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State Lawmakers Defy Governors in a Covid-Era Battle for Power

A number of states would limit a governor’s power to unilaterally declare emergencies to 30 days, after which lawmakers would approve any extension. The 30-day window is in model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an influential conservative group funded by businesses.

Most of the bills will die in committees or be vetoed by governors. Only two states, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have so far enacted significant legislation.

Republicans in Pennsylvania did an end run around the possibility of a veto by the Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, by placing a measure on the statewide ballot in May to amend the state constitution. If it is passed by voters, a governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency would expire after 21 days unless the legislature agrees to extend it.

The measure follows a year in which many Republican lawmakers raged against Mr. Wolf’s handling of the pandemic — including some who questioned the scientific consensus about masks, headlined “Reopen Pennsylvania” protests and defied federal and state guidelines about crowds to appear at Trump campaign rallies.

But Jake Corman, the president pro tem of the State Senate, said the constitutional amendment wasn’t about political payback.

“Ultimately, this is about not allowing any individual — as well intended as I’m sure the governor was — the power to handle all these decisions unilaterally,” he said. “No one ever envisioned governors of any party having this much power in an emergency.”

Mike Brunelle, the governor’s chief of staff, warned that if the constitutional amendment had been in place last year, health outcomes would have been worse in Pennsylvania.


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