Senate Approves Constitutional Amendment to Limit Length of Future Disaster Declarations

HARRISBURG – Future emergency disaster declarations could not be extended beyond 30 days without legislative approval under a proposed Constitutional Amendment approved by the Senate today, according to Senator Scott Martin (R-13), who was one of four Senators who authored the bill.

Under current law, an emergency declaration from the governor can last up to 90 days and can be renewed indefinitely.

Senate Bill 1166 would limit the length of an emergency declaration to 30 days unless approved for a longer duration by the General Assembly. Martin introduced the bill along with Senators Kim Ward (R-39), John DiSanto (R-15) and Tom Killion (R-9).

The legislation would ensure greater cooperation between all branches of government during an emergency and restore the system of checks and balances that Pennsylvania’s government was founded upon.

“The laws governing disaster declarations were built primarily for natural disasters, not pandemics or whatever else the governor deems to be an emergency on any given day,” Martin said. “We have seen the tremendous damage that can be caused when one branch of government can simply ignore the others. We need to take action and create a system of checks and balances to ensure every branch of government can play a role in responding to an emergency.”

The need for the legislation has been highlighted by Governor Wolf’s refusal to work with the General Assembly during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The governor has used the disaster declaration for nearly 100 days to suspend state statutes, spend taxpayer dollars without legislative approval, and keep millions of Pennsylvanians from earning a living through his business shutdown orders.

Because Senate Bill 1166 would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters via referendum.

“While this bill was certainly inspired by Governor Wolf’s reckless disregard for any opinion other than his own, it likely won’t ever apply to him since he will be at the end of his second term when the amendment would go into effect,” Martin said. “This bill is designed to create accountability and ensure any future governor cannot hold the Commonwealth hostage and ignore the role of the General Assembly when the people need their voice to be heard the most.”

The Senate also approved a resolution on Tuesday to end the disaster declaration issued by Governor Wolf on March 6 and renewed on June 3. The concurrent resolution allows all businesses to reopen statewide.

The bill also would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity. The change would bring the state Constitution into line with the equal protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

“Members of both political parties need to be dedicated to having an honest conversation about race in America and in Pennsylvania, and that starts with ensuring our Constitution prevents discrimination based on race and ethnicity,” Martin said. “The bipartisan support for this measure is extremely encouraging, and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I look forward to playing a role in discussing legislation to address these issues in the weeks and months ahead.” 



CONTACT:   Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

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