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May 19, 2021

Pennsylvania votes to restrict governor's powers in emergency declarations

In Philadelphia, voters backed a proposal to expand the city's Board of License Inspection Review

2021 Election Ballot Questions
2021 Primary Election results Katherine McAdoo/

Pennsylvania voters answered four ballot questions during the 2021 primary election, approving all of them — including two that restrict the governor's powers to declare emergencies.

Pennsylvania voters backed a pair of Republican-led ballot measures that limit the governor's power to extend emergency declarations – a hot button issue throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Voters had four statewide questions on their ballots during Tuesday's primary election. Two of them asked voters whether the state constitution should be amended so that the state legislature has more power during emergency situations. 

The Associated Press called those results Wednesday morning, with about 73% of precincts reporting. 

The other two measures – regarding racial discrimination and funding for firefighters and emergency services – also were approved. 

Philadelphia voters had a city-specific question on whether the city's Board of Licenses and Inspection Review should expand. They also voted to re-elect District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Here are the results from the ballot questions:

Amendment 1: Expand General Assembly emergency control – YES 

This amendment to the state constitution expands the General Assembly's powers over emergency declarations – like the one enacted and repeatedly renewed by Gov. Tom Wolf during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With 73% of precincts reporting, about 54% of voters supported it. 

The Republican-backed amendment allows state lawmakers to extend or terminate the governor's emergency declaration by passing a resolution with a simple majority – which the governor cannot veto. 

Amendment 2: Limit emergencies to 21 days – YES

This constitutional amendment limits emergency declarations to 21 days. After that period, declarations need legislative approval to be extended. It also grants more power to the General Assembly on how disaster emergencies are managed. 

With 73% of precincts reporting, about 54% of voters supported it. 

Previously, emergency declarations lasted 90 days and could be renewed as many times as the governor deemed necessary.

This Republican-backed question also prevents the governor from issuing a new declaration based on the same situation, unless the state legislature passes a resolution to approve the declaration. And it makes the General Assembly responsible for passing laws dictating the management of disaster emergencies. 

Amendment 3: Prohibit denial of rights based on race, ethnicity – YES

Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional amendment to outlaw racial or ethnic discrimination.

The measure, backed by Republicans and Democrats, makes it illegal to deny or restrict people's rights under state law due to their race or ethnicity.

About 71% of Pennsylvanians voted in favor of the amendment, which was championed by state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat. 

Referendum: Allow fire department and EMS loans – YES

Voters backed a referendum to allow municipal fire departments and EMS companies with paid employees to apply for state loans. Previously, these loans were limited to volunteer departments and companies.

The referendum, which was backed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, does not add additional funding to the loan program.

More than 71% of voters favored the bill, with 73% of precincts reporting. 

Philadelphia: Expand the Board of License Inspection Review – YES

Philadelphia residents voted to expand the Board of Licenses and Inspections Review to nine members, and to allow the board to decide cases in groups of three, rather than a full majority of its members.

The board helps contractors, businesses, property owners, landlords and tenets comply with business safety standards, like fire codes and construction inspections. It also hears appeals for the denial of licenses to carry firearms and firearm license revocations.

The measure was added in hopes helping the board get through a backlog of cases that accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About 78% of voters supported the measure. 

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