Republicans Demand Protections For Businesses That Reopen Against Governor's Orders

May 13, 2020

Pennsylvania House Republicans  -- including one from Allegheny County -- are calling on every district attorney in the state to intervene on behalf of business owners who want to reopen in counties where Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closures are still in place.

The group said that district attorneys should withdraw any citation issued against a business operating in defiance of state orders. Such action, they said in a letter to the state's 67 district attorneys, will let business owners make their own decisions “without having to be afraid of their government that is supposed to be serving them.”

Authored by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry, the letter accuses Wolf of “arbitrary and capricious decisions” about which businesses remain open, and compared counties under stay-at-home orders to “scenes from an Orwellian nightmare."

The letter was signed by more than two dozen Republican representatives. State Rep. Valerie Gaydos, whose district covers western suburbs, was the only member from Allegheny County. She believes business owners should be able to make their own decisions about when to reopen.  

“People don’t want a dictator,” Gaydos said Tuesday. “If you provide people with information, let them make their own decision. These people are independent business people for a reason. They’re independent.”

Gaydos said Gov. Wolf hasn’t been transparent about why certain businesses were granted waivers to operate during the shutdown while others haven’t. She said it’s frustrating for business owners who aren’t getting enough information about how Wolf is making decisions.

“[Business owners] want to be able to make decisions on their own,” she said. “That’s what they’ve been used to.”

Wolf's handling of waivers has become increasingly contentious, with Republicans and reporters pressing for more details about how waivers were granted -- a process whose results sometimes defy easy explanation.

But epidemiologists say business regulations during pandemics are critical.

“Most businesses don’t know anything about novel infectious disease outbreaks,” said epidemiologist David Dausey of Duquesne University. “So the government provides them with guidance on how to keep their customers safe during these times.”

Dausey also pointed to the protections that government guidelines can afford businesses during the pandemic, which help to indemnify business owners against litigation.

“Businesses could be subject to lawsuits by individuals who can trace their illness back to a particular business,” he said. “And if a business doesn’t have any regulations or nothing available to them from the government, they can’t say they were following best practice. They can’t say they did the best thing they could possibly do to keep their consumers safe.”

Moreover, Dausey said, businesses are always subject to government guidelines and regulations, even during normal times.

“We never just allow businesses to do whatever,” he said. “There’s always government regulation on a wide variety of businesses with the goal really to keep consumers safe.”

Still, some district attorneys already seem on board with the proposal. After Wolf declined to move Beaver County from "red" to "yellow" status last week, District Attorney David Lozier said he would not prosecute any business for resuming operations as if the designation had changed. 

“I’m not prosecuting a business or a businesse owner who has a complaint against them under these orders," he said.