HARRISBURG – The Senate approved two bills today that would provide some much-needed clarity and common sense to the process of deciding which businesses can safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Senator Judy Ward (R-30).
Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” on March 16 in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Although a haphazard waiver system was eventually created for businesses that wished to remain open, that process was riddled with inconsistencies and lacked any sense of transparency or accountability to the public, Senator Ward said.
“The governor’s waiver process for employers that wanted to stay open was an unmitigated disaster that lacked any sense of clarity, consistency, transparency and accountability,” Ward said. “Every business is life-sustaining to someone – whether employers or employees. We need to fix this system and help businesses begin to operate safely before these jobs are gone for good.”
The bills approved by the Senate today would create a better process for determining which businesses can continue to remain open, provide clarity on mitigation strategies necessary to protect the health and safety of both customers and employees, and give county leaders a stronger voice in which mitigation measures should be implemented locally.
Senate Bill 613 would require the governor to create clear guidelines for businesses to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that are able to operate safely under the new guidelines would be permitted to re-open as long as they comply with mitigation strategies.
The bill would require COVID-19 mitigation plans to be developed by the Wolf Administration based on guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia follow CISA guidelines.
To restore local control, Senate Bill 327 would give county governments the option to develop and implement their own plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, following CISA guidelines. Under the bill, businesses already identified as essential could continue to operate. However, counties would also be given the authority to develop plans to allow other industries to operate if it is safe to do so.
The bill also creates a COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force made up of representatives of all three branches of government to identify and address issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency together. The panel would be responsible for developing a recovery plan to restore public services and economic activity when it is safe to do so.
“These bills should not be misconstrued as an attempt to put profits over people. It is a recognition that counties should be able to make decisions for the people they represent with the proper guidance of health officials – not businesses being shuttered at the governor’s whims,” Ward said. “I spent most of my adult life working to protect the lives of patients as a nurse, so I fully understand the need to mitigate the spread of this virus. I also understand that we need a better way forward that addresses the needs and realities of our local communities so businesses that can operate safely and responsible can be allowed to do so.”
Instead of working with Pennsylvania business owners and lawmakers to develop a recovery plan for Pennsylvania’s economy, Governor Wolf recently joined other northeastern governors in an agreement to open selected industries on a shared schedule. The plan would essentially give unelected bureaucrats in other states more power over Pennsylvania businesses than state lawmakers and local elected leaders.
CONTACT: Cheryl Schriner (717) 787-5490