Close but not close enough. In the ongoing battle between the GOP and Governor Wolf regarding various COVID-19 restriction and closures, the House came just two votes shy of overriding Wolf’s latest bill that would have allowed state restaurants, bars and other eating establishments to open with higher capacity limits.
House Bill 2513 was originally passed with bipartisan support by both the House and Senate and would allow indoor restaurant seating to shift to a minimum of 50% capacity as long as social distancing is followed. It also eliminated the requirement that food must be purchased along with alcoholic beverages which was a provision long sought after by the state’s tavern industry. Current restrictions imposed by the Wolf administration limit indoor seating capacity to 25% but allow for 50% if they complete a state oversight inspection process.
Last Friday, Governor Wolf vetoed the bill saying that, “the Commonwealth needs these critical mitigation guidelines to remain in place to prepare for a possible uptick in coronavirus cases during the fall and winter months.”
Earlier this week the state House took up the bill again in an attempt to achieve the 2/3rd’s vote—or 135 of 203 votes—needed to override the veto. The vote fell 2 votes short as only 133 republicans and democrats voted to override the veto. Twenty-four democrats crossed the aisle to join with the republicans in the override attempt.
So, for now the restrictions remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Emissions bill rejected by House. In a rare move, the House defeated a bill introduced by Senate Republicans that would loosen some of the vehicle emissions testing regulations in rural counties. The bill, Senate Bill 745, was passed by the republican led Senate and considered to also pass the republican led House. However, the House surprisingly voted down the bill by a 105-96 vote essentially killing the bill this session. Typically, when the same party controls both chambers, bills are only brought to the floor for final votes if the votes are there for passage. Insiders say that several House republicans decided to change their vote after concerns were raised that changes to the current state emissions program would jeopardize federal transportation funding—something that APC would obviously be concerned about.
That’s a wrap…or is it? The General Assembly adjourned yesterday for the last time before the upcoming Nov. 3 election. While they sent a total of 23 bills to the Governor’s Desk for approval/veto, the “elephant in the room” remains—the General Fund Budget deficit.
We’ve reported in the past that the General Assembly only enacted a five-month state budget back in June funding most of the state’s agencies until the November/December timeframe. The House and Senate are scheduled to return to Harrisburg for only one day (Nov. 10) before the constitutionally set time for the current session to expire which is Nov. 30. It has long been rumored that the House and Senate will need to schedule additional post-election session days to finish the state budget which is expected to have a staggering $5 billion deficit.
For the state’s highway construction industry, this presents an opportunity if legislators return to Harrisburg to balance the state’s budget. APC has a funding advocacy program in place and has begun calling on legislators to consider several measures as part of balancing the state’s budget that would bolster the industry. Chief among them are: shifting the funding of the State Police from the Motor License Fund to the General Fund; using $50 million in unspent CARES Act monies to get projects jump started and back into the pipeline for future lettings; and, enact a common-sense electric vehicle user fee bill. All these, we believe, can be achieved in a “lame duck/sine die session” before the end of the year.
If you want to learn more about APC’s transportation funding plan or to learn how you can help the effort by taking action, please visit our Advocacy Webpage.