Tuesday, November 16, 2021

House Republicans Move Bills Amending State Constitution To Invalidate Actions By The Executive Branch To Cement One-Party Rule Of State Government

On November 16, Republicans on the
House State Government Committee voted to report out two bills that would allow the Senate and House to unilaterally invalidate regulations and Executive Orders issued by the Executive without any possibility of review of their actions.

The bills would have the effect of taking another step toward cementing one-party rule of all of state government through the Senate and House without any check on their authority or decisions.

One bill would eliminate provisions that have been in Pennsylvania’s constitution since at least 1874.

So much for “co-equal” branches of government.

The bills now go to the full House for consideration.


The bills were announced on November 9 by House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and would--

-- Regulations: House Bill 2069 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) Amend Article III, Section 9, to exempt the disapproval of a regulation by the General Assembly from the presentment requirement for the governor’s approval or disapproval. 

-- Executive Orders: House Bill 2070 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) Amend Article IV, to add a new section providing that any executive order or proclamation issued by the governor, which purports to have the force of law, may not be in effect for more than 21 days, unless extended by concurrent resolution of the General Assembly. 

House Bill 2069 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) would eliminate the presentment requirement for concurrent resolutions passed by the Senate and House to kill regulations promulgated by the Executive Branch.

Presentment means presenting bills and resolutions to the Governor for his action-- to sign or veto.  The General Assembly then has the opportunity to override the veto by a two-thirds vote of both bodies.

Presentment was included in the state constitution approved by voters in 1967 and in state constitutions adopted before that.  In fact, the text of Pennsylvania’s 1874 constitution posted by the Duquesne University School of Law also includes presentment.  Read more here.

It’s the classic “checks and balances” you learned about in civics class.

The proposed amendment on regulations, however, means the Senate and House can short circuit those checks and balances and merely pass a resolution killing a regulation and it goes into effect, bypassing the Governor entirely.

Speaker Cutler said an example of the kind of regulation this constitutional amendment was meant to deal with is the final regulation limiting carbon pollution emissions from power plants consistent with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

[Note: A concurrent resolution has been passed by the Senate and is now moving in the House to kill the RGGI regulations, but has not made it to the Governor’s Desk.

[Separately, the Senate passed legislation in June-- Senate Bill 119 (Pittman-R-Indiana)-- that would also block the regulations from going into effect.  The bill has been in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee since that time.

[In September, the House Environmental Committee reported out its own version of the bill-- House Bill 637 (Struzzi-R-Indiana)-- which is now Tabled in the House.

[So no legislation made it to the Governor’s desk through the Republican House and Senate this year, but in September 2020 the Senate and House did pass legislation to kill the RGGI rules and Gov. Wolf vetoed  it.  Read more here.

[There was no attempt at a veto override.]

A constitutional amendment has to pass two sessions of a General Assembly and it is then presented to voters for an up or down vote.

In the special case of constitutional amendments, the House and Senate passes them, but the Governor does not have the opportunity to sign or veto them-- a clear advantage in this case for Republicans.

Other Legislation

Republicans had a series of bills over the years to kill regulations in different ways, including most recently-- Senate Bill 32 (Phillips-Hill-R-York), Senate Bill 520 (DiSanto-R- Dauphin), House Bill 72 (Keefer-R-York) which would have allowed the Senate and House to kill regulations by doing nothing.

However, none of them even made it through both the Republican Senate and House and onto the Governor’s desk.

Net Effect Of New Bills

Republicans are trying to build on the success they had in the April Primary Election where voters approved a constitutional amendment to limit a Governor’s declaration of an emergency to 21 days, unless it is extended by the Senate and House passing a resolution.

It’s ironic that the provisions added to the constitution by voters in April first specifically requires all resolutions passed by the House and Senate to be presented to the Governor to sign or veto, except for the ones related to disaster emergencies.

Now Republicans want to extend that exemption to resolutions killing regulations.

They are also using the constitutional amendment process to make up for the fact they could not accomplish some of their policy objectives through the normal legislative process with its checks and balances-- even when Republicans control both the Senate and House.

They couldn’t get what they wanted, so they are changing the rules.

Together, the net effect of these and other proposed constitutional amendments, including another to elect state court judges by voting districts, is to make the Republican Senate and House the “be all and end all” in making any policy decision in state government without fear of being overridden by any other “co-equal” branch of government, including the courts.

They will effectively cement one-party rule into the state constitution.

So much for civics and checks and balances!

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) serves as Majority Chair of the House State Government Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-2655 or sending email to: sgrove@pahousegop.com.   Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Mifflin) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-783-9473 or sending email to: sconklin@pahouse.net.  

[Posted: November 16, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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