In This Update:
Senate Hearing to Hear from Employers, Administration Officials
On Thursday, the Senate will hold a public hearing to receive testimony from businesses and Wolf Administration officials about COVID-19 mitigation orders and their impact on Pennsylvania workers.
The joint hearing by the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee and the Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
You can view the hearing live at PASenateGOP.com.
Senate Approves Telemedicine Bill
I supported passage of a bill this week that will help more patients overcome barriers to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting the use of telemedicine. The delivery of healthcare services through telecommunications technology will ensure these services are more accessible, reduce costs and limit in-person contact during the public health emergency.
Under the bill, physicians and other health practitioners delivering telemedicine services would still be required to follow standard state licensure and medical practice laws and requirements in Pennsylvania. In addition, the prescribing of medications that could create a danger to the patient if misused would be prohibited; those prescriptions would still require an in-person visit.
The telemedicine bill was sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Senate Passes Bill to Protect Law Enforcement, First Responders, National Guard Members Facing COVID-19
I supported a bill that would ensure law enforcement, first responders and active duty National Guard members who contract COVID-19 can still receive compensation while quarantined or receiving treatment for the virus.
House Bill 1869 would allow first responders who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or subject to quarantine resulting from exposure to the virus to receive disability benefits in accordance with the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Law, more commonly known as the “Heart & Lung Act.” The bill also ensures active duty National Guard members affected by COVID-19 would still continue to receive their average weekly wage.
More details about the bill are available here.
Unemployment Assistance Available Now for Self-Employed, Contractors, Gig Workers
Self-employed individuals, contractors, gig workers and others who do not traditionally qualify for Unemployment Compensation can now apply for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Payments ranging from $195 to $572 per week will be available to qualifying individuals who are unable to work due to COVID-19. Payments will be available for up to 39 weeks and will be backdated to January 27 or the first week the individual was unable to work due to COVID-19.
Claims can be filed online here.
Individuals collecting PUA benefits will also be eligible for the extra $600 per week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
New Law Authorizing Remote Notarization Clears the Way for Online Auto Sales to Resume
Auto dealers will soon be able to resume business online thanks to a new law that I supported. The bill allows notaries to do business remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearing a major hurdle that prevented online auto sales from taking place.
As a result of the new law, auto dealerships will be able to conduct online vehicle sales under new guidance that was issued this week. The notary provision was part of a bill to help local governments respond to COVID-19. More details about the bill are available here.
Construction Activities Set to Reopen on May 8
At the strong urging of lawmakers and employers, construction activities are set to resume in Pennsylvania on May 8 under new guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most states have allowed construction companies to continue to operate throughout the pandemic; Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to completely halt all construction projects not deemed “essential” by the administration.
I am hopeful that the re-opening of the construction industry will demonstrate that many employers can continue to operate safely during COVID-19 mitigation efforts with the proper guidance from national health and safety experts.
New Directory Connects Organizations and Businesses to COVID-19 Product Manufacturers
A new Business-to-Business Interchange Directory will help move COVID-19 supplies like personal protective equipment from the manufacturing floor to the businesses and organizations who need these critical supplies.
The directory currently includes surgical masks, N95 masks and fabric masks. Additional supplies and materials will be added to the directory as more potential manufacturers are identified. More details about the new directory are available here.
Plasma Donations from Recovered COVID-19 Patients
Recovered COVID-19 patients have antibodies in their plasma, and it’s hoped that giving this “convalescent plasma” to ill patients will stimulate recovery.
This treatment is experimental, but doctors hope it will be lifesaving for many seriously ill patients battling this coronavirus. If you’ve fully recovered from COVID-19 and are symptom free, you may qualify to donate convalescent plasma to others.
The American Red Cross has information on convalescent plasma donation eligibility and how to donate.
Reminder: You Can Apply to Vote by Mail in the Primary Election
Voters have the option to vote by mail-in ballot rather than going to their polling place for the June 2 primary election.
Mail-in ballot applications must be received by the local county election office by Tuesday, May 26. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the date of the primary election was changed from April 28 to June 2. If you have already applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot, you do not need to reapply.
More on mail-in ballots and how to apply here.
Loan Forbearance Announced for Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
In order to help businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus, the Department of Community and Economic Development recently announced the forbearance of May and June payments for many loans administered by the department.
Deferrals will also be requested for borrowers with the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth Financing Authority (excluding PENNWORKS program loans), the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, and the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority. More details about the announcement are available here.
Limited Number of State Liquor Stores Reopen for Curbside Pickup
Curbside pickup services are now available at a number of state-owned Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores throughout the state. Customers can call their local store beginning at 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., or until the store reaches its maximum number of daily orders.
Only one order will be accepted per caller per day, and orders are limited to no more than six bottles. Payment will only be accepted by credit card over the phone. The complete list of stores offering curbside pickup is sorted by county.
Guidance Available for Community Garden Workers
The Department of Agriculture has issued guidelines to help volunteers and employees of community gardens stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines are available here.
For more information about the department’s actions during the COVID-19 mitigation, visit agriculture.pa.gov/COVID.
‘Where Do We Go From Here?’
Decisions that have been made over the past month will have consequences for years to come. The haphazard manner in which these decisions are being made should concern every single citizen of this Commonwealth. The arbitrary nature in which businesses have been prohibited/allowed to operate is an exercise in miscommunication, dysfunction and ambiguity.
Since March 17, 2020 businesses such as auto dealerships, real-estate agencies and residential construction projects have been stalled. Given just three hours warning before the closure went into place, business owners and employees had the proverbial ‘rug pulled out from beneath them’. No consultation, no discussion, no initial waiver process. Self-employed individuals have waited over a month to apply for any benefits, on a website that wasn’t ready for rollout, and the backend won’t be ready for another two weeks. Wolf has retreated to his home, while others don’t know how they will pay the bills for their homes, or how they will put food on their tables. It’s gotten to the point that yesterday, April 20th, thousands of people protested, FOR THE RIGHT TO WORK.
As of April 19, there were 1,525,458 unemployment compensation (UC) claims since March 15th in Pennsylvania, far ahead of any other state in the Union. For reference, Pennsylvania only had 775,000 claims during 2019. Goldman Sachs analysts have forecasted that the number of unemployed in the United States could reach 37 million by the end of May. The International Monetary Fund has warned of the worst global recession since the Great Depression.
With over 1.5 million UC claims over the last month, Pennsylvanians are feeling the effects of Governor Wolf’s 2016 decision to lay off nearly 500 Labor & Industry employees and close three UC call centers. Even the president of SEIU Local 668, Steve Catanese, agrees that the system has never recovered from those cuts in 2016, as reported by SpotlightPA.
Additionally, under the guise of ‘public health’, Wolf has decided to release up to 1,800 prisoners from STATE prison. As I was previously the Lebanon County District Attorney for 14 years, I believe the prisoner release is in poor judgement and short-sighted, as it is an attempt to bypass the legislature. While the General Assembly has been meeting regularly to address the concerns of the citizens, the leader of the Executive Branch, a co-equal branch of government, is unwilling to discuss these concerns with us, and has unilaterally acted without consultation from the legislative body.
So where do we go from here?
A starting point would’ve been to sign SB 613 (Mensch), which would have responsibly reopened the economy in PA. SB 613 would’ve allowed businesses listed as essential by the Department of Homeland Security to reopen if they followed strict Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) health and safety considerations. The health and safety of workers was paramount in this legislation. People need to continue to social distance and take other precautions to ensure we are limiting exposure. That is what SB 613 would’ve done.
Too bad Wolf vetoed this legislation yesterday. Pennsylvania is now left with one of the strictest shutdown orders in the nation. Maybe that’s why we’re expecting a $4 billion shortfall in revenue according to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). Matthew Knittle, the Director of the IFO, recently stated these numbers were “cautiously optimistic” and “taxpayers should be prepared for a significant reduction in state resources.” UC payments from State Government, according to a recent IFO report, will range from $4.5 to $6 billion, by themselves.
Last week Governor Wolf told the citizens that he had a ‘plan’. Well, a plan is a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something, or an intention or decision about what one is going to do. What he laid out were talking points that didn’t amount to much, other than, ‘Just trust me. I’ll tell you my plan when I’m ready.’ Except, in Phase III of his plan, Wolf clearly outlines his desire for a $15 minimum wage. At a time like this, when Wolf’s policies are permanently shutting business, he certainly hasn’t missed a good opportunity to exploit the emergency declaration.
The people are angry. The people are worried. The people want definitive answers for how they are going to feed their children and how they will pay their rent, mortgage and put gas in their vehicles. They’ve wanted a plan for nearly 35 days. They’ve waited and waited, and have been met with eloquent talking points and told to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice when washing hands, as if counting to 20 is too hard.
Finally, if this exercise isn’t reason for Pennsylvania to remove itself from the wine and spirits business, nothing will ever be done.
The people are sick and tired of heavy-handed bureaucrats. They want their freedom back.
If you do not wish to receive this email, click here to unsubscribe.