Senate Passes Bills to Protect Lives and Livelihoods during COVID-19 Response

Harrisburg – The Senate approved a four-bill package Wednesday that would give county governments more discretion over reopening their local economies and provide a way for the reopening of some businesses — if they can operate in a manner that protects employees and customers, according to Senator Mario Scavello (R-40). The package of bills would bring back over 200,000 jobs across the Commonwealth.

“We have enough data now to know that presenting a proper COVID-19 response as a choice between public health and widespread joblessness is a false choice, and one not based on science,” said Scavello. “By following the mitigation guidelines established for citizens and workplaces by the Centers for Disease Control and the PA Department of Health, we can allow more counties to move to the next phase and let more of our people return to their jobs.”

During a Wednesday morning joint public hearing of the Senate Aging & Youth and Local Government committees on the safety of vulnerable populations and counties’ ability to reopen safely, UPMC Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Dr. Steven Shapiro and Chair of Emergency Medicine Dr. Donald Yealy testified that reopening is feasible for many areas as long as mitigation efforts are maintained and appropriate steps are taken to protect vulnerable populations. 

Senate Bill 327 gives county governments the authority to develop plans to develop and implement individual plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen their local economies. The bill gives counties the authority to develop plans to reopen industries shuttered by the Governor’s statewide closure order, only if they comply with CDC and state Department of Health employee safety guidelines.

The bill also includes a COVID-19 emergency regulatory tolling provision that would require any regulation not finally approved or disapproved, submitted under the Regulatory Review Act, to be suspended in place until 90 days after the emergency order is lifted. Additionally, the bill creates a COVID-19 cost and recovery task force.

While Senate Bill 327 addresses the Governor’s closure order on a county-wide basis, two other bills focus on reopening specific markets and services to meet the demands of consumers – provided that the businesses can adhere to the social distancing practices and other mitigation measures as outlined by the CDC and state Department of Health employee safety guidelines.

House Bill 2388 would require the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to issue waivers to the Governor’s Business Closure Order to vehicle dealers, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salons, barber shops, messenger and agent services, animal grooming services and manufacturing operations. House Bill 2412 provides for waivers for legal services and real estate sales activities.

The fourth bill in the package, House Bill 327, would permit the sale of prepared beverages and mixed drinks for off-premise consumption during the COVID-19 disaster emergency by those possessing a valid restaurant or hotel liquor license. The measure is intended to provide relief for licensees that have lost more than 25 percent of their average monthly sales, including alcohol sales, as a result of the emergency.

Senate Bill 327, House Bill 2388 and House Bill 2412 now return to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments. House Bill 327 goes to the Governor’s desk for enactment into law.

CONTACT: Christine Zubeck (717) 787-6123