May. 08, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
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Moving PA Toward Reopening

Continuing our commitment to address both current COVID-19 challenges and plans for moving the Commonwealth forward, the House was back in session in Harrisburg this week debating several bills to address our response to the pandemic.

Recognizing that testing is key for communities to be able to move forward after COVID-19, the House approved House Bill 2455to require the governor to review statewide COVID-19 testing capacity, and issue a plan to test Pennsylvania’s first responders, health care workers and other vulnerable populations as well as to use tests to ease current mitigation requirements that have been imposed by the government. Additionally, the governor must provide regular reports on testing efforts, including the number of tests needed, costs associated and exactly what testing resources are available. The bill also would empower county and local health departments to implement testing.

The House also recognized the significant impact the virus and subsequent mitigation efforts are having on citizens’ mental health by adopting two bills to better ensure access to care. House Bill 1439 would require a certification of compliance by an insurer with federal and state law ensuring mental health coverage is equal to medical or surgical benefits, while House Bill 1696 would require insurers to file an annual report with the Insurance Department detailing mental health parity compliance.

In response to the challenges elected officials, news reporters and members of the general public have had in getting answers from the governor and his administration about their COVID-19 response, we passed House Bill 2463 to require state agencies to answer questions and respond to right-to-know requests during emergency declarations.

Finally, the House approved legislation that would prevent economic impact checks being distributed by the federal government from being subject to state or local income taxes.

Additionally, we continued our efforts aimed at safely reopening businesses this week. While the governor has wanted to only open life-sustaining businesses, the criteria for identifying such businesses has not been explained and it also doesn’t take into account the many, many industries that could easily adapt to state and federal guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Bills to open hair salons and barbershops, animal groomers, real estate (PA is reportedly the only state in the nation restricting the industry), messenger services, nonprofit zoos and more are in various stages of the legislative process. Giving business owners the option of reopening when they can do so safely will help reopen our economy and get people back to work, easing the extreme backlog of approximately 1.7 million unemployment claims.
Wolf Wants to Create Coronavirus Corps

Gov. Tom Wolf announced his intention to create the Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps.

I find it very disturbing for the governor to unilaterally decide to create a new government program, which has the potential of to cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Wolf is making government the solution to the unemployment problem when the private sector is ready to work. Instead we should be sending people back to work in the private sector safely. After all, if it is safe for people to be employed through the new government program Wolf wants, surely it is safe for them to return to the jobs they currently hold but are forbidden from attending.
What’s Your Plan for Education?

Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera recently stated he was uncertain if the state’s schools would reopen this fall. While parents at home with their kids are doing their best to support their child’s studies, kids are still missing out on a variety of educational and social opportunities. Despite the best efforts of teachers, many school districts were ill-prepared to switch fully to online learning.

Secretary Rivera and the Wolf administration owe parents more information. What is the plan to eventually reopen schools? Or is the administration looking to turn our current education system into a series of cyber charter schools? Parents deserve answers, and they deserve a plan to ensure the very best education for their children.
Governor Moves Portion of State to ‘Yellow’ May 8

Last Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced 24 counties in the northcentral and northwestern parts of the state would be able to start loosening some restrictions and reopening their local economies effective on Friday, May 8. While I am disappointed York and Cumberland counties were not included in this phase of reopening, it is still encouraging to see some progress after nearly two months of waiting.

As outlined by the governor, the phased reopening plan is structured like a stop light. For the last several weeks, the entire Commonwealth has been in the “red phase” with stay-at-home orders and all but life-sustaining businesses closed. Last week, the governor announced the two dozen counties that would be first to move into the “yellow phase.” He indicated the counties were deemed ready to move because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread.

Ultimately, the goal for each region is to reach the “green phase,” which eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health. At each stage, data will be analyzed to detect any new spike in cases. Residents are encouraged to continue practicing social distancing, frequent cleaning and hand washing, and wearing masks. Details of the governor’s plan are available here.  

Guidance for businesses now permitted to operate under the yellow phase status is available here for review. 
Support for Schools

The federal CARES Act, approved by Congress in March, includes funding relief for school districts across the country. The state’s share of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) totals more than $500 million and will be distributed to school districts based on the same formula used to distribute Every Student Succeeds Act funding last summer.

What’s New?

Expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards and learner's permits are being extended again due to the statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Any of these items that are scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020. You may, however, renew your driver license or identification online anytime at Driver License Centers, Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center remain closed until further notice. For more information about PennDOT actions related to COVID-19, click here.  

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has outlined its plans for a phased reopening of some state park and forest facilities. Public golf courses at Caledonia and Evansburg state parks and Michaux State Forest, which are operated by private concessions, reopened last Friday, May 1. At least one restroom in day use areas and in marinas at state parks and forests statewide will be open to the public on May 8 with additional cleaning protocols in place. All nine marinas in state parks will be open to the public on May 8, or their typical designated opening date. This is in addition to shoreline mooring sites at all state parks. State park and forest facilities in counties entering the “yellow phase” of mitigation will be open to the public on May 15. This includes offices, campgrounds and the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle. Cabins in these areas will not open until June 12, to allow returning staff the ability to thoroughly clean them and prepare them for use. Campgrounds and cabins in all other state parks will remain closed. For more details on the phased opening plan, click here.  

A program to provide free N95 respirator decontamination to health care facilities, first responders and other eligible organizations that may be experiencing a shortage of the respirators is now available. The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System (CCDS) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the decontamination and reuse of N95 respirators as needed during a time of crisis. The system uses a vaporous hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the units. A single Battelle CCDS site can decontaminate tens of thousands of N95s in a single day. The decontamination process permits the reuse of N95s, and each N95 can be decontaminated up to 20 times before it requires disposal. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is funding the operation of multiple Battelle CCDS sites across the country, including one in Delaware County. For more information about eligibility and how to participate, please click here.  
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