Wolf to veto school sports bill; override attempt expected
MIDDLETOWN — Gov. Tom Wolf will go through with a veto of a bill that would give school districts the sole ability to make decisions on sports, including whether and how many spectators to allow, he said Monday.
The Wolf administration’s gathering limits of 25 people indoors and 250 people outdoors apply to youth sports, but legislation that cleared the state House and Senate would empower schools to make their own rules about the number of spectators permitted at games.
Some families have chafed at the statewide limits, saying attendance could safely be expanded while still allowing for adequate physical distancing.
Wolf, a Democrat, said at a news conference that statewide gathering limits need to be applied consistently to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Pennsylvania has reported more than 150,000 confirmed virus infections and 8,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Wolf planned to veto the bill Monday, the last day he can do so before it automatically becomes law.
“I’m always amazed at politicians thinking that they can somehow wave a magic wand and suspend, sort of, reality,” Wolf said. “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.”
Both chambers of the GOP-controlled General Assembly approved the bill by veto-proof two-thirds majorities, and lawmakers were expected to hold votes to attempt to override Wolf’s veto.
The bill is the latest way that Republicans in the Legislature have tried to limit Wolf’s power under health and emergency disaster laws during the pandemic.
The legislation gives a school district or private school sole authority to decide whether to conduct sports during the 2020-21 school year, including games, scrimmages and other in-person extracurricular activities. It also gives them the power to determine safety protocol and crowd limits.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania restaurants are permitted to seat more patrons inside, and can serve alcohol an hour later than originally planned, under new public health orders that took effect Monday.
Restaurants are now permitted to increase indoor occupancy from 25% to half of capacity after the Wolf administration relaxed restrictions that were imposed more than two months ago in response to rising infection rates in some virus hot spots in Pennsylvania.
Establishments that want to increase capacity must certify to the state that they are complying with all public health guidelines. Those restaurants will appear in a searchable state database called Open & Certified Pennsylvania, the administration said.
The Wolf administration had planned to force bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. as of Monday, saying it wanted to discourage people from congregating, particularly young people who have been contracting the virus at elevated rates.
But the administration changed last call to 11 p.m. after getting pushback from restaurant and bar owners. The administration said the change also brings Pennsylvania in line with other states.