A Review of PA Laws Enacted in 2020

Member Group : Center Square

The Center Square) – Despite a series of vetoes from Gov. Tom Wolf this year in his tug-of-war with Republicans to control pandemic mitigation efforts, the General Assembly managed to pass some laws, too.

Takeout Cocktails

Bars and restaurants – arguably hid hardest with pandemic-related restrictions – got a break when Wolf signed House Bill 327 in May that permits businesses with valid liquor licenses that lost a quarter or more of their monthly revenue as a result of the statewide lockdown to sell up to 64 ounces of alcohol to go in a single transaction.

And while not an official law, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board authorized curbside service across the state’s 600 Fine Wine and Good Spirits retail locations amid the height of pandemic closures.

Gas tax credit

In July – four months after Wolf vetoed the first iteration of the bill – legislators again passed a measure that would provide tax credits to petrochemical plants in northeastern Pennsylvania.

This time, however, the governor signed the legislation after negotiations guaranteed prevailing wage benefits and limited the cost to taxpayers.

The bill establishes the Local Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit, which requires a company to invest $400 million in the construction of a new manufacturing facility, create 800 jobs, pay prevailing wages and use carbon capture and sequestration technology “when economically feasible.”

Police and criminal justice reform

Wolf signed two bills that revamp police training and hiring practices in the wake of nationwide civil unrest that erupted after the officer-involved killing of George Floyd.

House Bills 1841 and 1910 create a database of officer conduct records that can be consulted during the hiring process and train employees to recognize implicit bias and use de-escalation and reconciliation techniques when responding to incidents.

“We have made progress in six weeks, but we are far, far from the finish line,” Wolf said. “My executive order and the bills I’m going to sign in the next few minutes are still not enough to halt the systemic racism and oppression that exists throughout our commonwealth.”

The bill also clarifies that records can be sealed after an individual pays restitution. Underlying court fees associated with the conviction do not bar a case from being sealed, potentially opening up the process to “tens of thousands” of residents.

Government transparency

After mounting public pressure, Wolf allowed a bill increasing government transparency to become law without his signature.

In a lengthy statement, the administration minced few words, admonishing House Bill 2463 as “foolish” and “thoughtless” and little more than a talking point for Republican majorities in the House and Senate, even though it was approved unanimously with bipartisan support.

The legislation requires state agencies to fulfill Right to Know records requests during disaster declarations. Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, sponsored the bill last spring after the administration denied access to public records to media outlets and others seeking specific data about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wolf – who said he supports government transparency – said the legislation afforded no protections for employees who may be forced to enter state buildings during the pandemic. He also worries the “poorly drafted” language will compel the release of sensitive documents typically exempt from the 2010 RTK law.

Grove said he and others – in the Legislature, at the Pennsylvania News Media Association and the American Civil Liberties Union – debunked all of the governor’s issues with the bill, leaving Wolf with little standing to pull out his veto pen.

“It would have meant the administration and state agencies under its umbrella could ignore valid questions from the public and the press,” he said.

Staff Reporter

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.