May. 01, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
We Hear You: House Actions Help Guide State Toward Safe Reopening

With Pennsylvania employers, workers and families continuing to struggle in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the House was back in session this week continuing our push to reopen businesses safely so people can return to work and provide for their families.

From the moment the governor abruptly announced his statewide business closure order in mid-March, the House has been fighting for openness, transparency and logic in the process. When our offices were flooded with calls from employers who wanted to continue their operations and felt they could do so safely, the administration responded by launching a waiver process that allowed some businesses to remain open. Unfortunately, the waiver approval process and factors considered in those decisions remain a secret within the administration.

We joined our colleagues in the Senate and passed Senate Bill 613, legislation to require the governor to develop a clear mitigation plan for businesses that would have been posted publicly, but he vetoed that measure.

We have subsequently taken action on bills to reopen construction (which is now slated to happen today), golf courses (also slated to reopen today, along with privately owned campgrounds, marinas and guided fishing trips), as well as real estate, garden centers, pet groomers and more. In fact, while we were debating legislation in the House to reopen the real estate business safely, the governor’s office issued new guidance to allow certain transactions to proceed. Read the updated guidance here. 

While this piecemeal approach is not ideal, it is helping to move us forward by bringing the governor’s attention to businesses that are clearly capable of operating in a manner that abides by guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep both workers and customers safe. Thank you for sharing your questions and concerns with us; we hear you, and it is making a difference.

We Don’t Have to Guess – We Can Test
One of the key factors cited by the governor and the president when it comes to safely reopening our economy and returning to some normal life activities is testing. It is the only way to address people’s fears that they may infect loved ones, lose their jobs and livelihoods, and be stuck at home indefinitely.

Led by House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, we adopted an amendment that requires the administration to review the quantity of all tests statewide, and propose a timeline, plan and cost to disburse testing kits statewide with priority given to those at a higher risk of contracting the virus. The measure ensures we don’t have to guess who has the virus; we can test to find out for sure.

The bill with this amendment, House Bill 2455, is pending final consideration in the House next week.

The Good News and the Bad News
The good news is House Bill 2413 passed by the House last week would help ambulance companies meet staffing requirements and continue to serve their communities, as well as ensure benefits for first responders and National Guard members who may be impacted by COVID-19, has been signed into law as Act 17 of 2020.

The bad news is Senate Bill 857, to enhance the availability of telemedicine in the Commonwealth, was vetoed by the governor. Telemedicine is a great tool in this time of social distancing, and it would also boost accessibility and affordability of care in rural and other underserved areas of the Commonwealth. The governor made the wrong decision, and we will continue working to ensure Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to use this important tool.
Other bills passed by the House this week:

  •   To help our communities and first responders, House Bill 2413 would invest up to $40 million in grants for fire and emergency medical services companies.
  •   To help save taxpayer dollars, House Bill 2418 would require a comprehensive review of all Commonwealth debt to identify opportunities to take advantage of refinancing at lower interest rates. House Bill 2392 would require the Independent Fiscal Office to include critical risk factors in its assessment of the Commonwealth’s fiscal condition to help lawmakers better plan and budget within our means.
  •   To address regulations, House Bill 2415 would require the Office of the Governor to notify legislative leaders in writing by electronic means when a specific statute or regulation is suspended, modified or waived under the authority of the emergency order.
  •   To ensure intergovernmental cooperation throughout the disaster and recovery period, House Bill 2419 would establish the COVID-19 inter-branch Cost and Recovery Task Force.

Questions Abound Regarding State’s Reopening

Not unlike the governor’s business closure orders, his announcement last week of a phased plan to reopen the Commonwealth has generated more questions than answers. The initial explanation indicated decisions to reopen would be based on case counts and other data in long-established Department of Health regions. The governor has now indicated he is changing course and will be considering data on a county-by-county basis. The exact nature of the data is mostly unknown.

Openness and transparency are vital to building public trust in important decisions about our health, safety and the economy. I am committed to making sure this information is available as soon as possible.
Construction Industry Back to Work Today

Six weeks after being ordered to shut down by the Wolf administration due to coronavirus concerns, all business in the Commonwealth’s construction industry is permitted to resume in-person operations today. This would not have happened without so many of you speaking up about the importance of going back to work and the ability to do so safely.

All businesses and employees in the construction industry must adhere to the Secretary of Health’s order providing for business safety measures, which requires that every person present at a work site wear masks/face coverings unless they are unable for medical or safety reasons, and requires that businesses establish protocols upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19. All construction projects also must maintain proper social distancing and provide hand-washing and sanitizing stations for workers, as well as cleaning and sanitizing protocols for high-risk transmission areas. 

Read more about the guidelines for construction to resume here. 
PennDOT Offering Limited CDL Services

With the construction industry back to work as of today, Friday, May 1, PennDOT is reopening a limited number of driver license centers to provide Commercial Driver Licensing (CDL) services by appointment only. Available services for commercial drivers at these locations will include CDL knowledge and skills testing, hazmat renewals and security threat assessments.

These locations will reopen for CDL services ONLY:
  •   Lehigh Valley: 1710 Hoover Ave., Allentown.
  •   Somerset: 5593 Glades Pike, Somerset.
  •   Lewistown: 13217 Ferguson Valley Road, Yeagertown.
  •   Selinsgrove: 1015 U.S. 522, Selinsgrove.

Please note that Lehigh Valley only tests Class B and C. All other sites listed test Class A, B and C. Appointments will be scheduled based on demand and schedule availability. Individuals -seeking CDL testing may call PennDOT’s Call Center at 717-412-5300 or email to request an appointment. When a request is received, PennDOT staff will contact you within one business day to schedule an appointment. New safety measures must be followed when arriving for a CDL appointment; details of the requirements will be supplied when the customer is scheduled.
What’s New?

The Department of Health announced new guidance that will allow hospitals and surgical centers to resume non-emergent surgeries and procedures, as long as the facilities remain prepared should they need to respond to COVID-19 cases. Elective procedures had been put on hold to help reserve resources and space due to the pandemic. Click here for more information. 

The governor also announced today’s reopening of golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds. Campgrounds in state parks will remain closed through Thursday, May 14. People who choose to participate in these activities will have to follow various guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Read more here. 

Just over a week after House Republicans asked the Wolf administration to address a number of food supply chain concerns, the state Department of Agriculture announced last weekend it would provide priority testing for workers supporting that supply chain in areas of eastern Pennsylvania with higher rates of confirmed COVID-19. Testing will be available at the Montgomery County mass testing site or the federally funded testing site at Mohegan Sun in Luzerne County. This is an important step toward preventing food waste and ensuring food remains available in our grocery stores, though more needs to be done. Read more about the administration’s announcement here. Read more about the House call to action on this issue here. 

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) board this week approved a tuition freeze for the 2020-21 academic year due to the economic situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the second consecutive year that the board has not increased tuition. Since the system was created in 1983, tuition has only been frozen three times.

Additionally, if you would like to learn more about how K-12 students are learning from home, please visit my Facebook page to watch a video with Erin Ives, an English teacher from Hershey High School.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is inviting educators and parents in search of remote learning resources to check out the new Wildlife on WiFi site, a hub of conservation and wildlife-themed educational resources, activities and content to support educators, students and parents with home-based learning through the remainder of Pennsylvania’s academic school year. Program themes include Wildlife Science, Discover Backyard Wildlife and Celebrate Pennsylvania Birds. Click here for access to resources. 

The administration has launched an online portal for individuals, corporations and community organizations to outline any critical medical supplies available for donation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supplies needed most include surgical/procedure masks; form-fitting respirators (ex. N95/N99); face masks with integrated shield; medical grade alcohol-based hand sanitizer; aprons; protective gloves; protective goggles; isolation gowns; protective suits; and sanitizing wipes. Details and specifications required for any donated materials areavailable here from the Department of Health. To visit the new critical supply donation portal, click here. 

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