By Kerry Benninghoff
Pennsylvanians have rightly asked for bipartisanship in its government’s response to COVID-19 and the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in particular, has delivered.
Unfortunately, one person has been an obstacle: Gov. Tom Wolf.
Recently, after 64 percent of the House of Representatives—including 21 Democrats—voted in support of overriding the governor’s veto of a bill ensuring decisions about school sports and spectators can be made at the local level, Gov. Wolf issued a terse statement calling on the General Assembly to stop “taking votes on meaningless bills.”
Over the past six months the Pennsylvania General Assembly has passed, with overwhelming bipartisan support, legislation to help students and families, small businesses, restaurants, and workers. These bills, these causes, are not meaningless. However, these bipartisan bills aimed at helping folks during this difficult time have all been vetoed by the governor.
On April 29, 2020, Gov. Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 857, a bill that passed the House along a bipartisan vote of 111-77 that would have expanded telemedicine services during COVID-19.
On May 19, 2020, Gov. Wolf vetoed House Bill 2412, a bill that passed the House along a bipartisan vote of 134-68 that would have granted business closure waivers to allow people to obtain legal services and buy and sell their home.
On that same day, he also vetoed House Bill 2388, a bill that passed the House along a bipartisan vote of 123-79 that would have granted business closure waivers to lawn and garden centers, barbershops, salons, and other small businesses while mega-retailers were allowed to remain open.
On September 21, 2020, Gov. Wolf vetoed House Bill 2787, a bill that passed the House along a bipartisan vote of 155-47 that would allow decisions about school sports and spectators to be made at the local level.
On September 23, 2020, after the House passed House Bill 2513, a bill that passed the House along a bipartisan vote of 145-56 that would increase restaurant capacity and remove additional restrictions on outdoor seating and alcohol sales, the governor threatened to veto the legislation.
These bills were developed and passed after hearing from moms and dads, frontline workers and hospitality employees, and other every day Pennsylvanians who have suffered as a result of this pandemic, who are seeking some sense of normalcy, and who are looking to their government to help them out rather than continuing to hold them down.
If you were to ask one business owner in Pennsylvania, one family who cannot watch their child play school sports, or one restaurant owner if they feel these bills are meaningless, I am sure you would find a much different opinion than the one expressed by our governor.
To suggest that their struggles, struggles that can be directly linked to the governor’s restrictions because of this pandemic, are meaningless is to truly be out of touch with Pennsylvanians.
The governor must also think that working together for the benefit of our shared constituents, all Pennsylvanians, is also meaningless.
Asked at a recent press conference the last time he has met with Republican legislative leaders, Gov. Wolf said he could not remember.
This is not because we have not made attempts to work together, but because he insists on going it alone without our input.
Early in the process of responding to this virus, we passed legislation to form a bipartisan, bicameral task force to work with the administration on comprehensive response efforts.
That legislation was, you guessed it, vetoed.
Since then, we have both publicly and privately encouraged the governor to work with us in responding to this virus, especially on initiatives with bipartisan support. Those sincere and urgent requests were not “distractions” or “meaningless” as he’s now repeatedly suggested.
We will continue to work in a meaningful way to address COVID-19, respond to the concerns of our communities, and elevate the voices of hurting Pennsylvanians.
They deserve no less from us. They deserve no less from their governor.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, is the GOP floor leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He represents the Centre County-based 171st House District. He writes from Harrisburg.