Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives advanced a bill on Wednesday seeking to outlaw the use of COVID-19 vaccine passports by state public entities and place limits on the powers of the state health secretary during a health-related emergency. The vote came along party lines, with 112 Republicans supporting the measure and 89 Democrats opposing.
“No government entity shall require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to use any service, enter any building or undertake any activity within the territorial limits or the jurisdiction of the government entity,” the bill read. Colleges and universities would also be prohibited from making such requirements.
Under the new legislation, the state secretary of health would be barred from restricting travel, ordering any sort of closures, and mandating that people who have not been exposed to a contagious disease “physically distance, wear a universal face covering, conduct a specific hygienic practice, [or] shelter in place.”
“Among the other good provisions in this bill, Senate Bill 618 would clarify the language of the Disease Prevention and Control Law to ensure an unelected bureaucrat — the secretary of Health — cannot upend the lives of Pennsylvanians who are well,” said Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff. “It is a logical extension of the action we took a few weeks ago to end the COVID-19 disaster declaration, and reins in the ability of one person to have unilateral control over Pennsylvanians.”
While the Republican-controlled Senate must ratify an amendment to the bill before final passage, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has signaled that he will veto the legislation. Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger called the bill a dangerous move that “would undermine any attempt to protect public health in any circumstance.”
The move by state Republicans to curtail government power during a public health emergency comes on the heels of Pennsylvania voters approving two constitutional amendments during the state’s May 18 primary elections that would place limits on the governor’s emergency powers. Backed by Republican lawmakers, the amendments would provide the state General Assembly “much more power over disaster declarations, to apply whether the emergency is another pandemic or natural disaster.”
Under the new amendments, the governor’s emergency disaster declaration would end after 21 days and grant state lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote.