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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: January 14, 2021 04:50 PM
From: Senator Ryan P. Aument and Sen. John T. Yudichak
To: All Senate members
Subject: Requiring Collaboration and Transparency During Emergency Declarations
With the discovery of the novel coronavirus, governments around the world took drastic action to protect their citizens from this unknown but deadly illness. Their intentions were noble and as we often say, extraordinary times call for extraordinary action. However, we should be able to agree that improvements can always be made, especially when dealing with decisions made quickly and under stress.  There are always lessons to be learned and in this situation, those lessons can guide us to better handle future emergencies. 

To that end, we intend to reintroduce legislation that will reform the handling of future emergencies in Pennsylvania. 

While Governor Wolf’s initial emergency declaration was within the authority granted to him under Pennsylvania statute, many have expressed very legitimate concerns with the implementation of those orders.  One of the biggest failures was the Governor’s refusal to work with anyone but those within his administration, creating an echo chamber of ideas and a lack of transparency.  The result of this closed group of decision-makers was a number of issues such as the numerous changes to the essential business list, the failure of the waiver process, the forcing of Pennsylvanians to go out of state to purchase vehicles, the Dept. of Labor and Industry’s inability to communicate pertinent information with constituents, and ultimately, the lack of confidence and trust from the public. 

Had Governor Wolf consulted with the legislature, or business groups, or anyone outside his administration, perhaps the issues that arose from his orders could have been avoided.  Legislators carry the voices of constituents from every corner of the Commonwealth and when their voices are ignored by the Governor, there is a lack of trust that spreads like the virus itself.  Only after the Legislature passed legislation has the Governor finally made some of the changes that the people of Pennsylvania have been begging him for all along.  But it shouldn’t have come to that.  It would have been far better had the Governor opted to work with the people’s elected representatives in the General Assembly.

For that reason, this proposal would amend Title 35 to require the automatic creation of the Disaster and Recovery Task Force once an emergency is declared in Pennsylvania. The bipartisan, inter-branch, task force will work with the Governor to address the issues created by an emergency, collaborating in a way that will allow them to challenge each other’s assumptions about the best way to handle problems that arise during the emergency and take actions that can earn the confidence of the people of Pennsylvania. 

This task force will be required to consult with experts and representatives of the various industries and populations impacted by any emergency – the sharing of concerns and ideas will be encouraged with this task force, not silenced.

One common complaint during the handling of this pandemic has been the Governor’s refusal to share timely information with the General Assembly regarding his many executive orders.  Often, we receive notification of new rules or orders at the same time or after the media has already reported the news.  This has left offices scrambling to find information on such orders to answer questions from constituents who contact the legislative offices for guidance.  This type of confusion is easily avoidable. 

So, to ensure collaboration, transparency, and information sharing, the Governor will be required to notify the General Assembly of any actions his or her Administration intends to take during the declared emergency at least 12 hours prior to the issuance of such orders. 

Finally, the length of the emergency declaration will be limited to 30 days but can be extended with the approval of the General Assembly.  Again, this will ensure continued communication and collaboration between the Executive and Legislative branch.

Emergencies such as the one created by COVID-19 require elected officials to work together to protect the people of Pennsylvania, take actions to address the issues created by the crisis, and craft plans to rebuild.  We hope you will join us in supporting these targeted, “good-government” reforms that we believe will benefit all Pennsylvanians through a consistent and common sense requirement for collaboration.

Introduced as SB231