PA Governor's Extended Emergency Declarations--Should They be Curbed?

Date: September 24, 2020

NFIB testifies before House about the impact on small businesses

HARRISBURG (Sept. 23, 2020) – Rebecca Oyler, NFIB’s Legislative Director testified before a House Committee seeking to determine if Pennsylvania’s Governor’s power to declare an emergency, which allows quick action in a state emergency, should be reined in. During the pandemic, and for a thousand days during the opioid crisis, Gov. Wolf has used those powers repeatedly to gain the authority to circumvent legislative approval and tap state funds. The Governor has extended those powers multiple times throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

The House committee, which oversees Pennsylvania’s emergency preparedness, heard from NFIB about how, since March when the business shutdowns by the administration began, small businesses were impacted by this declared emergency.

Oyler testified, “When a shut-down was ordered to flatten the curve, they complied. Many reoriented their businesses to provide necessary equipment and supplies or quickly planned ways to serve customers in innovative ways. Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers, and most rose to the challenge.

However, as days turned into weeks and, eventually months, and mandates and policies continued to change, many found it difficult to hold things together. State and federal loans and grants only went so far, and many small businesses were forced to close their doors for good. And we know that more will follow unless something changes.”

Currently, under state law, the Governor can declare a disaster emergency for 90 days and the legislative branch has few options to intervene if they don’t agree with the Governor’s Executive Orders imposed during that time. Even though the legislature passed some bills to lessen the administration’s restrictions imposed during the pandemic on small businesses, in most cases, the Governor vetoed them. The General Assembly also passed a measure to end the current disaster declaration altogether, but the state Supreme Court ruling on the issue gave the Governor the power to veto it as well.

A constitutional amendment to limit the length of emergency declarations to 21 days and require legislative approval after that passed the General Assembly in July. It must pass again in the 2021-22 legislative session before it is put on the ballot for a citizen vote.

At the hearing a representative from Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency testified as well as business advocates.

Oyler told lawmakers “These businesses are neighborhood gathering spots, but they are also taxpayers and employers. We need them. They will play a big part in our recovery from this crisis, and we should do everything in our power to help them recover and thrive.

What do small businesses need to thrive? If you have to boil it down to one word, that word may very well be predictability. All businesses have to plan – for next year, for next month, but also for tomorrow. The unfortunate situation we’ve found ourselves in for the past six months has led to an enormous amount of unpredictability. Until we solve that problem, our small businesses will never achieve their potential, and as a result, our economy will continue to suffer, our tax revenue will never rebound, and unemployment will remain high.”





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