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Premature emergency declaration reversal could have further hurt businesses

Life certainly appears to be returning to normal quickly. This is evident everywhere, as it is at the State Capitol. As I write this article, sitting in Harrisburg, it is so nice to see that school children are again touring the Capitol, and visitors are back in the gallery of the House Floor.

This past election voters in the Commonwealth approved Constitutional Amendments that will limit a governor’s authority over disaster declarations. Although the election results were not yet certified, the House and Senate took up resolutions and bills to deal with ending the current disaster declarations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic (the Commonwealth remains under emergency declarations for the opioid crisis, which have been repeatedly renewed and have not been affected by the resolutions passed by the legislature).

The House moved quickly to pass HR 106, which formally ended the Governor’s State of Emergency declaration that was issued on March 6, 2020. I joined dozens of my colleagues in initially voting no on this resolution due to numerous flaws in the proposal. Particularly, the resolution failed to protect restaurants, bars, and other businesses and professions who would find themselves to be in violation of numerous regulations with the passage of this resolution. Too often, the impact of proposed legislation is not fully considered. As a lawyer, I consider the impact of any legislation, and knew the proposal was flawed.

With the matter moving to the Senate, various corrections were made through HB 854. The House again took up HR 106 and I then joined my colleagues in casting a yes vote.

Over the last year, I have introduced and/or supported various bills seeking to open and assist businesses. The impact of this bill has yet to be seen. Ending the governor’s emergency declaration does not end any orders handed down from the Department of Health. That is why, for example, the masking order remains in effect until June 28. The resolution does end the governor’s power to close businesses, limit capacities at venues, suspend state statutes or issue stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic.

Nearly 500 suspensions, waivers and changes to state regulations were made during the pandemic. It is agreed that many of these were for the good. HB 854 extends the emergency regulation suspensions under the COVID-19 emergency until at least September 30, 2021, unless sooner terminated.

Some of the changes made in business regulations have been helpful and are being considered for permanency. One, for example, is making “take out” mixed drinks permanent. This legislation has worked well for our local bars and restaurants and has met with approval from consumers. Another bill that has passed out of committee addresses the issue of price gouging during an emergency.

I was glad to see that HB854 was immediately signed into law by Gov. Wolf and is now known as Act 21.

All COVID-19 mitigation orders were lifted on May 31. Our Commonwealth is open, and all businesses, venues and events are opening to full capacity. The issue of masking will be gone as of June 28, though many businesses and venues are deciding how to handle this as is best for their customers. School districts will also be left to make the best decisions for their students and employees, just as many business venues are still choosing to require or at least encourage the use of masks. Some mask mandates, such as for airlines, are beyond state control, and remain in effect.

There remains uncertainty as to how ending the emergency declaration will affect such things as evictions and the termination of utilities. There has been much debate and speculation as to the specific impact on how the National Guard can be deployed and how certain issues impacting health care workers can be addressed. As with most legislation, answers to these questions and concerns will work themselves out and solutions, if needed, will have to be addressed.

Finally, I do want to mention one update that may be of particular importance to many of you. The deadline for the property tax and rent rebate program has been extended to the end of the year. If you have not yet submitted your application, you now have more time to do so. Please feel free to contact my office if we may be of assistance.

A Kennedy resident and attorney, State Rep. Anita Kulik has served the 45th district of Pennsylvania since 2017.


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