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UPDATE! March 2020 Pennsylvania Legislative Update: COVID-19 Responses
March 20, 2020
UPDATE - On March 20 in the evening, Governor Wolf issued a revised list classifying businesses as life-sustaining and non-life-sustaining. The press release, list and frequently asked questions can be found here. In addition, Governor Wolf has extended the timeframe for enforcement of the order.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly recently completed the Appropriations hearings related to the FY 2020-2021 budget. The plans to resume the legislative session were altered due to COVID-19.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives assembled March 16, 2020 and adopted HR 834, which created temporary rules to facilitate remote voting. This will allow remote voting for committee hearings, conference committee reports, and the passage of bills. The temporary rules expire when the declaration of disaster emergency issued by Governor Wolf on March 6, 2020 is terminated by executive order, proclamation, or operation of law. As of this writing, the House stands in recess until the 12-hour call of the Chair.

The Pennsylvania Senate assembled March 18, 2020 for the purposes of adopting SR 318, This resolution permits members to cast votes for all measures from a remote location. It also permits the members to file bills electronically. The resolution expires July 31, 2020 or 10 days following the expiration of the emergency declaration, whichever is earlier - unless further extended in accordance with the Senate rules. The Senate stands in recess until the call of the President Pro Tempore.

Although it is difficult to know what legislation will be advanced during this time, it is anticipated the legislative agenda for the immediate future will focus on legislation related to the impact of COVID-19.

In the recent days, numerous members have introduced bills designed to address the impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania's citizens and businesses. The House bills include:
  • Legislation that suspends the personal impact tax and state sales tax;
  • Legislation to request a waiver from the federal government to allow self-employed individuals to collect unemployment; and
  • A bill that would allow the General Assembly to terminate the Disaster Emergency declared by Governor Wolf.
In the Pennsylvania Senate, new measures include:
  • Legislation to waive the 180 instructional-day requirement for Pennsylvania schools;
  • To require the Commonwealth to apply for an exemption from federal standardized testing requirements; and
  • A measure to increase the flexibility for Pennsylvania's schools and to waive testing requirements.
In addition to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, other governmental entities have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board mandated that all retail licensees, clubs, permittees, and producers must cease the sale and food and alcohol for on-premises consumption, effective March 19, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. The state Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores were previously closed per the order of Governor Wolf.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved the transfer of $40 million to the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority to provide relief to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 and the measures taken to address it.

The Pennsylvania Department of State issued a guidance regarding telehealth waivers to allow healthcare professionals from out of state to treat Pennsylvania residents using telemedicine, when appropriate.

The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance issued notices to move the continuing education programs approved by the Department from the classroom to a webinar format and to permit (for a limited time) electronic fillings. Furthermore, Governor Wolf sent a letter to Secretary Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to ask the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow for an immediate special open-enrollment period for a 60-day period as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Following the actions noted above, Governor Wolf issued a subsequent order on March 19, 2020 requiring the mandatory closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses. This order resulted in a number of responses from the Pennsylvania House and Senate Republicans and members of the business community requesting clarification and changes to the order because of uncertainty associated with the qualifications for exempt businesses.
The Pennsylvania Department of Communications and Economic Development has created a resource page for businesses who wish to seek clarification on the order or to seek a waiver. We are able and available to assist in navigating that process. 

As the situation continues to evolve, we will monitor the developments and keep you apprised. If you have any questions or need our support, please contact our COVID-19 Task Force and our Government Relations team.
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