PA Capitol & COVID-19 Weekly Report: Republican Challenges To Governor On The Way To His Desk

Senate and House Republicans fired two more shots– bills– at the Governor in the continuing tussle over who gets to decide major issues.  Those shots will land on Gov. Wolf’s desk this week.

One– no surprise– is related to the COVID pandemic and the other is on who gets to set energy/climate policy in the state.

High School Sports

            The Senate passed and sent to the Governor House Bill 2787 (Reese-R-Westmoreland) that would give school districts the sole authority to decide how to handle athletic competitions and extracurricular activities during the pandemic.

            Gov. Wolf said he will veto the bill adding last week he “can’t conceive” of the General Assembly overriding his veto because it could mean putting “a lot of people’s lives in jeopardy.”  Read more here.

            House Majority Leader Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Mifflin) said he would call for a veto override vote “ASAP.”  Read more here.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) did much the same on his side of the Capitol Rotunda.  Read more here.

            The reality is both the Senate and House passed the bill with veto-proof majorities and unless the Democrats who voted for it change their minds, they might just override this one.  We’ll see.

            Aid For Small Businesses

            Continuing on COVID for a moment, Gov. Wolf held another press conference this week to push his fall legislative agenda, this time calling– again– on the Senate and House to use some of the $1.3 billion in federal CARES Act money they still have to aid small businesses– $425 million to be exact.  Read more here.

            He also issued his now weekly call for legislative action on evictions and foreclosures as these very real problems affect people all over the state.  Read more here.

            Republicans have said in several ways, and the Senate Republicans in particular, that they don’t negotiate policy through the media.

            Increasing Dining Capacity

            Hoping to address one of the main complaints both Republicans and Democrats have about his COVID policies, Gov. Wolf increased indoor restaurant capacity limits from 25 to 50 percent, something the industry had asked for to get them at least a chance to survive.  Read more here.  Read more here.

            But, Wolf said alcohol sales must end at 10:00 p.m., something the bar and restaurant owners very much opposed.

            Counties Of Concern

            Gov. Wolf last week listed these counties of most concern in terms of growing numbers of COVID cases– Columbia (18.9 percent), Armstrong (8.6 percent), York (7.9 percent), Clinton (7.4 percent), Beaver (6.4 percent), Northumberland (5.7 percent), Indiana (5.6 percent), Blair (5.2 percent), Centre (5.0 percent), Dauphin (5.0 percent) and Lancaster (5.0 percent) which all have a percent positivity rate of 5 percent or more.  Read more here.

            The statewide percent positivity for COVID increased to 4.0 percent from 3.2 percent.

            The Department of Health also removed California and added North Carolina to the list of states they recommend travelers quarantine on their return.  Read more here.

            COVID-19 Death Toll

The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 7,760 on September 6 to 7,862 deaths on September 12. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 139,316 on September 6 to 143,805 cases on September 12.

The Senate announced Friday three employees now have tested positive for COVID, including a security guard.  Read more here.  This follows an announcement last Monday the Secretary of the Senate’s Office employees are in quarantine because one of their employees tested positive.  Read more here.

Shouting Over Greenhouse Gas

            The second Republican challenge involves House Bill 2025 (Struzzi-R-Indiana) that would require the approval of the General Assembly before Pennsylvania could enter into carbon emissions reduction programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Transportation and Climate initiative.

            The Senate passed the bill last week sending it on its way to the Governor.  Senate consideration of the bill was notable because it devolved into a shouting match on the floor after Republicans immediately moved to cut off debate and any consideration of amendments to the bill.  Read more here.

            Republicans, and a few Democrats, and the Governor have been going back and forth since last October over who gets to decide when Pennsylvania joins these interstate initiatives. 

Right now DEP has a regulation to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative going to the Environmental Quality Board for approval for public comment on September 15. 

Blocks of Republicans, and a few Democrats, in the Senate and House have opposed the regulations saying the General Assembly should decide.

Gov. Wolf said he will veto this bill, however, unlike the high school sports bill, neither the Senate nor the House passed the bill by a veto-proof majority.  Read more here.

            Election Fixes?

            Efforts to fix the state election law to give more time for counties to process mail-in ballots and make other changes is also heading for a showdown between Republicans and the Gov. Wolf.

            The Senate moved the Republican version of those changes in House Bill 2626 (Moul-R-Adams) out of Committee without making any changes and over the objections of Democrats. It would be set for a final vote when the Senate returns to session September 21.

Gov. Wolf said he would veto the bill in its current form because it makes it harder, not easier for citizens to vote.

            Publicly, Republicans prodded Gov. Wolf to join negotiations to resolve their differences, although they again said they don’t negotiate bills through the media.  Read more here.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Court denied an NAACP-PA petition to fix some of the problems that occurred during the June Primary when polling places were consolidated and there were long lines at the polls.  The NAACP believes these actions disadvantaged minority voters. 

Other elements of the case are still ongoing. Read more here.

In-Person/Drop Box Voting

Kathy Boockvar, Secretary of State, and the person in state government in charge of running elections, last week was touting in-person early voting and ballot drop boxes.

Boockvar said any voter can go to a county election office or satellite office after ballots are finalized and apply for a mail-in ballot.  Voters can fill out the ballot while they are in the office and return it in-person.

She also said many counties are using secure drop boxes to return their mail-in ballots, if they don’t trust the Postal Service to get their ballots in on time.

Boockvar did say there was still pending litigation on the drop box issue started by the Trump Campaign.  Senate and House Republicans also don’t like drop boxes which they maintain aren’t provided for in the Election Code.  Read more here.

Ridge Warning

Former Gov. Tom Ridge made several stops in Pennsylvania last week urging Pennsylvania and other states to make sure counties have the time they need to process mail-in ballots in November.  Read more here.

Traveling with former Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Ridge warned the public to “Be prepared for election week or election month” while ballots are being counted.  Read more here.

Robo Election Scam

Attorney General Shapiro and the Department of State both warned last week about robocalls falsely claiming that personal information about mail-in voters will be shared with law enforcement agencies seeking to arrest people on outstanding warrants, and with credit card companies seeking to collect outstanding debts.

Law enforcement is investigating these blatant attempts to suppress mail-in voting in the Nov. 3 general election, and violations of the law will be prosecuted, Secretary Boockvar and Attorney General Shapiro said. 

            Green Party In Or Out?

            The efforts of state Democrats to remove the Green Party’ Presidential candidates from Pennsylvania’s ballot was half successful last week when Commonwealth Court said the Party’s Presidential candidate could stay on the ballot, but the Vice Presidential nominee should be barred.

            The ruling was by Judge Drew Crompton, a Republican and former aide to Sen. Joe Scaranati (R-Jefferson).  Read more here.

            Democrats immediately appealed the decision to the PA Supreme Court, which has more Democrats than Republicans.  Read more here.

The unstated objective of Democrats is to barr the Green Party so they would not take votes from Joe Biden.

In 2016, Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes in Pennsylvania. The Green Party’s nominee that year, Jill Stein, drew slightly more votes than that, 49,941, according to the Associated Press.

            35 Targets

            The state Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee announced they added 8 more seats to their target list of state House and Senate Republicans to take out in November, bringing the total to 35.  Read more here.

            Poll Position

            A variety of new polls came out last week on the Presidential race and on COVID performance.

            A new Susquehanna Poll in PA had Biden at 44 percent and Trump at 42.  The poll also found–

— 50 percent approve of Gov. Wolf’s handling of pandemic, 35 percent disapprove

— 56 percent support legalizing marijuana for recreational use

            A CNBC/Change Research PA poll had Biden at 50 percent and Trump at 46.

            A Morning Consult Poll in PA had Biden at 50 percent and Trump at 45 percent.

            AARP in Pennsylvania released a poll showing how important 50+ year old voters are in this political season.

            Among the 50+ crowd, Biden had 50 percent and Trump 46 percent, but in the overall findings of voters 18+ Biden had 49 percent and Trump 46 percent.

It also found 50 percent of voters 50+ were opposed to how Trump has been managing the pandemic.

A poll conducted by four major universities over the last five months tracked how the well the public believes Gov. Wolf is handling the COVID crisis.  Starting in late April 57 percent agreed with what Wolf was doing, but by late August that number was down to 48 percent.

            Extra Fed Unemployment Ends Before It Began

On September 10, Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak announced he received notification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency late September 9  the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program– which provided an additional $300 weekly benefit to unemployed workers– ended on Saturday, September 5, 2020.

The first Pennsylvania unemployed are scheduled to get their first $300 payments on September 14.  Read more here.

            Unemployment Claims

For the week August 30 to September 5, there were 22,626 unemployment claims, down from 24,883 last week. The highest weekly total came March 22 to 28– 374,056.  Read more here.

            PA Getting Too Old

On September 8, the Independent Fiscal Office released a Demographic Outlook Report on Pennsylvania that projects the speed up in the decline of the working age population in the state “will constrain economic and revenue growth in the future” through 2030.

            The main conclusions in the report were–

— Overall Population: The total population was nearly flat from 2015 to 2020 and is projected to contract slightly in the near term (-0.1 percent per annum) and long term (-0.2 percent per annum).

— School Age Children: The school age cohort (age 0 to 19) has declined 0.6 percent per annum from 2015 to 2020 and is projected to contract at the same rate in the near term, but slightly more in the long term (0.7 percent per annum). 

— Working Age Population: The working-age cohort (age 20 to 64) declined 0.5 percent per annum from 2015 to 2020 and is projected to contract by 0.7 percent per annum in the near term and 0.6 percent per annum in the long term.

Click Here for a copy of the full report.

What’s Next?

The Senate is off this week, but the House returns to voting session September 15, 16 and 17.

A full slate of committee meetings is scheduled on a variety of issues, including a House Finance Committee informational meeting with the Department of Revenue on the state’s current and projected tax revenue collections, a House Commerce Committee hearing on what comes next – the impact of the COVID crisis and more.  Click Here for the full House schedule.

The Senate is off until September 21, but there are committee hearings scheduled on a variety of COVID-related topics and on calling a limited state constitutional convention. Click Here for the Senate Committee schedule.

  The fun continues…..


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