Fed up with Governor Tom Wolf’s reliance on executive orders to implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies, define labor policy and advance initiatives to tackle climate change, Republican leaders presented Monday one set of proposals designed to erode the governor’s existing executive power, which GOP lawmakers say will help balance the balance between executive and legislative powers.
The move marks the latest attempt by Republicans to use constitutional amendments to restrict the authority of the governor’s office after coming forward with a list of proposals that nullified governors’ emergency powers earlier this year. These separate constitutional amendments, which limit declarations of emergency to 21 days, were finally approved by voters in May, and now Republican leaders in the General Assembly are seeking to bring the rest of the state’s constitution in line with these. changes.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our laws and what I will call administrative laws… lean heavily towards the executive. It’s about restoring the balance of power, ”said Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, who is sponsoring the measures alongside State Senator Ryan Aument.
The proposals would impose new time limits on executive orders and remove the governor’s ability to veto measures aimed at blocking regulations.
Under a proposed amendment, decrees having the force of law would expire after 21 days, unless the General Assembly votes to extend the bylaw. The other amendment would exempt resolutions seeking to disapprove a regulation from presentation requirements, meaning that a governor would no longer be able to veto measures that attempt to disapprove – and prevent – entry into law. applicable state regulations.
“Unilateral, unchecked executive decrees are not an appropriate way to govern in a civil society because they rob people of their voice and shift decision-making into the hands of one person,” Aument said.
The proposals would have to be approved by both houses of the General Assembly in consecutive legislative sessions, and then approved by voters in a ballot referendum, to take effect. A governor does not have the ability to sign or veto proposed amendments to the state constitution, meaning the proposals would bypass Wolf’s office entirely.
In recent years, Wolf has relied on the regulatory process to advance priorities that have failed to gain traction in the legislature. In 2019, the Democratic governor signed a Executive Decree ordering his administration to join the Regional greenhouse gas initiative, a multi-state effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Wolf has also been spearheading regulatory changes to update the regulation of state nursing homes and expand eligibility for overtime, although the latter measure was repealed this year in a budget agreement with Republican lawmakers.
In the case of RGGI, Republicans and some Democrats have repeatedly tried to prevent carbon pricing regulations from coming into effect because Wolf had the power to veto right to stop the progress of the measure. This session, lawmakers put forward a resolution disapproving of the settlement, which Wolf also has the right to veto.
Under the new constitutional changes proposed by Cutler and Aument, Wolf would lose the ability to use his veto on regulatory disapproval resolutions.
Beth Rementer, spokeswoman for Wolf, said the amendments amounted to “legislative overbreadth” and that Wolf had taken executive action on issues supported by Pennsylvanians, ranging from environmental efforts and healthcare reforms to workforce development and efforts to eliminate sexual harassment.
“These constitutional amendments are a mere takeover by Republicans in the General Assembly and would completely upend the separation of powers that has guided the Commonwealth throughout its history,” Rementer said. “The current system – where the legislature passes laws and the governor directs the executive branch in the implementation of those laws – is similar to the separation of powers at the federal level as contained in the US Constitution. “
Cutler and Aument both said the proposed constitutional amendments introduced on Tuesday would force more collaboration between Wolf and lawmakers and allow voters to influence the debate around executive power.
Cutler, however, expressed caution about allowing voters to introduce voting initiatives directly, saying states that do so often experience a “lack of stability” in the policies put on the ballot. to vote. “Some of the other states that have it, you end up with initiatives on the ballot that, quite frankly, get people coming and going,” he said.
But as Republicans strive for the balance of power in the state, the Wolf administration sees the move as a distraction.
“This is nothing more than a distraction from the real issues that Pennsylvanians face and Republicans should address; namely, ending the pandemic by encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated, supporting our workforce and growing our economy, ”said Rementer.