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Sen. Langerholc; PA Senate Approves COVID-19 Response Measures, Including School Mandate Relief
The State Senate convened remotely yesterday to pass several bills to keep Pennsylvania moving forward during the COVID-19 coronavirus public health emergency, including a bill to provide school mandate relief and assist schools, students and teachers.
The coronavirus response measures included:
Senate Bill 751 would waive the requirement that all public schools must be open at least 180 days per school year. The bill gives the Secretary of Education the authority to waive similar restrictions for career and technical schools and pre-kindergarten instruction.
The bill would also give the Secretary of Education authorization to increase the number of flexible instruction days that may be used by a school district and waive other requirements for educator preparation programs and assessment exams for career and technical students. It also guarantees that teachers will receive the same compensation they would have received if the pandemic had not occurred.
This public health emergency has required schools to make major changes to their schedules and left students and parents with a great deal of uncertainty. This bill is aimed at giving schools flexibility and relief from mandates and providing assistance to students and teachers who are affected by the coronavirus emergency.
The Senate also approved the following measures remotely. The measures now go to the Governor for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 422 would push back the primary election date to help the state limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The bill would also give county election officials authority to close, relocate or consolidate polling places due to the potential shortage of available volunteers and venues. Volunteers could also be drawn from anywhere in the county; previous law mandated that volunteers had to be from the same election district.
In addition, the bill would allow county election officials to begin processing absentee ballots earlier to ensure election results can be reported earlier, so long as the results are not published or officially recorded. Counties could also continue to use previously printed ballots with the April 28 Primary date.
House Bill 68 would ease eligibility requirements and access to unemployment compensation for workers who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus, including waiving the one-week waiting period for all claimants during the governor’s disaster declaration. Job search and registration requirements for claimants would also be waived under the bill.
The bill also provides automatic relief from benefit charges for any employer whose account would otherwise be charged for weeks of unemployment occurring during the duration of a disaster emergency.
House Bill 1232 would provide up to $50 million of additional funding to healthcare facilities for the sole purpose of buying medical equipment and supplies to address the increased demands that COVID-19 could place on the entire healthcare system. The new money will help ensure healthcare facilities can better meet the needs of patients and staff.
Additionally, House Bill 1232 extends the deadline for individuals who are required to declare and pay estimated Personal Income Tax as well as delays the filing of informational returns for Pennsylvania’s corporations and partnerships, estates and trusts. The legislation also authorizes the Department of Community and Economic Development to coordinate with local political subdivisions to extend filing and payment deadlines for the local Earned Income Tax. These deadlines have been extended to July 15, 2020.
In addition, the bill would extend temporary regulations related to Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry until November 2021.
Gavel-to-gavel video of session and all committee meetings yestserday are available at www.PAsenateGOP.com.
Applications Now Being Accepted for New Small Business Low-Interest Loan Program
Small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency can apply now for low-interest state loans.
The COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program will feature a low interest rate, no application fees, and payments and interest waived during the first year of the loan. Loans of up to $100,000 will be available for small businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees to use as working capital.
The program will be administered by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, which said it intends for the turnaround time for loan approval to be a matter of days. Additional information on the program is available at https://dced.pa.gov/cwca.
Business owners who are interested in applying should contact their local Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO). A list of CEDOs is available at https://dced.pa.gov/cedo/.
Three Counties Added to Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order
On Monday, Governor Wolf issued a “stay-at-home” order for residents of seven Pennsylvania counties: Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia. The order was expanded later in the week to include Erie, Lehigh and Northampton counties.
County residents affected by the order are still permitted to leave the house for a limited number of activities, such as getting groceries, going to medical appointments, and other tasks essential to maintain health and safety.
More information about the stay-at-home order is available here.
Retired Healthcare Providers Can Assist in COVID-19 Response
As Pennsylvania faces a potential surge of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, many retired doctors, nurses and pharmacists who wish to aid the state’s response to this public health emergency will be permitted to re-enter their field of practice temporarily. Retired healthcare personnel who return to practice would not be subject to paying reactivation fees. In most cases, licenses would be active through the end of the year.
More details on this announcement are available here.
Facilities Closed at State Parks and Forests
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has announced that all facilities at state parks and forests will be closed until April 30. This includes all offices, visitor centers, restrooms, campgrounds, cabins and other accommodations. Trails, lakes, roads and parking will remain open.
More information about state parks and forest facility closures is available here.
Consumers Can Report Price Gouging Tips Online
Pennsylvania’s Price Gouging Act prohibits companies and vendors from charging a price for consumer goods greater than 20 percent higher than the price before an emergency declaration. Consumers can report violations of price gouging laws to the Attorney General by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consumers can also submit a complaint by reporting the name and price of the product and the name and location of the store or vendor online here.
Additional Rest Stops Reopened By PennDOT
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has announced plans to reopen indoor facilities at 23 of its 30 rest stops across the state. Additional maintenance and cleaning will be in place to help limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.
A complete list of rest stops that will reopen is available here.