Could the Pennsylvania legislature overturn Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus?
The short answer: It is unlikely.
The Pennsylvania Senate passed the Republican-backed bill that would broaden Wolf’s definition of what constitutes an essential business allowed to remain open during the state’s coronavirus shutdown, by a vote of 29-21 primarily down party lines. It had passed out of the state House of Representatives on Tuesday with a 107-95 vote.
The measure is now land on the desk of Wolf, the Democratic governor who instituted the shutdown of non-life-sustaining businesses in the first place.
He plans to veto the measure, and Republicans don’t have enough votes to override.
So what’s the point of passing the bill at all? Here are answers to that and other questions you might have.
What would the bill mean for Pennsylvanians?
The bill would provide a “COV-19 emergency mitigation plan for businesses," requiring the governor’s office to craft and publish guidelines for how establishments can operate while reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Businesses that comply can reopen.
The guidelines would have to be in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health recommendations and the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommendations regarding what constitutes an “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce.”
CISA’s guidelines are broader than Wolf’s. One way it differs from the governor’s rules is that it identifies construction workers as critical employees. In Pennsylvania, all construction, with the exception of emergency repairs, has been halted.
Does it have a shot?
Probably not. Wolf doesn’t support the legislation and is poised to veto it.
He has said opening the economy too quickly could result in a surge of new coronavirus cases, overwhelm hospitals, wipe out progress made by the stay-at-home order, and result in an even more battered economy in the long term.
Wolf has joined an alliance with six other governors of Northeastern states, including New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. The governors have vowed to work together to coordinate a regional approach to an economic reopening.
Health Secretary Rachel Levine has also urged caution, noting any relaxation of current orders would be a slow, progressive process.
After a veto, the legislature would need a two-thirds vote in both chambers for an override, meaning 136 of 203 House members and 34 of 50 Senate members would have to vote yes. The House has 110 Republicans and 93 Democrats, and the Senate is split, 28-21.
If it’s unlikely to pass, why introduce it?
As more than 16% of the state’s workforce has filed for unemployment, Republican lawmakers say Pennsylvanians need to get back to work as quickly as possible and the bill provides a clearer path for them do so.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a central Pennsylvania Republican, argued Wednesday that residents in rural counties have been forced out of work, even though their areas have not reported many coronavirus cases.
“If you’re in Crawford County, you’re in a completely different world than if you’re in Philadelphia today," Corman said. “To treat it as a kind of one-size-fits-all state, the cases don’t reflect that.”
Republicans say the current system is confusing and cumbersome for businesses who wish to apply for a waiver to operate.
“Every business in Pennsylvania needs a clear understanding of what is necessary to once again open its doors,” Rep. Chris Quinn, a Delaware County Republican, said in a statement. "Waivers are being granted in a random fashion and two like businesses have no idea why one can remain open and the other must shutter its doors.”
In voting against the bill, House Democrats argued it prioritizes the economy over public health.
“Our health-care system cannot handle the type of carnage we would see should our businesses be open,” House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, a Philadelphia Democrat, said Tuesday on the House floor. “We can revive our economy, but we cannot revive lives.”