Coronavirus threat: Pa. House needs to pass public health emergency bill, Senate Dem Costa says | Friday Morning Coffee

Pa. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, talks to reporters after Gov. Tom Wolf's budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday, 2/4/2020 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With the threat of a widespread coronavirus outbreak rattling the stock market, the state Senate’s top Democrat is calling for a legislative response to the emerging public health crisis.

While COVID-19 has yet to arrive in Pennsylvania, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, says his bill authorizing the creation of a public health emergency declaration should be a part of those preparation efforts.

The declaration envisioned by Costa is similar to the emergency declaration that we use for natural disasters now. But it’s “better suited to a medical crisis,” his office said in an email.

The Senate has already passed the bill. It’s been sitting in the House Health Committee since last June.

Costa sent a letter Thursday to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny; House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and Health Committee Chairwoman Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, urging them to take up the bill, arguing that it “may help us prevent a crisis.”

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sharon Watkins. (Photo courtesy DOH)

Cutler’s spokesman, Mike Straub,, told the Capital-Star in an email that officials have been “engaged in discussions on preparedness plans related to Coronavirus and how it may relate to the existing state of emergency, and emergency declaration law.”

Referring specifically to Costa’s proposal, Straub said Rapp’s committee “continues to examine the proposal and whether the expanded scope of the proposal is appropriate compared to existing emergency declaration law.”

Traditionally House committee chairs have been given wide latitude to determine which bills get sent to the House floor for a vote. Cutler’s office controls the flow of legislation to the floor once bills get there.

During a briefing earlier this week, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the state is preparing for the “community spread” of the respiratory illness, WITF-FM reported.

“It seems to be more communicable than influenza and it seems to lead to a higher fatality rate than influenza,” Levine said, according to WITF-FM. She said that “older people and those with other serious medical problems are those most at risk for serious complications,” the station also reported.

According to WITF-FM, Levine said that “the health department’s emergency operations center is monitoring people who returned from China for symptoms … She declined to say how many people the center is monitoring.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Pa.’s cash assistance program’s former beneficiaries say they’ve been forgotten by HarrisburgElizabeth Hardison reports.

Frank Pizzoli, of our partners at the Central Voice, explains how one man’s perseverance led a Pa. borough to adopt its LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance.

From our partners at the Philadelphia-TribuneA safe-injection site in south Philadelphia will not open — for now.

En la Estrella Capital¿Qué son las asignaciones suplementarias? Pensilvania. la batalla presupuestaria de la que no te has enterado, por Cassie MillerWolf propone aumentos de personal, aumentos de tarifas en la solicitud del presupuesto de DEP, por Stephen Caruso.

On our Commentary Page this morning: ¿Cómo prepararnos para el coronavirus? 3 preguntas y respuestas.

(Image via Flickr Commons)

Elsewhere.
Philly’s soda tax didn’t lead to people drinking less soda, the Inquirer reports.
A lab at the University of Pittsburgh is working on a vaccine for the coronavirus, the Post-Gazette reports.
More than 20,000 Pennsylvania voters have signed up to vote by mailPennLive reports.
There’s one fewer Republican in the GOP primary for the Lehigh Valley’s 7th Congressional District. The seat is now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (via the Morning Call).

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

The NAACP has sued the state to end prison gerrymanderingWHYY-FM reports.
A federal judge has ruled that Philadelphia must record bail hearings, the PA Post reports.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym has endorsed Bernie Sanders, PoliticsPA reports.
A new Trump administration Medicaid rule is coming in for sharp criticism, Stateline.org reports.
Congress is looking at spending $6 billion to $8 billion on a coronavirus aid package, Roll Call reports.

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf is Philadelphia bound. At 1:30 p.m., he’ll plug gun violence reduction efforts during an appearance at the Frison Center for Peace at the Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, holds a 6 p.m. reception in Ambler, Pa. Admission runs $25 to $500.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept. 
Best wishes go out this morning to Megan Heaton of PennLive, and Peter Hall of the Morning Call, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a very Friday song. It’s Florence + the Machine. It’s Dog Days are Over.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Toronto 
rallied to beat Florida 5-3 on Thursday.

And now you’re up to date.