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Pennsylvania Governor Vetoes Bill on HS Crowd Size

Paul Steinbach

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf on Monday afternoon vetoed a bill that, if passed, would have given individual high schools the power to decide if and how many spectators would be allowed to attend their sporting events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteHouse Bill 2787 passed in the state Senate and House of Representatives earlier this month. Wolf had 10 days to act on the bill, during which he could pass it, veto or not take any action, which would allow it to become law without his signature.

“Schools already have the ability to decide whether they’re going to do sports. As to how many fans they can have or together, I’m always amazed at politicians thinking that they can somehow wave a magic wand and suspend sort of reality. Next I’m waiting for someone to come and suspend the law of gravity," Wolf said Monday, the 10th day since the bill's passage.

“School districts, they’re going to do what they do, but there’s a virus out there and that virus really likes it when you bring a lot of people together. That’s what we know. And so you ignore that at your peril. Yeah, you could ignore reality. But that reality really is the virus is out to get us. As much as I hate that fact and as much as everybody hates that fact, it’s a fact.”

The House and Senate have the power to override the veto because the bill passed by a two-thirds majority. To do so, the bill, which is sponsored by State Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland/Somerset) again needs to be passed by a two-thirds vote. The House’s is set to reconvene Sept. 29, but Reese said Monday afternoon that the House could be called together on Zoom for a veto override vote before then.

“We could have an override vote this week, or at the latest, early next week,” Reese said, according to the Post-Gazette. “Then it will go to the Senate. So this could go on to Wednesday or Thursday of next week.”

For now, the limits of 250 people outdoors and 25 indoors, which a week ago U.S. district judge William S. Strickman IV ruled unconstitutional, remain in place. The Wolf administration says it is appealing the judge's ruling.

Wolf, a Democrat, had words earlier in the day, prompting further reaction from Reese.

“Instead of ignoring it, we should try to figure out what we do to keep that virus from infecting too many people,” Wolf said. “Apparently the folks who voted for this decided they just wanted to ignore that reality. I don’t think Pennsylvanians can afford to ignore that reality, so I’m going to veto it.”

“They were interesting,” Reese said, when asked about Wolf's comments. “The idea that this virus is out to get us? Yeah, it’s a virus, but he’s inconsistent with his message. I love using the girls volleyball example where the maximum number of people in the gym is 25 and some girls on the team who play have to sit in the hallway while the game goes on. But yet we have big box stores with maybe 1,000 people in them and they’re roughly the same size as gymnasiums.

“I can’t get past the fact that, as governor, he has absolutely shown complete distrust in locally elected officials. He’s basically saying he doesn’t trust locally elected officials to make decisions.”

School athletics administrators are hoping for some signs of consistency, and soon. 

“It’s been tough,” Upper St. Clair athletic director Kevin Deitrick said. “You get 12 contingency plans. The consistent thing is it not being consistent. I think us as athletic directors, we’re used to planning months ahead of schedule and not used to going day by day.”

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