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Lawmakers speed bill to limit a governor’s disaster powers

HARRISBURG (AP) — The Republican-controlled Legislature on Friday took another step in the drive to strip future governors of some of their constitutional authority under emergency declarations, and give lawmakers more control over the declarations.

The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee approved it on a party-line basis, 7-4.

Passage by both the House and Senate before Feb. 18 can ensure that it gets on Pennsylvania’s May 18 primary ballot when it can go to voters for a final decision in a statewide referendum.

The measure arises from Republican lawmakers’ strident disagreement with how Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has handled the coronavirus pandemic in Pennsylvania.

It would end an emergency disaster declaration after 21 days, unless lawmakers approve an extension through a majority vote.

It also gives lawmakers, with a two-thirds majority vote, the ability to end a disaster declaration.

Wolf first issued an emergency order in early March for 90 days, and has since extended it every 90 days.

Republicans say the amendment will bring a balance of power, legislative input and accountability to disaster emergency declarations.

Democrats say it will deprive a governor of the ability to manage a disaster and potentially cost the state money by missing out on reimbursements from federal emergency relief aid.

If Pennsylvania were to end its emergency declaration, it would become the only state in the country to do so during the pandemic, said Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester.

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