Sep. 25—WILKES-BARRE — Sen. Lisa Baker Wednesday said in order to provide for the success and stability of our state's emergency response agency, we should have the chance to judge the qualifications, capabilities and priorities of the director, long before that individual assumes office, just as we do for other state departments, many of which have a lesser impact on community safety.
"PEMA has a staff compliment of 371 employees, which is far greater than the Departments of Aging, Banking, DCED, Drug and Alcohol, and Insurance — all agencies that already require Senate confirmation for their cabinet officials," Baker said.
On Wednesday, the state Senate approved legislation, requiring Senate confirmation of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) Director, according to Sen. Baker, R-Lehman Township, who sponsored the bill.
Baker said Senate Bill 461 was passed by a bi-partisan vote of 30 to 19, "taking a positive step towards establishing a more robust check and balance system for PEMA, which will increase accountability and ensure the agency is prepared to deal with emergencies efficiently and effectively."
Baker noted that public safety and emergency planning affect every county and community in our state. Over the last year and a half with the COVID-19 pandemic, the position of director for PEMA has become elevated in significance, and the realm of responsibility ever greater in reach.
"The pandemic has expanded the agency's portfolio of duties, with the health-related considerations that have been causing extended emergency declarations," Baker explained. "This week, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committee also advanced legislation to transfer authority to PEMA to serve as the lead agency to oversee flood plain management, as well as to administer and oversee the National Flood Insurance Program at the state level. Consequently, PEMA continues to become a more prominent front line entity, with wide responsibility, to help Pennsylvania and our citizens respond, recover, and rebuild from natural and man-made disasters."
Baker added, "Given the enormous scope of responsibility, the head of PEMA should be filled through a nomination and confirmation process, rather than executive approval alone. This bill is a solid step towards more responsive and accountable state government leadership."
Senate Bill 461 now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration.