House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, leaves the House floor wearing gloves and a mask after the morning legislative session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. The House session will be the first in state history where members can vote remotely die to the coronavirus outbreak. (Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News via AP)
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers approved $50 million in state funding Wednesday to purchase medical equipment and supplies for hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency workers, though it’s unclear how quickly it can get some of the most in-demand items.
Health systems and nursing homes across the state are pleading for supplies, in particular N95 masks and ventilators, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise exponentially. The situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming weeks.
The legislation now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf. If signed into law, the administration will have the discretion to appropriate the funds and supplies directly to health care systems.
“Fifty million [dollars] is a pretty good start, but depending on how long this emergency lasts, and to what level it gets to, there may be need for future assistance,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said after the vote.
Wolf has not requested any other emergency funding for the near future, Corman said. But that could change as the pandemic continues to develop across the state.
“As I’ve been saying, this is where we are at 4:37 p.m. on Wednesday,” Corman said. “At 5:15 Wednesday, it might be a whole different place.”
The Senate approved the bill during its first-ever remote session, with about 40 lawmakers participating through video software, Corman said. The head of the Senate, Joe Scarnati, said that the upper chamber was transformed into a “Zoom Room.”
Just completed the first virtual roll call in the history of the PA Senate. The Senate is meeting to consider a number of measures designed to offer relief to Pennsylvanians affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/z07ABkXCLt
Both the House and Senate considered emergency measures, such as moving the state’s primary from April 28 to June 2 and making emergency changes to the state’s unemployment compensation law. All passed.
The proceedings of the Rules Committee, which are usually not seen by the public, were also broadcast from the chamber.
The House held its first remote session Tuesday, with members who aren’t in leadership allowed to vote by text or email. Still, approximately one third of members came to the Capitol.
House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said other state legislatures have reached out to Pennsylvania seeking guidance on how they can enact similar temporary rules to find “a way to continue to function in these troubling times.”