Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday PA Capitol & COVID NewsClips 11.30.20

returns to session January 1

House returns to session January 1

AP: Republican Sen. Mastriano Tested Positive For COVID After White House Meeting With Trump, [Hours After Sitting Side-By-Side At A Hearing With Republican Senators and House Members Without Masks]

Brad Bumsted: PA Senators Try To Have It Both Ways In Gettysburg Hearing

Cap-Star: Republican State Senate Candidate Continues to Say Certain Mail-In Ballots Shouldn’t Be Counted, Even After Courts Disagree

Spotlight PA: PA Counties Reported No Major Issues With Dominion Voting Machines, Target Of Trump Campaign

Most Luzerne County Voters Cast Ballots In Person

Editorial: Ongoing Republican Vote Claims Do Real Damage

PA Turnpike Commission To Borrow $550 Million To Cover Overdue Transit Payments

Editorial: Merger Of State-Owned Universities Makes Sense

Editorial: Waiver Of Hearing Request Highly Unusual In Scranton School Asbestos Case

As Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs, Philly Officials Are Paying Close Attention

Editorial: Purdue Pharma Opioid Fund Helping Nobody

Amtrak Proposes Adding Train Route Between Scranton And New York City


Republican Con. Kelly Sees Partisan Divisions As Early Test For President Biden [Kelly, Other Republicans Filed An Unsubstantiated Lawsuit To Overturn Biden Win In PA]

Lawsuit By Republican Erie Cong. Kelly Set Out To ‘Play A Dangerous Game’ At Voters’ Expense

Philly Suburbs Were Key To Biden’s Pennsylvania Victory

Editorial: Canceling The U.S. Supreme Court

AP Fact Check: Trump Clings To Bevy Of Bogus Election Claims


Dept. Of Health Reports 107 Additional Deaths Due To COVID; 9,797 New Cases [2 Days]-- 11.30.20

Gov. Wolf Releases COVID Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard Update For Nov. 20-26

Pennsylvanians Age 13 And Older Can Download COVID Alert App

One-Fourth Of All State’s COVID Cases Added In Last 14 Days; Hospitalizations Rise

10 New COVID Deaths In Centre County, 9 From Long-Term Care Facilities

Editorial: We’ve Reached The Most Serious Moment Of COVID Pandemic In PA

Wallace McKelvey: PA Lags In COVID Testing, Here’s Why

Pittsburgh-Area Hospitals Set Record For Treating COVID Patients

AP: Republican Sen. Mastriano Tested Positive For COVID After White House Meeting With Trump, [Hours After Sitting Side-By-Side At A Hearing With Republican Senators and House Members Without Masks]

The List: Pittsburgh-Area School Districts Shift Back To Remote Learning As COVID Cases Surge

TNS: Greater Latrobe H.S. Staff Member Dies Of COVID

Montgomery County Parents Stage Another COVID School Closing Protest

Philly-Area School District’s Commitment To In-Person Classes Put To Test By COVID Surge

St. Joseph’s Men’s Basketball Team halts For 14 Days Due To Positive COVID Test

Parishioners Want To Attend Church, But Remain Safe

December Cumberland County Jury Trials Postponed Due To COVID

Nasdaq Shuts Philly Trading Room Again As COVID Surges

Op-Ed: Gov. Wolf’s Obstinance Made A Difficult Year Even Worse - Charlie Gerow

Op-Ed: Pandemic, Divisive Politics, Stymie Legislative Achievements - Mark Singel


AP: Dr. Fauci: U.S. May See ‘Surge Upon Surge’ Of COVID In Weeks Ahead

AP: Moderna Asking U.S., European Regulators To OK COVID Shots

The Guardian: A Year After Wuhan Alarm, China Seeks To Change COVID Origin Story

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FairDistrictsPA: Fix Our Broken Redistricting Process 

[Posted: November 30, 2020]

Sunday, November 29, 2020

November 30 PA Environment Digest Now Available

PA Capitol & COVID Weekly Report: Signed Budget, PennDOT Out Of Money, COVID Surges

Because In Politics Everything Is Connected To Everything Else ] Last Monday, without any fanfare, Gov. Wolf Monday signed the finished FY 2020-21 state budget bills into law-- Senate Bill 1350 (Browne-R- Lehigh) - General Fund budget and House Bill 2536 (James-R-Venango) - Fiscal Code-- that fellow state Democrats are saying does not address a wide range of important issues, including using available federal funds to provide additional aid to workers and businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic.  Read more here.

If new aid is coming, it will have to come from the federal government which so far has not come to agreement on a new stimulus package.  And, most of the aid programs Congress enacted earlier in the year will end December 30, including unemployment compensation.  Read more here.

In an interview with the Associated Press Saturday, PA House Republican Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Mifflin) said small businesses and people who have lost work [due to the pandemic] need more federal assistance.  “The election’s over, this is not a time for finger-pointing [sic].”  Read more here.

Republicans and Gov. Wolf in Pennsylvania used the $1.3 billion in leftover federal COVID aid to balance the FY 2020-21 state budget, not provide additional aid to businesses and people affected by the pandemic.  Read more here.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are preparing to reembrace their concerns about the growing federal deficit under a President Biden after greenlighting big spending bills and huge tax cuts under President Trump.  Read more here.

PennDOT Funding ‘Emergency’

But, a “new” budget issue is threatening lawmakers’ bread and butter take-home to their constituents-- road, bridge and transit funding.

PennDOT has been warning lawmakers for nearly two years about the pending funding crunch and now, as a result of the COVID pandemic PennDOT’s fiscal cliff is here and it will arrive December 1.  Read more here.

Last Monday, PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian told the Senate Transportation Committee Pennsylvania's transportation funding "is in a state of emergency." She said the impacts from declining gas tax revenues, a lack of "meaningful" federal investment, and losses resulting from COVID- 19 are taking its toll.

About $600 million worth of PennDOT projects will be halted due to the lack of funds on December 1.  Read more here.

Gramian said she estimates funding losses at between $500 and $600 million, due to reduced travel related to COVID.

 "We have already lost nearly $400 million that we will not recover. Thankfully, traffic volumes are coming back up, but not at pre-pandemic levels, and regardless, that revenue is gone for good." 

She pointed out that PennDOT provided information about losses to the federal government, hoping that they would give relief. 

She said PennDOT has reduced 2020 programs to $2.2 billion, compared to $2.5 billion in 2015, and they have reduced the construction program by an additional $300 million.

Gramian said PennDOT is also taking steps to reduce costs, including withdrawing advertisements for 19 resurfacing projects and canceling seven unexecuted contracts and adjusted maintenance activities. 

She stressed that some areas cannot be trimmed such as staffing levels and budgets for winter maintenance. 

"But even with these efforts, in order to completely offset the drastic predictions of revenue shortfall in the Motor License Fund due to COVID-19, we would have had to reduce the total construction program to $1.3 billion or less for 2020 and to stop work on active design projects to cover all existing contracts."

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the PA Turnpike Commission will borrow $550 million to cover the overdue transit payments it owns PennDOT.  Read more here.


Ford Turner: Hundreds Of PA Road, Bridge Projects To Halt Dec. 1 Without More PennDOT Funding

Ford Turner: PennDOT’s $600 Million Funding Shortfall Threatens Thousands Of Jobs

Jan Murphy: PennDOT Road, Bridge Projects Could Be Shut Down In Days, Putting Thousands Out Of Work

PennDOT Says It’s Out Of Case, Needs To Borrow $600 Million To Continue Road, Bridge Projects

CNHI: Key State Lawmakers Back PennDOT Move Toward Allowing Tolls On More Bridges

PA Turnpike Commission To Borrow $550 Million To Cover Overdue Transit Payments

3 More Vetoes

Gov. Wolf signed 25 other bills unrelated to the budget last week, but, as promised, vetoed three other bills-- so far-- House Bill 1747 (Dowling-R-Fayette) and House Bill 2440 (Kortz-D-Fayette) dealing with protecting the rights of gun owners to buy, carry and sell guns during a declared emergency and to declare a variety of gun-related industries life-sustaining  and Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) that would roll back environmental protection standards for conventional oil and gas drilling.  Read more here.

Gov. Wolf has vetoed 17 bills so far this year, many of them Republican efforts to overturn his policies on dealing with the COVID pandemic.

Wolf has until November 30 to decide whether to sign House Bill 1737 (Gleim-R- Cumberland) that would provide some liability protection for school districts, businesses, health care providers and others from lawsuits related to their COVID response.

Media reports say Gov. Wolf will veto the bill.  Read more here.

No Election Audit

On Monday, the bipartisan Legislative Budget And Finance Committee voted against conducting a risk-limiting audit of the November election after three different election audit experts interviewed by the Committee all declined to do the audit. Read more here.

The Committee was given the authority to audit the election by Republicans in House Resolution 1100 after a politically divisive debate in the House.

House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said, “I am disappointed the LBFC would choose to block such an important process in an open and transparent democracy. I am also surprised, considering we asked for a report to be completed on the primary, and did not hear any objections.

“Our chamber will continue to pursue policies that protect and promote election integrity. We still believe a complete audit is the best way to proceed and improve.”

The Legislative Budget And Finance Committee meets again on Wednesday, December 2 to report out two of the Committee’s completed studies.  The Committee could possibly address the issue of an election audit again at that time.

Monday, Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), as Acting Chair of the House State Government Committee, Monday issued a background report on events leading up to the November election, including changes in election law made in 2019 before the pandemic, guidance issued by the Department of State and a summary of some of the election-related lawsuits filed. Read more here.

On Wednesday, the Senate Republican Policy Committee and conservative House and Senate members gave the Trump Campaign and Rudi Giulini a forum to outline their baseless complaints of voting fraud during the November election.  Read more here.

On Friday, conservative Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams) [Read more here] and 26 conservative House Republicans called for the withdrawal of Pennsylvania election certification results and the installation of electors who support President Trump to override the election results [Read more here].

Also on Friday, a federal appeals court rejected the main Trump Campaign challenge to Pennsylvania’s election results.  The Trump-appointed judge who wrote the decision said, “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” Read more here.  

The Trump Campaign said they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Late Saturday, the PA Supreme Court unanimously threw out another Republican lawsuit challenging all 2.5 million mail-in ballot votes in the November election and lifted an order by a Republican Commonwealth Court judge blocking certification of all down-ballot election results.  Read more here.

In a concurring opinion, Justice David Wecht wrote, “They have failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted.”

While the Court’s two Republican justices joined the five Democrats in opposing throwing out the mail-in ballots, the Associated Press reported the Democrats suggested the lawsuit’s underlying claims that the mail-in balloting system might violate the constitution are worth considering.  Read more here.

89 Votes

After the PA Supreme Court ruled Monday, Allegheny County should count 2,349 mail-in ballots in the tight race between incumbent Jim Brewster and his Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli [Read more here], the Department of State vote count webpage shows Brewster is leading Ziccarelli by 89 votes.

New Mitigation Efforts

Last Monday, Gov. Wolf announced expanded COVID mitigation measures on the heels of modeling which estimates Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds sometime in December if new COVID cases are not reduced.  Read more here

Hospitals in Erie [Read more here], rural areas [Read more here] and the Philadelphia area are reporting spikes in COVID case admissions putting pressure on their available ICU beds [Read more here] and other medical services [Read more here].

A group of 400+ hospital doctors and nurse leaders in Pennsylvania issued an urgent call ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to limit gathings, wear masks and take other precautions to avoid spreading COVID.  Read more here.

The model also projects Pennsylvania could have more than 32,000 deaths by the end of February.  As of Friday, 10,234 Pennsylvanians have died of COVID.

Among the expanded measures-

-- Schools: Schools must sign an attestation they are complying with cleaning and safety protocols, if they plan to continue in-person education after November 30;

-- Telework: An order saying telework is mandatory unless impossible for businesses;

-- Liability Protection: The Administration is introducing liability protection for all businesses that maintain in person operations and are open to the public. Businesses will receive immunity from civil liability only as related to the Secretary’s masking order given that individuals and entities are engaged in essential emergency services activities and disaster services activities when enforcing the order;

-- Revised Gathering limits;

-- Empowering Local Government To Enforce Restrictions; and

-- Ramping Up Enforcement.

The Wolf Administration will also be sending COVID-related information to cell phones across the state via the wireless emergency alert system.  Read more here.

Click Here for more details and copies of the revised orders and advisories.

House Republicans reacted to the new measures by saying, “While Pennsylvanians prepare to go Black Friday shopping at big box retailers unrestricted by new orders from Gov. Wolf, bars and restaurants are going to be left to languish under more onerous limitations on their ability to do business during what should be a robust holiday season.

“Pennsylvanians are currently policing their own activity during the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases. What they do not need during this unprecedented holiday season is the heavy hand of government forcing them to do that which they have been doing on their own accord for months.”

Renewed COVID Emergency

On Wednesday, Gov. Wolf also renewed his COVID disaster declaration for another 90 days to deal with the dramatic surge in new COVID cases and hospitalizations.  Read more here.

Republicans in the Senate and House have repeatedly tried to end the declaration or limit its term by requiring the General Assembly to approve any renewals.  

So far, those efforts have not succeeded, however, the Senate and House passed a constitutional amendment in Senate Bill 1166 sponsored by the new Republican Majority Leader Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) that would require legislative approval of disaster emergencies beyond 30 days.

The Senate and House would have to pass the identical language a second time in 2021 before the issue would go directly to voters, bypassing the Governor.

Statewide Percent Positivity 11.7%

As of Friday, the statewide COVID percent-positivity went up to 11.7 percent from 11.1 percent last week. Anything above 5 percent is bad. Read more here.

The 10 counties with the highest percent-positivity include-- Juniata (27.2 percent); Mifflin (22.7 percent); Bedford (22.3 percent); Somerset (22.3 percent); Tioga (21.3 percent); Schuylkill (18.9 percent); Potter (18.7 percent); Cambria (17.4 percent); Indiana (16.8 percent); and Huntingdon (16.3 percent).

For comparison, Allegheny County is 9.7 percent up from 9 percent last week and Philadelphia is 13.2 percent up from 13 percent last week.

There is only one county-- Forest (3.6 percent)-- that is below the 5 percent threshold at this point.

 See your county’s percent-positivity here.

COVID-19 Death Toll, Record New Cases

New cases of COVID again hit record highs on Friday-- 8,425 on a single day.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 9,801 on November 21 to 10,275 deaths on November 28. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 302,564 cases on November 21 to 351,667 on November 28.

On Tuesday, Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) tested positive for COVID, becoming the sixth state lawmaker and the third in the past week to test positive.  Read more here.

Unemployment/Federal Aid/Scams

The Department of Labor and Industry reported 22,756 claims for unemployment compensation between November 8 -14, down slightly from the previous week. Read more here.

Pittsburgh area lawmakers and service industry workers held a press conference last Wednesday making a plea for direct financial relief for COVID-impacted businesses.

They noted the budget passed last week by the state contained no relief for workers or businesses and they urged Congress to act on federal aid.  Read more here.

Much of the current federal aid is due to run out by the end of December.

On Monday, the Department of Labor and Industry issued a warning about a new social media scam on Facebook and other outlets asking for personal details in order to claim a prize linked to unemployment benefits.  Read more here.

What’s Next?

There are no plans to bring the Senate and House back to voting session on November 30, the last day of the 2019-20 legislative session.

So, all bills will die and committees dissolved to start all over again on January 1.

New members formally start their terms December 1, at least that’s when their first pay period starts, but aren’t sworn in until January 1.

And then we get to do this all over again!  


Click Here For A Week’s Worth Of Political NewsClips

Click Here For PA Coronavirus NewsClips

Click Here For A Week’s Worth Of Environment & Energy NewsClips

[Posted: November 29, 2020]