Since Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency on March 6, local government entities and businesses in the Commonwealth have been plagued by a lack of communication and inconsistent reporting by the state government.
The state Department of Health has repeatedly revised its methods of reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths, to the point of where the numbers they provide lack credibility.
County coroners seem to be at a loss to explain where the state came up with the figures for deaths. The governor’s office devised a plan for reopening the state, but it appears the plan lacked input from stakeholders such as county governments and businesses.
Many of the plan features appear arbitrary, and some seem to be non-existent (i.e. — requirements for a county to move from yellow to green). Butler and three other counties have filed suit against the governor. The state legislature passed three bills aimed at reopening sectors of the economy; however, the governor remains intransigent and vetoed these bills.
Perhaps it is time for the legislature to exercise a “nuclear option” with the governor.
The same section of law (35 Pa. CS 7301(c)) that gives the governor the power to declare a disaster emergency also includes a provision where the General Assembly by concurrent resolution can terminate a disaster emergency declaration at any time.
Upon passage of such a resolution, the governor is required to issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency. If this would occur, it would seem that counties or municipalities could continue under their own states of emergency, and implement their own guidelines.
This option has some pitfalls. It could potentially jeopardize the Commonwealth’s ability to access federal emergency monies. However, that risk may be enough to convince the governor to begin acting more cooperatively with legislators, local leaders, and businesses.
This cooperation should include clear metrics for reopening businesses, local governments or school districts. In the event an entity disagrees with a state determination, an appeals process should be set up where the decision would be reviewed by independent arbiters.
All of this should be done with maximum transparency, which would be a welcome change from how things are currently done.