Struggling Restaurant Industry Needs Cooperation, Not Bipartisanship in Harrisburg

State Senator Ryan Aument here, and I’m at Mick’s All American Pub in Mount Joy to talk about the devastating impact that Governor Wolf’s endless executive orders have had on Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry, and in particular, restaurants and bars.

As you know, on July 15th, Governor Wolf closed bars and limited the operations of restaurants throughout the Commonwealth, regardless of the rate of transmission in a particular area.  Even those counties that have seen low numbers of infections since the pandemic began in March were subject to this arbitrary and destructive 25% capacity limit.

At the time these statewide restrictions were ordered, it was clear that the Wolf Administration did not have data to back up these actions. Nearly a month later when the Department of Health finally released the data that they claimed would justify these punitive restrictions, many found the results unconvincing.

According to the Department, of all the people that tested positive between July 13 and August 11, only 2.9 percent of respondents said they had been to a restaurant and 1.5 percent said they’d been to a bar.

In other words, less than 4.5 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19 had visited a bar or restaurant – and that isn’t even definitive proof that they contracted the virus at those establishments.

Using the Department of Health’s own data, it’s difficult to defend these ruinous restrictions, especially considering the lack of a clear link indicating that attendance at these establishments directly caused case spikes in COVID cases.

I was concerned about the lack of data to justify these restrictions then, and I continue to have extreme reservations about the Administration’s interpretation of the weekly data as justification to continue piling onerous restrictions on our Commonwealth’s restaurants.

Despite these concerns from myself and from many other Pennsylvanians, the Wolf administration issued yet another round of burdensome, statewide restrictions on the restaurant industry again this month. These new guidelines demonstrate that the Administration is not only willing to take punitive measures on a struggling industry without data to justify those measures, but also that it’s willing to do so in a unilateral and partisan manner.

The same day that the Administration announced these new restrictions, the Senate Law & Justice Committee unanimously approved a package of bills sponsored by my colleague Senator Pat Stefano that is intended to ease some of these restrictions and extend aid to restaurant, bars, and taverns across the Commonwealth. The language of these bills was negotiated and agreed to by both parties and, again, passed out of committee by a unanimous vote.

Despite the collaborative nature in which these bills were negotiated, the Governor has proven yet again that he would rather act independently of the Legislature, ignore bipartisanship, rule unilaterally and as he alone sees fit, and further harm Pennsylvania’s economy, small business owners, and citizens in the process.

I am a strong supporter and cosponsor of the bipartisan legislation, and I will be proud to vote in favor of its passage should it come before the full Senate for consideration. We must eliminate the current restrictions on bars and restaurants and provide much needed relief to our struggling businesses.  It’s incredibly unfortunate that the Wolf Administration continues to make them the scapegoats in this pandemic.

Our restaurants and bars have been hit the hardest by Governor Wolf’s policies and many will not survive the year if his policies are not overturned.  One restaurant official has predicted that 7,500 Pennsylvania restaurants could close permanently as a direct result of the Governor’s mitigation orders.

I am confident that our businesses will continue to take all the necessary precautions to keep their employees and customers safe, but they need the opportunity to operate without burdensome and constantly evolving regulations. 

It’s time for our Governor to revisit his policies and acknowledge those that have missed the mark.  Though he remains unwilling to work with the General Assembly to address the many issues that have been created by COVID-19 and his mitigation policies, the General Assembly is ready to advance these bipartisan measures to restore fairness and common sense as we continue to combat this virus.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone in our community to continue to eat and shop locally. Shopping at these small businesses, restaurants, and taverns now might be the difference between them reopening their doors or closing for good. Lancaster County has a diverse and vibrant small business community and an excellent restaurant scene – so pay your neighbors a visit, and shop and eat locally!