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Governor Wolf Vetoes Restaurant Reopening Legislation

PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Legislation that would have created more certainty for dining establishments operating during the COVID-19 pandemic was vetoed by Governor Wolf on Friday, October 16th.

House Bill 2513, which passed with strong bipartisan support in the General Assembly, would have allowed restaurants that adhere to state and CDC-issued health guidance to operate at a minimum 50 percent capacity. Last month, the Wolf Administration relaxed more stringent guidelines that it had set in place in mid-July regarding restaurant capacity; however the updated guidelines still include caveats that have a net negative impact on the restaurant industry. The bill the governor vetoed would have removed a self-certification process put forth by the administration that targets the industry with yet another burden; allowed for bar seating and eliminated the requirement that consumers order a meal to be able to purchase alcohol.

Despite an initial House vote of 145-56 to advance the bill, the vote to override the veto failed 133-69, just two votes short of the required 2/3 majority.

The governor’s veto message stated his belief that the bill “jeopardizes public health and safety as it permits eating establishments … to operate to up to 100 percent capacity, without having to follow any mitigation guidelines,” adding that he felt the bill “increases the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks.” He also noted his concern about a resurgence of the virus in the upcoming fall and winter months, along with the need to keep schools open, as reasons behind his decision to veto H.B. 2513.

The restaurant industry that has struggled enormously during this pandemic and had viewed enactment of this legislation as their top priority expressed dismay at the governor’s veto. According to a story in Pennlive, John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, said in a statement Friday that the veto will have a “long-lasting and negative impact on the hospitality industry.”

“The PRLA has repeatedly asked the Wolf Administration to listen to struggling business owners and employees who want nothing more than to earn a living and protect their guests, employees and families,” Longstreet said. “The administration has repeatedly rebuked requests for a return to the reasonable, well researched, and common-sense standards that were in effect before July 15.”

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