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House Republicans Push To Reopen More PA Businesses

PA POST - As lawmakers returned to Harrisburg on Monday, state Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) described what seemed like a new ritual.

“It’s another Monday, and it’s another end-the-shutdown bill,” Boyle said. “Ultimately, I oppose this end-the-shutdown bill like I’ve opposed all the other end-the-shutdown bills.”

Boyle made the comments as the House State Government Committee considered a bill that would allow accredited zoos to reopen. The measure passed along party lines.

“I think it would be wonderful if they could allow a limited number of people to get out and recreate, and go see the zoo, and be outside in the fresh air,” said state Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming/Union) chairman of the House State Government Committee.

Separately, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee passed two other bills to reopen parts of the state’s economy. Those bills picked up more Democratic votes than the zoo one.

One would allow garden and law centers to reopen. Three Democrats voted in favor.

Another would allow animal grooming services to reopen. One Democrat voted in favor of that.

State Rep. Marci Mustello (R-Butler), former executive director of her county’s humane society, said pet grooming services can prevent injuries that would require a pet to go to the veterinarian.

“This bill is about preventing animal neglect. …Nails need trimmed. Fur needs cut,” she said

Gov. Tom Wolf, who has announced plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions beginning next month, opposes all three proposals.

“We are planning a measured and strategic approach to allowing Pennsylvanians to return to work safely to prevent a resurgence of the virus,” press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said in a statement. “This must be done in the most effective, efficient, and risk-adverse method possible to balance our return to economic stability, while at the same time continuing to keep Pennsylvanians safe by controlling the spread of disease.”

All three bills require the Department of Community and Economic Development to issue waivers for activities in those businesses that can follow social distancing and mitigation measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since Wolf’s March 19 shutdown order began, Republicans have pushed him to loosen restrictions. They’ve had some success.

Wolf plans to allow construction toresume May 1.

The governor on Monday announced plans to allow golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds to reopen on the same day.

That is something state Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) advocated for last week.

“This is fantastic news for everyone, but especially for the Erie County region where sailing, fishing, golfing and other outdoor recreational activities are essential parts of our local economy,” Laughlin said in a statement Monday.

The governor plans to lift other business and stay-at-home restrictions in some parts of the state beginning May 8 as part of a color-coded system. He has said northwest and north-central Pennsylvania could be the first parts of the state to move from a red to yellow category.

In those yellow areas, retail businesses can reopen, but theaters, casinos and gyms must remain closed. The Wolf administration says in order to reopen, a region will need to have fewer than 50 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people over 14 days as one of the measures to reopen.

The state will also consider an area’s testing capability, contact tracing infrastructure and safeguards at high-risk settings.

Everett, the Republican chairman of the House State Government Committee, said the Wolf administration hasn’t provided enough details to lawmakers about how it will make the decision about reopening regions.

“It doesn’t sound very scientific and data-driven to us,” Everett said.

PA Post is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom that covers politics and policy in Pennsylvania. Read their reporting at PaPost.org.