State House and Senate lawmakers return to Harrisburg this week to kick off the first full session week of the 2021-22 legislative session.
Legislation that has taken center stage early this session and could be taken up by the Senate this week, S.B. 2, would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to limit the duration of declarations issued by the governor to no more than 21 days unless extended by the General Assembly. Advocates of the constitutional amendment contend that the governor has stepped beyond his authority in declaring and repeatedly renewing disaster declarations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and imposing severe restrictions on citizens and businesses – with little input from or consultation with the legislative branch. Senate Bill 2 advanced from the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee last Friday. The legislature passed this constitutional amendment last session as well. If it passes again in the current session it would go before the voters on the ballot for final approval.
The state House is moving the bill as well. Last week, the House State Government Committee advanced H.B. 55 and, according to a story in the Center Square, committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said the amendment would align Pennsylvania with most other states that only declare 30 day emergencies. Support for the bill is sharply divided down party lines, with Democrats expressing concern that the bill jeopardizes the state’s ability to access federal funding in times of emergency.
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee will meet to consider several bills, including H.B. 101, which would provide for targeted and temporary civil liability protections for agritourism activity providers. According to a co-sponsorship memo authored by bill sponsor Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, the bill would help farmers who are seeking to create a source of income through popular businesses that include pick-your-own produce and corn mazes but currently face enormous liability risks when they open their land to the public for a fee. The bill would protect agritourism businesses from lawsuits where no party is at fault for injuries or damages on open land and would require the business owner to post multiple signs warning visitors of the risks, or ask visitors to sign a liability waiver before participating in activities on the land.
Also on Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee will host a public hearing at 9 a.m. to discuss the current struggles of the restaurant industry related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the House Labor and Industry Committee will hold another hearing to examine the status of unemployment compensation from the state Department of Labor and Industry.
Multiple organizational committee meetings are also being held next week for the consideration and adoption of rules that will govern the committees throughout the 2021-22 session. The full list of committee meetings, which is subject to change, is available on the General Assembly website.