Pa. House Passes Controversial COVID-19 Proposals to Begin to 'Reopen' Businesses
Republicans and Democrats in the Pa. House once again spar over COVID-19 bills that would allow businesses to reopen in Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, along strict party lines, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a Republican-sponsored proposal to allow many businesses impacted by Gov. Tom Wolf's business shutdown order to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House passed Senate Bill 613, which includes language introduced by House Republicans last week to reopen the state's workforce while practicing social distancing and other mitigation efforts outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The legislation was sent to the state Senate, which is expected to return to session tomorrow to address this, and other lingering bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The battle between Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Wolf over the administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is reaching a critical point. As Republican legislators support the idea of reopening businesses while following federal guidelines, Gov. Wolf, and Democratic members of the House and Senate, disagree. Democrats believe the Republican plan is premature, and to reopen all businesses in the Commonwealth would only jeopardize mitigation efforts that seem to be flattening the curve of the pandemic and put Pennsylvania workers at risk of contracting the virus.

The House also positioned additional bills dealing with reopening specific industries amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. This includes House Bill 2400, introduced by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, that would allow for a blanket exemption to the governor's order for all public and private construction activities if they adhere to mitigation measures set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and House Bill 2376, which would open all retail stores in the Commonwealth if they allow only one customer and one employee in the store, or of they operate contact-less or curbside business operations. These bills are ready for a full vote of the House when the chamber returns to session, which has not yet been determined.

Also on Tuesday, the House passed legislation that would allow for notary services and local government activities to continue during the pandemic. Senate Bill 841 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 legislation also reauthorizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, an independent agency tasked with collecting and disseminating health care cost data. The bill now goes to Gov. Wolf for his signature.

The House also passed House Bill 1189, which would create the Volunteer Emergency Responders Employer Tax Credit. The bill also would extend benefits of the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Law to those enforcement officers who contract or are diagnosed with COVID-19; institute health care professional reporting requirements related to controlled substances; and, extend vehicle registration, drivers license and handicap placard expirations for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Other measures passed by the House on Tuesday include: House Bill 896, which would expand the eligibility criteria of the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) authorized under the state's Tax Code; and, House Bill 2233, which would permit tax free motor fuel entities, such as a volunteer service companies, political subdivisions or schools to commingle their purchased tax-free motor fuels in a joint storage tank.

Leading up to this week's legislative session, Republican members say they have been inundated with calls and emails about the negative impact that the governor's closure order has had on businesses and communities across the state. Instead of forcing the governor's office to reopen businesses and potentially put workers and the public at risk, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are calling for the General Assembly to address proposals that help working families by increasing paid sick leave, enhancing health care access and assisting workers on the front line of the pandemic.

As already mentioned, the state Senate is expected to return to session on Wednesday.
Daily COVID-19 update for Pennsylvania

The state Department of Health reported nearly 1,150 new positive confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, bringing the state total to 25,345. In addition, 584 Pennsylvanians have died directly from complications from the virus. To date, there have been more than 108,000 negative cases across the state.

Gov. Tom Wolf is still asking all Pennsylvanians who must leave their homes for life-essential reasons to wear a mask to help stop the spread of the virus . The state Department of Health has provided guidance on how individuals can create homemade masks for their use in order to preserve high quality personal protection equipment for health care workers. The Centers for Disease Control also announced recommendations for people to wear face masks in public .

Also, yesterday Gov. Wolf announced that Pennsylvania has joined a multi-state council to address how best to reopen state and regional economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with Pennsylvania, the COVID-19 Regional Advisory Council includes the northeastern states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Other News...
AARP provides information, resources about COVID-19 to help older Pennsylvanians and their families. To help protect older Pennsylvanians living in nursing homes from novel coronavirus and prevent it from spreading to others, AARP has consulted with leading nursing home experts to provide information and resources during this historic crisis. AARP has developed key questions that individuals who are worried about a loved one's safety and well-being can ask of nursing homes regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

MLB's Joe Maddon, Albert Pujols join Pa. state senator to do COVID-19 public service announcements. Hazleton native and Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon is joining forces with baseball superstar Albert Pujols and state Sen. John Yudichak to conduct public service announcements to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Hazleton area. Yudichak said the novel coronavirus has affected Luzerne County, specifically the Hazleton area, particularly hard.

State Labor Department launches new online COVID-19 job portal. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has set up a new online COVID-19 job portal to help unemployed Pennsylvanians find vacancies with "life-sustaining" businesses seeking employees. With many "life-sustaining" businesses hiring during the pandemic, the state is hoping to connect those employers with people looking for jobs.

Ohio bans Pennsylvanians from shopping in certain liquor stores. This week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine restricted the sale of alcohol at Ohio liquor stores in the six counties closest to Pennsylvania to only customers with Ohio IDs. With Pennsylvania's state-run liquor stores closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents living close to the Ohio border have been driving to the Buckeye State to purchase alcohol.
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) . You can also visit the McNees COVID-19 Article & Resource Page for more information on various legal and political issues created by the novel coronavirus.

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself and others, check out the CDC's coronavirus information page or visit .

Senate is in recess until the call of the President Pro Tempore.

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House is in recess until the 12-hour call of the Chair.

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