Merski, Harkins: House unanimously passes COVID-19 response bills

Would eliminate 180-day requirement for schools, postpone primary

ERIE, March 25 – The House today unanimously passed bills that would temporarily change the way students learn and Pennsylvanians vote during the COVID-19 epidemic, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced.

Merski said he and Harkins both supported the amended S.B. 751 – which eliminates the 180-day requirement for all the commonwealth’s schools and authorizes the state Education secretary to keep schools closed until after the COVID-19 epidemic is over.

“Difficult times call for creative solutions,” Merski said. “Pennsylvania’s incredibly dedicated teachers are ready to rise to that challenge by providing online lessons and resources to keep our kids learning and let them understand that although their routines may have changed, their education is still the No. 1 priority.

“This bill would provide the flexibility for that to happen, while also ensuring that these teachers and other school workers are continued to be paid for their work.”

Harkins and Merski also supported S.B. 422, which would postpone the state primary to June 2 to give counties extra time to make adjustments and allow polling places to be consolidated and moved out of high-risk areas, among other things.

“The COVID-19 crisis has changed nearly every aspect of daily life, and voting is no exception,” Harkins said. “But we Pennsylvanians are resilient, and we will find ways to accomplish things in different ways. The extra time provided by this bill should help counties implement safer polling methods and also give residents more time to apply to vote by mail – a measure that makes sense during this time.”

The House also passed:

  • H.B. 68, which would facilitate unemployment compensation benefits and suspend certain requirements for workers whose jobs are impacted by COVID-19.

  • H.B. 1232, which would authorize the transfer of up to $50 million in state funds into a restricted account to aid health care providers such as hospitals, nursing homes and others, and would extend the state’s current medical marijuana regulations – set to expire in May -- until late 2021.

The bills head to the governor’s desk for a signature.