State laws and rules should apply to everyone – including the governor

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a sense of unity and hope that our state and our country could confront this crisis head-on and come out stronger in the end. Americans have always come together in our darkest hours and confronted our greatest challenges with a spirit of cooperation.

Before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans – united under one flag. As a nation of laws, we are required to all live by the same standards.

We need leaders at all levels of government to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Unfortunately, we have seen something very different from state leaders in recent weeks.

At Governor Wolf’s news conferences – which until recently were not actually open to reporters – he has stressed his understanding of the hardships faced by employers and employees, since he was once a business owner.

He fails to mention that the cabinet-making business bearing his family’s name remained open during this pandemic. Meanwhile, another cabinet manufacturer in York County was deemed “non-life sustaining” and was denied a waiver from the Department of Community and Economic Development.

When out-of-work Pennsylvanians protested the governor’s shutdown orders in cities throughout the state, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Levine said these protesters pose a “public health risk.” The governor referred to those who defied his orders as “cowards” and “deserters.” However, the governor later stood shoulder-to-shoulder with protestors in a march through Harrisburg in what he admitted was a direct violation of his own orders.

Even as nursing homes have been devastated by this virus, accounting for two-thirds of all deaths statewide, universal testing at these facilities has now been delayed until July 24. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Health moved her mother out of a personal care facility at the outset of the pandemic to protect her from COVID-19, while mandating these facilities continue to accept residents who tested positive for the virus.

Governor Wolf has claimed that he is open to different approaches and working with lawmakers, but he has vetoed every attempt to open the state in accordance with federal guidance from the CDC.

Actions speak louder than words.

Meanwhile, ABC27 reported last week that 16 percent of Pennsylvanians seeking unemployment compensation are still without assistance. That means 350,000 of our fellow Pennsylvanians remain without a paycheck or unemployment compensation for more than three months. To add insult to injury, legislators received word from the Department of Labor and Industry this week to inform them that major problems with the Unemployment Compensation System and fraud related issues have presented major obstacles to resolving constituent issues and remedies won’t be in place for at least another three weeks.

It’s no wonder that Republicans and Democrats agree: the governor’s go-it-alone approach is not working. We cannot allow it to continue any longer.

The legislature approved, with bipartisan support, a concurrent resolution that would end his emergency declaration. According to the laws governing disaster emergencies, the governor has no say in the matter; he is required to issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of emergency. But once again, Governor Wolf has asserted that the rules don’t apply to him by refusing to do his duty under the law.

Ending the disaster declaration will not impact Pennsylvania’s ability to access federal funding, nor will it affect the availability of money for unemployment and other emergency programs because they are tied to the federal disaster declaration – not the state’s. The only real impact will be limiting the governor’s ability to suspend laws and spend money at will, in direct contradiction to the system of government we have in place.

Senate leaders have asked the Commonwealth Court to intervene and compel the governor to rescind his disaster declaration. The court is giving the Wolf Administration until this Thursday to submit a brief to support their position. Furthermore, the Wolf Administration appealed to the state Supreme Court to take up the case and has asked the Commonwealth Court to postpone Thursday’s deadline. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced it will hear the case. 

Our system of government was created to prevent any one branch from accumulating too much power. It is designed to make sure no one is above the law, and I sincerely hope that the judicial branch appreciates this principle in its ruling. It is far past time to restore our system of checks and balances so that we can work together to responsibly, safely and intelligently restore lives and livelihoods.

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