Hanbidge: H.R. 836 could have devastating effects for Pennsylvanians

BLUE BELL, June 10 – State Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, has issued a statement in response to the vote to adopt H.R. 836 in both the Senate and House Tuesday evening.

Yesterday evening, the Pennsylvania House and Senate passed a concurrent resolution to direct Governor Wolf to issue a proclamation or executive order to end the current COVID-19 disaster emergency. This action would make Pennsylvania the only state to lift their disaster emergency declaration while a federal emergency declaration remains in place.

“Many constituents have written to my office, asking what this move will mean for our community. The confusion surrounding H.R. 836 is certainly warranted, as it presents a significant number of unknowns and creates several constitutional questions that are very likely to reach the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (which has already ruled once against undermining the governor’s emergency powers).

“This resolution DOES NOT override the secretary of Health’s order concerning business closures and safety regulations, therefore allowing the administration’s phased reopening plan and associated orders to remain in place. In effect, this move will remove the protections and financial relief Pennsylvania has received due to the declaration without any substantial change in our daily lives. 

“It would, however, prematurely strip the state’s ability to provide services to the people and places most affected by COVID-19, reversing policies like the extended unemployment compensation eligibility and removing the state’s authority to activate the National Guard to assist nursing homes, to distribute essential supplies and equipment, to implement emergency funding, to suspend rules and regulations that would hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency. It would eliminate the administration’s ability to use all available resources of the commonwealth to deal with the emergency.

“Furthermore, all legislative enactments tied to the disaster proclamation – passed specifically to provide assistance to Pennsylvanians and Pennsylvania businesses throughout the pandemic – may expire upon the termination of the COVID-19 disaster declaration, leaving our communities increasingly vulnerable in the face of this devastating public health and economic crisis.

“With a $5 billion budget gap this year, ending the disaster declaration and causing Pennsylvania to potentially lose more than $1.4 billion in critical aid is incredibly shortsighted. It’s my hope the governor’s disapproval of this resolution will prevent this pandemic, and the political theater which has ensued in its wake, from causing further financial and physical harm to Pennsylvanians.

“There are still so many unknowns about this virus. Leading epidemiologists have warned that this virus is going to be circulating potentially for over a year or more. But what we do know is that eight out of 10 Pennsylvanians have supported the governor’s efforts to protect our commonwealth from its devastating effects. Clearly, the majority of our citizens do not feel safe yet. Forcing a business to open with significantly fewer customers could push many of our small businesses from crisis into bankruptcy.

“Broad reopenings, or reopenings that are not structured around ongoing social distancing, universal masking and other public health guidance, would likely result in a spike of cases and new stay-at-home and closure orders. My votes over the past several weeks have fallen in line with the recommendations of our Department of Health and experts who are looking for the best way to open our economy without endangering more lives. Many of these votes have been difficult, but I firmly believe that holding the course and continuing with the secretary of Health's plan is the safest way to move our community forward.”