Davidson: House approves pandemic relief then puts it in jeopardy

HARRISBURG, Feb. 5 – In a rare Friday session, House lawmakers today voted to send $912 million in pandemic relief across the state to schools, local businesses and people in danger of becoming homeless then turned around and put all future relief in jeopardy, according to House State Government Committee Democratic Chair Margo Davidson, D-Delaware.

Davidson said she voted for legislation (S.B. 109) that would deliver $912 million in federal COVID relief dollars to people and places who need it the most, like people who are seriously behind on their rent or mortgage, the small mom and pop landlords who have been unable to pay theirs without the rent income, schools, and local restaurants and businesses who have been following safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and losing income as a result.

“People are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19, and people and our local businesses are still suffering from the economic devastation it has caused,” Davidson said. “It is our duty to legislate in the best interests of the people we serve, both to protect their physical health and safety and their economic health and safety. President Biden and a new Congress are working diligently to provide more of this relief, and we in the state legislature too should focus on getting relief to people. This new infusion of funding to our communities is a down payment on that promise.”  

Davidson said the bipartisanship that led to the vote providing $912 million in pandemic relief quickly dissolved as the Republican majority also pushed through legislation that could put future dollars like it in jeopardy. Federal funding for disasters is chiefly tied to declarations. She said the bill is part of the Republican majority’s political attempt to restrict the governor’s ability to handle declared disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, massive flooding or a nuclear power plant meltdown. It would end disaster declarations after 21 days unless reauthorized by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.

The legislation (S.B. 2) would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, asking voters if the governor should be limited in this way. But the move could result in making Pennsylvania ineligible for federal funds or disaster relief support, she said.  

“The Republican majority wants people to blame Governor Wolf for the global COVID-19 pandemic that has so far taken the lives of nearly half a million people across our nation,” Davidson said. “They are governing in partisanship, rather than in reality, and in their quest to have our governor ‘lose’ they are putting they very people and businesses they claim to be helping in jeopardy.

“This is a growing trend in the Republican-controlled legislature run amok over all other branches of government and the voters.” 

Also included in S.B. 2 is a separate constitutional amendment to add a new section in the constitution that would prohibit denying or restricting equal rights under the law because of race or ethnicity. Davidson attempted to amend the proposed section in a previous bill by extending these same civil rights to all Pennsylvanians, regardless of disability, identity or sexual orientation, as well. She said without the addition, the new, proposed provision would be duplicative of several other existing race and ethnicity antidiscrimination sections of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.

“The Republican majority is willing to allow discrimination to continue in the commonwealth at the same time they want to negligently risk Pennsylvanians’ lives through a dangerously ineffective emergency response proposal,” Davidson said. “They are not serious about preventing discrimination and ensuring civil rights for every person or battling this pandemic with a unified voice.” 

Davidson said the pandemic relief bill goes back to the Senate for a concurrence vote before it can go to the governor. Senate Bill 2 however can be presented to voters for adoption to the Pennsylvania Constitution as early as the May 18 primary election. Pennsylvania’s governor is not authorized to sign or veto proposed constitutional amendments.

Davidson leads House Democrats as the minority chair of the State Government Committee, working each day to uncover the reality behind partisan and power-grabbing legislation being proposed by the majority. Next week the committee will hold its third of 14 public hearings on the settled 2020 presidential election, where she said the majority will likely try to dig up old and debunked conspiracy theories rather than examining the state’s elections code, as seen in the first two hearings.