PA Capitol & COVID-19 Weekly Report: George Floyd Protests, Primary Election, COVID-19
[ Because Everything Is Connected To Everything Else ] George Floyd protests, COVID-19 and Tuesday’s Primary election all dominated last week’s news in Pennsylvania.
All three issues had local relevance in counties across the state because almost all were affected by protests, COVID-19 and the election.
This troika of issues also succeeded in knocking last week’s brouhaha over the House Republicans not telling Democrats one of their members tested positive for COVID-19 and another was self-isolating and the passage of a 5-month budget right out of the newspapers. Read more here.
Primary challenges to five incumbent Democrats resulted in Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Reps. Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware), Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) and Adam Ravenstahl (D-Pittsburgh) losing their seats. Read more here.
Late Saturday, Amanda Cappelletti was declared the winner in the Democratic primary over Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) who lost the support of Democratic officials over allegations of his treatment of women. Read more here.
Although the race is still too close to call, the Democratic Primary for Auditor General has Michael Lamb leading his next closest competitor Nilofer Nina Ahmad 32.10 to 30.67 percent.
Two sitting House members will be running for Senate seats in the fall– Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) to replace Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D) and Rep. Chris Dush (R-Jefferson) to replace Sen. Joe Scarnati (R).
One interesting Lehigh Valley election result has Milou Mackenzie who won the Republican nomination for Lehigh County House District #131, right next to her son– incumbent Rep. Ryan Mackenzie– in House District #134. Read more here.
There may yet be some election surprises, because more than six days later some counties are still counting whatever their share is of the 1.8 million mail-in and absentee ballots they received by the deadline.
Gov. Wolf issued a last minute order on June 1 extending the deadline for counting mail-in and absentee ballots to June 9 for six counties– Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia– so final results may not be available until then. Read more here.
While the Primary went relatively smoothly considering all the new voting machines (22 counties), mail-in ballots, consolidated polling places, COVID-19 precautions– which were uneven depending on the counties– and the George Floyd protests going on around polling places, it set up a daunting challenge for the November 3 election when many more voters will be casting ballots.
On June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf announced 12 additional counties will move to green at 12:01 a.m., June 12. Those counties include Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Northumberland, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York. Read more here.
The Governor also let the stay at home order expire on its own as of June 4 which only covered counties in the Red Phase of reopening anyway.
Gov. Wolf also extended his COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration for another 90 days. Read more here.
Reopening Schools: The other big COVID-19 news last week was the release of preliminary guidelines by the Department of Education for reopening primary and secondary schools, colleges and trade schools starting July 1 under safety plans developed by the schools. Read more here.
Price Gouging: Attorney General Josh Shapiro reported Friday his office has received more than 5,000 complaints of price gouging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. His office has so far issued 466 cease and desist letters and 200 subpoenas to targets for further investigation, and found 27 businesses where the Attorney General’s Office believed actual price gouging occurred. Read more here.
Disparate Impacts Of COVID-19: Senate Democrats Thursday held a hearing on the disproportionate impacts COVID-19 is having on the state’s African American community. Witnesses reported the virus is 2.4 times more likely to kill African Americans than white people and 2.2 times more likely than Asian Americans and Latinos.
The hearing looked at a variety of factors contributing to the differences including structural inequities, social and environmental factors.
The Senators holding the hearing included Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), Art Haywood (D-Montgomery) and Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia). Read more here. Click Here to watch a video of the hearing.
Yellow Phase: As of June 5, these 33 counties are in the yellow phase: Adams, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Franklin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming and York.
Green Phase: As of June 5, these 34 counties are in the green phase: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Bradford, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington and Westmoreland.
COVID-19 Death Toll
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 5,555 on May 31 to 5,943 on June 7. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 71,926 on May 31 to 75,592 on June 7.
As of June 4, the total number of unemployment claims from March 15 dropped by 54,674 from last week– 1.906,054 compared to 1,960,728 on May 28.
The Department of Labor and Industry reported on June 1 it had paid over $12.2 billion in unemployment compensation claims since the March COVID-19 shutdown order which amounts to 83 percent of the claimants approved for payments. But that means 17 percent of claimants are still waiting. Read more here.
Adding to the number of unemployed last week was the PA Turnpike Commission which laid off 500 toll collectors in a move to make cashless toll payment adopted during the pandemic permanent. Read more here.
May federal unemployment numbers showed improvement, but they also contained a “misclassification error” that made the rate look better than it was. May unemployment was reported as 13.3 percent, down from 19.7 percent in April, however a footnote in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report said due to a “misclassification error” the unemployment rate should be about 3 points higher– 16.3 percent– but still an improvement. Read more here.
State Revenues Down $439.7 Million
And just so we don’t forget, on June 1 the Department of Revenue reported state revenues in May were $439.7 million, or 17.3 percent, less than anticipated. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $29.6 billion, which is $2.6 billion, or 8.2 percent, below estimate.
The department estimates that approximately $199.8 million of the $439.7 million shortfall in May can be attributed to moving due dates for various taxes.
The remaining $239.9 million of the May shortfall is due to reduced economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more here.
One thing retiring House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) did disclose was accepting a one-way $10,988.44 flight on a private airplane from a Westmoreland County business man in the natural gas-related business. The flight was from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg so the Speaker could arrive in time to gavel open House session on October 23 after speaking at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh. Read more here.
The Senate and House will both be in voting session June 8, 9 and 10.
Republicans in the Senate and House will continue to move bills in an attempt to chip away at both Gov. Wolf’s emergency authority and to reopen more businesses.
Senate Republicans introduced a new package of COVID-19-related bills Friday requiring, among other things, the General Assembly to reauthorize emergencies declared by the Governor– Senate Bill 1160 (Mastriano-R-Franklin)– and to provide liability protection for businesses from COVID-19 legal actions– Senate Bill 1161 (Phillips-Hill-R-York).
On Sunday, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee scheduled a meeting for June 8 on House Resolution 836 (Diamond-R-Lebanon) that would terminate the COVID-19 disaster emergency issued by the Governor.
Recall that Republicans believe, if passed by the Senate, the resolution will go into effect immediately. The Wolf Administration disagrees, pointing to a provision in the state constitution requiring presentment of all concurrent resolutions to the Governor for his action.
Also on the agenda is Senate Bill 1166 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) that would amend the constitution to require the General Assembly to reauthorize emergencies declared by the Governor.
The Senate Education Committee has a hearing scheduled on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education.
House Republicans are expected to take up bills providing aid to COVID-19 impacted businesses, nursing homes, on better data sharing and to support the expansion of broadband services in the state.