Martin: Senate State Government Committee Approves Constitutional Amendment to Prevent Executive Branch Overreach

Harrisburg – The Senate State Government Committee approved a constitutional amendment today designed to limit the use of emergency powers by the executive branch outside of the emergency declaration process said Sen. Scott Martin (R-13).

Martin joined Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-28), Pat Stefano (R-32) and Judy Ward (R-30) in authoring the constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 959, after the Department of Health issued an illegal mask mandate for schools in August 2021 that was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December of the same year.  

“This amendment would clarify that no department secretary or agency under the Governor’s jurisdiction can issue public mandates, guidance or directives, unless clearly prescribed and authorized in current law, without an official emergency declaration order in effect”, according to Martin. He added, “At no time should an Administration be able to bypass the accountability of the Emergency Declaration process that was added to the Pennsylvania Constitution by our citizens in May of 2021.”

On June 10, 2021,  the General Assembly approved a concurrent resolution ending the COVID-19 disaster declaration and terminating the leeway the governor and his administration cited under Title 35 to quickly execute statewide directives during an emergency response.

This action came after a majority of Pennsylvanians voted to limit the governor’s emergency authority and restore the balance of power in state government. Still, instead of respecting the will of the people, Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration – including an unconfirmed acting secretary – relied on an incorrect interpretation of a decades-old law to issue a statewide school mask mandate, without issuing an emergency declaration, and avoiding the accountability of the General Assembly as approved by the will of the voters.  At a hearing of the Senate Education Committee in August of 2021, neither the Secretary of Education or Acting Secretary of Health could identify in the constitution or statute where they derived the power to issue this mandate, as well.

After holding this illegal mandate over school districts, teachers and students for four months, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck it down, appropriately.  

“I wish that there was no need for this bill,” Martin said. “But as one of the authors of the emergency powers constitutional amendment that the voters approved, it’s critical to ensure that this and future administrations are not able to bypass the accountability of the Constitution and the will of our citizens.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

CONTACT: Terry Trego, 717-787-6535

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