House Democrats fight for safety and common sense

HARRISBURG, Dec. 23 – House Democratic leaders announced the introduction of new operating rules for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to adopt when the 2021-22 legislative session begins on Tuesday, Jan. 5. These proposed rules prioritize the safety of the public and communities while ensuring that legislators are able to continue to serve all Pennsylvanians. As we ask workers at every level to mask up and do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19, we must do the same ourselves, Democratic leaders said.

Democrats’ proposed temporary rules to help mitigate the virus include:

  • Requiring all members to wear masks over the mouth and nose in accordance with CDC guidelines while conducting official business, including during House session and committee meetings. If a legitimate medical condition precludes a member from wearing a traditional cloth mask, a plastic full-face shield would be required. Mask-wearing was recommended in 2020 by the PA House Bipartisan Management Committee, but never became a House rule and was subsequently disregarded by many Republicans.
  • Requiring all members to have their temperature checked before in-person attendance at committee meetings or on the House floor.
  • Ensuring full transparency and full representation of all Pennsylvanians by giving all members, including those not physically present, the ability to use video conferencing to speak on bills and be heard by the full body, as the Pennsylvania Senate did in 2020.
  • Continuing the practice begun in 2020 of allowing members to vote remotely by designating a caucus leader to cast floor or committee votes on their behalf.
  • Requiring any member who receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis to immediately notify the speaker, majority and minority leaders, and chief clerk. This practice was begun in 2020 by the Bipartisan Management Committee and would now be required as part of the House rules.

The addition of these temporary rules would last for the duration of the current COVID-19 state of emergency declared by the governor.

“When so many Pennsylvanians are staying home instead of traveling for the holidays and wearing masks when they do go out in public, it’s long past time for the House of Representatives to lead by example,” said Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware. “Adopting a House rule for universal masking that the speaker is able to enforce, rather than just a recommendation that members may or may not follow, will increase safety for everyone who must work in the House. We also will continue enhanced social distancing measures and encourage remote voting wherever possible including committee meetings.”

Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, D-Phila., said, “We’re talking common sense here. The people’s work can’t wait. There are workers and local businesses that need support to stay afloat until the vaccines are available for everyone. There are renters and homeowners who face being thrown on the street because of the virus’ impact on our economy. We need to be able to do the work of the House, and we need the ability to work safely, which we still do not have.”

“Beyond the commonsense safety aspect of our rules, we must also take a wider view of how the Pennsylvania House operates to restore people’s faith in their government. We need to show people we are listening to their calls for openness and transparency and truly work for the common good,” House Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, said. “That starts with how we operate while working in Harrisburg, keeping safety at the forefront as we commute back and forth from our home communities, all of which are feeling the strain of COVID-19.”

The House of Representatives will meet for its first activity of the new session at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 5 with the swearing-in of the members, the election of the speaker and the adoption of House rules.