Last Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Last week, the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted to end the COVID-19 disaster declaration that has been in place under Governor Tom Wolf. The legislature’s ability to end the declaration came after Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional amendment during the most recent primary election.
Specifically, the House and Senate passed a resolution (HR 106) that formally ends the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 disaster declaration. Additionally, a companion bill (HB 854) was passed that will keep most of the governor’s regulatory waivers in place, extending them until September 30 of this year. House Bill 854 was signed into law by the Governor as Act 21 of 2021. It should be noted that this bill to extend waivers passed both chambers unanimously while the resolution to formally end the disaster declaration was a more party line vote.
Act 21 was widely viewed as a means to allow the business community to steadily enter the post COVID-19 space by not abruptly ending beneficial policies such as better access to medical treatment through telemedicine and relaxing strict regulations faced by various industries. While many of these regulatory waivers were the subject of much debate over the course of the pandemic, it was ultimately decided to take a more methodical approach in terminating them. Over the course of the next few months, it is expected that a closer look will be given to these waivers and analysis conducted to determine which, if any, have long term merits. As many of these pertain to licensing and related matters in health care, the Pennsylvania Medical Society will be closely monitoring and engaged in these discussions.
It is important to note that many of the COVID-19 mitigation measures that were subject to much debate, such as business closures and mask mandates, are powers of the Commonwealth’s Department of Health and are not impacted by the end of the disaster declaration. Currently, there is legislation (SB 618) to limit these powers by amending the Health Code and seeking to limit the Secretary of Health’s powers. This legislation has passed the Senate and been referred to the House Health Committee where a largely party line vote is anticipated. While this bill could advance to the Governor’s desk, it is likely to be vetoed.
In summary, while the General Assembly now has more power in terms of disaster declarations in this Commonwealth, not much has changed by ending the Governor’s declaration in response to COVID-19. Much of what has transpired is largely symbolic and will have a more significant impact on any future disasters that this Commonwealth may face. For now, the COVID-19 disaster declaration has ended, but many key provisions remain in place.