(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee approved legislation this week to amend the state constitution to limit gubernatorial proclamations and executive orders to 21 days.
Republicans approved House Bill 2069 and House Bill 2070, both with a 14-10 vote along party lines, in a move they said was aimed at restoring the balance of power in the commonwealth’s three branches of government.
“Our constitution is very clear that no single branch of our government, nor any unelected bureaucrat, should ever have the unilateral and unchecked authority to issue open-ended orders or regulations,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who sponsored both bills.
“The divisions of power and checks and balances among our three branches of government are the very components of why free people allow themselves to be governed,” he said.
HB 2070 would amend the state constitution to add a new section that would prohibit any executive order or proclamation by the governor to remain in effect for more than 21 days without a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly.
HB 2069 would provide that a bill to disapprove a regulation approved by the General Assembly would not need to be presented to the governor for approval.
“The past year and a half have been a prime example of what happens when one branch of government, the executive branch, exceeds its scope,” State Government Committee Chair Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said. “As the voice of the people, the House was left with no choice but to work diligently to gain back its rightful powers so that it is equal to the executive branch.”
The legislation stems from disagreements over proclamations and executive orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that Republicans believe exceeded his authority. HB 2069 also prevents bureaucrats from misinterpreting or manipulating legislation approved by the General Assembly when implementing the law, Cutler said.
Democrats on the House State Government Committee argued the bills create a “dangerous path” that moves away from what the authors of the state constitution intended.
“Let’s not change the constitution because we didn’t like how somebody did something,” Minority Chair Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said at the committee hearing.
Conklin noted lawmakers can overturn executive orders with the approval of two-thirds of the General Assembly.
“That safeguard is there,” he said.
Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Tobyhanna, described the legislation as a “knee-jerk reaction to a once in a century pandemic where the branches of government didn’t agree, and now we’re taking that power away.”
“I just don’t think it’s a smart maneuver for this governor or any other governor to take away that power and enshrine it in the constitution,” she said.
To amend the constitution the bills would need approval from the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions before going before voters on the ballot.
“This is a constitutional amendment, so people would have to vote on it,” said Rep. Francis Ryan, R-Palmyra, countering claims from Democrats that the bills would hurt constituents. “Citizens would have to say this is the form of government we want.”