April 15, 2020: The Senate approved two bills today that would create a better process for determining which businesses can operate during the COVID-19 pandemic and give county leaders a stronger say in determining the best mitigation measures for their citizens, according to Senator Scott Hutchinson.
Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” on March 16. Although a haphazard waiver system was eventually created for businesses that wished to remain open, that process was riddled with inconsistencies and lacked any sense of transparency or accountability to the public, Senator Hutchinson said.
“The initial call to action by the Administration was appropriate at that time. We needed to take steps to address the pandemic and the people of Pennsylvania have risen to that challenge,” Senator Hutchinson said. “However, as we have found with many issues, Pennsylvania is a very diverse state, as such a ‘one size fits all’ approach rarely works. The bills we passed today provide increased flexibility and allow for more local control as we recover from the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Senate Bill 613, which now goes to the Governor’s desk, would require the Governor to create clear guidelines for businesses to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that are able to operate safely under the new guidelines would be permitted to re-open so long as they comply with mitigation strategies.
The bill would require COVID-19 mitigation plans to be developed by the Wolf Administration based on guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia follow CISA guidelines.
Senate Bill 327, which returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments, would give county governments the option to develop and implement individual plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, following CISA guidelines. The bill would give counties the authority to develop plans to reopen some industries shuttered by the Governor’s statewide closure order -- if they can do so in a safe manner.
The measure would empower local elected leaders to determine the best way forward – instead of those decisions being mandated statewide by the Governor. Governor Wolf recently joined other northeastern governors in an agreement to open selected industries on a shared schedule, which essentially would essentially give bureaucrats in other states more power over Pennsylvania businesses than state lawmakers and local elected leaders.
On Tuesday, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 841, a measure providing local governments with more flexibility to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill, which now goes to the Governor, allows local governments to provide greater flexibility on property tax deadlines; permits local governments to conduct remote meetings; and, give notaries emergency authorization to notarize documents remotely through the use of communications technology.