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Facing lawsuits and persistent criticism from Republicans, Governor Tom Wolf is defending the COVID-19 mitigation measures his administration has put in place, and condemning Republicans for trying to repeal them.
Wolf said efforts like limiting indoor gatherings to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings to 250, have given Pennsylvania one of the lowest daily reported case counts per capita.
“We need to continue to do everything we can in these mitigation efforts,” Wolf said. “And yet the general assembly, under Republican leadership, has repeatedly, repeatedly tried to overturn the very mitigation measures that keep these case counts low.”
For months, the GOP-controlled legislature has chafed under the executive authority Wolf assumed as part of his COVID-19 disaster declaration. They’ve pushed several measures aimed at curtailing Wolf’s power, like an unsuccessful bill that would have ended his disaster declaration, and one that would leave decisions about sporting event crowd sizes up to schools.
Wolf has consistently shot down their efforts. Most recently, lawmakers failed to override his veto of the sports bill.
However, a lawsuit that contested several parts of Wolf’s emergency plan, including his limits on crowd sizes, was recently upheld in federal court, and the judge deemed much of his mitigation efforts unconstitutional. Wolf is appealing the decision.
Wolf noted, the harshest measures he promulgated during the height of the pandemic, like a stay-at-home order, have now lapsed. Bars and restaurants are operating, albeit with significantly limited occupancy restrictions. Crowd sizes remain limited, but stores are open again.
Wolf said he believes the remaining rules are necessary because the virus is airborne, very contagious and spreads when people gather.
“We all wish this weren’t the case. I wish this were not the case,” he said. “But the virus is not going to be changed by our wishes or by our hopes or by any legislation that we might feel that we can pass and make that virus change.”
Republicans criticized Wolf’s address as “posturing.”
“Claiming legislation that implemented CDC guidelines, while giving control to local school districts and governments to determine what is best for their communities is ‘dangerous,’ shows how out-of-touch Governor Wolf really is,” Senate GOP Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said in a statement.
Kocher went on to say she believes Wolf isn’t working with other elected officials, and said she has “not once” talked to Republican leaders since Aug. 1.
Asked by reporters whether he’s been reaching out to GOP leaders, Wolf brushed off the question.
“I can’t tell you the last time I spoke with them,” Wolf said. “It wasn’t too long ago. I have them on speed dial, they have me on speed dial … I think that’s a red herring.”
The governor also used his press conference to push a slate of government transparency reforms: measures that would ban gifts for all public officials, make lawmakers’ outside income more transparent and overhaul campaign finance laws.
Bills to enact these changes have been growing in popularity and have some bipartisan support. In particular, a gift ban measure had been progressing through the legislature early this year and seemed to be on track to pass.
However, COVID-19 derailed the effort and the legislature has yet to pick it back up.
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