Pa. General Assembly Acts Quickly on COVID-19 Relief Bills, and Other News...
During Wednesday’s session, both the state House and Senate approved important legislation that would address critical issues resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

As was reported yesterday in Capitol Buzz, the House Appropriations Committee approved a measure that would make several changes to the state’s Public School Code in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. Today, both the House and Senate quickly acted and unanimously passed Senate Bill 751, which creates the Emergency School Code for the Pandemic of 2020 to provide flexibility in instruction for schools and roll back requirements that would be impossible for schools to meet due to the pandemic. The bill also will keep teachers and school employees paid during the school closures. The legislation now heads to Gov. Wolf for his signature.

In addition, both the House and Senate passed legislation that delays the state’s primary election until June 2. The proposal was part of a bipartisan agreement that also contains additional election reforms in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, including adding language that would allow county election officials to close and consolidate polling places and begin processing absentee ballots earlier. This bill also heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Both chambers also passed two additional COVID-19 response measures : House Bill 68 , which provides for emergency changes to the state’s Unemployment Compensation law in response to COVID-19; and,  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.

Also on Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 1564, which would allow notaries to operate and conduct their operations remotely, and also provides municipalities with the ability to govern during “stay-at-home” orders, social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The bill was sent to the Senate for its consideration.

This has been a historic moment for the General Assembly, as members in both chambers are conducting legislative session remotely, thanks to new emergency procedural rules adopted earlier this month. The rules were put in place to help the legislature continue its legislative duties while practicing social distancing and other mitigation efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Wolf expands ‘stay-at-home’ order to two more counties, announces new small business loan program.

During the state’s daily COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that as of 8:00 p.m. tonight, Lehigh and Northampton counties would be added to the growing list of counties under a “stay-at-home” order issued by the state.

Yesterday, Erie County, with the support of the governor’s administration, issued a “stay-at-home” order to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the northwest part of the state. With the addition of Lehigh and Northampton counties, there are now 10 counties currently sheltering in place. 

According to the governor, the additional “stay-at-home” orders and the current statewide social distancing mitigation efforts are to “buy time” to allow hospitals to prepare for a surge in patients. During the daily update on Wednesday, Dr. Levine said there are about 3,400 ICU beds in Pennsylvania, with nearly 40 percent still available for use. She also said there are about 3,000 ventilators that are available across the state, with about 75 percent available for use.

Also, Gov. Wolf announced the official creation of the COVID-19 Working Capital Access program which will provide loans of up to $100,000 to small businesses with 100 of fewer employees. The CWCA will utilize the $60 million set aside earlier in the month through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

Congress and White House reach deal on critical stimulus package.

In what is being called the largest rescue package in American history, the White House and Congressional leaders in the Senate and House have agreed to a $2 trillion stimulus package in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

As of the time of publication, the deal provides significant relief to businesses and individuals across the country. The package includes $250 billion in aid directly to citizens and families, including direct checks as high as $1,200 to many Americans and additional funding for families with children. The plan also includes $350 billion in small business loans and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies. The legislation also calls for $130 billion for hospitals to handle the flood of critical COVID-19 cases, as well as $150 billion for state and local governments to help in their response to combat the virus.

The proposal also contains a provision that would ensure the government-supported loans would not go to firms owned by President Trump, other White House officials or members of Congress.

As the Senate prepares to vote on the package later today, the Republican Leader of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, called the package “"a war-time level of investment for our nation.” Over in the U.S. House, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was upbeat and supportive of the proposal. The logistics of how and when the House will vote on the bill is still unclear, although it could be passed as early as Thursday.

This is still a fluid development, and even as we write, Congressional leaders are trying to avoid last minute snags that could derail the entire deal. The votes to approve the compromise have not yet been cast by members of Congress, so Capitol Buzz will do its best to update its readers as the situation progresses in Washington D.C.

Unprecedented times, but McNees is here to help.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing by the hour. Capitol Buzz will do its best to keep our readers as up-to-date as possible as to local, state and federal actions relating to the virus.

As we have stated in previous editions, for those businesses seeking guidance or assistance on how to proceed during this unprecedented time, please contact the McNees Labor and Employment Practice Group, or for government relations assistance please contact the McNees Strategic Solutions Group (MSSG).

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself and others, check out the CDC's coronavirus information page or visit
More COVID-19 News...
U.S. Department of Labor issues Families First Coronavirus Response Act Q&A. On Tuesday evening, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division released a questions and answers section on its public website related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Jennifer Will, Co-Chair of the McNees Labor & Employment Practice Group, provides a breakdown of the department’s update and latest developments.

State Health Department loosens some medical marijuana regulations amid COVID-19 pandemic. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has made some regulatory changes to the state’s medical marijuana program to help ease the burden during the current coronavirus outbreak. Some of the changes include allowing for remote consultations, delivery of products and 90-day supplies.

PennDOT reopens most rest stops on state highways. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has reopened 23 of 30 rest stops across the Commonwealth, requiring additional cleaning and maintenance procedures to limit the spread of COVID-19. The reopened facilities will include the 13 areas that have had portable toilets and handwashing facilities since March 17.

PSP continues to report high compliance with shutdown order. In its second day enforcing an executive order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf to close the physical locations of non-life-sustaining businesses across the state, the Pennsylvania State Police reportedly saw a drop in its already low rate of noncompliance with the order. The PSP issued only 17 warnings on Tuesday, bringing the total to only 44 over two days. The PSP has also issued no citations to date.

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