After the swearing-in of a new member and the approval of leaves of absences (4 for Republicans, 15 for Democrats), the Pennsylvania House on Monday prepared to break for a recess.
Both Republicans and Democrats planned to break off into party caucuses, but Democratic caucus chair Joanna McClinton had a reminder for her members.
“Please expect a telephone conference line as we are not supposed to gather more than 50 people in one space,” McClinton of Philadelphia told members.
That was one change to normal business as lawmakers returned to a state Capitol that is now closed to visitors and non-essential employees. The 50-member state Senate canceled its planned session for Monday, but the 200-member House returned to session.
Mike Straub, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said the main reason lawmakers returned to Harrisburg is so they can pass rule changes related to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a unanimous vote Monday afternoon, House members approved three major rules changes:
One allows members to vote from their homes via phone. Under this approach, members are required to communicate their vote to the majority or minority whip or another designated person during floor votes. Lawmakers will also be able to vote remotely during committee hearings.
Another shortens the waiting period between votes, which Straub said would “allow us to move legislation to assist efforts to slow the virus accordingly.”
The third rule change allows members to use their official communication platforms (i.e. online, social media, physical mail) to share information related to coronavirus. Usually, the pre-primary blackout period would prohibit such communications.
State Rep. Mike Schlossberg D-Lehigh), one of the lawmakers who traveled to the state Capitol on Monday, said he plans to stay off the House floor and vote from his office, which he said is allowed under the current rules.