Republicans in Harrisburg appear ready to move to override Governor Wolf’s veto of HB 2513, which would severely limit his authority to limit the operation of restaurants, bars, and private clubs.
We are well aware of the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality industry and have urged Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to act to provide relief for it. But, we are at a time when COVID-19 cases are increasing in many parts of the country with predictions of a further increase everywhere as the weather gets colder. It is not just irresponsible but insane to make it impossible for the governor to act aggressively to stem the further spread of the virus in venues that are proven to be a major source of infection.
The legislation is based on a false premises—that government closures are the reason for the economic slowdown and devastation in the food service and related industries. This is flatly untrue as our recent paper shows. Those industries would have been severely damaged by the pandemic, regardless of government action, because most Pennsylvanians—unlike too many Republican members of the General Assembly—understand the dangers of COVID-19. Opinion poll after opinion poll show that people remain were unwilling to dine at restaurants or go to bars as when the spread of COVID-19 was at its peak in Pennsylvania. They were unwilling to do so for months after, and many remain unwilling to do so today. There are no long lines at restaurants and bars today and reservations at restaurants are easy to secure even though they are not allowed to operate at full capacity.
The only way to give people confidence to return to these venues was to rapidly reduce infection rates. That is what government regulations did. Without them, the foolishness of those willing to risk infecting themselves or others by going out to dinner or for a drink would have led to higher rates of infection and death, and thus an even longer period of decreased business for those restaurants and bars.
HB 2513 would allow restaurants and bars to open at up to 100% capacity, either by following CDC regulations or by maintain physical barriers which are not defined in the legislation at all. It also prohibits the governor from setting reasonable limits on requiring meals at taverns or prohibiting bar service, regulations that most likely have had a positive impact on reducing COVID-19 infections.
Restaurants and bars have been reopening for indoor dining at higher rates of occupancy, and everyone hopes this trend can continue. But we still face dangers from a virus that is not under control. Not just our health but the economic future of the hospitality industry necessitates that Governor Wolf continue to have the authority to adjust the rules under which restaurants and bars operate to meet the changing conditions we face. We must listen to the advice of epidemiologist not extremists who reject science or special interest groups that are more focused about the immediate benefit than the long term health of their own industry.
The PA General Assembly should be concerned about the future of this industry and those who work within it. It should be using some of the remaining CARES Act funds to provide relief for it and should be encouraging the federal government to provide further support. It should not be taking steps that are dangerous to our health and safety and that one opinion poll after another show are widely rejected by the people of Pennsylvania.