PNA Member Alert: COVID-19
In this unprecedented time, PNA is working to ensure our members can continue to keep the public informed about government actions and decisions affecting our communities. Your work to shine a light on the COVID-19 crisis is a tremendous undertaking and critically important to the communities you serve. Thank you for all that you are doing and please know the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association is here to support you.

We have heard from many members about the potential impact of the COVID-19 crisis in the past few days, and we have done our best to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions below.

The PNA staff is ready to assist you with any follow up questions as you navigate the crisis.

Essential and Non-Essential Businesses
There have been some rumors nationally, that there might be a 14-day national quarantine. The National Security Council has denied those rumors; however, at the state level, Governor Wolf has advised all “non-essential” businesses to close for the next 14 days. The PNA proactively reached out to the Governor’s office and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to reinforce the importance of the news media and to clarify that the news media is not among the “non-essential” businesses subject to the Governor’s declaration. As part of informal talks with state officials, PNA has been assured that media organizations are not among the “non-essential” businesses subject to Governor Wolf’s closure recommendation. This is in line with prior emergency declarations recognizing the press’ important role, including PEMA Directive 2008-1. 

News media organizations are not required or recommended to close although you should take any precautions you feel necessary to protect yourself and your staff from a health and safety perspective.  
Public Meetings
Public meetings in Pennsylvania are governed generally by the Sunshine Act, which requires a public meeting anytime official action is discussed by a quorum or official action is taken. There are several limited exceptions to the Sunshine Act including a provision for emergency meetings. An agency may meet without public notice when addressing an issue “involving a clear and present danger to life or property.” Emergency meetings must still be open to the public.

The Sunshine Act does not make any provision for electronic meetings, and in fact, some local codes require a quorum to be physically present to transact business. The Office of Open Records has issued guidance on the Sunshine Act during the COVID-19 crisis suggesting official action and deliberation may take place via electronic means during the crisis if circumstances demand. The OOR also makes clear that if an agency elects to hold a public meeting via electronic means, the public must be informed and able to participate. It is also important to note that many agencies are choosing to cancel regular meetings and delay discussion and action on non-essential issues until the crisis is over, as is advisable under the circumstances.  
Remote Access for Reporters
In an effort to ensure our members have safe working conditions, PNA worked with the Governor’s Office in order to provide for our reporters to have remote access to the Governor’s press briefings on COVID-19. Yesterday, the Governor instituted the first videoconference allowing reporters to ask questions remotely. 

Newsprint Safety
The World Health Organization (WHO) addresses the safety of packages and commercial goods in this Q & A. These materials explain the low risk of commercial products as a vector for the virus. According to the WHO, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

Periodical Postal Permits and Public Notices
The United States Postal Service has advised the National Newspaper Association (NNA) that Periodical permits will not be revoked if a newspaper has to suspend a print issue during coronavirus quarantines. According to the NNA, “Technically, a change in publication frequency requires a change in the permit. But during this emergency, USPS says a letter to the postmaster of the entry office advising USPS of the newspaper's revised publication plans will be sufficient. The letter should be updated as plans change.” 

Please keep in mind that Pennsylvania law provides for very specific guidelines for the definition of a newspaper for the purpose of public notifications. Among those requirements are that a newspaper of general circulation must be a paid publication least 4 pages in length, published at least once a week for 6 months, and the publication must be entitled to Periodical’s mailing privileges with the United States Postal Service.
Employer Resources and FAQs on the COVID-19 Coronavirus
Pepper Hamilton and Ballard Spahr are law firms that have serviced media clients for decades, and each has developed comprehensive COVID-19 resources for employers, including FAQs and policy templates.

  • Click here to access COVID-19 resources from Pepper Hamilton law firm.
  • Click here to access COVID-19 resources from Ballard Spahr law firm.
Strategies for Employers to Use Now
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of recommended strategies for employers to use now. This is a list of helpful tips on how to communicate with employees and suggested policies. It reminds employers to ensure your sick leave policies are flexible and that employees are aware of the policies.

The United States Department of Labor also has prepared a guide for how to prepare for COVID-19 in the workplace.

Legislative Update
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives convened in legislative session Monday. The House unanimously voted to adopt a rule change which does not require all members to be present on the House floor. Under the new rules, members can vote on bills before the House and in committees without leaving their districts. 

The rules changes will be reflected in three separate ways:

  • Allowing designated voting. Under this temporary rule, members will notify their party’s whip of their voting position on legislation, and the whip, or a member designated by the whip, will file a member’s vote on the House floor. As for the floor itself, only the speaker, leaders, whips or designated members to those positions would need to be present. The process is the same for committee votes, with the relevant party chairperson collecting the votes ahead of a scheduled vote. 
  • Suspension of legislative time requirements. This temporary rule shortens all required wait periods related to legislation to three hours. Specifically, the 24-hour posting requirement for bills before a committee is now three hours, the 12-hour requirement after a bill is amended on second consideration is now three hours, and the six-hour wait requirement for a bill to be voted on concurrence is now three hours. 
  • Blackout mailing period adjustment. Under current rules, no legislative mailing can be sent out within 60 days of an election. The temporary rule passed on March 16th lifts the restrictions to allow members to send electronic communications related strictly to COVID-19 information.

The House adjourned and remains on a 12-hour call. The House also canceled session Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Senate canceled session Monday and Tuesday and also remains on a 12-hour call.

The House unanimously voted to adopt a rule change which does not require all members to be present on the House floor.

Continued Communication
As we learn more we will continue to communicate. Thank you again for all you do in service of your communities.

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Brad Simpson
Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association