Pennsylvanians will soon have a say in the duration of disaster emergencies declared by the governor under legislation approved in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Senate Bill 2, the companion legislation to House Bill 55, proposes to amend the state Constitution by limiting emergency declarations by a governor to a maximum of 21 days. To extend a declaration beyond that time, the Legislature would need to grant approval, which ensures the voices of our citizens – through their elected lawmakers – are fully represented. 

The action by the General Assembly comes at a time when the state is under two long-term disaster emergency declarations:
- one regarding the opioid crisis, which has been in place for more than three years,
- and the other regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been going on for nearly 11 months. 

Executive powers to declare emergencies should not be used to circumvent the state Constitution, the separation of powers or, most importantly, the will of the people for extended periods of time. 

The measure also proposes additional constitutional amendments: 
  •  Prohibiting the denial or abridgement of equality of rights on the basis of race and ethnicity by adding it to the Declaration of Rights section of the Pennsylvania Constitution. 
  •    Clarifying that a resolution terminating or extending a disaster emergency declaration need not be presented to the governor for signature. 

With final approval by the House and Senate in the second consecutive legislative session, these constitutional amendment proposals will go before the voters in a referendum on the May 18 primary election ballot. Voters not affiliated with a political party will be eligible to vote on the referendum questions at the primary election as well.

PA House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff during House debate on the measure: