What dueling veto override press releases tell you about the Legislature’s priorities | Friday Morning Coffee

September 11, 2020 7:44 am

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at Lancaster Health Center on Friday, 7/24/20 (Office of the Governor)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If you thought this foreshortened holiday week was going to end with a whimper instead of a bang, think again.

On Thursday, Republican leaders in the state House and Senate stuffed their respective cannons full of veto override threats and fired them in the general direction of Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

At issue is a House bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, that would give school districts, and not the Democratic administration, the final say over whether students can play sports and whether fans can be in the stands during the pandemic. The Senate passed the previously approved House bill by a vote of 39-11 on Wednesday.

As the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported, Democrats who opposed the measure said it was unnecessary, given that school sports are already underway statewide. They also said it did not do enough to shield districts from legal liability if athletes and staff contract COVID-19.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, drew first blegh Thursday, saying that he’ll bring up an override motion at the first opportunity.

The new gubernatorial veto vow is “is the latest example of the governor being presented with legislation that has the overwhelming support of both parties in both chambers of the Legislature that he insists on vetoing rather than joining us in supporting,” Benninghoff kvetched. “The bill also has broad support among student athletes, parents and the public at large. It would be right for Pennsylvanians to question the administration’s true commitment to listening to them and working on a bipartisan basis for their benefit.”

Not to be outdone, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, jumped into the breach not long afterward, declaring that, he, too, would bring up a veto motion just as soon as he could.

“We know that local districts are best positioned to know what can and can’t be done safely, and no one has more at stake regarding the health of their children and their community,” Corman harrumphed in part. “For the sake of students, parents and communities, we need to pass this legislation and leave local decisions in the hands of the people who know best and are the most impacted.”

Thankfully, no one was killed or injured by the resulting press release shrapnel.

But the dueling press releases, and the day’s various fits of Twitter pique were another reminder that, as lawmakers head into a street fight of a fall campaign season, it’s likely that the already strained relations between the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Democratic administration are going to get worse before they get better.

Take note of that Tweet from us above — this one’s for the process nerds among you.

The House has to take the first shot at a veto override, because the bill originated on its side of the building. It takes a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate to override a gubernatorial veto.

Which means that Corman proclaiming that he’ll bring up an override motion “when we receive the bill from the House,” is currently a triumph of optimism.

The Legislature is 0 for Life when it comes to overriding Wolf’s vetoes. And just last week, GOP House leaders fell short of the votes they needed to override another pandemic-related veto.

Which is not to say that GOP lawmakers won’t net some Democratic votes on this latest override effort. But the prospect of nabbing enough Democratic votes to override Wolf in, again, a contentious election season, seems like an awfully difficult lift.

The House returns to voting session on Monday. The Senate is back in town on Sept. 21. Still undone are fixes to the state’s election code that everyone under the Capitol dome agrees are a good idea and need to be completed.

Yet lawmakers are choosing to focus on a veto override instead of getting badly needed voting fixes over the goal line, treating the interest of the majority of citizens with all the urgency of the steamroller scene in the first Austin Powers movie.

But that’s Harrisburg for you.

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

Our Stuff.
Jill Biden
 virtually barnstormed in NEPA on Thursday, meeting with educators, administrators and students in a school district in must-win Luzerne County, your humble newsletter author reports.

With wildfires raging in the west, 18 Pennsylvania counties have been put under a drought watchCassie Miller explains how that happened and what it means for residents in the impacted counties.

Chesapeake Bay States have filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to hold Pa. and New York accountable for their restoration targets, Sarah Vogelsong, of our sibling site, the Virginia Mercury reports, with an assist from Miller.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe sheds some new light on the fractious relationship between President Donald Trump and his COVID czar, Pennsylvania native Dr. Deborah Birx. And a UCLA-Irvine scholar explains why the pain of 9/11 continues to reverberate for new generations.

En la Estrella-Capital: Los residentes de Pa. que están desempleados pronto comenzarán a recibir la segunda ronda mejorada de beneficios de desempleo. Y la oficina del Senado de Pa. se encuentra en cuarentena después de que un empleado salió positivo en la prueba del COVID-19.

Officials in Chester County spent $13 million on a coronavirus testing program — and then shelved it, the Inquirer reports.
President Donald Trump and ex-Veep Joe Biden will both attend 9/11 remembrance ceremonies in Shanksville, Pa. today. The Post-Gazette reflects on the visits, and how mourning has changed, in the time of the pandemic.
PennLive homes in on how Lebanon County dealt with the pandemic — and its strained relationship with the Wolf administration.
An expert from St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown says hospitals — not state government — should decide whether they can perform elective surgeries, the Morning Call reports.
Dim those Friday night lights, most high school football teams in Luzerne County will kick off in empty stadiums, the Citizens-Voice reports.
A new York Dispatch poll has U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, leading Democrat Eugene DePasquale by 6 points, 44.7-38.4 percent among likely voters. But 5 percent of undecided voters in the poll said they’re leaning toward supporting DePasquale, effectively rendering the race a dead heat.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


Celebrating #HungerActionDay in style ?

A post shared by Amy Hill (@abhill709) on

Philadelphia City Council is calling for a new eviction moratorium, WHYY-FM reports.
GoErie answers five key questions as the local high school football season kicks off tonight.
A new CNBC/Change Research poll has Joe Biden up 50-46 percent over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania (via PoliticsPA).
An appellate court panel in New York has blocked the Trump administration’s effort to leave undocumented immigrants out of the decennial congressional apportionment count, Talking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
8:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: 
“Continuing the Climb” – honoring the firefighters who went into the World Trade Center on 9/11 and climbed up to rescue people by climbing the Capitol’s steps.
10 a.m., G50 Irvis: Democratic Policy Committee:
11 a.m., PEMA: COVID-19 briefing by state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8:30 a.m.: 
Reception for GOP auditor general candidate Timothy DeFoor
11 a.m.: Golf outing for Rep. Frank Burns
Hit both events and give at the max, and you’re out a mere $2,150 today.

Heavy Rotation.
Every Sept. 11, I return to ‘Touched,’ the mournful, but triumphant, 2001 solo album from Posies co-frontman Ken Stringfellow. It came out just before the attacks, and ended up turning into a survival guide for so many of us. I’ve written about the crucial role it played in keeping me sane during that dark time. Today, I’m sharing it with you. If you haven’t heard it before, I hope you come to love it as much as I do.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
took a 2-1 series lead over Vegas on Thursday, notching a 3-2 overtime win.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.