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Legislators clash over COVID-19 measures pushed by Pa. House’s GOP majority

  • Ed Mahon
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, addresses the House chamber after taking the oath of office Tuesday Jan. 1, 2019 in Harrisburg.

 Jacqueline Larma / AP

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, addresses the House chamber after taking the oath of office Tuesday Jan. 1, 2019 in Harrisburg.

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Democrats and Republicans in the state House of Representatives traded barbs Tuesday during a tense debate over legislation drafted in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill pushed by the GOP majority would create a COVID-19 cost and recovery task force, call for a reevaluation of the state’s debt load in response to historically low interest rates, and require the governor to notify the General Assembly whenever he suspends, changes or ignores regulations or laws as part of his COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration.

Democratic leaders said the proposals place too much of a burden on Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration as a time when it is focused on slowing the pandemic.

“It ties their hands,” said Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny).

The legislation passed in a 108-93 vote and now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

During the debate on the House floor, with many members wearing masks to minimize the potential transmission of the coronavirus, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) told Democratic lawmakers not to say the word “partisan.”

“The term ‘partisan’ is a pejorative term and is not — and should not be used on the House floor,” Turzai said.

State Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) then accused Republicans of “booing the governor during a pandemic.”

“The reaction was to your remarks,” Turzai replied. “Please stick to the substance of the bill. Period.”

Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) disputed that the legislation would be burdensome to the Democratic governor. But he criticized the Wolf administration’s process for closing more than 100 types of “non-life-sustaining” businesses to blunt the virus outbreak, as well as the administration’s process for granting thousands of waivers sought by businesses allowing them to continue operating.

Cutler complained that some large retailers can remain open while smaller shops cannot. He said lawmakers need to review how decisions were made

“This false choice of, ‘We can only be healthy or the economy will be destroyed,’ is not true,” Cutler said. “The governor’s own waiver process itself points to the fact that there are appropriate measures that can be taken for some businesses to continue to operate, and we should do more of that.”

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