Pa. legislature preparing for more active role in managing pandemic

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The pandemic has not just sickened Pennsylvanians. It’s frozen state rules and requirements. Lots of them.

“We had over 500 different regulations suspended for 15,16 months,” Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) said. “So the questions begs to ask, do you need all those?”

Bennighoff sent a letter to the Wolf Administration this week asking for input on which should go. He’s preparing for the legislature’s seat at the pandemic planning table given to it by voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Personally, he’d like to resume more robust in-person safety inspections of seniors and kids to discover dangerous conditions. “Where’s a child’s wearing the same clothes they were wearing a week ago. They’re dirty. They may not be fed well. For the safety of our community, those types of in-person visits need to happen more quickly,” Benninghoff said.

A regulation that could perhaps go away? “Taking people out of an Alzheimer’s unit every week or two weeks for a fire drill,” Benninghoff said. The Wolf Administration sent the legislature a list of hundreds of regulations and their recommendation as to whether they should be continued or eliminated. For instance, a requirement that harness racing jockeys and trainers get breathalyzers before a race is currently suspended but the Wolf Administration recommends that it be reinstated.

A requirement that rulings from the Unemployment Compensation Board be sent to recipients through the mail has been suspended during the pandemic and emails suffices. The Wolf Administration is recommending that the postal requirement be eliminated forever.

In a statement, Wolf Spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said they stand by the recommendations they sent to the legislature in May. Lawmakers agreed to continue the regulation suspensions until September 30 to better assess their usefulness or lack thereof.

But there is disagreement about the path forward. “I think we should extend the emergency declaration because of the delta variant,” Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester/Berks/Montgomery) said. Muth fears another Coronavirus wave is coming this fall. She doesn’t think the legislature is nimble enough to handle it and says the Wolf Administration hasn’t been good enough.

“I think we rely on third-party contracts to save the ass of everyone in the state and we see how that worked out. You know, we couldn’t do contract tracing correctly and all these things,” Muth said. “I understand it’s a pandemic, there’s grace for error to some degree, but not this many errors.”

Benninghoff says lawmakers are learning from past mistakes and are ready for the future, whatever it brings. “There’s a lot of assessments going on and I believe we’ll be farther ahead than we were the first time,” Benninghoff said.

Muth doesn’t share his confidence. “Where’s that plan?” Muth asked. “We don’t have one and people are still dying. It’s scary.”

Decisions on regulations need to be made by September 30, when the extension expires, and the deadline will be tight. The Senate returns to the Capitol on September 20. The House returns on September 27.

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