HARRISBURG >> The Pennsylvania Senate has passed four bills aimed at helping Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The bills were passed during the first ever “virtual Session,” during which about 30 Senators, including Senator Williams, used Zoom video conferencing to participate and vote.
While underscoring the importance of abiding by Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order, State Senator Lindsey Williams noted that the Senate needs to take extra steps to ensure transparency while operating under these temporary rules, saying,
“It was a unique experience to participate in the first ever virtual Senate session today. I appreciate that we were able to convene remotely so that we could follow Governor Wolf’s stay at home order while still being able to pass legislation to help the people of Pennsylvania during this emergency. Despite some minor technical difficulties and some Senators not realizing their microphones were live at points, it went pretty smoothly. However, we need to be extra careful to maintain public transparency about what we are voting on in any future virtual Sessions.
“We made some important first steps to provide much needed relief to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” continued Senator Williams. “However, we still have a lot of work to do. We need to make sure that all workers who are putting their health and safety at risk right now have all the proper safety equipment and receive paid leave if they need to take time off for themselves or to care for a family member. We also need to make sure that the changes we’re making to education take into account and prioritize our most vulnerable students.”
- HB 68 addresses necessary changes to the Unemployment Compensation system as a result of the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses. In addition to codifying the waiver of the one-week waiting period and job search and registration requirements previously implemented by Governor Wolf, this bill requires employers to notify employees of unemployment compensation benefits at the time of separation from their employment. It also authorizes the Secretary to adopt any temporary regulations necessary for Pennsylvania to qualify for federal unemployment compensation funding related to COVID-19.
- HB 1232 extends the state tax filing and payment deadline to July 15 to coincide with the Federal deadline. It also permits the Department of Community and Economic Development to work with local governments to facilitate extending their tax deadlines to July 15 as well. Additionally, HB 1232 authorizes the transfer of $50 million from special funds to be used to purchase much needed medical equipment and supplies for health care providers.
- SB 751 makes some of the many changes that will need to be made to our School Code to address the extended shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. First, it will waive the 180 instructional day requirement for students and require Secretary Rivera to seek a waiver of testing and accountability requirements from the Federal government. Second, the bill will ensure that schools receive their full amount of state funding for the year and that all employees receive compensation and retirement credit for the school year. Charter schools will continue to receive tuition payments consistent with enrollment figures as of March 13, 2020. SB 751 will also allow Secretary Rivera to:
- Close schools
- Increase the number of flexible instruction days
- Waive the minimum number of hours for a CTE program
- Waive the requirement to use performance data for teacher evaluations
- Waive the number of days required for pre-k instruction
- Waive the 12-week student teacher requirement
- Waive the NIMS Assessment and the NOCTI exam
Under this bill, School Districts are required to make a good faith effort at providing a plan for continuity of education during the temporary closure to the Department of Education.
- SB 422 will move the upcoming primary election to from April 28 to June 2. The bill will also allow county Election Boards to consolidate some polling places and change the locations of polling places, as many polling places are located in senior centers, schools, or other facilities that may not be open to the public by that time. Given the large number of mail-in ballot requests that have been received, SB 422 also permits County Boards of Elections to begin pre-canvassing mail-in and absentee ballots at 7:00 AM on Election Day. These changes will only apply to the upcoming primary election.
Both House bills were sent to the House for concurrence. All four bills are expected to be sent to Governor Wolf today (March 25) for his signature.