A bill introduced in Harrisburg on Wednesday would give county commissioners the authority to allow businesses in their areas to reopen during public health emergencies.
The legislation was introduced by State Rep. Frank Farry, a Republican from Langhorne Borough, along with Republican state representatives Wendi Thomas, of Northampton; Todd Polinchock, of Chalfont; Craig Staats, of Quakertown; Meghan Schroder, of Warminster; K.C. Tomlinson, of Bensalem; and Martina White, of Philadelphia.
State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, a Republican of Bensalem, introduced a piece of companion legislation in the Senate.
The two bills propose giving county commissioners the ability to allow businesses to reopen after consultation with local emergency management team and health department or a director of health during a public health emergency. The bill would give county leaders the right to “modify the countywide reopening plan for businesses to expand or restrict the industries authorized to operate in the county or rescind the countywide reopening plan for businesses entirely.”
The bill comes as Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Bucks County have asked Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to ease some restrictions on businesses as the rate of new COVID-19 cases begins to slow. The Bucks County Commissioners – two Democrats and one Republican – have said they will not defy the governor’s phased reopening plan, but have put pressure on him to release a target reopening date, which he has refused to do.
Local government sources have told NewtownPANow.com that their conversions with state lawmakers and officials have given them the impression that Bucks County’s COVID-19 mitigation restrictions could be weeks away.
Wolf and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine have told the press that reopening of counties will be done based on data, ability to contact trace new cases, and other factors. The majority of Pennsylvania counties have or will be this week moving from the “red” phase to the “yellow” phase. The Philadelphia area has seen no counties move to yellow.
Bucks County officials have pointed to dropping cases and a robust contact tracing program.
“The criteria for reopening laid out by the state has been arbitrary and illogical,” Farry said. “The state refuses to acknowledge the progress made by the Bucks County Department of Health with contact tracing, which shows limited community spread.”
“We have been shut down for months, there is no end in sight. Every reasonable request has been denied, and every piece of legislation that would reopen businesses, even those with bipartisan support, has been vetoed. I have full faith that business owners across Bucks County can operate in a safe manner following CDC guidelines, and proper social distancing procedures,” Tomlinson said.
The longtime state senator, who is widely seen as a moderate voice in Harrisburg, said reopening during the pandemic is not political and focused on people.
“Working with Representative Farry, we drafted this legislation after hearing the countless stories of business owners who are on the verge of losing everything, and from unemployed workers who haven’t received a dime from unemployment,” Tomlinson said.
Farry said the bill would give “local officials like (Bucks County Health Department Director] Dr. Damsker, who has a much better grasp on local mitigation efforts, to supersede the state’s irrational and inconsistent decisions.”
If the bill moves forward, Wolf would almost certainly veto it.
Farry said it remained uncertain whether the bill would have enough support to override the governor’s veto, which requires two-thirds of the legislature to vote in favor.