(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a measure on Monday that would have provided broad liability protections for businesses, schools and nursing homes facing COVID-19 lawsuits.
The governor said House Bill 1737 went too far to shield employers without balancing the need for greater worker protections, like paid sick leave.
“Shielding entities from liability in such a broad fashion as under this bill invites the potential for carelessness and a disregard for public safety,” he said. “At a time when the COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly, we need to be taking measures to ensure compliance with public health orders and improve safety practices. We should not be providing protection for noncompliance or carelessness.”
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 exceeded 4,600 on Tuesday, far eclipsing the peak seen at the onset of the pandemic last spring. The statewide test positivity rate reached 11.7 percent for the last seven day period ending Nov. 26, according to the Department of Health. Officials consider any rate over 5 percent “concerning.”
Despite the rising caseload, Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said they will not enact statewide lockdowns as they did in April and May. Instead, the administration will help businesses enforce the universal masking mandate and continue to limit indoor gathering sizes and capacity limits for bars and restaurants.
Gordon Denlinger, Pennsylvania State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, called the veto a ‘slap in the face to small business owners.’
As such, Wolf signed an executive order last week that protects businesses from lawsuits related specifically to enforcement of the mask mandate, but legislative Democrats have opposed further broadening that scope over fears that it gives too much immunity to negligent actors. HB 1737 passed in both chambers mostly along party lines.
Gordon Denlinger, Pennsylvania State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, called the veto a “slap in the face to small business owners.”
“One frivolous lawsuit can shutter a small business even if the business owner followed all the health and safety rules.,” he said. “That’s because mounting a legal defense can push a small business that is already struggling financially into bankruptcy.”
Rep. Torren Ecker, R-Abbottstown, agreed that the governor’s veto disregards the millions who’ve “worked tirelessly to comply with his own mitigation efforts.”
“Instead of affording them rational protection from such lawsuits, the governor gave the greenlight to his trial attorney friends when he caved to their pressure,” he said. “This bill would not have protected those who put our children, workers and community at risk. Anybody who exhibits gross negligence would have been held accountable as part of the bill.”
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.
This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.