Pa. House, Gov. Wolf Act in Response to Recent
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Concerns
In an unprecedented and swift legislative session yesterday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted significant changes to its operating rules to allow the chamber to conduct business during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

The rule changes adopted on Monday will allow for the House to continue its legislative function, even as members are following the recommendations of health officials regarding social distancing and self-quarantine. Specifically, the temporary rules will allow designated or proxy voting so that members can vote remotely if necessary, suspends certain legislative timelines to allow for efficient action, and adjusting the blackout period assigned during elections to allow members to communicate with constituents about coronavirus-related information.

These changes, which were adopted unanimously by the House, will expire at the end of the emergency declaration or if the declaration is rescinded. Although not yet officially announced, the Senate could return to session this week to adopt similar rules for its chamber. It is expected that both chambers will remain be on a 12-hour call following this week's session activity.

Also on Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf expanded his approach to stemming the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Pennsylvania, as he announced a statewide shutdown and recommended closure of all nonessential businesses in the Commonwealth. The announcement yesterday is an extension of the administration’s guidelines which was initially prescribed for a few counties, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, last week. Allegheny County launched its own mitigation efforts last week as well.

The recommended closure of nonessential businesses across the state, including ordering all restaurants and bars to suspend dine-in services and only be open for take-out or delivery, began at 12:01 a.m. today, and is in effect for 14 days.

The governor also provided clarification regarding what constitutes an essential or nonessential business. The administration received some criticism from the business community and House Republicans on Monday, who claimed the governor’s announcement of a statewide shutdown did not provide enough details and caught the business community by surprise.

Late Monday night, the governor also ordered the statewide closure of state regulated daycare centers. This follows the administration’s decision last week to close all K-12 schools in the state until March 30.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board officially ordered the state’s casinos to close amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Some casinos, including the Rivers Philadelphia and the Rivers Pittsburgh, voluntarily closed its operations as a precaution and to adhere to the federal and state recommendations to limit the size of public and social gatherings. The Rivers properties have committed to continuing paying its employees during the shutdown.

Other important state government closures to note include:

  • The Department of Transportation closed all driver’s license and driver’s license photo centers, and extended the validity of expiring driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, and inspections until the end of April.
  • State-run liquor stores will shut down indefinitely at 9 p.m. Tuesday, although consumers can still purchase wine and beer at grocery stores that carry them, according to officials at the state’s Liquor Control Board.
  • The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will close all facilities at state parks and forests for 14 days starting Tuesday. Trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas will still be open to the public.
  • Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court declared a statewide judicial emergency until April 14, 2020, during which county president judges can, among other changes, restrict or temporarily close court facilities and authorize using technology to conduct court proceedings.

As you know by now, the situation regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus changes by the hour. Gov. Wolf and Health Sec. Rachel Levine, along with members of the administration and the General Assembly, have done a remarkable job of keeping Pennsylvanians up-to-date and informed on the virus’ latest developments, while also keeping a calm and determined demeanor. Capitol Buzz will do its part to provide information to its readers, but for the latest information, visit www.health.pa.gov.

We here at Capitol Buzz wish all of you the best during this historical time. We encourage our readers to consult the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

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

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