The Pennsylvania General Assembly has concluded the legislative session. COVID-19 significantly changed the format and content of the legislative session. The operating rules were amended to permit remote voting, and the legislative focus centered on the impact of COVID-19 on schools, communities, businesses and the Pennsylvania budget for the FY 2020-2021.
Below is a snapshot of some of the key areas addressed during this session.
The budget for the FY 2020-2021 passed in two phases. In June 2020, the General Assembly enacted a budget, 1Aof2020, that provided 12 months of funding for education and five months of funding for the remaining items. This permitted additional time to ascertain the amount of federal funding and state revenues that would be available later in the year. In November 2020, 2Aof2020 passed and was approved by Governor Wolf. This provided the spending plan for the remaining seven months. It did not contain any tax increases.
There were a number of bills vetoed by Governor Wolf pertaining to COVID-19.
- HB 2388: Granting of waivers to businesses such as car sales, law and garden centers, barber shops and animal grooming;
- HB 2412: Legal services and residential and commercial real estate;
- SB 237: COVID-19 Creation of a Cost and Recovery Task Force;
- HR 836: Termination of the disaster emergency;
- HB 2787: School sports;
- HB 2513: Increasing the capacity limits for food and beverage establishments;
- SB 1164: Changes to the county code pertaining to coroners' investigations; and
- HB 2440: Designating shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, ammunition and firearm manufacturers and retailers as life-sustaining.
- COVID-19 Related Liability: HB1737, as introduced, provided environmental liability protections for land banks, but was amended to include temporary safe harbor provisions against unwarranted COVID-19 related lawsuits for employers and organizations who comply with public health guidelines. The bill provides business, nonprofit, education, child-care facilities and healthcare organizations with protection if they do not act with gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct or intentionally inflict harm. Governor Wolf vetoed the bill noting concerns with the scope of the liability protections.
On November 23, 2020, Governor Wolf noted that his order provides certain individuals and entities (businesses, Commonwealth employees and agents, personnel of local health departments, state and local law enforcement personnel and other authorized government agency personnel) with immunity from civil liability when such entities enforce the Secretary of Health's universal face covering order.
Act111of2020 made changes to problem-solving courts, seeking to provide greater access to veterans' courts. In addition, the legislation allowed for the creation of a commerce court program by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Court of Common Pleas. This specialized court handles disputes between businesses or the internal affairs, governance or other business matters as set forth in the legislation.
Teacher Certification Requirements
SB 1216 amends the Public School Code to provide the Pennsylvania Department of Education temporary flexibility with respect to teacher certification requirements and was approved by Governor Wolf on November 30, 2020 as ACT136.
Certification of Nurse Aides
SB 1268 provides for the certification of temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 pandemic and was signed by Governor Wolf on November 25, 2020 as Act138.
The Pennsylvania legislature will return in January 2021 with new members and some changes to the leadership teams. Republicans have maintained majorities in both the Pennsylvania House and the Pennsylvania Senate. The response to COVID-19 and the Commonwealth's fiscal picture will continue to be a primary focus of the Legislature.