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I-Team: May primary ballot questions focus on emergency declarations, governor’s power


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The primary election is one week from today, with many state and local races on the ballots.

Voters will also also have their say with four constitutional amendment questions with two dealing with changing the scope of disaster emergency declarations made by the governor.

Supporters for a “yes” vote on those two questions say the governor has too much power. Opponents say this is a “power grab” by state lawmakers.

Both agree that the outcome of the vote could change the landscape of disaster emergency declarations in the commonwealth in the future.

Pennsylvania voters will see two questions that focus on the disaster emergency declaration authority now in the hands of the governor.

A “yes” vote on the first question would increase the power of the state legislature to be able to terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration without having to get approval from the governor, as current law mandates.

The second question, if approved, would limit an emergency declaration made by the governor to 21 days. It would also force the governor to seek approval from state lawmakers to extend that emergency declaration.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment say the governor’s office has too much power when it comes to emergency situations.

Opinions on the questions fall pretty much along party lines. Republicans for the most part are calling for “yes” votes.

“So we need to get back to the point where we are working together, passing bills… Working together… Legislature and the governor. Right now it would limit the governor’s emergency powers so we are a co-equal branch,” said republican representative Aaron Kaufer.

Democrats like Eddie Day Pashinski from Luzerne County say vote “no.”

“Were suggesting no one during an emergency you do not need 203 representatives trying to come together and make a decision on what to do yet alone 50 more senators during an emergency you need that one key source surrounded by the experts to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the people,” said Pashinski.

“The Governor took advantage of this emergency declaration bypassing the legislature on a host of issues and virtually shutting down communication in the legislature and the Executive branch,” stated independent senator John Yudichak.

The director of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), Randy Padiefl, says the ballot questions could only harm Pennsylvania moving forward.

“You know making knee-jerk changes to something based on a one in a 100-year global pandemic is probably very shortsighted and potentially reckless when it comes to the future of any disaster emergency in the commonwealth and it’s very hard to turn back,” stated Padiefl.

On the streets there were mixed opinions.

“I think the governor shouldn’t have all the power. It should be legislatures. A lot more people having a say that would be better for the state of Pennsylvania,” said Kenneth Gale.

Others we spoke to said they too believe that there should be a streamlined effort during disaster emergencies and they intend to vote “no” on the questions.

Eyewitness News will have complete election coverage next Tuesday on air and on line.

When asked about the issue, the Governor’s press office provided the following statement:

“If these ballot questions were to pass, it would greatly hinder the commonwealth’s ability to respond to disasters and crises and potentially cost the commonwealth and taxpayers millions of dollars. Passage of these constitutional amendments would have many negative impacts including preventing the commonwealth from paying National Guard members with federal support, ending emergency SNAP benefits, and discontinuing licensing waivers that have allowed medical practitioners to help our hospitals and save lives. 

While the GOP continues to mislead the general public about the proposed constitutional amendment, the administration will continue to point out how the proposal will hurt Pennsylvania’s ability to respond to disasters.

Background to dispel some of the misinformation being shared:

Checks and balances are already in place. The legislature already has the authority to end an emergency disaster declaration at any moment by passing a concurrent resolution.

The Secretary of the Department of Health has the authority to take disease control measures regardless of a disaster declaration on the part of the governor. This authority comes from the Disease Prevention and Control Law, the Administrative Code, and the regulations promulgated under those statutes.

The Secretary of Health’s orders including, but not limited to, universal masking, business occupancy limits, and event/gathering capacities would not be affected by this proposed amendment given that they are not reliant upon the disaster declaration on the part of the governor.”

For more information on the 2021 Primary Election you can visit the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website.

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