- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Tuesday that Republican state senators cannot join a lawsuit that challenges an order by the Democratic governor giving home health care aides new tools to improve their wages and working conditions.

The high court voted 5-1 to prevent the leaders, acting on behalf of all Republican senators, from intervening in the pending Commonwealth Court challenge to an order Gov. Tom Wolf issued shortly after he took office last year.

The majority opinion said lawmakers only have standing to sue under limited circumstances, such as when their ability to vote or exercise official authority has been affected. In the health care matter, their interests were ruled to be “too indirect and insubstantial.”

“Taking the unprecedented step of allowing legislators standing to intervene in, or be a party to, any matter in which it is alleged that government action is inconsistent with existing legislation would entitle legislators to challenge virtually every interpretive executive order or action (or inaction),” wrote Justice Debra Todd.

The court’s lone Republican, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, said the senators are claiming Wolf’s action impinged on legislative branch powers, so he would have let them join the lawsuit.

Several people and the Pennsylvania Home Care Association challenged Wolf’s February 2015 order because, they said, it established organizational labor rights for domestic home care workers despite prohibitions against that in the state’s Labor Relations and Public Employee Relations acts.

The order created an advisory group and directed Wolf’s human services secretary to meet with those who represent workers paid through a state program. Workers would be able to elect representatives to meet with a group set up by the administration to address their issues and concerns.

Wolf’s order said the workers would not get status as state employees, and that the governor’s action did not create collective bargaining rights.

Drew Crompton, a senior Senate Republican aide, said the order was part of a pattern by Wolf to change law through executive orders.

“This case is another example of just that. We are disappointed that we were not granted intervention. Nevertheless, our caucus stands ready to assist the plaintiffs in any way necessary to ensure that the Wolf administration complies with the constitution and understands that there are three separate but equal branches of government,” Crompton said.

Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan called the decision a victory for seniors, consumers and direct care attendants.

“We look forward to continuing to argue the case on its merits,” Sheridan said, adding it could “ensure that home care workers have a voice in shaping the future of the industry and that seniors have choices about where to receive care.”

Todd’s opinion noted the high court was not considering or ruling on the constitutionality of the executive order. That matter has been on hold in Commonwealth Court and will now proceed.


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