In This Update:
Bill to Improve Government Transparency Will Become Law Without Governor’s Signature
Maintaining public access to information is critical during an emergency, so the Senate and the House of Representatives voted unanimously for a bill to restore transparency in state government last week. Unfortunately, Governor Wolf initially vowed to veto this good-government reform, and only after significant public backlash did he change course and announce that he will now allow the bill to become law without his signature.
The bill will prohibit any governor from directing a state agency to ignore records requests during an emergency declaration, and also require the Office of Open Records to create guidelines to ensure state agencies can continue to respond to records requests while physical offices remain closed. All normal protections and exclusions to the Right to Know law will remain in place under the new law; it would only ensure that an emergency declaration isn’t used as an excuse to delay or ignore records requests.
Despite the pushback from the Wolf Administration, I’m pleased that this important bill to ensure the public can continue to access information about our state government during a disaster declaration will soon become law in Pennsylvania.
Hearing Explores 2020 Election Issues
New voting machines, mail-in ballots, changing polling locations and last-second rule changes by the Wolf Administration created numerous issues during the 2020 Primary Election, including confusion among voters and long delays in reporting election results. The Senate State Government Committee held a hearing last week on these and other issues to ensure these problems do not create the same kind of chaos during the General Election in November.
The hearing included testimony from state and county election officials, as well as recommendations on possible actions the General Assembly could take to ensure future elections are efficient, accurate and fair.
Guidance Available to Safely Reopen Pennsylvania Schools
As many parents, teachers and administrators continue to prepare for the return to school in the fall, the state Department of Health and state Department of Education recently announced guidelines to safely reopen school buildings. The guidance includes recommendations for best practices on social distancing, health screenings, meals, extracurricular activities and more.
Under the new guidance, each school entity will determine whether classes will resume through in-person instruction, remote learning, or a combination of both. Questions and concerns about reopening plans should be directed to local school boards and other education entities.
Lawmakers approved $150 million in CARES Act funding to help schools navigate the challenges created by COVID-19.
New Laws Support Job Creation, Child Safety, and More
Several noteworthy bills that were approved by the Senate recently were signed into law last week, including:
Grants Available to Businesses for Hazard Pay
Businesses, healthcare non-profits, public transportation agencies and certified economic development organizations can apply now for grants to reimburse expenses from paying hazard pay to employees working in vital industries. Applicants can apply for grants of up to $1,200 per eligible employee for up to 500 employees.
Hazard pay would be available for the period from August 16 to October 24. Participants must apply by July 31 using the Electronic Single Application for Assistance located at www.esa.dced.state.pa.us.
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