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 Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), who spoke in support of the effort during session.
Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” within three hours 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.
Earlier this week, Phillips-Hill had to plead with the administration to get a waiver denial rescinded that would have led to the reincarceration of approximately 500 individuals. York County’s primary vendor for electronic monitoring of defendants, both pretrial and post-conviction, who would otherwise be incarcerated, was deemed “non-life sustaining” and had their waiver rejected.
“This is just one example of an arbitrary list that lacks transparency and clarity,” Phillips-Hill said during today’s Senate session.
“I should not have had to send a letter. There is already a list at the federal level that a significant majority of other states have found to be effective,” she added.
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).
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.
Phillips-Hill argued that instead of working with Pennsylvania employees and employers along with 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.
“In the end, the current process has created more confusion and that is leading to chaos. And that is why we are here today, to say we want to collaborate with the people of Pennsylvania, the governor and the General Assembly,” she said.
You can listen to Senator Phillips-Hill’s remarks here.