PA Capitol & COVID-19 Weekly Report: Everyone Gets Green Light, Except For…
Every county in Pennsylvania last week got the green light to move to the Green Phase of reopening, except for Lebanon County, because, Gov. Wolf said it did not meet the criteria.
His announcement went on to explain, “Against the advice of public health experts and against orders from Gov. Wolf and Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine aimed at keeping Pennsylvanians healthy, Lebanon County commissioners voted 2 to 1 along party lines to prematurely reopen in late May. Now, the county is facing an uptick in cases, and is unable to move to green.”
Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine added, “Lebanon County’s partisan, politically driven decision to ignore public health experts and reopen prematurely is having severe consequences for the health and safety of county residents.
“Case counts have escalated and the county is not yet ready to be reopened. Lebanon County has hindered its progress by reopening too early. Because of this irresponsible decision, Lebanon County residents are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.”
In response to Gov. Wolf’s action, Lebanon County Republicans called Wolf a “dictator’ and a ‘loser.’ Read more here.
Some might also note Lebanon County is the home county of the prime sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 836 — Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon)– that would terminate Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. Rep. Diamond had earlier self-quarantined due to a potential exposure to the virus, but failed to tell Democrats in the House of his action.
Supremes Take Charge
On June 17, the PA Supreme Court granted Gov. Wolf’s request to review his authority for continuing the COVID-19 emergency declaration in the face of a Senate and House Republican-passed House Concurrent Resolution 836 ending his disaster order.
But the Court went one step further and also took over a lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court by Senate Republicans asking that court to “command” the Governor to abide by their resolution. Read more here.
The Associated Press noted, Democrats hold a five to two edge on the PA Supreme Court, but on the Commonwealth Court Republicans hold a majority. Read more here.
Conservative Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) and 24 other Republicans filed a formal resolution [House Resolution 915] calling for the impeachment of “dictator Wolf” for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution cited five articles of impeachment claiming Gov. Wolf did not have the constitutional authority to close and “seize” businesses through his shutdown order; that the waiver program to provide relief from the shutdown order was applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner; he failed to provide essential unemployment benefits to citizens left unemployed by his actions; he failed to protect residents of nursing homes; and stopped responding to requests under the Right-To-Know law.
In the past, Rep. Metcalfe has called for the impeachment of Attorney General Kathleen Kane for not enforcing the state’s same-sex marriage law and Pittsburgh Major Bill Peduto for passing gun control laws. Neither were successful. Read more here.
On June 18, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a reminder that mask-wearing is required when entering any business in all counties in the state in both yellow and green phases of reopening. Masks are considered critical in stopping the spread of COVID, now and in preparation for a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall. Read more here.
More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the Giant Eagle food store chain for its policy on requiring all shoppers to wear masks. The lawsuits claimed it was discriminatory under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Read more here.
An historical note, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) was one of the first public officials to recommend everyone going out of their houses wear masks to fight COVID-19. He also endorsed the Masks4All movement. Read more here.
Pennsylvania was one of three states recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for having a downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases for more than 42 days. The other states were Montana and Hawaii. Read more here.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) disagreed, saying “Certainly, in most communistic countries if they control the movement of their populations, they can control a lot of things,” Corman said.
“If you’re looking strictly at cases, sure maybe they lowered the cases by their activity. And if they want to pat themselves on the back, they can, but when you look at the [economic] carnage on the other side, that’s significant as well. And that has to be part of the equation when looking at their response.” Read more here.
COVID-19 Death Toll
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 6,215 deaths on June 14 to 6,423 deaths on June 21. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 78,798 on June 14 to 81,730 on June 21.
Unemployment Down 3%
On June 19, the Department of Labor & Industry reported Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was down 3.0 percentage points over the month to 13.1 percent in May. It was 15.1 percent in April. The national rate fell 1.4 percentage points from May to 13.3 percent.
The Commonwealth’s unemployment rate increased by 8.9 percentage points from May 2019 while the national rate was up 9.7 points over the year. Read more here.
As of June 17, the total number of unemployment claims from March 15 are 2,132,891, up from 1,950,105 last week.
May Gaming Revenue Down
On June 16, the PA Gaming Control Board reported overall gaming revenue was down 79 percent in May of this year compared to May 2019. Tax revenue from all forms of gaming in May 2020 was $25,762,836.
The $55,838,789 May online casino-type revenue figure was more than double the revenue generated from those games in March when revenue stood at $24,884,830.
More casinos will be reopening in the next week as more counties move in the Green Phase which should bring in more tax revenue to the state.
A handful of counties are still counting votes cast on June 2, but should soon be finished.
As of last Tuesday Philadelphia, Delaware, Lehigh, Luzerne and Montgomery had not yet finished. Provisional and mail-in ballots were the main reason for the delay. Read more here.
On June 18, Gov. Wolf signed bipartisan legislation that requires a comprehensive report on the Primary to identify any changes in law needed before the November 3 election. Read more here.
But lawmakers, like Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), are already talking about changes to allow counties to start processing ballots ahead of election day. Election officials are anticipating even more mail-in ballots for November. Read more here.
Click Here for a more robust analysis of who voted June 2 and how.
Who Won’t Be Back
PA Capital- Star did a handy rundown on who won’t be back in the Senate and House in 2021 because they either retired or lost their Primary election. Read more here.
Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) – Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) running to replace
Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) – Lost
Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) – Lost
Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) – Rep. Chris Dush (R-Jefferson) running to replace
Rep. Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware)
Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks)
Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware) – Lost
Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming)
Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield)
Rep. Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill)
Rep. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) – Lost
Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton)
Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry)
Rep. Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny)
Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery)
Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery)
Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (D-Pittsburgh) – Lost
Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny)
Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia) – Lost
Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Northampton)
Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill)
Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery)
Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)
Rep. Rosita Youngblood (D-Philadelphia)
Historic Auditor General’s Race
No matter who wins, the statewide race for Auditor General will be historic– both major parties have nominated candidates of color for the position.
Nina Ahmad, who came to the United States from Bangladesh as a student 40 years ago, has apparently won a six-way Democratic Party primary as counting wraps up. Tim DeFoor, the Republican Party’s uncontested nominee, is African American. Read more here.
Pot On Probation
In a unanimous ruling, the PA Supreme Court struck down a Lebanon County court system rule prohibiting people on probation and parole from using medical marijuana. The county reasoned marijuana was still illegal under federal law, even though it was legal under state law. Read more here.
After June 22, 23, and 24, the House has not scheduled any more voting days in June, but they remain at the call of the interim House Speaker.
Speaking of Speakers, the House is expected to take steps to name a new Speaker next week as well as move at least two police reform bills, bills opening more businesses from the shutdown and hold a Committee information meeting on resident COVID-19 safety in long-term care facilities.
The Senate is scheduled to be in voting session June 22, 23, 24, 29 and 30, but we’ll see if they really are. They are also technically at the call of the President Pro Tempore.
Senate committees will look to move legislation on expanding broadband access and has hearings planned on COVID-19 update on long-term care facilities, Pharmacy Benefit Managers pricing and DEP’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Program for power plants.
Starting June 22 the Capitol Building in Harrisburg will be open to the public and anyone else doing business there, but all visitors have to wear masks. Will all lawmakers? Read more here.