Pa. Senate Passes Bills Giving Counties, Businesses Power to Reopen Against Executive Order
The Pennsylvania Senate resumed session this week to address several COVID-19 related proposals.

As Gov. Tom Wolf continues to follow his three-phased, county-by-county plan to reopen the state's economy, the Pa. Senate returned to session this week to advance several proposals related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Along partisan lines, the Senate passed Senate Bill 327 , legislation that includes language to allow county governments to make COVID-19 mitigation plans and reopen certain businesses within their borders based on CDC guidelines. Last week, Gov. Wolf and several county elected officials sparred over the administration's slow pace and "inconsistencies" in allowing counties to reopen.
In addition to allowing counties to develop reopening plans at the local level, Democrats were vocally displeased with the Republican majority's push for other components of Senate Bill 327, saying it places too much of a burden on Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration at a time when it is focused on slowing the pandemic . Specifically, the legislation would create a COVID-19 cost and recovery task force and require the state to evaluate its debt and look to refinance based on current low interest rates. The bill would also require the governor to notify the General Assembly whenever he suspends or modifies regulations or laws as part of his COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration, as well as allow for emergency regulatory tolling during, and 90-days after, the governor's declaration of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Senate passed measures that would require the administration to grant waivers to the governor's shutdown orders for several businesses and industries across the Commonwealth. Primarily, the Senate approved House Bill 2388, also passed along party lines, which would require waivers for manufacturers, barbers and salons, lawn and garden centers, animal groomers, automobile dealers and messenger services to operate in Pennsylvania during the state's emergency declaration, as long as they follow social distancing and other mitigation guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control. The Senate also passed House Bill 2412, which would provide similar waivers for all real estate services in the state.

All of the bills mentioned above are headed back to the House for its concurrence.

There were moments of bipartisanship this week as Senators voted in unison to pass other COVID-19 relief measures. The Senate sent Senate Bill 1122 to the House that would allocate $507 million in Pennsylvania's CARES Act funding for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The bill also establishes a $31 million grant program for volunteer fire and ambulance companies. This legislation is also headed to the House for its consideration.

Also, the Senate unanimously advanced legislation to allow struggling restaurants and taverns to serve "to-go cocktails" during the COVID-19 emergency declaration. The bill, House Bill 327, would allow certain liquor licensees that lost more than 25 percent of their average total monthly sales because of restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 disaster emergency to sell prepared beverages and mixed drinks for off-premises consumption. This bill is now headed to the governor for his approval.

The state House is scheduled to return to session on Thursday and is expected to take up some of the bills passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Toomey, Congressman Smucker to host virtual forum on safely restarting Pa. economy on Thursday.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Lloyd Smucker will host a virtual round table discussion on the issue of safely reopening Pennsylvania's economy on Thursday, May 14 at 10:00 a.m. The round table will be streamed live on Sen. Toomey’s YouTube page .

Panelists joining the round table include:

  • Steve Massini, CEO, Penn State Health
  • Reverend Georgette Morgan-Thomas, Owner, American Hats LLC
  • Joshua Parsons, Chairman of the Lancaster County Commissioners
  • Tonia Ulsh, Co-Owner and Chief Operating Officer, Mountz Jewelers

Last month, Sen. Toomey unveiled his "PA Starts Up Safely" proposal . The 11-page proposal calls for the immediate opening of some businesses across the state, including outdoor construction, car dealerships, plant nurseries, golf courses and re-starting elective surgeries at local hospitals.
Daily COVID-19 update for Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 707 new positive confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, bringing the state total to 58,698. In addition, 3,943 Pennsylvanians have died from complications from the virus. To date, there have been more than 244,000 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 . An executive order was issued on April 15 requiring customers entering a place of business to wear a mask.

Daily COVID-19 update for Ohio

The Ohio Department of Health reported 25,721 cumulative cases of COVID-19 and 1,483 deaths, including probable cases, by Wednesday afternoon. There have been 4,618 hospitalizations and 1,248 ICU admissions.
Other News...
Pa. Academy of Family Physicians encourage Wolf to adopt 'Health in All Policies' strategy. The Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians , a nonprofit association made up of more than 5,000 Pennsylvania family physicians and family medicine residents and students, is encouraging Gov. Wolf and his administration to establish a "Health in All Policies" (HiAP) strategy to address social determinants of health and health disparities that have been brought to light during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to Gov. Wolf, the PAFP applauded the governor's work in creating the COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity , but urged the administration to advance an HiAP strategy because the causes of health disparities "will persist even as we recover from this health crisis."

U.S. House expected to vote on additional $3 trillion aide package. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a new $3 trillion COVID-19 aide package as early as Friday , which could include $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers and a new round of cash payments to individuals. Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi announced the proposal on Tuesday, but U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there is no “urgency" to pass another round of stimulus funding.

Federal agency issues guidance on 'good faith' certification provision for Paycheck Protection Program. On Wednesday afternoon, the Small Business Administration released guidance for borrowers participating in the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) relating to the "good faith" certification applicants had to make relating to COVID-19’s impact on their business operations. Attorneys with the McNees Corporate and Tax Practice Group provide a summary of these newly released guidelines .

Commonwealth receives more than $500 million in federal emergency aide to support schools. The U.S. Department of Education has approved Pennsylvania's application for nearly $524 million in federal funding to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic . Gov. Wolf said beginning Wednesday, local education agencies (LEAs) can apply for their portion of the funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Weekly testing of nursing facility residents, employees to begin in Pa. The Pennsylvania Department of Health will soon begin universal testing of staff and residents of the Commonwealth's long-term care facilities . On Tuesday, the administration announced recommendations for widespread testing at facilities that have had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 to identify areas where outbreaks could occur, as well as testing 20 percent of staff and residents weekly at facilities that have had no confirmed cases.

Investigational antiviral medicine to begin use in Pa. hospitals. Pennsylvania's first shipment of an investigational antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 patients sent by the federal government was received on Tuesday. The state's Department of Health said it has distributed 1,200 doses of the experimental medication, remdesivir, to treat patients that have been hospitalized with COVID-19.
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 and nonprofit consulting assistance please contact the McNees Strategic Solutions Group (MSSG) .

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The Senate stands adjourned until the call of the President Pro Tempore.

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The House stands adjourned until Thursday, May 14 at 11:00 a.m.

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