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House GOP advances measure limiting Wolf disaster authority

May 25, 2021 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A state House committee voted on party lines Tuesday to keep portions of the governor’s coronavirus disaster emergency in place until October but end fast-track contracting rules and other provisions.

The resolution, which requires approval from both legislative chambers but not from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, is designed to stop the use of no-bid contracts, require people on unemployment aid to look for work and end social distancing mitigation rules.

The State Government Committee vote came just one day after the proposal was introduced by the Republican House floor leader, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County, and exactly a week after state voters passed a pair of constitutional amendments to give lawmakers greater authority over disaster declarations.

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“We had an election — the people’s voices were loud and clear,” said the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York.

Republican Rep. Russ Diamond, who has opposed mask wearing and other virus mitigation efforts, said he hoped to make changes to the legislation before a final vote. Diamond said voters in his Lebanon County district did not want any provisions to remain in place for months to come.

“They didn’t vote to end this on Oct. 1. They didn’t vote to end this tomorrow. They voted to end this on May 18 and they were anxious to show up and end this once and for all,” Diamond said.

All Democrats on the committee voted no.

Wolf’s mitigation orders are currently being phased out, and on Monday the governor’s acting labor secretary outlined a schedule for resumption of job search requirements.

Wolf issued a statement Tuesday that said lawmakers were acting before the election results have been certified and that occupancy limits, stay-at-home orders and business closures are not dependent on his continually renewed disaster emergency declarations.

“The constitutional amendment granted them authority to terminate or extend in whole or in part the disaster declaration, and the specific orders are separate and apart from the proclamation,” Wolf said, calling the resolution that the State Government approved Tuesday a discouraging development.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.