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House votes to end disaster status

GOP-penned measure heads to the Senate

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives voted on party lines Tuesday to put an end to the governor’s pandemic disaster emergency declaration, less than a month after voters dramatically expanded lawmakers’ powers to control such declarations.

The 113-90 vote sent the Republican-penned measure over to the Senate, where the GOP also holds a substantial majority. If it passes the Senate, Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration, extended since March 2020, would expire as soon as the state’s May 18 primary election results are fully certified.

“The people have spoken,” House Majority Leader Kerry

Benninghoff, R-Centre, said after the vote. “That’s why it went to referendum.”

Wolf, a Democrat, has no role in signing or vetoing the resolution. Earlier Tuesday, Wolf said he supported the Republican effort to rein in his authority over pandemic mitigation efforts.

“I support what they’re doing,” Wolf said after an unrelated news conference outside the state Capitol. “We’re all trying to make this work out.”

State regulations that have been suspended or waived under the disaster declaration will go back into effect, although that process in some cases may take months. The resolution may also affect Pennsylvanians’ ability to get additional food subsidies.

It ends Wolf’s waiver of a work-search requirement for hundreds of thousands of people who collect unemployment benefits and stops the administration’s use of emergency procurement procedures.

Other than a masking order, all mitigation orders have already been phased out, and Wolf’s administration had outlined a schedule for resumption of job search requirements.

Wolf’s office has said repeatedly that measures designed to limit the spread of the virus are unaffected by the constitutional amendments because they are authorized under powers given to the health secretary.

In the state Senate, a vote was possible as early as today on a bill that would repeal the state secretary of health’s powers to order people who haven’t tested positive for a disease to obey travel restrictions, wear masks, undertake a specific hygienic practice or isolate at home.

It also would prohibit so-called “vaccine passports” by local governments, state agencies or colleges and universities.

Voters on May 18 put a 21-day limit on future disaster emergency declarations and gave lawmakers authority to extend them if both the House and Senate agree. The pair of constitutional amendments was put on the ballot by Republican majorities in the Legislature.

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