(The Center Square) – Car dealerships appear to be the next priority for Pennsylvania House GOP members after the State Government Committee advanced a measure granting the industry a waiver from the coronavirus shutdowns.
Republicans on the committee approved House Bill 2388 on a vote of 15-10 on Monday – this after consistent warnings from public health officials to maintain aggressive social distancing policies and keep nonessential businesses shuttered for the foreseeable future.
“The mitigation factors are absolutely critical to our state plan to deal with Covid-19,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine during a press briefing Monday. “To do it [reopening] now … would be a mistake. That would cost lives and lead to the potential overwhelming of our health care system.”
The department confirmed 1,366 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the statewide total to 24,199. More than 500 residents have died from complications of the virus and more than 2,200 remain hospitalized, Levine said.
While the figures continue rising, Levine said mitigation efforts – from closing schools and businesses to limiting daily interactions and social gatherings – have helped flatten the curve. New case rates have fallen below 10 percent over the last few days, though Levine believes Pennsylvania still hasn’t reached its peak.
“This has been a very difficult and hard sacrifice, but the sacrifice is working,” she said. “We aren’t seeing the doubling of cases like other countries and states have seen. It really could be much, much worse and the closures have saved lives in Pennsylvania.”
Meanwhile in the Legislature, Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, spoke to the committee in favor of the bill on Monday. She said residents in her district must travel an average of 7 miles just to reach public transit, meaning those who suddenly find themselves without a car need other options.
Pennsylvania’s car sales have dropped 27 percent since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down their physical locations on March 23, Keefer said. The closure sacrifices $183 million in tax revenue, she said, despite dealers’ ability to complete sales via video conferencing, the same way mortgage brokers have done.
“We know we can do these transactions safely,” Keefer said. “Most of the car dealerships in my district have said they don’t want people in their showrooms, and they can do this virtually.”
Democrats on the committee, however, worried about a lack of enforcement measures contained within the bill and said reopening dealerships could exacerbate infection rates.
“There seems to be no penalties, no sanctions, no disincentives in case a dealership … could be helping to spread this horrible virus,” said Rep Pam DeLissio, D-Philadelphia. “There’s not a reasonable mechanism we can enforce to make sure they follow this safely.”
Majority Chairman Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, defended the measure, insisting essential businesses operate without oversight or enforcement.
“We’re not also providing specific guidance to grocery stores, to Lowes, to Home Depot or to any of those places and we are requiring them to do the same thing this requires – to follow CDC guidelines and practice safe social distancing,” he said. “What we are asking here is a much safer process than what we are currently allowing, without any enforcement process.”
The measure will move to the full House for consideration this week, joining a list of Republican-backed proposals that would grant waivers to construction sites, small retail stores and other businesses exempted by the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Wolf has resisted calls to loosen the mandate and instead committed to a regional plan to gradually reopen sections of the economy as the pandemic wanes.
Levine praised the governor’s efforts on Monday, noting that he has aimed to protect both the economy and the public’s health with his aggressive mitigation strategies.
“I have been arguing for more strict closures,” she said. “The governor is taking a more measured approach to balance the needs of Pennsylvania."
Elizabeth Rementer, Wolf's spokesperson, reiterated that "now is not the time" to back off the state's strong mitigation tactics. She also pushed back against claims that Wolf's decision to halt construction – except for emergency repairs or health care facilities – contradicts the rest of the nation's guidance.
"Pennsylvania is leading the way on its approach," she said. "The National Governors Association recently sought guidance from Pennsylvania [on] its mitigation efforts and recently New York and the California Bay Area took similar measures on non-essential construction."
"The governor is as eager as anyone to see Pennsylvanians headed back to work, but irresponsibly going against the direction of the Secretary of Health and reopening businesses too early will only extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic," she added.
published here with permission of The Center Square
published April 16, 2020 Gloucestercitynews.net