The state legislature passed a series of bills to aid all people in the state of Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, showing bipartisanship in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The specific measures included Senate Bill 422, which postpones the states primary election from April 28 to June 2; Senate Bill 751, which updates the state’s school code to waive a number of mandates on schools that cannot be fulfilled under the current circumstances; House Bill 68, which provides for emergency changes to the state’s unemployment compensation law; and House Bill 1232, which provides additional funding to healthcare facilities to purchase medical supplies and equipment and extends the deadline for certain state and local income tax payments and filings.
“I am pleased we were able to address such major issues to help with the state’s response to COVID-19.” said state Sen. Judy Ward.
State Rep. Rich Irvin explained a little bit about the primary election deadline extension.
“This gives counties the ability to condense polling places, because many are not sure they’re able to fully staff them,” he said. “They may have a more difficult time to staff them in a June timeframe. Because of that, you don’t have to go through the courts to get a polling place change, but you still have to provide an advertisement.
Irvin said because they’re expecting more mail-in ballots, they can begin pre-canvassing them at 7 a.m. the day of the primary election rather than at the end of the day at 8 p.m.
“This gives poll workers time to open them up, scan them, but they will not be tabulated until 8 p.m,” he said.
Ward explained that House Bill 1232 would provide funding to purchase medical equipment and supplies due to increased demands in the wake of COVID-19.
“We can provide up to $50 million of additional funding to healthcare facilities for the sole purpose of buying medical equipment and supplies to address the increased demands that COVID-19 could place on the entire health care system,” said Ward. “The new money will help ensure health care facilities can better meet the needs of patients and staff.”
“We would have to exhaust the state Emergency Management Agency and federal money first,” added Irvin. “After that, we go into additional funds from offline general accounts that are earmarked for other purposes that have reserves in them. This would have to be reported monthly they’re using it for this purpose.”
This also extends the medical marijuana act to Nov. 20, 2021, as it was set to expire May 12, added Irvin.
Ward added this same bill, House Bill 1232, “extends the deadline for individuals who are required to declare and pay estimated personal income tax as well as delays the filing of informational returns for Pennsylvania S corporations and partnerships, estates and trusts.”
“The legislation also authorizes the Department of Community and Economic Development to coordinate with local political subdivisions to extend filing and payment deadlines for the local Earned Income Tax. These deadlines have been extended to July 15,” she said.
The school code was also amended for this year to waive the 180-day school year requirement and give more room for additional flexible instruction days as well as other measures.
“It gives schools the flexibility to educate students how they see fit,” he said. “Whether it’s through the internet, sending work home, or other avenues and ways they can come up with educating children.
“This funding will also continue to flow to pay charter schools, intermediate units and all other employees while they’ve been off, and it does away with standardized testing for the year,” added Irvin.
The last bill, added Ward, is House Bill 68, which, “would ease eligibility requirements and access to unemployment for workers who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus, including waiving the one-week waiting period for all claimants during the governor’s disaster declaration.”
“Job search and registration requirements for claimants would also be waived under the bill,” she said.
Irvin said that while bipartisanship is the name of the game for the health and safety of all people right now, the legislature is still working with the governor and other departments to deem building and construction projects as life-sustaining businesses. They are currently under the non-essential category.
“They could practice social distancing and mitigate the spread,” he said. “We are trying an amendment into a bill to push it to the governor as well as other avenues to get some of these guys back to work, especially if they’re not easily able to spread the virus.”
Irvin noted that while the county has seen no confirmed cases to date, these measures will protect the residents of the 81st Legislative District even after cases peak in other parts of the state.
“Just because the numbers may go down there, they may go up here,” he said. “It’s important to have that flexibility to get the money out, more so than what we would do in normal circumstances.”