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Republicans victorious in PA as voters make it easier to limit Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency powers in face of COVID-19 shutdown

Pennsylvania Republicans got a big win earlier this week after voters decided to make it easier for the state legislature to limit the emergency powers of the governor — in this case, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, WHYY-TV reported.

What are the details?

The decision came through a pair of ballot measures voters narrowly passed, the station said.

Republican lawmakers — who control the legislature — have struggled with Wolf over his orders in response to COVID-19 over the last year, WHYY said, adding that their efforts to curtail Wolf’s orders through legislation, which requires a two-thirds majority, and in court have failed.

But now one of the constitutional amendments voters approved gives lawmakers the ability to end emergency orders with a simple majority vote, the station said. The second measure limits the governor’s emergency orders to 21 days.

More from WHYY:

The state’s current COVID-19 emergency order, last renewed for 90 days in February, is set to expire this week ahead of business restrictions lifting on Memorial Day. It’s unclear at the moment if Wolf intends to renew the declaration to give his administration the flexibility to extend lockdowns if cases were to suddenly rise. The other new law would limit that order to 21 days.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff and Speaker Bryan Cutler, both Republicans, said in a joint statement that their victory doesn’t mean COVID-19 responses will be handled irresponsibly, the station said.

“This decision by the people is not about taking power away from any one branch of government,” Senate President Jake Corman and Majority Leader Kim Ward, both Republicans, said in a joint statement, according to WHYY. “It’s about re-establishing the balance of power between three equal branches of government as guaranteed by the constitution.”

What did Wolf have to say?

A Wolf spokesman said the administration declined to comment until the official results come in, the station said, although the state’s Emergency Management Agency criticized the amendments, saying they “have the potential to politicize future disasters and their management” and that the agency is “extremely disappointed that our efforts … could be constrained by partisan politics, which has no place in emergency response efforts.”

Anything else?

But the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board applauded voters’ decision to make it easier to limit Wolf’s emergency powers, calling it a “rebuke” of his “endless pandemic diktats.” Still, the piece cautiously wondered “whether Mr. Wolf will deign to obey the voters or look for some legal ruse to get around them.”

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