46% of voters wanted to keep it.

Four questions were asked to voters:

  • The first two questions asked voters if they wanted to limit the governor’s power during emergency declarations
  • A third question asked voters whether to ban discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and voters chose ‘yes’ to ban it.
  • The fourth question asked whether fire departments and emergency medical services should be able to apply for loans from a state program, and voters said ‘yes’ they should.

The only results available on Tuesday were for the third and fourth questions.

Voters have chosen to ban discrimination based on race or ethnicity, according to the AP. And they also said yes to allowing first responders to apply for emergency loans.

Both were approved by at least 70% of the vote, according to the PA tally.

Pennsylvanians have been asked to vote on an amendment that would limit a governor’s declaration of disaster to 21 days. Beyond that, legislative approval would be required.

They also voted on an amendment that would allow state lawmakers to remove the governor’s disaster declarations with a two-thirds vote.

What this means

The results of the referendum questions won’t have much of an impact on Wolf, who has a limited term and cannot run for four more years.

The main results will have a major impact on the governor elected in 2022 and those who will follow.

What could change? Not a lot. At least not the things people argued the most about during the pandemic, like mask orders and business closings.

Disaster declarations, such as those used during snowstorms and the opioid epidemic, are primarily used to access federal funding and to temporarily override regulations.

A new change is that the GOP-controlled legislature would have, if voters approve, the power and responsibility to overturn or renew a disaster declaration after the first 21 days.

It’s a politically risky position, according to JJ Abbott, Democratic strategist and former Wolf’s press secretary.

As he pointed out on Tuesday night, lawmakers should decide whether to reverse a COVID disaster declaration and, in fact, end a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

What authority would change

If the measures are ultimately passed, the legislature would not have the power to terminate the powers of the Department of Health, which are protected by the Disease Prevention Act, Abbott said.

Lawmakers would not only have to agree to and deal with major statewide disasters like the pandemic and the opioid crisis, but they would also take responsibility for several local emergencies, such as floods, blizzards. and more.

“It seems like a huge political mess on their part,” Abbott said. “And not something they really thought of when they sought that political retribution.”

Because it takes a week to pass a resolution, lawmakers would have to return to Harrisburg for two weeks at a time to extend or rescind each disaster declaration.

The legislature would not be able to relinquish this responsibility without another constitutional amendment, if the voters approve it.

Lawmakers gain more responsibility and “huge political risk if they screw something up in the middle of an emergency,” Abbott said.

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Why they voted

Primaries after a presidential election generally have a lower turnout.

Many voters said they were motivated to go to the polls because of questions about executive power.

Wolf and former Secretary of State for Health Dr Rachel Levine put in place COVID-19 restrictions that they saw as necessary protections against a deadly disease without a cure. But some Pennsylvanians considered the measures too drastic.

“There is enormous anger against Wolf and Levine, and the draconian closures they put in place,” said Charlie Gerow, Republican strategist in Harrisburg.

It was the polling questions that brought Cathie Miller to the Central Bucks Seniors Community Center in Doylestown Township on Tuesday.

“There were a few (contested races), but it wasn’t a big competition. It’s the polling questions that got me here today, ”said Miller, who runs a family-owned coffee service business in Lansdale.

Along with her husband and son, both named Thomas, the three operate Thomas O. Miller & Co. Inc., a business that supplies offices with coffee.

That endeavor came to a halt a year ago when pandemic mitigation measures were put in place as part of Wolf’s disaster declaration. The offices provided by the Miller company have been closed indefinitely.

Even though more non-essential businesses were opened throughout the year, employers were widely encouraged to keep office workers working remotely whenever possible.

Miller said his family’s business has been cut in half. They are recovering from the pandemic, but very slowly.

“We’re hoping to bounce back by the summer, but it’s been a struggle and (Wolf) hasn’t helped small businesses at all,” Miller added.

Buckingham resident Erick Mazzoni said he supports referendums because he is most interested in “keeping the Republican Party strong and stopping the lockdown. Those are the two most important things.” .

Stanley Kopertowski, who voted in Lower Makefield on Tuesday morning, agreed.

“I want to limit the control of our government, so I think it’s important that the legislature votes on such issues,” Kopertowski said.

Pat DellaVecchia, an independent voter from Lower Makefield, was also frustrated with Wolf’s powers during the pandemic.

“Personally, I don’t want the governor to have more power than he already has,” he said. “It is important.”

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Bucks County Courier Times reporters Chris Ullery, Marion Callahan and Ashley Williams contributed to this report.

Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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