State bill would give power to districts for sporting spectators

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Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

“I call up House Bill 2787 from today’s calendar,” said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York).

It was a rare sight. State senators laboring on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. It was an Education Committee hearing, mostly on Zoom, and it lasted just over a minute.

“Do I have a motion to consider House Bill 2787?” asked Chairman Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford/Cambria/Clearfield).

He got his motion, and an overwhelming vote, and the bill was on its way to the full Senate and the participants were on their way to a three-day weekend.

HB 2787 would give each school district, not the state, the power to decide whether to allow fans in the stands, and how many during high school sporting events and extracurricular activities. Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland) is the bill’s author. He basically he wants to put the ball in the local’s court.

“You know your facilities,” Reese said of the PA’s 500 districts. “You know your students, you know your teachers, you know your coaches, and you work with all the health care systems in your area. Go ahead and figure out how we can put moms and dads, grandmas and grandpaps in the stands so they can watch their loved ones participate in these important events.”

Gov. Wolf’s Covid-19 restrictions have limited capacity outdoors to 250.

“The idea we can only put 250 people safely in a stadium that seats 10,000 people is almost silly,” Reese said.

The governor’s capacity limit indoors is just 25, which is a real problem for sports like volleyball.

“Teams are gonna have to have some of their players out in a hallway or out in a parking lot and call them in when it’s their turn to sub into the game. It makes no sense,” Reese said.

Wolf’s spokeswoman calls the bill unnecessary because local districts already have control. Of course, coronavirus loves crowds, and many people believe that high school extra-curricula are just not worth the risk.

Reese isn’t one of them.

“When you look at the risks of not allowing our kids to have some sense of normal what are we seeing?” Reese asked. “We see depression. We see drug overdoses. We see increased alcohol use and an increase in suicide and suicide attempts.”

The bill previously passed the state House and is now on the Senate. If it passes, which is likely, it would put the governor in an awkward position.

Can Wolf possibly veto a bill that aims to allow parents and loved ones to watch their kids play high school sports, thereby keeping them out of stands and stadiums?

“It’s too soon to say,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, Gov. Wolf’s spokeswoman. “But we oppose this current version because it’s unnecessary given that districts already have local controls.”

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