Wolf announces vaccine joint task force with PA General Assembly.
Gov. Tom Wolf and his legislative allies have been opposed to creation of a joint Executive/Legislative task force regarding the state’s COVID-19 response, but this week, following passage of the Constitutional referendum question on length of gubernatorial executive orders, the Governor reached out to the General Assembly on vaccinations.
“We have a good working relationship with our legislators, and we know they are the eyes, ears, and voices for Pennsylvanians,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement creating a vaccine joint task force. “The feedback they receive from their local communities is extremely important, particularly as the commonwealth continues to improve upon this once-in-a-generation vaccine rollout. Working with leaders from each caucus in the General Assembly, we are creating a task force to ensure collaboration and strengthen communications about the state’s vaccine plan.”
Last April, state Democrats voted in unison against a bill that would have created a bipartisan task force comprised of members of the executive, judicial and legislative branches with the goal of developing “a recovery plan to include a documented, structured approach on how the Commonwealth and its subdivisions can expeditiously resume mission-critical functions, including the restoration of housing, transportation, education and other public services and economic activity to levels equal to or better than before the pandemic.” Since then, many legislative Democrats have repeatedly stated Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to have any say regarding the state’s COVID-19 response because they haven’t agreed with Wolf’s executive orders, and advocated for policies contrary to Wolf’s orders as well as openly ignored some of his orders.
Now, as the legislature moved SB 2 for the vote of the people, Gov. Wolf wants to work w/ the legislature.”
Senate Bill 2 includes a provision to limit emergency disaster declarations issued by the governor to no more than 21 days, which could only be extended by the approval by the General Assembly of a concurrent resolution to do so. Supporters of the proposed amendment say it will ensure greater cooperation between all branches of government during an emergency and restore the system of checks and balances upon which that Pennsylvania's government was founded, and which they say has been ignored by Wolf and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Wolf has said on several occasions that he doesn’t like the idea that voters could approve such an amendment, and legislative Democrats have maintained the changes would endanger Pennsylvania both during the current COVID-19 outbreak, and during future emergencies, by taking away the latitude to act unilaterally the governor has under the disaster emergency provisions of current state law.
The governor and his administration have been battered by negative press regarding the handling of vaccinations, with Pennsylvania lagging behind nearly all other states, even though every state has before it the same herculean task of trying to get COVID-19 inoculations into the willing arms of their residents while coping with limited vaccine supplies. State House Democrats held a policy committee hearing this week, which focused on the need to improve its vaccination process. Creating a task force that incorporates the legislative branch could help to inoculate the governor and his administration from some of that.
According to the governor’s task force announcement, the task force will meet “as needed” and serve as “a mechanism for accurate, timely information sharing via a streamlined set of communicators between these two branches of state government” with task force members able to “share vaccine information and communicate issues and solutions expediently on behalf of and to the broader General Assembly.”
Additionally, the Wolf administration said members of the task force “will represent their caucus’s point-of-view and work to streamline conversations to focus and drive issues of importance” while “Wolf Administration members will serve as task force members with the subject matter expertise to listen, collaborate and provide information, answers and suggestions to solve problems in a timely manner.”