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Politics & Government

Pennsylvania lawmakers prepare to extend pandemic waivers for 6 more months

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Keith Srakocic
/
AP

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature voted Wednesday to again extend hundreds of regulatory waivers that Gov. Tom Wolf's administration had approved under its pandemic-related disaster emergency authority.

The House and Senate voted unanimously to add another six months to a prior extension they granted, as the delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Wolf will sign it, his office said. Lawmakers agreed with most of the Wolf administration’s recommendations on extending the pandemic-related waivers that are still in use, Wolf’s office said.

The bulk of the waivers being extended to March 31, 2022, are designed to help hospitals, clinics and others respond to the pandemic, including making it easier to hire staff, deliver vaccines or convert space to see patients.

Some waivers have been ended, and some are being allowed to lapse, Wolf's office said. However, neither Wolf's office nor lawmakers could provide comprehensive lists.

Lawmakers in June voted to end Wolf’s pandemic-related disaster emergency declaration, under new authority handed to them by voters in May's referendum to change the constitution. At the same time, they voted to extend hundreds of regulatory waivers.

That prior extension ends Thursday, the end of September.

The legislation does not affect Wolf’s statewide mask mandate for schools, which requires students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Lawmakers departed the Capitol on Wednesday, 10 days after starting their fall session calendar without taking a floor vote on Republican-drafted legislation to block Wolf's statewide mask mandate for schools. The House was scheduled to return Monday, but the Senate was scheduled to be out of session until Oct. 18.

The power to suspend regulations are the key component of a governor’s authority under a disaster declaration, and the hundreds of regulations Wolf's administration suspended during the pandemic covered a wide swath of government functions and the economy, including over licensing, inspections and training.

The bulk of the regulations that will remain waived are under health, human services and licensing agencies.

In addition to removing some licensing requirements for health care workers, the waivers also expand the ability to conduct health care services remotely, allow hospitals to adapt their space to handle influxes of patients and make vaccines easier to get at pharmacies, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania said.

Under the bill, Wolf’s administration has the authority to enforce any of the waived regulations.

Wolf also can declare another disaster emergency, should he decide to.

Lawmakers, though, have the newly granted authority under the referendum to end a new declaration by a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote necessary previously.