Matzie: House unanimously passes COVID-19 response bills

Would remove 180-day school requirement, postpone primary, among other moves

AMBRIDGE, March 25 – The House today unanimously passed several COVID-19 response bills, including measures that would temporarily remove the 180-day instruction requirement for all schools and push back Pennsylvania’s primary election to June 2, state Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver/Allegheny, announced.

“This is new ground for all of us,” said Matzie, who supported both bills. “There are certain actions the governor can take by himself, but others that need legislative authority. We’re doing our best to address those in a safe, timely, bipartisan manner.”

Matzie said the amended S.B. 751 – which authorizes the secretary of Education to close all schools until the COVID-19 epidemic is over and increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days, among other emergency school code changes – provides much-needed flexibility for school administrators until things return to normal.

“This will not be a lost school year. Seniors will graduate, kids will learn, employees will be paid and normalcy will return when it’s safe. We’ve given our districts the flexibility they need to navigate through this crisis. The changes will help give clarity to students, faculty, support staff and administration.

“From a policy perspective, it’s the right thing to do. But as a parent of a graduating senior, I fully understand and recognize the angst and challenges of the unknown. Our students need to know that we are there for them and that memories from the classrooms, hallways, sports fields and stage will remain while new – albeit different – ones will be made.”

Matzie also supported the amended 
S.B. 422, which would postpone the state primary to give counties extra time to make adjustments and allow polling places to be consolidated and moved out of high-risk areas. But as a longtime advocate of vote-by-mail who played a key role in having that measure included in the state’s new omnibus voting law, Matzie said he believes casting ballots by mail offers the best option.

“Moving the primary makes sense, and I voted for it. But I still believe the best solution is to conduct the primary with vote-by-mail. If the pandemic doesn’t slow down and the curve isn’t flattened, we’ll need to act again. We already have trouble finding folks to work the polls, and this crisis will only make that more difficult. Vote-by-mail ensures every voter can have their voice heard without further risk to themselves or others around them.” 

In addition to the amended school code and election bills, Matzie said the House passed:

  • H.B. 68, which would facilitate unemployment compensation benefits and suspend certain requirements for workers whose jobs are impacted by COVID-19.
  • H.B. 1232, which would authorize the transfer of up to $50 million in state funds into a restricted account to aid health care providers such as hospitals, nursing homes and others, and would extend the state’s current medical marijuana regulations – set to expire in May -- until late 2021.

The bills now head to the governor’s desk.