Representative Otten statement on veto override votes

I understand that the shutdown has been challenging for everyone, lonely and isolating for many, and financially devastating for some. I understand how difficult this continues to be for small business owners, and for workers and independent contractors still waiting to receive unemployment benefits or stimulus payments, and for teachers and families trying to work and learn from home. My husband and I are working with two young children at home -- children who are missing their classmates and too young to handle Zoom calls or online assignments independently. 

We all want this shutdown to end. I support ending it safely, gradually, and responsibly, to save lives, protect livelihoods, and prevent us from having to do this again. The public officials and medical professionals who have been training for their entire lives in public health and emergency management—not the legislature—are best suited to lead our reopening plans at this time. I believe that we can ultimately reopen faster, more safely, and more sustainably if we work together. While Chester County is still in the “red phase,” there are reasons to be hopeful. We have done extremely well at flattening the curve, and our commissioners and county department of health are optimistic that our numbers will support moving to “yellow” by June 4. 

This week, I voted “No” on motions to override Governor Wolf’s vetoes of HB 2412 and 2388. In the interest of transparency, I want to share my reasons for these votes, and for my initial “No” votes on these and other sector-specific reopening bills. 

  • In an emergency declaration, we must preserve our ability to act quickly. Emergency management is an executive function; the legislature is not the place to negotiate this situation. These bills would have stripped not only the governor, but also public health and emergency management officials of their ability to guide the commonwealth through this public health emergency and save lives when so many are at stake.

  • In many cases, the reopening bills put forth by the Republican majority were very likely unconstitutional and would lead to lengthy court reviews. Additionally, the legislation would have created an unlawful delegation of authority. The bills point to CDC guidelines, but with no enforcement mechanism, there would be nothing the state could do if a business endangered its employees, customers, or community by failing to follow those guidelines.

  • The stay-home order and phased reopening must be focused on “vectors, not sectors.” The goal is to reduce the number of vectors for transmission moving about the community. The more people are out and about, the more exponentially our disease vectors increase, whether it’s people going to see a home or get a haircut or pick up flowers. It is not just the relative risk or safety of the business activity; it’s the stop at the gas station, the pop-in to Wawa, the running into the grocery store more frequently because you’re out anyway, and the additional interactions with employees and customers at every location. Your risk of running in to pick up groceries may be relatively low, but the risk to the cashier increases with every customer interaction.

  • These bills failed to include protections for consumers, and my Republican colleagues failed to consider amendments that would have required those protections. For example, HB2412 would have waived the requirement for municipal occupancy inspections, with no recourse for the municipality or the buyer.

  • These bills failed to include protections for impacted workers who are unable to return to work when their employers reopen, either because they have school-age children at home, or because they or their family members are in a vulnerable population and cannot risk exposure. The bills failed to consider support for tipped and commissioned workers whose workplaces open before the public feels safe to return. My Republican colleagues declined to consider amendments that would have required protections for workers.

  • Some of the bills would have been “notwithstanding,” meaning they would override executive action, even in the event of additional emergency orders. Codifying this into law means if things get worse, the Governor would not be able to touch or regulate activities in the affected sectors in the case of emergency.

To be clear, I have not agreed with every aspect of this process. In March, I advocated for a waiver process and reopening plan that would prioritize public health and safety, the safety of healthcare workers and other essential employees, and the interests of our small business owners and locally owned businesses. In order to reopen safely, we must be able to ensure plentiful personal protective equipment for all workers; widespread, community-based testing for both active infections and antibodies; and a robust contact tracing plan.  

Science and data, not politics or wishful thinking, must determine our timeline for reopening. I support the gradual, phased reopening recommended by the PA Department of Health, Governor Wolf, and the CDC.