Governor Wolf’s Emergency Authority was Curtailed; What Happens Next?

May 24, 2021

Last week, voters approved two constitutional amendments curtailing Governor Wolf’s emergency authority. It is worth looking a little closer at what happens next and what Pennsylvanians can expect to change. First and foremost, the constitution won’t technically change until the results of the election are certified. There isn’t a hard deadline for the results to be certified, but the acting Secretary of State indicated that certification would occur on June 7. Until the certification happens, Pennsylvania still operates under the old rules. 

It is also worth pointing out that there can still be legal challenges to the election and constitutional amendments results. Governor Wolf has indicated he will not be filing any legal challenges. That doesn’t rule challenges out, but it does make a challenge less likely. Assuming that the constitutional changes take effect as soon as the results are certified, what happens next?

Governor Wolf renewed his disaster declaration on May 20 due to the expiration of the previous declaration. As a positive sign, according to Republican leadership in the House and Senate, the Governor is already sharing more information with them than they had previously received. The Governor may be much more forthcoming and take a collaborative approach with the General Assembly going forward. If that happens, the General Assembly may extend the disaster declaration every twenty-one days. 

Extending the emergency declaration every twenty-one days, with legislative input, might be what we see. An every twenty-one-day extension approach, on a short-term basis, is not ideal. Still, it might be what we end up with for the short term. This approach will allow some of the regulatory and licensing changes enacted by the Governor to continue until the General Assembly can work through making them permanent or putting a medium to long-term sunset on the requirement suspensions. 

Suppose the cooperative relationship between the Governor and General Assembly doesn’t materialize, or the legislature believes that the temporary changes made by Gov. Wolf’s emergency authority are not justified. In that case, they can hold a vote to terminate the emergency declaration with a simple majority or not extend it past the twenty-one-day extension. 

Adding additional complexity to the situation will be budget negotiations and voting. Pennsylvania’s fiscal year ends June 30. A new budget must be in place by July 1. (Note: Sometimes there isn’t a budget in place by July 1, but that’s another issue.)

Regardless of whether this proceeds as a cooperative effort between the Governor and General Assembly, or the disaster declaration is terminated at the earliest possible moment, the constitutional changes approved by voters will result in a shift in how disasters are dealt with going forward. The adoption of these significant changes is why the CAP PAC worked to increase voter turnout. Because of support from our donors, the CAP PAC could complete an effective statewide advertising campaign designed to increase turnout among voters who wanted to amend the constitution.