State Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) wants a plan in place for Pennsylvania workers to get back to work.
On March 31, Diamond issued a call for cosponsors of a bill he’s proposing that would give every business in the state permission to reopen if they’re willing to comply with certain guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We need a blueprint for getting Pennsylvania back to work when this is over,” Diamond said during a telephone interview Sunday. “The legislative process takes time.
“We don’t turn on a dime like the governor does, and we need a plan for getting out of this,” he added. “Economic ruin has a human toll as well.”
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close as of 8 p.m. March 19. Currently, the order expires on April 30.
As of Monday afternoon, there were 12,980 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. At the time, the state reporting 162 COVID-19-related deaths.
That includes 124 cases in Lebanon County where, as of Monday, no deaths were reported.
Diamond’s proposal for the “Healthy Back to Work Act” would allow “for the immediate reopening of all Pennsylvania businesses willing to comply” with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
“While we are all well aware of COVID-19 and the threat it poses to the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens, we must also take a big picture view regarding state actions and the potential unintended long-term consequences after the immediate threat has passed,” Diamond wrote in his proposal.
“Getting Pennsylvanians back to work is crucial. Destroying vast swaths of our economy in response to a viral pandemic is not acceptable. As history has proven, economic ruin and human isolation carry distinct human tolls of their own,” he wrote.
Actions by the governor have “extended well beyond common sense during this crisis,” he added.
“I do not believe the overreach intentional, but it’s self-evident that a central clearinghouse for determining which business operations can continue, and which operations can’t, is a disaster of its own right,” he wrote. “It is not only inefficient, but appears to be arbitrary, inequitable, and is certainly confusing. The utter lack of transparency provided by the business waiver process has unnecessarily fostered mistrust of all government action and has promoted public suspicion of corruption.”
On Sunday, Diamond said he’s still looking for cosponsors, and that specific language for the bill has not yet been drafted.
A similar bill is also being proposed in the state Senate, he said. Adams County legislator state Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33) announced Tuesday night that he would be sponsoring a concurrent resolution in the state Senate and was seeking cosponsors.
Diamond declined to predict how soon a bill could be up for consideration, or how soon businesses might hope to reopen.
“Who knows what the future holds?” Diamond said.
In the best of circumstances, he said, it takes at least six days for new legislation to get through the Legislature. The state House is only convening two days this week, he said.
“We’re putting stuff on the table so we can work on it as fast as we can,” Diamond said. “The time is now to think ahead.”
On his official Facebook page, Diamond said “it could be weeks” before the bill comes up for a vote.
He said it’s vital that businesses adhere to the guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus.
“Business enterprises, by their very nature, are quite adept at innovating to meet new challenges,” he wrote in his proposal. “I certainly believe every commercial enterprise should be afforded the opportunity to inform themselves, innovate, and adapt their business practices to safely adhere to federal guidelines for health and safety.”
On Sunday, Diamond said that “some businesses can figure it out.”
“Nobody has told Lowe’s or Walmart to limit the number of people in their stores or close off certain areas. But some stores have done that on their own,” he said. “Each business should be able to figure out if they can follow those guidelines or not.”
Protections should also be in place to protect the workers, he said, and there should be means for them to report an employer who might be putting its workers at risk.
If a complaint against a business is filed, Diamond said, inspectors from the state Department of Health or law enforcement would be sent to conduct a surprise inspection of the worksite.
“We do surprise inspections for restaurants now. Same kind of thing,” he said.
A business that found not to be in compliance would not face fines or other penalties, he said, but would be ordered to close down until it came into compliance.
Diamond agreed that some issues must be ironed out before businesses get a green light to reopen, but said he wants “a more orderly turnaround” so that it can be handled in a way that helps business owners and workers get back to their jobs.
“We need to plan our way out of this rather than just making big announcements that surprise everybody,” he said.
“I’m talking to a lot of business owners who are astounded how we got into this and don’t want to get out in the same fashion,” he added. “I’ve heard some people say we should shut everything down but gas stations until September. Well, that’s ridiculous. You can’t do that.
“But there are extremes on both sides. I’m trying to find a middle ground.”
April L. Hutcheson, communications director for the state Department of Health, said in an email Sunday that she “cannot comment on proposed or pending legislation,” but said “the best protection for our communities is for residents to stay calm, stay home and stay safe.”
The governor’s orders to stay at home and close non-life-sustaining businesses “are designed to mitigate the impacts of this virus and save lives,” Hutcheson said.
State Rep. Frank Ryan (R-101) is on board with the idea.
“I support this effort completely,” he said in an email Monday. “I’m also a cosponsor on it.”
Ryan said Pennsylvania’s list of nonessential vs life-sustaining businesses “is significantly different” than the CDC’s.
“Pennsylvania has two battles to fight,” he said. “We have a battle for the health of our citizens and the second battle is for the health of our citizens once this COVID-19 crisis is over.”
LebTown contacted state Senator Dave Arnold (R-48) regarding the proposed legislation but had not heard back at press time.
On Diamond’s Facebook page, reaction was mixed. Here is a sampling of the comments:
- Joseph Clemson: “Thank you for your efforts. Yesterday, PennDOT ended the suspension of 61 construction projects under the condition that they follow CDC social distancing guidelines. This will allow many to avoid or shorten layoffs, and reduce delay costs, which will likely still total hundreds of millions of dollars across the state. The reduction in available funding will likely postpone upcoming projects for years. I don’t want myself or anyone else to contact COVID-19, but I’m thankful that projects are restarting now instead of one month from now.”
- Cyndi Boehler-Walsh: “and who is going to police this??? you???”
- Wes Smith: “THANK YOU! At some point we have to understand that the cure is becoming worse than the illness, especially one that’s only a danger to a very small percentage of people and is also completely recoverable for an overwhelming majority of the people. I do believe the governor has only done what he thinks is prudent in this situation, but he can’t destroy the economy. There has to be something left to build on when this is over, or what’s the point in all of this. Yes, isolate the truly vulnerable, follow prodecures, but let us get back to work and open our businesses back up. Besides, let’s face it, if beer distributors can stay open why can’t everyone else.”
- Bob Swanson: “You’re trying to score political points and risking lives in the process. You should leave pandemic management to those qualified to do so. You are stepping way out of your league on this. This is shameful.”
The governor’s office has provided a list of frequently asked questions and answers about what defines a “life-sustaining business” in a series of online documents.
Exemptions to the statewide shutdown include businesses that provide materials and products needed for medical supply chains, essential transportation, energy, essential communications, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, emergency services, the defense industrial base and the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment plants. The exemption does not extend to “non-critical operations that may broadly fit within these categories,” the document states.
The order also states that non-life-sustaining businesses may continue to operate remotely, as long as guidelines for social distancing are followed.
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Full Disclosure: The campaign of Dave Arnold was an advertiser on LebTown during the special election cycle. The campaign of Frank Ryan is an advertiser on LebTown at present. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.