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The Center Square

Pennsylvania’s House lawmakers moved forward Tuesday on several bills meant to reopen certain businesses, despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to extend stay at home orders until May 8.

House Bills 2376, 2388 and 2400 advanced to the Senate with some bipartisan support. The latter two plans allows car dealerships and construction sites to open so long as social distancing guidelines can be followed. HB 2376 lets small retailers open so long as patronage is limited to one customer and one employee inside the establishment at the same time. 

“A customer could go into a store and interact with one other person, rather than possibly coming into contact with hundreds of people at larger retail stores,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford. “If curbside pickup service is good enough for government liquor stores, it should be good enough for Pennsylvania’s small businesses.”

Wolf signed Senate Bill 841 on Monday, permitting vehicle sales to be completed virtually, and said construction sites will be the first industry he allows to resume – on a “limited” basis – on May 8, when the first steps of his phased economic reopening plan unfold.

House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, credited legislative Republicans for spurring those two developments after weeks of lobbying the governor for loosened restrictions on certain types of businesses.

Support for bills to reopen some businesses

“Because of House and Senate Republican diligence, the administration is taking steps to start reopening sectors of our economy that our members have actively advocated on behalf of in recent weeks,” he said. “If we do not see additional progress, we will not hesitate to send new, more expansive reopening plans to the governor’s desk, or more direct action in response to his emergency order.”

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The House also amended Senate Bill 327 to include an emergency regulatory tolling provision that requires any regulation “not finally approved or disapproved to be suspended in place until 90 days after the emergency order is lifted.”

“Workers and employers in all sectors of our economy are facing enormous challenges by no fault of their own,” Cutler said. “A provision temporarily putting additional burdens on hold will help the backbone of our economy recover more efficiently as the governor allows more Pennsylvanians to return to work.” 

The amendment also reconfigures the composition bill’s proposed pandemic recovery task force to include the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, the speaker of the House, the Senate president pro tempore, and two state judges.

“Many of these leaders are already engaging in regular inter-branch discussions,” Cutler said. “They are proudly representing the interests of their constituents, while also using their many years of unique experience as public servants. It will take all of us, from all corners of the Commonwealth and backgrounds, to help every Pennsylvanian come out of this pandemic stronger than when it started. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the solution.” 

House Democrats withheld support from the bill over language that would give counties authority to reopen businesses against state guidance. Wolf doesn’t support the bill.

“I am concerned about handing over the responsibility for opening up, especially in places where we are not ready,” he said. “I think what we need to do is recognize that the course we are on right now is the least bad choice we have to make and all the painful choices that go along with it, we have to follow through with it.

Christen Smith
Christen Smith

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.

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