Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-led Legislature headed toward a legal clash Wednesday over the emergency declaration he issued at the beginning of the pandemic, with lawmakers voting to end it and Wolf insisting he holds veto power.
In largely party-line votes, the Legislature approved late Tuesday ending Wolf’s 3-month-old emergency proclamation and restarting businesses and other activities shut down as COVID-19 began tightening its grip on Pennsylvania. Retailers and many other kinds of businesses have since been permitted to reopen, but with restrictions.
Supporters of the resolution — which they asserted would do away with many, if not all, pandemic restrictions — maintained that state law authorizes the Legislature to end the emergency declaration unilaterally. Wolf believes that still requires his support and vowed Wednesday to fight the resolution in court.
House leadership also threatened legal action.
“If the governor chooses to openly violate the plain reading of the law, we will examine all legal actions available to us to act in the best interest of the residents of the commonwealth,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said in a news release Wednesday.
In an earlier letter to House members, Wolf said the resolution that cleared the Legislature would put federal funding at risk and “cripple the commonwealth’s ability to procure resources quickly and decisively.”
Wolf’s office said he will “disapprove” the resolution if it makes it to his desk, but argued that much of the shutdown would not be affected.
“This resolution would not affect the secretary of health’s order including business closure orders, building safety orders, and business safety orders, and therefore the administration’s phased reopening plan and associated orders would remain in place,” Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said in an email.
Republicans argued that Wolf had overstepped his authority, including with a process by which businesses could seek waivers that they said had been too secretive.
“It has become apparent that for the entire state, these decisions are being made by one man, the governor,” argued Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair. “How can we allow one man to continue to make poor decisions for millions?”
Democrats said the resolution was premature and put people’s health in danger.
“No other state has ended its declaration of emergency,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh. “There’s a reason why.”
In other coronavirus-related developments Wednesday:
SPORTS MAY RESUME
Sporting competitions at all levels in Pennsylvania will be permitted to resume, with restrictions, under guidance issued Wednesday by the Wolf administration.
School sports, which were shut down when Wolf closed K-12 schools in March to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus, may resume once school districts develop an athletic health and safety plan, the governor’s office said. College, recreational and youth sports may also restart.
Gatherings of players, coaches, officials and spectators will be limited to 25 for counties in the “yellow” phase of Wolf’s reopening plan, and 250, or 50% capacity, for those in the less restrictive “green” phase, according to the guidance.
Pro sports in “yellow’ counties are permitted to play without fans in the stands. Pro competitions taking place in “green” counties are permitted to be held in front no more than 250 people.
The Wolf administration issued new guidance on outdoor recreation Wednesday, saying businesses that offer mountain biking, outdoor mini golf, go carts, rock climbing, paintball, horse riding, tennis, archery or shooting, and similar activities can resume operation with restrictions.
Those businesses must keep their indoor spaces off-limits to the public except for restrooms, ticketing and entry. They must also prevent customers from congregating at entry gates, kiosks and concession stands, officials said.
The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 48 additional coronavirus deaths, raising the statewide total to 6,062.
Health officials reported 410 new infections, bringing the statewide total to nearly 77,000.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.