In this Update:
Pennsylvanians Can Vote for a Better Emergency Declaration Process
Unfortunately, primary elections are usually treated as a rather ho-hum event by the electorate. All too often it is seen as an occasion that draws only the hard-core political party faithful to the ballot box.
This year, however, the May 18 primary Election has significant meaning as all voters – including those registered as independents – have the chance to vote on two important ballot questions that will shape the way our Commonwealth addresses future crises and disasters.
The year-long and counting COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call on many fronts in Pennsylvania, especially in how we responded to the long-term crisis. At the onset, we tried to avoid the devastation that the pandemic wreaked in Italy and other nations but Pennsylvania has been extremely slow in restoring personal freedoms since.
The Governor’s litany of disaster declarations has given the Wolf Administration nearly absolute power to take any action they want – regardless of the opinion of state lawmakers, local and county officials or the public.
As a result, an extraordinary number of employers endured shutdowns and restrictions that went far beyond the recommendations of national health experts. Displaced workers were thrust into an antiquated unemployment system that could not handle the volume of new claims.
The General Assembly attempted to give counties and local officials a greater say in the pandemic response efforts, but those bills were quickly vetoed by Governor Wolf who was unwilling to concede any control.
Our only recourse was to pass legislation that ultimately placed two proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution on the primary election ballot. This approach gives the voters of Pennsylvania the ultimate choice of how the state would handle any long-term future disasters, emergencies or pandemics.
The intent of these amendments is not to further divide state government. The goal is to require the Governor to work collaboratively with lawmakers to avoid the kind of negative consequences we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under ballot question #1, a disaster emergency declaration could be terminated or extended by legislative approval without needing the Governor’s signature. Your YES vote means a majority of state lawmakers – elected by you and living in our communities – can vote to end emergency declarations and restrictions on citizens. A NO vote means a Governor retains the unrestricted power to continue emergency restrictions indefinitely – even if a legislative majority votes to end them.
Ballot question #2 limit disaster declarations to no more than 21 days unless approved by the General Assembly. Your YES vote means emergency declarations would be limited to 21 days unless the General Assembly – again elected by you and living in our communities – approves a longer duration. A NO vote means a Governor can unilaterally extend declarations, including “emergency” provisions, business closures and restrictions indefinitely.
To be clear, these amendments are intended to provide clarity and balance to the powers held by the Executive and Legislative branches during a long-term crisis. The amendments do not prevent a governor and state agencies from responding to any emergency. The governor could still declare a state of emergency following any sort of catastrophe. The Constitutional amendments simply ensure these powers would not be open-ended.
These amendments are not about partisanship. They are focused entirely on ensuring that Pennsylvania avoids the negative consequences of one person making all the decisions during a long-term emergency. They would apply to any governor and legislature in the future no matter what political party.
I voted yes to put these amendments on the ballot for your consideration because I strongly believe in the need to make these constitutional changes.
When it comes to emergency declarations and limits on civil liberties, I think more voices – representing the will of the people – make for better emergency response and a more enduring freedom.
I voted yes in order to give you a say. During the May 18 primary election, the choice is yours.
Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions
At the beginning of this week, Governor Wolf announced that his debilitating COVID restrictions on businesses and the freedom to gather would be fully lifted on Monday, May 31st.
While Governor Wolf created a bi-partisan COVID vaccine task force, which played a role in these recent decisions, he has otherwise continued to ignore the legislature’s role in making decisions and setting policies that impact our constituents. My fellow Senators and I have refused to sit idly by, and that holds true on this most recent announcement.
Together, we are sending a letter to the governor calling for him to lift his COVID restrictions on Friday, May 28th to allow restaurants and their servers, the tourism industry, and groups hosting Memorial Day events to have the entire holiday weekend free of capacity limits to begin to recoup losses from the governor’s COVID shutdowns. Quite frankly, if it is safe to do on a Monday, it is safe to do three days earlier.
If you’d like to share with him your own frustrations, you can make your voice heard – or at least try to – by contacting his office.
Bill to Ban State From Requiring Vaccine Passports
The state or government at any level should not require every citizen to show proof of this vaccine. Our goal should be focused on getting the vaccine to those who want it, but not punish those individuals who have made a personal choice. Therefore, I and two of my colleagues have introduced a bill to ban the state from requiring vaccine passports.
I do not believe the state should be mandating the COVID-19 vaccination. It’s a personal decision.
Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or even for personal choice should not be discriminated against for making a decision that they believe is in the best interest of their health and safety. This bill works to ensure that we are protecting our Constitutional rights and health privacy. After a year of being subjected to intrusive monitoring of their health and deliberate assaults on privacy, vaccine passports would be an unfathomable invasion into Pennsylvanian’s personal lives and private medical information.
You can hear more information here.
National Nurses Week May 6-12
Even before the pandemic hit, nurses played a vital role in the delivery of health care. Over the last year, their contributions reached heroic proportions.
National Nurses Week goes through May 12, which was the birthday of Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing. I hope you join me in recognizing the lifesaving, comforting roles nurses play in our healthcare system.
30th District Happenings
I was pleased to join State and local officials and community partners joined the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) to celebrate the long-awaited refilling of Meadow Grounds Lake in Ayr Township, Fulton County.
The 204-acre lake was drained in February 2013 when a leak was discovered in the dam. The lengthy dam and spillway rehabilitation project has recently been completed, and the refilling process has begun. The event included a ceremonial stocking of minnows, marking the first step in a multi-year fish restocking plan at the lake.
When the difficult decision to drain the lake was announced, the Friends of Meadow Grounds Lake was formed and the community rallied to raise an impressive $100,000 in record time, which has been used to construct an accessible boat dock at the lake. The community is looking forward to the resumption of recreational activities at this beautiful lake, which holds a very special place in the hearts of many. It is wonderful to see this beloved natural asset restored!
This year marks the 70th Annual National Day of Prayer signed into law by President Harry Truman. Each year there’s a wonderful prayer service in Blair County, where I’m always pleased to participate. This year’s format was a drive-in style held at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg.
Broadtop Medical Center is doing great things to serve the community. Dr. John Roth hosted me for a visit, where I learned about their telemedicine process, their behavioral health programs, and even met two of my constituents who just received their second dose of the COVID vaccine.
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