In showdown with lawmakers, Wolf vetoes reopening bills; then allows real estate agencies to reopen

Gov. Tom Wolf in his home office. Photo Source: Pennsylvania Governor's Office.

In a move that enraged  Republican leaders in the General Assembly, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a trio of bills Tuesday aimed at shielding swaths of the economy from statewide shutdown orders.

The bills Wolf vetoed include proposals to reopen Pennsylvania’s real estate industry; to allow barbers, manufacturers and car dealerships to reopen statewide; and to let county commissioners adopt local disease mitigation plans that could conflict with the state’s public health responses. The Republican-controlled General Assembly sent them to his desk last week.

In messages accompanying the vetoes, Wolf said the separate measures would “infringe on the authority and responsibility” of the state’s executive branch, which has sweeping powers during statewide emergencies. 

Minutes after Wolf announced the vetoes Tuesday, the Democratic governor used those same executive powers to allow Pennsylvania real estate offices to resume limited operations statewide. 

Real estate agents are already allowed to operate in the 37 counties that are in the “yellow phase” of Wolf’s three-step economic reopening plan. 

Under the guidance Wolf’s administration issued, real estate agencies  across Pennsylvania can begin to show properties and conduct transactions as long as try to conduct as much business as possible remotely and restrict property visits to no more than two people at a time. 

Republican leaders in the Legislature were quick to condemn Wolf’s vetoes Tuesday.

“Gov. Wolf has made it clear [that] he does not support any alternative plans to reopen our state,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said. “While millions of Pennsylvanians watch their livelihoods evaporate, the governor continues to arbitrarily choose who can thrive and who will fail.”

Leaders in the Senate accused Wolf of undermining businesses that can follow federal guidelines for social distancing and workplace hygiene.

“It’s unfortunate that he does not trust that employers can follow safety guidelines that will protect their workers and the public, who want these businesses open again,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a joint statement. “With his veto pen, Gov. Wolf has struck down much-needed clarity and consistency that allows communities to continue to reopen safely.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly has tried to chip away at Wolf’s executive powers over the last month, only to be met with his veto pen. 

Wolf has already vetoed one proposal to expand the list of businesses that can operate under a statewide shutdown. 

He also rejected a bill requiring insurers to pay for telemedicine services, on the grounds that it did not provide access to a commonly used abortion medication. That provision, added to the legislation late last fall, led Democratic lawmakers and advocates for abortion access to label it as an attack on women’s rights. 

Wolf did tell reporters Tuesday that he intends to sign at least one bill the Legislature sent him last week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer: a measure that changes the state’s liquor code so that bars and restaurants can sell mixed drinks in carry-out containers. 

The bill passed the House and Senate easily last week, and lawmakers say it will provide the state’s ailing hospitality industry with a much-needed revenue source.