Pennsylvania legislature argues over amendment to limit governor's emergency powers

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature want to amend the state constitution to limit a governor's emergency powers to 21 days. Now the measure looks like it's on track to be in front of voters on the ballot in the May primary.

Currently, a governor can issue an emergency declaration for 90 days, with unlimited renewals.

But Republicans want to cut that to 21 days, and then require legislative approval after that.

State House Majority Leader Kerry Bennnghoff said Gov. Tom Wolf has had too much power in declaring ongoing emergencies over the past year.

"The legislative process in Harrisburg and of a state capital, it needs the elected 253 people's voice as well as one person," he said.

State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward accused the governor of making decisions like closing restaurants in December without hard data on why. "We need a seat at the table because we need that data," she said. "We are affecting people's lives."

But Philadelphia Democratic State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta called the legislation dangerous, wrong, and dumb, arguing Republicans in the state legislature are arguing they know better than the governor.

"Many of whom I'm looking at right now can't even listen to the CDC, which says wearing a mask would limit how long this pandemic would go on, yet they deserve a say? We can’t trust you with a say," said Kenyatta.

State Sen. Katie Muth agreed with her fellow Democrat, pointing not only to Republicans who don't wear masks, but also proposed legislation she argues would force people to choose between their paycheck or their safety.

"Your freedom guarantees you the right to harm others? It's a global pandemic that's respiratorially transmitted. You want science? There it is. Don't cherry-pick your science," she said.

Similar legislation has passed both the state house and senate for the second consecutive session as required for a constitutional amendment. Next, the two chambers agree on the final language and then it's on the ballot for Pennsylvania voters to decide in the May primary.

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