Senator Judy Ward’s COVID Response Timeline

December 7th, 2020: Senator Yaw and I circulated a co-sponsor memo, reintroduced from the previous session, ensuring PA milk haulers can travel on highways during a declaration of disaster emergency.

December 4th, 2020: Senator Ward signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, which proposes a Constitutional amendment that would limit the length of future emergency declarations to 21 days and require any extension of the declaration to be approved by the General Assembly. Constitutional amendments are required to pass both chambers of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and then be approved by Pennsylvania voters in a ballot referendum. The previous version of the bill (Senate Bill 1166) was passed by both chambers in the 2019-20 legislative session which expired on 11/30/2020, but would need to pass both chambers again in the 2021-22 legislative session before it could be considered finally by Pennsylvania voters.

November 30th, 2020: EXPIRATION OF 2019-2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION – all bills introduced during this two-year period expired at midnight on this date. Any bills that were not enacted into law during this period must be reintroduced in the 2021-2022 legislative session if the prime sponsor wants the General Assembly to consider those proposals moving forward.

November 19th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of legislation aimed at providing liability assistance for health care providers, PPE manufacturers, schools, businesses, etc., to protect them from unfair lawsuits against the good-faith actions they took during the pandemic. Governor Wolf later vetoed the bill.

November 20th, 2020:  Senator Ward supported and the Legislature completed work on the 2020-21 state budget, agreeing to a plan that maintains critical state services without the need for tax or fee increases. The budget plan completes the work that began in May, when a five-month budget plan was enacted to provide additional time to determine the full financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

November 18th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of two bills that would ensure the Second Amendment rights of Pennsylvanians are protected during emergency declarations:

  • House Bill 1747 would ensure firearm sales are not prohibited during an emergency declaration and that the rights of law-abiding citizens to open carry firearms during a state of emergency are not infringed upon.
  • House Bill 2440 would ensure shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, hunting facilities and firearm and ammunition manufacturers, retailers and distributors are considered life-sustaining businesses that will not be shuttered by state government during an emergency declaration.

Governor Wolf ultimately vetoed both bills.

November 18th, 2020: Senator Ward voted on legislation that would give schools more flexibility by easing many certification and staff development requirements that are difficult to fulfill during the pandemic and extending certain emergency permits when staff development requirements cannot be completed. The measure was signed into law on November 25th as Act 136.  

October 21st, 2020: The Senate approved two bills to boost the availability of broadband by reducing regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies (Senate Bill 1112) and utilizing existing infrastructure to further deploy high-speed internet (House Bill 2438), the need for which has only increased during the pandemic. HB 2438 was signed into law on October 29th as Act 98.

October 21st, 2020: The Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1110, legislation that would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local health agencies to provide 911 dispatch centers with the address of any known positive case of a communicable disease that is infectious through aerosolized transmission. SB 1110 was signed into law on November 3rd as Act 112.

October 19th, 2020: The Senate approved legislation (Senate Bill 1279) to ensure safe visitation and enhanced care for residents of long-term care facilities.

October 16th, 2020:  Governor Wolf vetoes bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Rep. Everett, that would ease arbitrary and burdensome restrictions on owners of bars and restaurants.  A motion to override the veto fails on Oct. 20th, 2020 (133-69).

October 6th, 2020: The Senate approved my bill, Senate Bill 1268, legislation that would allow temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 emergency declaration to receive certification to continue working in the field. SB 1268 was signed into law on November 25th as Act 138.

September 22nd, 2020: Senator Ward supports bipartisan legislation (HB 2513) that would ease Governor Wolf’s arbitrary and burdensome restrictions on owners of bars and restaurants.  This bill, sponsored by Rep. Everett, passed the full Senate, 43-6.

September 22nd, 2020: In an effort to eliminate discrepancies between the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the Department of Health and county coroners, the Senate approved my bill, Senate Bill 1164, which would ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases. Governor Wolf later vetoed the bill.

September 22nd, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of approving legislation, Senate Bill 1189,  to protect residents of assisted living facilities and other long-term care homes from disease outbreaks.

September 21st, 2020: The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2487, legislation that would apply a freeze to COLA (cost of living adjustments) for public officials through 2021 in response to COVID-19. The measure was signed into law as Act 79.

September 15th,  United States District Judge declared Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine’s shutdown order unconstitutional.

September 9th, 2020: The Senate gave final approval to House Bill 2787, legislation that would ensure school districts could make the final decision on whether to allow school sports, extracurricular activities and spectators during the 2020-21 school year. Governor Wolf later vetoed the bill.  A motion to override the veto fails on Sept.  23rd, 2020 (130-71).

September 9th, 2020: The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 835, legislation that would establish a grant program to extend deployment of broadband services in under-served areas of the state, the need for which has been further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. SB 835 was signed into law on November 25th as Act 132.

September 8th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to move House Bill 2513, legislation sponsored by Rep. Everett, that would remove the governor’s 25-percent cap on occupancy and allowed restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity until the current COVID-19 emergency declaration ends, out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

August 12th, 2020: Senator signed on as a co-sponsor of a legislative package sponsored by Senator Pat Stefano that would offer relief to Pennsylvania Restaurants and Taverns by removing the 25% occupancy requirement, removing the food requirement and ban on bar service, expanding outdoor dining to non-contiguous areas, and waiving all license renewal and permit fees.

July 15th, 2020: The Senate approved legislation (Senate Bill 1166)  to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to require legislative approval before a governor can extend an emergency disaster declaration.   

July 15th, 2020: The Senate gave final approval to a bill,  HB 2463, this week that would restore transparency by prohibiting the governor from directing a state agency to ignore records requests during an emergency declaration. The legislation would ensure Pennsylvanians can continue to access public records during a disaster declaration.

July 15th, 2020: The Senate approved legislation to assist recent teaching graduates who are attempting to navigate the state certification process, which was disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

June 30th, 2020: The Senate voted unanimously to pass House Bill 2455, which requires the governor to submit to the General Assembly the plan for COVID-19 testing — including any amendments — that was submitted to the federal government. Hb 2455 was signed into law on July 23rd as Act 70.

June 30th, 2020: Senator Ward supported legislation (Senate Bill 1199) to assist businesses, health systems, and consumers in deploying innovative technological tools and resources to more effectively cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing basic rules for the operation of Personal Delivery Devices in the Commonwealth. The bill was signed into law on November 1st as Act 106.  

June 29th, 2020: My bill, Senate Bill 273, passed that would make improvements and expand access to the Community-Based Health Care Program by providing funding to community health clinics in several different categories and reducing the unnecessary use of hospital emergency rooms for non-emergent care. SB 273 was signed into law on October 29th as Act 100.

June 25th, 2020: The Senate Aging & Youth Committee, chaired by Senator Ward, held a public hearing to receive an update on measures to protect residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Testifiers for the hearing will include care providers, advocates and state officials from the Department of Health, Department of Human Services and the Pennsylvania National Guard.

June 24th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass legislation (House Bill 2171) to protect the future of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).  As many PASSHE schools face considerable financial and enrollment pressures worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal of this legislation is to ensure the system has the tools to achieve its mission for years to come. The measure was signed into law on July 1st as Act 50.  

June 24th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of passing House Bill 2418, legislation that would require the Pennsylvania Treasury to conduct a COVID-19 debt cost reduction review by identifying and examining all outstanding debt obligations of the Commonwealth and its authorities, commissions, agencies, or boards, and submitting a report of the findings to the General Assembly no later than October 30, 2020.

June 10th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass Senate Bill 1125, legislation sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin to give each school district the option to extend property tax discount periods and remove penalties for late payments through discount periods and remove penalties for late payments through June 30, 2021.

June 10th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass Senate Bill 1166, a proposed Constitutional amendment that would limit the length of future emergency declarations to 30 days and require any extension of the declaration to be approved by the General Assembly.

June 9th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass House Resolution 836 to immediately terminate the governor’s emergency disaster declaration.  Governor Wolf later vetoed the resolution.  A motion to override the veto fails on Sept.  2nd (118-84).

May 28th, 2020: Senator Ward supported passage of an interim $25.8 billion state budget proposal and a package of bills designed to support families, businesses, employees, and organizations affected by the pandemic.

May 28th, 2020: The Senate voted unanimously to pass Senate Bill 1108, which appropriates Pennsylvania’s federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funding for critical needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including funding for county governments, community service providers, first responders, and food banks that have been impacted by the virus.

May 28th, 2020: The Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1122, which appropriates $507 million from Pennsylvania’s share of federal CARES funding to support a variety of programs and services for senior citizens, including nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and $31 million for a one-time grant program for volunteer fire and EMS companies. The measure was signed into law as 26.

May 28th, 2020: The Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1027, an omnibus COVID-19 business closure response bill that would require notice of any laws or regulations suspended by the Governor during an emergency, provide for state and local debt and cost reduction review, and provides that the Governor cannot fine or suspend a license for violations of emergency orders. Governor Wolf vetoed the bill on June 8th.

May 28th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of passing House Bill 1210, legislation that would provide for transfers into the School Safety and Security Fund from federal funds related to COVID-19 and amends the Public-School Code of 1949 to repeal outdated and unnecessary provisions and implement the 2020-21 budget.

May 13th, 2020: The Senate Local Government Committee and the Senate Aging & Youth Committee, chaired by Senator Ward, held a joint hearing to hear testimony from county officials about efforts to begin to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as from medical experts who are treating our most vulnerable senior population and researching the virus COVID-19. 

May 7th, 2020:  Senator Ward, Chair of the Senate Aging & Youth Committee, held a joint public hearing with the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, examined some of the unique challenges  facing nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Following the hearing, senators called  on PA Health Department to begin widespread testing and provide PPE to slow nursing home resident deaths.

May 6th, 2020: Senator Ward participated in a public hearing of the Senate Law & Justice Committee to consider Liquor Control Board issues and the impacts on small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 29th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass legislation that would:

  • Require the state to notify local first responders of COVID-19 cases in their communities. Senate Bill 1110 would require the Department of Health or local health authority to release to 911 centers, police, fire, coroners and EMS personnel an individual’s communicable disease status when the disease is the subject of an emergency disaster proclamation by the Governor.
  • Extend the amount of time employees who work with children have to recertify background checks until December 31, as many are unable to complete the necessary FBI criminal background checks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. House Bill 360 would also create different criteria for initial applicants to work on a temporary basis.
  • Simplify the judicial process by establishing the following temporary measures immediately, which would then be automatically implemented during any future judicial emergencies. Senate Bill 1119 would toll the Statute of Limitations for civil and criminal cases and provide additional time for the filing of any necessary pleadings. Senate Bill 1120 would extend the time period individuals have for responding to a citation, or paying the appropriate fines, costs, or restitution.

April 29th, 2020: Senator Ward, along with Sen. Doug Mastriano and other Senate Republicans, sent a letter to Governor Wolf urging him to reverse his March 19th, 2020 decision to prohibit the sales of vehicles.

April 29th, 2020: Senator Ward supported critical funding for nursing homes so that they can better deal with the significant new challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged the Wolf Administration to do everything in its power to expediently grant regulatory waivers to assist these facilities hit hardest by this crisis.

April 28th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of passing Senate Bill 1097, legislation that would allow for remote notarizations.

April 28th, 2020: Senator Ward, along with all 27 of her Senate Republican colleagues, signed on to a letter to Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urging him to conduct an audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s (DECD) handling of the waiver process for businesses that felt they were incorrectly classified as non-essential after Governor Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses in the Commonwealth to close. The purpose of the audit is to ensure accountability and transparency in government, as DCED has thus far denied all requests to make public the list of business who did and did not receive waivers.

April 22nd, 2020: I announced the introduction of legislation that would amend the County Code to make clear that all deaths in a county suspected of COVID-19 shall be referred to the county coroner for investigation.

April 21st, 2020: The Senate voted unanimously to pass House Bill 1869, which ensures law enforcement, first responders, and active duty National Guard members who contract COVID-19 can receive compensation while quarantined or receiving treatment for the virus. HB 1869 was ultimately signed into law on April 29th as Act 17.

April 21st, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of legislation that would help more patients overcome barriers to care during the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting the use of telemedicine.

April 15th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of two bills that would have provided some much-needed clarity and common sense to the process of deciding which businesses can safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, both measures were later vetoed by Governor Wolf. Those measures include:

  • Senate Bill 613 would have aligned Pennsylvania’s list of essential vs. non-essential businesses with a list developed by the CDC and the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) that was, at the time, used by 22 other states across the nation. It would have required the governor to create clear guidelines for businesses to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic and permit them to re-open as long as they comply with mitigation strategies.
  • 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.

April 8th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass Senate Bill 841, legislation that would take a number of steps to ensure local governments can continue to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill would:

  • Allow local governments to provide greater flexibility on property tax deadlines.
  • Permit local governments to conduct remote meetings.
  • Give notaries emergency authorization to notarize documents remotely through the use of communications technology.

March 25th, 2020: Senator Ward voted to pass several bills to keep Pennsylvania moving forward during the COVID-19 coronavirus public health emergency. The coronavirus response measures included:

  • Senate Bill 422, which postpones Pennsylvania’s primary election from April 28 to June 2.
  • Senate Bill 751, which updates Pennsylvania’s School Code to waive a number of mandates on schools that cannot be fulfilled under the current circumstances.
  • House Bill 68, which provides for emergency changes to the state’s Unemployment Compensation law in response to COVID-19.
  • House Bill 1232, which provides additional funding to healthcare facilities to purchase medical supplies and equipment and extends the deadline for certain state and local income tax payments and filings.

March 20th, 2020: Senator Ward joined Senate leaders in raising concerns about some of the unforeseen problems that could arise from Governor Wolf’s executive order to close all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania and how this measure could impact small businesses. As a result of these efforts, the Wolf Administration announced a waiver process for any company that believes they should be considered a life-sustaining-business. 

March 18th, 2020: Senator Ward voted in favor of a resolution that would allow members of the Pennsylvania Senate to vote remotely, an important step to ensure continuity of Senate operations throughout the pandemic.