Pa. Republicans push to limit health secretary’s power to mandate things like masking and business closures

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Republican state senators want to limit the power of Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health to require things like wearing masks or social distancing.

On Tuesday Senator Judy Ward introduced an amendment to an existing bill and the Senate voted to add it.

The amendment would limit the Secretary of Health’s power to put universal mandates in place to require things like masking, social distancing, or quarantines. It would also restrain the secretary’s power to force businesses to close.

“We must work together to develop policies that protect lives and livelihoods,” Ward said. “The amendment simply prevents one person from unilaterally throwing tens of thousands of citizens out of work, barring children from school, and spending millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Democratic leader Senator Jay Costa says the amendment is dangerous.

“But for the work of our Secretary of Health Dr. Levine and now Secretary Beam lots of folks would’ve lost their lives,” Costa said.

She says that doesn’t prevent health restrictions from being put in place, it just requires the legislature to agree to them.

“If the Department of Health truly believes steps such as these are necessary, the secretary will need to make the case to the General Assembly as to why these things may be needed,” Ward said.

But Senator Costa says that’s a problem.

“We should not have elected officials and politicians making decisions about how we deliver healthcare and how we deal with and implement plans for an emergency declaration,” Costa said.

The Secretary of Health is part of the Democratic Governor’s administration, so Republicans say they just want to have a voice in these big decisions too.

“I think more voices representing the will of the people make for better emergency response,” Ward said.

But Democrats argue their actions don’t show a desire for collaboration.

“There was no conversation about it. There were no hearings to discuss it. It was simply added as an amendment at the last minute today, which we find very disappointing,” Costa said.

The Governor’s spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said in a statement, “This amendment would undermine any attempt to protect public health in any circumstance.”

The full bill, including the amendment, could be voted on by the Senate as early as Wednesday.

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