Wolf renews COVID order in wake of vote limiting his powers

Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the media after announcing he’s renewing the COVID order in wake of vote limiting his powers.

The state House voted 113-90 Tuesday night in favor of a resolution that would end Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency declaration immediately.

The move came after lawmakers amended a resolution that would have extended a small portion of the emergency order until October. The resolution, House Resolution 106 now goes to the Senate. All Republicans in the state House supported the move to end the emergency declaration and no Democrats sided with them.

The move comes three weeks after voters approved two constitutional amendments — one limiting emergency declarations to 21 days and another that would give the General Assembly the authority by a concurrent resolution that passes both chambers.

The 21-day period for Wolf’s current emergency declaration was due to expire on Tuesday but the governor’s office has maintained that the constitutional amendments don’t take effect until the primary results are officially certified, a process that isn’t expected to be completed until Friday at the earliest, said Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokeswoman. The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to the vote Tuesday night.

The move to end the emergency declaration also comes more than a week after Wolf lifted all of the state’s mitigation orders with the exception of the mask mandate for unvaccinated adults. The governor’s office has maintained that the mask mandate would remain in place even without a disaster declaration under orders issued by the secretary of health. Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam has announced that the state’s mask mandate is scheduled to be lifted by June 28 or when 70 percent of the adult population is vaccinated. Through Tuesday, 55.9 percent of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated while 72.3 percent have received their first dose.

“Thankfully, we’ve seen ourselves through this pandemic,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, after the vote, noting that the state’s hospitals are not being overrun by COVID patients, schools have been able to resume in-person instruction and COVID vaccine is widely available.

"It’s over,” he said.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, said the vote on the ballot questions in the May primary made it clear that the public wanted lawmakers to end the disaster declaration.

“Their message was loud and clear. We heard that,” he said.

Cutler said as lawmakers work on the budget in June, they will work with the Wolf administration to identify which moves made during the disaster declaration should be kept in place and restore those measures which are deemed necessary.

While the House has sent the Senate HR 106, the Senate was already poised to act on a COVID bill on Wednesday.

The Senate on Tuesday amended Senate Bill 618 — which would bar local, county, state offices, as well as public schools and publicly-funded universities from requiring people to prove they’ve been vaccinated — by adding language that would bar the Department of Health from using health orders to implement mask mandates or restrict travel.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

 

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CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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