HARRISBURG – The state Senate approved two bills today that would provide some much-needed clarity and common sense to the process of deciding which businesses can safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Senator Lisa Baker (R-20).
Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” on March 16 in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
“We all recognize that extraordinary steps needed to be taken to help reduce the spread of the devastating coronavirus,” said Baker. “But we shuttered small businesses while keeping open large facilities where the risk of spreading disease can be even greater. That doesn’t make sense.”
She added that many questions have been raised by families, workers, and employers about the extent of the state declared business shutdown and the mysterious methods for deciding who can reopen and who cannot.
The bills approved by the Senate today would create a better process for determining which businesses can continue to remain open, provide clarity on mitigation strategies necessary to protect the health and safety of both customers and employees, and give county leaders a stronger voice in which mitigation measures should be implemented locally.
“This legislation is not a setback to the health first approach in place,” Baker stated. “These measures are about giving people the chance to go back to work, where there is opportunity to reasonably do so safely.”
Senate Bill 613 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 as 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.
To restore local control, Senate Bill 327 would give county governments the option to develop and implement their own plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, following CISA guidelines. Under the bill, businesses already identified as essential could continue to operate. However, counties would also be given the authority to develop plans to allow other industries to operate if it is safe to do so.
The bill also creates a COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force made up of representatives of all three branches of government to identify and address issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency together. The panel would be responsible for developing a recovery plan to restore public services and economic activity when it is safe to do so.