Pa. House votes to end Wolf's COVID-19 emergency declaration
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House voted Tuesday to end Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The 113-90 vote came after Wolf has lifted nearly all pandemic restrictions, except for the mask mandate which is in place until June 28 or 70% of the state is fully vaccinated. Pennsylvanians who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks.
Pennsylvania primary voters on May 18 chose to limit the governor's executive powers and hand more control of disaster declarations to the legislative branch.
"When the voters approved these constitutional amendments just a few short weeks ago, their message was loud and clear: It is time to end the governor's emergency powers," said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County. "We could not agree more."
A celebratory applause broke out on the House floor after the vote and continued during a news conference with House leadership.
The resolution to strip Wolf's emergency powers can't officially take effect until primary results are certified, which the Department of State expects to be as soon as this month.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, said Tuesday's vote means Wolf's COVID-19 disaster declaration will end "immediately upon certification."
"Today was the day to finally end this," Benninghoff said.
Removing Wolf's emergency powers was the top priority of the House as the lower chamber returned this week. The Senate is also expected to take up the issue this week, and it is expected to pass.
Benninghoff said the House can now move forward with its other top priorities: election reform and finishing the budget.
This is not just happening in Pennsylvania.
Lawmakers in 46 states, Guam and Puerto Rico have drafted 300 proposals this year to strip their governors' executive powers, as legislative and executive branches fight for authority over school and business closures, mask orders and more.
Before the pandemic, governors used emergency powers in a limited way, often regionally to address a specific weather disaster. The COVID-19 crisis changed that, and governors across the country installed sweeping executive orders that closed down most of their states.
Republican legislatures are seeking to restrict Republican governors and Democratic legislatures are moving to limit Democratic governors. But in most cases, Republican-controlled legislatures are moving to limit the power of Democratic governors, like the vote Tuesday in Pennsylvania.
House Democrats said with the Tuesday vote to restrict Wolf's powers, Republicans made it harder to get tele-health services, food assistance, help with housing, National Guard support in nursing homes and unemployment funds.
"And they're celebrating doing this to the people," a statement said.
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.