Cynthia Fernandez covers the most important news and events from the Capitol and state legislature. She is a member of the second class of Lenfest Fellows, a program of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and supported by the Independence Public Media Foundation. Cynthia joined Spotlight PA from Boston, where she recently completed an undergraduate degree in journalism, with a concentration in computer science, from Boston University. She has interned at several news organizations, including Muck Rock, WBUR, and Boston Magazine. Most recently, she was a part-time breaking news reporter at the Boston Globe and a research assistant for their Spotlight team. A Cuban immigrant and Miami native, Cynthia is particularly interested in reporting on marginalized communities and how they interface with institutional and governmental systems.
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday vetoed legislation that would have allowed more Pennsylvania businesses to reopen over the objections of the state’s top health official, hours after hundreds gathered at the Capitol to protest the coronavirus-driven closures.
The measure was approved in the General Assembly along party lines, with Democrats saying the bill was premature and unsafe, as the state lacks sufficient testing for COVID-19 and personal protective equipment for health-care workers. Republicans, meanwhile, claimed more businesses could reopen safely if they adhered to federal standards for social distancing and infection prevention.
In March, Wolf ordered all but “life-sustaining” businesses to close their physical operations. While public health experts say such closures are necessary to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, they’ve also hit the economy hard. As of Monday, 1.5 million Pennsylvanians had filed for unemployment benefits.
The legislation would have redefined essential businesses and provided a road map for employers to reopen as long as they took certain safety precautions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. GOP lawmakers do not have enough votes to override Wolf’s veto.
“This is not an easy decision, but it is the right course for Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in his veto message. “Reopening tens of thousands of businesses too early will only increase the spread of the virus, place more lives at risk, increase the death tolls, and extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic.”
Hours before Wolf vetoed the measure, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Capitol, calling on the governor to “reopen” the state. At the same time, Wolf announced he would extend the stay-at-home order to May 8, but also allow some sectors to begin reopening at that time.
One of the speakers at the protest, state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), said Wolf could help the economy and “turn this all around today” by rescinding or modifying the orders.
“You could sign Senate Bill 613 into law right now, so every business and employer has a chance to comply with social distancing, elevated hygiene, and disinfection protocols — just like the ones you’ve put in place for so-called life-sustaining businesses,” Diamond said at the protest.
Though there is no longer an exponential growth in coronavirus cases, Wolf said in his veto message the state must reopen in a measured and staggered approach.
“This approach needs to include not only a decline in the spread of the virus, but also an integrated approach for how and when to open businesses and what additional measures are needed to ensure our businesses are safe and our health-care system can support us,” he said.