Rabb: Republicans reward special interests/harm Pennsylvanians with last-minute bill changes on last day of the legislative session

HARRISBURG, Nov. 20 – In a show of pure partisanship, House Republicans brought forth a gutted bill on the final day of the 2019-20 legislative session in an effort to reward special interests with COVID-19 related immunity, which will cause more harm to Pennsylvanians in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, state Rep. Chris Rabb said. 

The bill (H.B. 1737) as originally passed by the House, and which Rabb supported, would have extended to land banks the same environmental liability protection that is presently given to redevelopment agencies when dealing with environmentally contaminated sites in their return to productive use. However, the bill was gutted by the Senate yesterday, which inserted language that would provide limited civil liability protection for people who offer agritourism activities on a farm. And, most egregiously, the amended bill would give nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities immunity related to COVID-19 cases, even under actions and circumstances of gross negligence.  

As Democratic vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, Rabb said he saw some merit in the agritourism activity protections inserted by the Senate as an attempt to help agricultural businesses continue to thrive with activities that help support their entire operations and food security. He said he takes seriously the work that is put into legislation as it moves through the legislative process and is shocked and angered by a continuing push by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate to alter bills at the last minute and replace them with language that does not resemble the original bill’s intent and that would do serious harm to people.   

“In my capacity as a lawmaker and vice chairman of a committee, I am outraged that a bill that could have done some good was stripped of its good on the final day of the legislative session and turned into very dangerous public policy,” Rabb said. “Today’s back-door action by Republicans who chose special interests over people is unacceptable, especially considering that we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 9,600 Pennsylvanians and more than a quarter million Americans. 

“This bill would hurt even more Pennsylvanians. And it further erodes the public’s trust in their government’s ability to function with deliberation and transparency.”  

The amended legislation also was opposed by groups like AARP, SEIU, The Pennsylvania Association for Justice and others. 

In a letter opposing the bill, the SEUI wrote the legislation, “originally provided helpful environmental liability protections. As amended, however, it has become yet another vehicle for healthcare industry special interests during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. In spite of the exponentially rising death toll in Pennsylvania, HB1737 as amended would give hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical entities nearly unlimited legal immunity during the entire duration of the public health emergency. Not only does this put patients and their families in harm's way, but it also endangers the lives of the workers who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic.” 

In a letter drafted on Thursday, after the bill was amended by the Senate, the AARP wrote, “AARP has long fought for the rights of residents in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities and has consistently advocated to ensure their health, safety, quality of care, and quality of life. This includes the right of residents and their families to seek legal redress through the courts to hold facilities accountable when residents are harmed, neglected, or abused. AARP Pennsylvania is incredibly disappointed in the timing and contents of Amendment 07937 to HB 1737, which was introduced at the 11th hour, in a lame duck session, eight months after the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania nursing homes.” 

The bill passed the House today with Rabb voting no. Rabb said he is urging Gov. Tom Wolf to veto the bill in quick order.