Is the Pa. school mask mandate a rule or a regulation? One word has lasting effect on procedure

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Republican lawmakers continue to challenge the statewide mask mandate in schools. Wednesday it was in the courts. On Thursday, a little-known committee was dusted off to talk about whether the health secretary has the power to implement the mandate.

The arguments were mostly procedural and centered on the question of is the mandate a rule or a regulation? It sounds silly, but if it’s a regulation it must go through a specific process and allow for community input which this mask mandate did not, it was just enacted.

Republicans argued in the Obscure Joint Committee on Documents that there’s no end date to the mandate and that Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam doesn’t have the legal authority to do it. The committee, which consists mostly of state officials appointed by Governor Wolf, voted against the GOP, said the mask mandate does not have to follow the rules of a regulation and can stay in place.

Republicans aren’t happy. “Unfortunately this is not something new that we’ve seen during the pandemic where the executive branch of the government tends to overreach beyond what the text of the law or regulations say and this is another example of that,” Speaker of the House, Rep. Bryan Cutler (R) said.

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Governor Wolf’s spokeswoman issued a statement that read in part: “An additional regulation is not needed. This is again a perfect example of Republicans in the legislature wasting time and being unhelpful.”

The Health Department also argued the mask mandate is recommended by the CDC.

This is yet another case that is likely headed for Commonwealth Court, and the more these things are drug out in the courts, the more likely it is the pandemic could be over before we ever find out whether the mandate was even legal.

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