HARRISBURG — A bid to override a veto by Gov. Tom Wolf of legislation that would have allowed school districts to determine how many spectators could attend school sporting events failed to receive the required two-thirds support in a state House vote Wednesday.
The measure passed 130-71, four votes shy of the two-thirds supermajority required to override a veto and 25 votes fewer than what the measure passed in the state House originally. Democrats who’d originally supported the bill, refused to back what would have been the first successful veto override in 10 years.
It was the second failed veto override attempt this month. Republicans hold the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, while Gov. Tom Wolf is a Democrat.
Democrats slammed Wednesday’s vote as a politically-motivated waste of time.
State Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Montgomery, said that when legislative leaders announced that the House was convening on less than 24 hours notice, he’d hoped it was to tackle election reform.
He was wrong.
Instead, lawmakers were summoned to “a debate of whether we can get more people in the bleachers at a high school football game,” Zabel said, calling it a “sad reflection” of the priorities of lawmakers. He was one of the Democrats who'd vote in favor of House Bill 2787 on final passage, but voted against over-riding Wolf's veto.
Republicans expressed frustration that Democrats who'd voted for the bill initially didn't help override the veto.
"I am very disappointed that several Democrats who voted yes on the bill voted no on the veto override," said state Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County. "They voted on behalf of 64,000 people in their districts previously but today they voted for Gov. Wolf."
Despite the failed veto override, Wolf’s crowd size limits are not currently in place due to a separate legal challenge. A federal judge ruled last week that the crowd-size limits -- 25 people indoors and 250 outdoors -- are unconstitutional. That same judge on Tuesday rejected a request by the Wolf Administration to keep the crowd size limits in place while the state appeals his decision.
The state Department of Education on Friday told school districts that the state hopes that schools voluntarily comply with the limits.
State Rep. Anita Kulik, D-Allegheny County, was among those who broke ranks and voted to override Wolf’s veto. Kulik said that there’d recently been a case where a student-athlete in her district suffered a broken arm at a game at which the student’s parents weren’t allowed to attend.
“We hold parents responsible for the well-being of their children,” Kulik said.”Parents have the inherent right to be where their children are.”
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, said that the legislation was intended to follow the approach that the Wolf Administration used in allowing local school districts to determine whether and how to reopen for academic classes.
Wolf in vetoing the legislation, said that the limits are intended to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks. “I’m always amazed at politicians thinking they can wave a magic wand and suspend reality,” he said.
State Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland County, authored the legislation. He said that local school districts would have no incentive to approve unsafe plans.
“These local leaders are just as invested in keeping their local communities as safe as anyone in Harrisburg,” he said.
After failing to override Wolf’s veto on HB 2787, the House voted 145-56 to send Wolf another bill he opposes. House Bill 2513 would allow restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, at a minimum, while allowing restaurants to increase capacity if they demonstrate that they are following guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control.
The measure passed the state Senate by a 43-6 vote on Tuesday.
The Wolf Administration announced earlier in September that restaurants could resume operating at 50% capacity as this legislation was working its way through the General Assembly.
Wolf announced the move to allow restaurants to return to 50% occupancy the same day a Senate committee voted to approve HB 2513.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the state needs to do more to help a restaurant and bar industry that’s been devastated by pandemic closings and state-ordered limits on occupancy.
State Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, said that restaurants have closed and more will follow that route without state action.
“Our restaurant industry, our tavern industry, our private clubs, the VFWs, they’ve been under attack for six months,” he said.