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Senate passes HB 2787, Gov. Wolf plans to veto

The Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill Wednesday which would put the decision of how many fans can attend high school sporting events in the hands of local school boards. The bill passed by a vote of 39-11 and now puts it in the hands of Gov. Tom Wolf to either sign it into law or veto it.

Wolf has 10 days to make a decision on the bill, but in a statement Wednesday said he plans to veto the bill. The general assembly can override the veto by passing the bill with a 2/3 majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“This bill is unnecessary given that the school districts already have local control on decisions on school sports,” Wolf said in his statement. “Further, the virus is not stopping and spreads more easily when people are in close proximity with one another. This bill would allow for the potential gathering of thousands in close proximity, a widely-reported, well-known public health risk.”

Should the general assembly override the veto, school boards can decide if fans can attend interscholastic sporting events and just how many. Currently, while fans are allowed at events, attendance — including teams, bands, cheerleaders and stadium workers — is capped at 250 people for outdoor events and 25 for indoor events.

“We allow exemptions to let 20,000 people attend a car show,” said Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Mount Pocono. “We allow exemptions to be able to protest peacefully, and both of those are fine. But if we’re going to do that, we need to allow parents to come in and watch their kids play.”

The passing by the Senate follows the House of Republicans passing the bill last week by a vote of 155-47. The initial bill was passed by the House with 76% of representatives voting yes, and it passed the Senate with a 78% affirmative vote.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Twp., voted in favor of the bill, as did other senators from District 4, including Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, and Sen. Joe Scarnatti, R-Warren.

All 28 republican senators voted in favor of the bill. All 11 no votes came from democrats, although 10 of the Senate’s 21 democrats voted yes.

“It’s about time we focus on the students,” said Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-West Whiteland Twp. “I’m tired of focusing on trial lawyers and everyone else in the community. It’s time students come first. And when you put students first, you allow fall sports to take place. Let’s put our vote where our mouth is and support athletics in the school districts and the decision they make.”

“Instead of passing unnecessary legislation like this, the Republican legislative majority should do things to help people impacted by the pandemic like funding for small businesses, child care funding, and paid sick leave for employees,” Wolf’s statement read. “The legislature should stop wasting time and pass the governor’s plan to help Pennsylvanians.”

Comments on the Senate floor and through Zoom calls varied, but very rarely actually applied to the actual text of the bill. Many of the Senators speaking about the bill argued about whether or not to allow fall sports to be played, even though that decision has already been made by the PIAA and local school districts.

Sen. Andy Farnese, D-Philadelphia, who voted against the bill, argued against the bill. He cited his past arguments for allowing local lawmakers to make decisions about gun control laws and being denied those opportunities as a precedent which has already been set to not allow local school boards to make decisions about allowing fans at sporting events.

“I have made the argument time and time again in favor of localized laws,” Farnese said. “I’ve been rejected time and time again because I’ve been told those decisions should not be made at the local level because the state knows best.

“So I say this as a warning, and as notice, because this issue will come up again in this chamber.”

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, argued in favor of the bill, saying while the governor made a recommendation to not play sports until at least Jan. 1, 2021, he can change that recommendation to a mandate or an order at any time.

“Without this statutory to say this is a school district decision, it’s still at the whim of the chief executive,” Corman said. “A one-size-fits-all is not the best decision for the whole state. When it comes to the health and safety of our children and our students, I believe those decisions are best made at the local level.”

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