May. 15, 2020

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The Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong#  The latest news from the State Capitol
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Carbon County to Turn “Yellow” Next Friday

Although I believe the decision should have come last week, I am nonetheless pleased by today’s announcement from Gov. Tom Wolf that Carbon County will transition to the “yellow” phase of his reopening plan for Pennsylvania on Friday, May 22.

Carbon County was among 12 counties named on the governor’s latest “red to yellow” list. In the yellow phase, restrictions are loosened and certain businesses are allowed to resume operations under federal safety guidelines.

We sincerely thank Carbon County residents for doing an amazing job in adhering to the social distancing guidelines that have allowed us to reach this point. However, moving to the “yellow” phase is just the next step in the process and does not mean we are returning to the way it was in March. We need to keep working together and respecting each other as we proceed to the ultimate goal of reaching the “green” phase.


State and local officials from several counties still classified in the most restrictive “red” phase of the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts recently announced their intention to start reopening their economies regardless of the governor’s directives.

These efforts are in direct response to the feedback elected officials like me have been receiving from thousands of residents who want to go back to work and are struggling to pay their bills and put food on their tables because they have no income and have not received any of the unemployment compensation funds to which they are entitled.

It is also in response to the lack of transparency and consistent guidance from the Wolf administration about why some counties are being given the “yellow” light and others are stuck at “red.” The governor and Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine have also openly admitted they do not have any parameters set at this time for what it takes for a region to move from yellow to green.

At a press conference on Monday, the governor called these citizens and their leaders “cowardly” and accused them of “deserting” the state’s war on COVID-19.

I was disappointed by the governor’s comments. People who are struggling to feed their families and protect their livelihoods deserve respect from their governor, not name calling. He has, time and again, refused to acknowledge the failures of his unemployment compensation system, which has left many people without an income for at least two months. Approximately 1.8 million citizens were forced to file for unemployment since the governor issued his business closure order, a rate that is among the highest in the nation because of the governor’s exceedingly restrictive orders.

We cannot and should not dismiss the health risks associated with COVID-19, especially for people with other underlying conditions. But we also cannot and should not dismiss the social and economic impacts that have resulted in increased drug overdose and suicide rates, incidents of domestic and child abuse, as well as a growing list of small businesses that may not be able to recover from the extreme closure orders.
 
 
Safeguarding At-Risk Seniors from COVID-19

Responding to published reports and finally released data regarding COVID-19 deaths occurring among Pennsylvanians living in the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences, the Senior Protection Act was introduced this week.

The bipartisan effort seeks to establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private-partnership approach of regional health system collaboratives. These health collaboratives would administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities. The legislation was developed with the help of medical experts at UPMC with the goal of saving lives and giving families whose loved ones reside in these facilities some peace of mind.

According to the Department of Health, as of mid-week, there were more than 12,500 resident cases of COVID-19 and nearly 2,000 cases among employees, for a total of more than 14,000 at more than 540 nursing and personal care facilities. Of the state’s total COVID fatalities, nearly 70% were residents in a nursing or personal care home.

According to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, there are approximately 123,000 individuals living in 697 nursing facilities, 1,143 personal care homes and 58 assisted living residences statewide. These facilities employ 143,000 people.

Read more about the Senior Protection Act here.

Additional bills being introduced to aid this vulnerable population would require the Department of Health to conduct testing of all employees and residents in long-term care facilities. Another bill which I am sponsoring would prohibit the department from requiring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to admit COVID-19 patients without first confirming a negative test for the patient. Previous orders by Secretary Levine required nursing homes to readmit COVID-positive patients despite the risk to other residents and staff. Levine announced this week the department will start testing all residents and staff and require a patient to be free of COVID-19 before being readmitted.
 
 
House Continues Work Toward Safe Reopening

The state House returned to session on Thursday to continue work on legislation that would help safely reopen the Commonwealth and our economy. We also remain focused on planning a path forward as we will have to continue dealing with the presence of coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

To that end, Senate Bill 327 would create the COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force. Encompassing all three branches of government, the task force would be charged with identifying immediate and urgent issues, providing a structure to catalog the Commonwealth’s response to the disaster emergency and creating a recovery plan to help return our communities to pre-disaster conditions.

County officials would also be authorized to develop an emergency mitigation plan for business, in consultation with health and emergency management officials. The plan would have to be published on the county’s public website and would empower our local governments to reopen their economies when it can be done so safely.

Recognizing the impact of the virus and subsequent shutdown on our state’s economy, the bill would establish a debt reduction review process directing all state agencies responsible for any level of borrowing to examine existing debt and determine if refinancing with current interest rates would help the state save taxpayer money.

Finally, the bill would require proper and timely notification of any suspensions or modifications of a state statute or regulation related to a disaster emergency, and it would delay implementation of any new regulations until 90 days after termination of an emergency declaration.

Giving Our Business Owners a Choice
Small business owners and the people they employ continue to struggle under the weight of the governor’s business closure orders and failures of the unemployment compensation system. While we continue to fight for openness and transparency from the governor’s office regarding his decisions about which businesses are life-sustaining or qualify for waivers, we are continuing our work on bills that would require the administration to allow specific businesses and industries the option to reopen if they can do so safely.

House Bill 2388 would require the Department of Community and Economic Development to issue a waiver to the business closure order for the following types of businesses, as long as those businesses comply with health and safety guidelines outlined by the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: vehicle dealerships, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salon and barber shops for hair services, messenger services, animal grooming services, and manufacturing operations.

House Bill 2412 would require a similar waiver to all providers of legal services, and residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services.

Each of the bills will now go to the governor’s desk for his signature.

 
Committee Advances Bills to Address COVID-19 Impacts

The House State Government Committee this week advanced three bills designed to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation efforts.

To help restaurants and bars, which are often small, family-owned businesses, the committee passed bills to allow outdoor and indoor seating to resume in areas of the state in the yellow or green phases of mitigation. Specifically, House Bill 2506 would allow establishments with existing decks, patios and courtyards to open those outdoor areas with up to 50% of the maximum seating capacity in order to properly institute the federal and state mitigation guidelines. House Bill 2513 would allow establishments to use 50% of their indoor seating capacity under those same rules.

House Resolution 867 would establish a special committee to examine various aspects of the state’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and make recommendations regarding issues of importance and long-term recovery. The committee’s report would be due in November.

Finally, House Bill 2505 would require the administration to retain records related to COVID-19 for 14 years after the end of the emergency order. It would apply to an executive agency, contractor, employee of a contractor or owner of a contractor. The extended retention period is designed to ensure ample time to assess what worked and what did not in the state’s response.  
 
 
What’s New?

The Department of Health this week distributed the investigational antiviral medication, remdesivir, to treat patients in the hospital with COVID-19. The federal government distributed the first shipment of 1,200 doses to the department on Tuesday and those doses are being shipped to 51 of the state’s hospitals based on the number and severity of COVID-19 patients at the facility. According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, remdesivir may help decrease the amount of coronavirus in the body, helping the patient recover faster.

To help reduce the number of people coming into driver and photo license centers, PennDOT announced it will use existing photos on file for customers who renew their driver’s license and identification card. All customers who renew online or through the mail will receive a new product using the most recent photo that exists in PennDOT’s system. No camera cards will be issued to these customers, and they will receive their new product by mail within 15 days. The renewal process is complete when the final product is received. PLEASE NOTE: People who renewed BEFORE May 10 will receive a camera card in the mail and must visit a photo license center to obtain an updated photo. For a list of reopened locations, visit www.dmv.pa.gov. In addition, the expiration dates on driver’s licenses, photo ID cards, learner’s permits and camera cards scheduled to expire from March 16 through May 31 have been extended until June 30.

PennDOT also announced an extension of expiration dates for vehicle registrations and safety and emission inspections. Items scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31 are now extended through June 30. Persons with Disabilities parking placards scheduled to expire from March 16 through May 31 are also extended through June 30.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced it will begin a phased restart of some of its field operations to help ensure an accurate count. All returning staff will receive safety training to observe social distancing protocols in the COVID-19 environment. For their safety and the safety of the public, the Census Bureau has ordered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all field staff, including those who work in a field office. These materials will be secured and provided to staff prior to restarting operations. For more information, visit www.2020census.gov.
 
 
Primary Election June 2

The primary election is now just over two weeks away. Regardless of the status of your county of residence (red or yellow), voters may choose to either vote by mail or in person. Even if your county is still under a stay-at-home order, you can vote in person if that is your preference.

Details and deadlines are below.

  
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Email: dheffley@pahousegop.com
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