Pa. Senate panel to consider motion to subpoena Wolf waiver documents | Thursday Morning Coffee

Pennsylvania Senate Chambers. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Frustrated by what they say is a lack of transparency in the way the Wolf administration awarded waivers that have allowed non-essential businesses to keep operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, a state Senate panel is slated to vote today on subpoenas to force the release of those documents.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee said it will meet at 1p.m. on the Senate floor to vote on the motion.

It’s the latest escalation in tensions between Republicans who control the General Assembly and the Democratic administration over the way Gov. Tom Wolf has managed a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 people.

Last week, GOP state Sens. Mike Regan, of York County, and Tom Killion, of Delaware County, sent a letter to the state Department of Community & Economic Development, which administers the waiver program, seeking emails and other documents.

The two lawmakers gave the administration until Wednesday night to comply or risk a subpoena. According to the investigative news site, Spotlight PA, the administration said it would consider the request, but did not commit to a timeline to comply.

In a statement, Regan, the chair of the veterans affairs panel, promised “definitive action,” today to force the administration to release that information — which has also been sought by the Capital-Star and other news organizations.

Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the state on Wednesday, 4/22/20 his plan to reopen parts of Pennsylvania starting May 8, 2020 (Screen Capture)

The announcement came at the end of a day in which the Republican-controlled state House and Senate voted on a series of proposals aimed at reining in what they say is an executive branch that has exercised broad authority without much transparency, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison reported Wednesday.

“Oversight is an extremely important part of our job, and we are going through an unprecedented time of executive power,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said. “[We need] to review and look at how the administration is using this unprecedented power.”

In a statement released Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said he supported a review of the waiver process by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

“The review by the Auditor General is a more appropriate venue, particularly given that DCED and the Governor’s office has agreed to participate. Furthermore, the audit by the Auditor General is exactly what Senate Republicans this week asked for in a letter, signed by members of their caucus.  As such, given the granting of their request and DCED’s agreeing to participate in the audit, the subpoenas now issued are an unnecessary and redundant additional step. A duplicative review of the same program and information is a waste of taxpayer resources and takes our administration’ s officials away from fighting COVID-19,” Costa said.

As recently as last weekend, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said she didn’t know when her agency might start dealing with a deluge of public records requests. The state’s Open Records Law gives public agencies five days to respond to requests. Most often, they request an extension of at least 30 days.

The administration’s partisans on social media, meanwhile, have accused Republican critics of playing politics and trying to undermine public faith in the health experts managing the administration’s response to the pandemic.

The Senate panel’s meeting will be live-streamed. Expect fireworks — plenty of fireworks.

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

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 and Elizabeth Hardison have what you need to know about the House and Senate’s very busy day on Wednesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf has carried through on his vow to veto a bill expanding telemedicine because it restricts access to abortionCaruso also reports.

NEPA Correspondent Patrick Abdalla profiles a formerly homeless man who’s now helping homeless people in Luzerne County navigate the pandemic.

With reopening closing in, Pennsylvania is nearing 2,200 COVID-19 fatalitiesPittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons reports.

The state Board of Education has added a discussion of a long-sought community college in Erie to its May 6 agenda, Erie Correspondent Hannah McDonald reports.

Philadelphia’s water authorities have extended a moratorium on shut-offs through June, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, state Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Westmoreland, explains why it’s on all of us to prevent child abuse during the lockdown. And the pandemic has exposed President Donald Trump’s complete lack of fitness to lead, writes Carl Hisiro, a retired lawyer from Dauphin County.

Cots are spread out on the floor of the Liacouras Center. (Photo via the Philadelphia Tribune/Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management).

Elsewhere.
With cases declining, Philly officials will wind down their field hospital at Temple’s Liacouras Center, the Inquirer reports.
PNC Bank has left Pittsburgh small businesses hanging for loans, even as it helps larger onesPittsburgh City Paper reports.
PennLive’s John Baer has some thoughts on what the presidential race will look like in Pa. after the pandemic.
The Morning Call’s Paul Muschick has some deservingly scathing words for Pennsylvania’s decrepit unemployment system. 

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM maps out, by zip code, which Philly businesses have gotten the most COVID-19 relief.
The PA Post has the details on the Wolf administration’s plans to secure food safety during reopening.
Stateline.org looks at the hit that rural mass transit has taken during the pandemic.
A GOP poll shows President Donald Trump and ex-Veep Joe Biden tied in Pa.PoliticsPA reports.
Telemedecine will continue to play a critical role in healthcare after the pandemic ends, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m. for virtual session.
The Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee meets at 1 p.m. to consider those subpoenas we mentioned up above. The Senate State Government Committee meets at 10 a.m. to discuss concerns about the June 2 primary election.

Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to former Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a bit of Kraftwerk for your Thursday morning, because, why not? It’s ‘Trans-Europe Express.’ Put this on one, pretend your kitchen is really a EuroDisco, c. 1981, and dance the morning away.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Via MLB.com, here are the biggest trash-talkers on every major league team. For Baltimore, that honor goes to lefty pitcher Richard Bleier.

And now you’re up to date.