Frankel: Legislature must set example on masking

Says elected officials have obligation to lead

Last week, a state representative who sits on the House Health Committee filed a complaint with the Department of Health against the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for creating an unsafe work environment. This unprecedented step is a response to an untenable situation that members and staff are facing as they work to serve the people of Pennsylvania each day.

Workers throughout the commonwealth are being forced to face constant choices between their livelihoods and their heath. In the Capitol Building, we have the responsibility to not only create a safe work environment for legislators, their staff, and the many workers who clean, operate and maintain these facilities, but we also have an obligation to set an example so that workers everywhere know that they can and should prioritize their safety.

The Health Committee schedules in-person meetings in a small, basement conference room to consider critical legislation. Several members of the committee consistently choose not to wear masks on an on-going basis, in direct conflict with the statewide orders of the secretary of Health. These refusals to comply with simple health measures have not abated, even after one person tested positive for Covid-19 after attending committee meetings, and several members had to quarantine in response. Thankfully, that member regularly wears a mask.

Thus far, three members of the House Republican Caucus have disclosed that they have tested positive for Covid-19 and had been in the Capitol complex while still contagious. When members refuse to wear masks in committee – not to mention in the House chamber, in elevators, or in the halls of the Capitol despite clear directives to do so -- the announcements of infected members cause far more disruption than they would if all of the guidelines were being followed.

Not only are members put at risk, but so are the employees who help them do their jobs. And ultimately, so is the democratic process. When individuals are forced out of the room in order to reduce their exposure to Covid-19, their ability to dialogue, vote and engage fully in the democratic process is diminished.

Pennsylvanians deserve better from their leaders, and our constituents deserve the best possible representation. For that to happen, we all must treat other with respect, by promoting the Pennsylvania Capitol as a safe and healthy workplace.