Lawmakers seek to expand exemptions under disaster declaration


The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature appeared to withdraw a complete end to the governor’s declaration of emergency for a pandemic disaster on Wednesday, with lawmakers working to decide which regulatory waivers to extend.

The House abruptly passed a party-favored bill on Tuesday to end the declaration, including the hundreds of regulatory waivers that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration approved under the emergency declaration dating back to March. 2020.

But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said Wednesday the Senate was working to keep some of the waivers in place.

“With the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians at the top of our decisions, we are working to keep health care measures in place for a period of time,” spokeswoman Erica Wright said in a statement.

Wolf, a Democrat, said he supported maintaining certain regulatory waivers, especially for medical professionals, and criticized the House vote as rejecting “valuable resources that will help Pennsylvanians recover from the pandemic”.

A vote by Republican lawmakers to end Wolf’s declaration of emergency in the event of a pandemic disaster executes what they see as the new powers given to them by voters in last month’s nationwide referendum. the state.

In addition to waiving procurement rules, a key part of a disaster declaration is the governor’s power to waive regulations.

The suspended regulations cover a wide range of government requirements, including licensing, inspections and training.

Numerous healthcare licensing regulations have been lifted to ensure that hospitals can more easily find qualified medical staff, as they have stretched out to deal with an influx of COVID-positive patients and a wave of demand for administration of vaccines.

But the resolution to end the declaration of disaster that came out of the House “denies all of that, and I think that’s a problem,” Wolf said at an independent press conference Wednesday.

“I’m not sure the Pennsylvanians really want to go back that far,” Wolf said.

Wright said details were being finalized, with Senate votes expected Thursday on several measures, including a resolution to end Wolf’s declaration of emergency.

Separately, the Senate on Wednesday passed veto-backed legislation to ban so-called public sector vaccine passports and to limit the powers of a Secretary of State for Health when battling a disease. contagious.

The bill passed along party lines, 29-20, and headed for the state House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans.

If it does, it will face a veto from Wolf, whose office said the limitations on a health secretary’s powers “would undermine any attempt to protect public health under all circumstances.”

This could become the last vetoed bill in a long-standing fight between Republican lawmakers and Wolf over the extended use of the governor’s authority during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those pandemic restrictions have largely expired, with the exception of a mask-wearing mandate for the unvaccinated which follows federal guidelines, until June 28 or 70% of adults are vaccinated, whichever comes first.

Ending the disaster declaration would not end the mask-wearing mandate because it is based on public health law, the governor’s office said.

The bill would deprive a Secretary of State for Health of the power to order people who have not tested positive for a disease to obey travel restrictions, wear masks, adopt certain health practices. hygiene or self-isolation at home.

The vaccine passport bill’s ban applies to state agencies, counties, municipalities, school districts, and universities that receive state assistance.

This would prevent them from requiring proof of vaccination to use their services, enter their buildings or engage in any of their activities.

The ban does not apply to private companies or organizations.

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