Pennsylvania House Republicans proposed legislation Monday to undo business closures ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, House Republicans said they aim to “start the process of looking ahead” and "to rebuild and rise from this event as efficiently as possible.”
The Republican proposal to scale back the governor’s shutdown order would require the governor to develop a COVID-19 emergency plan for businesses to limit transmission of coronavirus. And businesses that follow the plan would be permitted to stay open.
“Our members have been inundated with confused and frustrated business owners,” House Republicans said in their statement. “[Businesses] deserve uniform and fair rules that are transparent.”
But in a separate statement, Democratic House leaders excoriated the GOP’s approach as creating “an immediate threat to public health” by “pushing workers back into their workplaces prematurely” and increasing their chances of contracting the virus and spreading it to others. The Democrats, who are in the minority in both the state House and Senate, instead endorsed measures to enact paid leave for coronavirus-related issues and to provide free testing and treatment for COVID-19.
House Democrats added that the Republican proposal would not put “Pennsylvania back to work,” but would rather force “firefighters, cops, and EMS crews – volunteers in many cases – to answer more workplace emergency calls where thousands of more workers will be exposed to COVID-19.”
“Instead of proposing legislation to help working families and support our frontline workers,” the Democrats said before Monday’s legislative session, “[Republicans] are poised to offer an array of bad ideas today that instead respond to special interests.”
GOP lawmakers also proposed reducing legal liability for businesses that shift to producing medical supplies to help alleviate shortages during the pandemic. Republicans said this provision would only shield companies from being sued over “minor” mistakes, but Democrats faulted the proposed protection as promising “extremely broad immunity” for potentially negligent health care providers.
The liability waiver, along with the proposal to roll back the governor’s business shutdown order, were part of a larger package of COVID-19-related amendments Republicans unveiled Monday. The GOP also suggested placing a moratorium on property tax increases through next year “so [that] Pennsylvanians, facing record high unemployment, aren’t forced to lose their homes.”
Democratic legislators, meanwhile, emphasized proposals to provide relief directly to workers. On a call with reporters, they voiced support for a plan Senate Democrats released nearly three weeks ago, in addition to measures to protect employees from retaliation if they miss work due to coronavirus. The package includes emergency funding to provide frontline health care workers with safety equipment and mental health support, as well as paid leave for any issues related to the pandemic, including sick time, furlough, self-quarantine, and providing care to infected family members.
State Rep. Matthew Bradford, a Montgomery County Democrat, noted that his party has long called on the state to adopt paid sick leave for workers.
“And without paid leave, sick workers will continue to come to work, and they will never be able to flatten the curve of this deadly virus,” he said.