Sunday, May 17, 2020

PA Capitol & COVID-19 Report: Gov. Wolf Issues Stern Warning On Illegal Reopenings; 12 More Counties Moving To Yellow Phase

Gov. Wolf started last week calling actions by state lawmakers and local officials supporting “illegally” reopening their counties and ignoring COVID-19 shutdown orders “selfish,” “unsafe,” “morally wrong,” “cowardly” and a “surrender” to the coronavirus that has killed over 4,000 of our loved ones, our friends and our neighbors.
He went on to outline how businesses would risk losing their operating and liquor  licenses and potentially their insurance coverage for operating illegally.  He added employees of companies opening prematurely will continue to get unemployment and counties would not receive discretionary federal funding provided in the CARES Act.  Read more here.
At the same time, Gov. Wolf praised Pennsylvanians who are “fighting for our lives.”
Senate and House Republicans reacted in two ways, first by saying the Governor has lost the willingness of the people to be governed and was using language that was “beneath the dignity of the office of the Governor.” Read more here.
This in spite of the fact a new poll released Tuesday found 72 percent supported Gov. Wolf’s handling of the pandemic, like previous polls.  The poll was taken April 27 - May 4.  Read more here.
Then Republicans proceeded to take final action on a bunch of bills opening up selected businesses statewide-- from dog groomers to real estate offices.
They also passed Senate Bill 327 (Argall-R-Schuylkill)  creating a General Assembly-heavy task force to guide the COVID-19 response, authorizing counties to reopen whenever they wanted to and a freeze on finalizing all new regulations.
But, in a rare show of bipartisanship, members of both parties passed a bill allowing liquor establishments to sell take-out mixed drinks curbside.
There seems to be little doubt about what Gov. Wolf plans to do-- veto the ones inconsistent with his COVID-10 reopening plan.
Wednesday some House Republican lawmakers, led by conservative Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), called on every district attorney in the state to intervene on behalf of business owners who want to reopen in defiance of Gov. Wolf’s shut down order by withdrawing citations and not prosecuting shut down order violators.  Read more here.
Rep. Metcalfe went a step further Friday announcing plans to introduce a resolution to impeach Gov. Wolf over his handling of the COVID-19 response saying his actions violated fundamental rights of Commonwealth citizens.  Rep. Metcalfe has introduced resolutions before to impeach various officials.  Read more here.
Senate Republicans also took Gov. Wolf to court over what they believe is his failure to comply with a subpoena for documents related to the process for getting waivers from the business shut down orders.  Read more here.
Other Republicans in Yellow Phase counties are now talking about how to loosen restrictions in those areas even further by, for example,  allowing restaurants to reopen their dining-in areas.  Read more here.
President Trump visited the Allentown area Thursday praising workers at a medical equipment distributor and supporting those who are urging the state to reopen faster.  It was not lost on anyone Pennsylvania is critical to his reelection efforts.  Read more here.
The Republican fight with Democrat Tom Wolf has implications for the state’s future as well.  Read two perspectives here--
Gov. Wolf ended the week by announcing 12 more counties had met his metrics for reopening in the Yellow Phase, including Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, and York. 
Republican lawmakers and local officials in Beaver and York counties, in particular, had been agitating to reopen early.
This now means 49 of the states 67 counties are in the Yellow Phase.
For those counties remaining in Red Phase, the Governor’s stay-at-home orders remain in effect until June 4.
Republican Senate and House members continued their efforts to get counties they represent reopened, but in some cases-- like in Cumberland and Lancaster-- the efforts resulted in more local controversy with those against reopening prematurely showing local opinion is far from unanimous.
Other State Actions
State government took these other actions last week as part of its pandemic response--
Sign Up For Contact Tracing
The Department of Health has released instructions on how individuals and groups can sign up to assist with contact tracing of COVID-19.
-- Individuals: Individuals can sign-up at the ServPA website.  Individuals will need to create an account on the website and you will be asked to join an organization then  choose Contact Tracing.
-- Groups: If a group-- or an individual representing a group-- is interested in contact tracing, send an email to  The email should include--  Name of the group or organization they represent; Inquiry or topic related to contact tracing; and Contact Information for individuals who should be contacted.  Read more here.
Death Toll
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 3,707 on May 10 to 4,418  on May 17. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 56,611 on May 10 to 62,234 on May 17.
As of May 14, a total of 1,854,724 Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment since March 15, the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.  That number is up 61,507 from May 8.
The Department of Labor and Industry reported issuing 15.7 million unemployment payments totaling nearly $7.9 billion, since March 15.  Read more here.
Primary Election
More than 1,178,000 Pennsylvanians have applied for mail-in ballots with nearly 70 percent coming from registered Democrats.  Read more here.
The new mail-in ballot process has not been without its glitches with Allegheny and Lycoming counties reporting hundreds, possibly thousands of duplicate ballots sent to voters.
Meanwhile, the conservative activist group Judicial Watch did file its lawsuit against Bucks, Chester and Delaware County and the state to force them to purge more “inactive” voters from the registration rolls.  Read more here.
In an unrelated legal decision, the PA Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit aimed at extending the deadline for county election officials to receive and count mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. The deadline remains 8:00 p.m. the day of the election.  Read more here.
The deadline to register to vote for the June 2 Primary is May 18.
The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 26.
An historic milestone was passed in Chester County recently as the number of registered Democrats passed Republicans for the first time ever-- by 228 voters.
Democrats already outnumber Republicans in Bucks, Montgomery and Delaware counties, completing the historic shift in the counties surrounding Philadelphia.
Legislators Spending Your Money
For those interested in how Senate and House members spend $360 million of your tax money, the Associated Press went through more than 6,000 pages of itemized spending records to highlight just some of the things legislators spend your money on. Read more here.
The list included buying fancy furniture, reserve parking spots, vast amounts of food and drink to a $1.08 can of hairspray used to kill flies [true that].  Read a topline summary here.
Interestingly, retiring Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), one of the General Assembly’s most conservative members, billed taxpayers for five types of liquid stevia water flavoring from an online retailer — vanilla creme, chocolate raspberry, lemon drop, berry and chocolate at $9 a bottle.
Click Here to learn how lawmakers black out details of their spending claiming “legislative privilege.”
Of course Senate and House members are still running a $172 million surplus in the operating accounts and, in spite of a looming $4 or $5 billion budget deficit and a global pandemic, have not yet decided to return that money to taxpayers to address those issues.  Read more here.
Here’s some political news you might have missed--
2020 Census
The Wolf Administration was again reminding people last week about the importance of responding to the 2020 Census.  Read more here.
Pennsylvania has a 62.2 percent self-response rate and is 16th in the country.  Minnesota is number 1 with a response rate of 69.4 percent.  Read more here.
News You May Have Missed
Here’s some other news you might have missed this week--
What’s Next?
The House is in voting session May 18, 19, 26 and 27 and is expected to take up more bills to reopen more kinds of businesses statewide, expand reopening in Yellow Phase areas and take final action on Speaker Turzai’s bill-- House Bill 2510-- addressing virus testing and other issues related to nursing homes by appropriating $500 million in federal CARES funding to the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
The Senate decided to cancel voting session for May 18, 19 and 20 and remains at the call of the President Pro Tempore.  They are scheduled to return to session the week of June 1.
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[Posted: May 17, 2020]

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