HARRISBURG – A move in the state House to override the governor’s veto of a resolution that would have ended the state’s pandemic emergency declaration failed Wednesday, falling 16 votes shy of the two-thirds needed.
The vote was 118-84.
Republicans, who hold the majority, called for the veto override attempt on the 180th day since Gov. Tom Wolf first declared an emergency to respond to the pandemic in March.
Wolf vetoed House Resolution 836, which would have ended the emergency declaration, after the state Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly had to give him the opportunity to do so.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, said Wednesday’s attempted veto override was needed because while there was need for “swift action” in the initial days of the pandemic, in the months since, Wolf has leaned too heavily on the emergency powers.
The governor’s handling was been plagued by “confusing and inconsistent orders, guidance and mandates, depending on whatever he wants to call it that day,” Benninghoff said.
Democrats blasted the move as an irresponsible attempt to curtail the state’s emergency response when the state is trying to manage school reopenings with COVID-19 outbreaks still popping up across the state.
“HR 836 was a bad idea that last time we voted on it,” said House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County. “We still have an emergency.”
Nine Democrats joined the Republicans in the attempted veto override. Most of the Democrats who broke ranks were from western Pennsylvania and included state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, and state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria County.
Earlier Wednesday, Sainato said he was on the fence about how to vote but said he has disagreed with the governor’s limits on the restaurant industry.
The failed override attempt is the latest battle between lawmakers and the governor over his strategy for reopening the state since the state’s pandemic shutdown in March.
Officials in the Wolf administration said that even if the override had been successful, the mitigation orders issued by the Department of Health would remain in effect.
“We continue to see outbreaks of cases occur, whether on college campuses, among schools and in our communities. We are seeing outbreaks in long-term care facilities, where the virus is brought in by the asymptomatic employees working to care for the residents,” said Nate Wardle, a Health Department spokesman. “In Pennsylvania, have we bent the curve for now, yes. We have not overwhelmed our health systems to this point. But the virus still exists, and it is our duty to protect the public health of Pennsylvanians.”
Governors from both major political parties have repeatedly issued emergency declarations to respond to the pandemic, said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor.
“The Republican Legislature continues to pretend that we are not in the middle of a public health crisis. They need to start taking this seriously,” Kensinger said.
Republican lawmakers said that Wolf has repeatedly failed to provide data to justify his moves, including a limit on restaurant capacity to 25% occupancy.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, said the current state of the pandemic would justify mitigation efforts in counties where there are outbreaks, but not statewide restrictions.
“How many times have the goalposts moved?” he asked.
State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, said he was one of the lawmakers who’d been lobbying legislative leaders to attempt the veto override.
“We need to save our businesses, save our economy and save our schools and colleges,” he said. “It’s terrible nearly all the Democrats voted no.”
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said the Republicans in the House haven’t ruled out trying to override the veto again at some point.