Op-Ed: Voters Choice on the Constitutional Amendment

HARRISBURG – During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary hardships and challenges that have required all branches and levels of government to work together to help those affected by this crisis.

Here in the Commonwealth, we have faced another challenge – a governor who maintained nearly absolute power to make unilateral, and often arbitrary decisions, regardless of the opinion of lawmakers or the general public, and without any sense of transparency.

As a result, an extraordinary number of employers have faced shutdowns and restrictions that go far beyond the recommendations of national health experts, and workers have been thrown into an unemployment system that is unable to handle the huge volume of claims. Clearly, the governor overstepped his bounds, and yet, there was no recourse for those impacted. 

That’s why I joined legislators in approving a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would provide a stronger system of checks and balances in how our state government responds to emergencies. The bipartisan measure would give voters the final say on whether the governor should be permitted to keep an emergency declaration in place for an indefinite period of time, or whether lawmakers should have the power to limit future emergency declarations if the governor abuses his power or deeply infringes on the rights of citizens.

The goal of this amendment will require the governor to work collaboratively with lawmakers and local emergency officials to avoid the kind of negative consequences we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the Wolf Administration is doing everything in its power to prevent this amendment from being approved by voters. The governor’s latest attack on this bipartisan effort came when the Department of State intentionally complicated the language of the amendment that will appear on the ballot for voters this spring.

Instead of simply informing voters what the amendment would do, Governor Wolf’s Department of State used intentionally biased wording to confuse voters by presenting the amendment as a threat to the ability of state agencies to respond to emergencies.

That is not the case at all. Under the measure, the governor could declare a state of emergency to respond in the days following any sort of catastrophe. The amendment simply would ensure these powers are not open-ended and the Governor is still accountable to the citizens of this Commonwealth and their elected officials.

I find it disheartening that Governor Wolf, his Administration, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who approves the wording of the amendment, have proven incapable of performing that one simple task without attempting to subvert this process for political gain.

My message to all Pennsylvanians is simple. Make your voice heard and ensure we don’t give unilateral power to this governor or future governors at a time when we need to work together.

Vote YES on the proposed constitutional amendments this spring.

For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com.  State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at facebook.com/PASenatorBobMensch/ or Twitter @SenatorMensch.

CONTACT: Madison Scarfaro mscarfaro@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388