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After flip-flop, Hill-Evans, other Dems could sink GOP efforts to override Wolf

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, speaks during a  press conference held by Gov. Tom Wolf at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans was one of 24 Democrats who this past week flipped and saved Gov. Tom Wolf's veto of legislation that would have sunk his limits on spectators at high school sporting events.

On Sept. 2, Hill-Evans joined dozens of other House Democrats and supported the sports bill, which passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority. Then, on Sept. 23, she seemingly changed her position and, along with 23 other Democrats, opposed overriding Wolf's veto after initially supporting the bill.

And the willingness of Democrats to switch their positions and defend Wolf's veto power could sink Republicans' efforts to force through yet another piece of legislation that would pull back one of Wolf's COVID-19 mandates.

This time around, Republican lawmakers stare down a potential veto override for legislation that would, among other things, increase the maximum seating capacity in bars and restaurants from 25% to 50%.

Hill-Evans and 35 other Democrats supported the bill.

Hill-Evans did not respond to repeated phone calls and email inquiries for comment.

But Republicans aren't this time rushing toward another override vote with the probability that many once-supportive Democrats might change their positions. 

"When it comes to the specifics of a veto override, whether or not it is for this bill or any other, until more Democrats are willing to stand up for the people of Pennsylvania instead of standing with their political party or their governor, struggling sectors like the bar and restaurant industry will continue to remain mired in the governor’s emergency rule," said House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman

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The restaurant bill was approved this past week with bipartisan support, clearing the chambers with vote counts of 145-56 in the House and 43-6 in the Senate.

But Wolf promptly announced he would veto the legislation. It was unclear as of Tuesday when he would do so. 

"Our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, and we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall," said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger.

In addition, Wolf is already permitting restaurants to increase their occupancy to 50% if they certify themselves in the state's Open & Certified Pennsylvania program.

Upon certification, businesses would appear in a searchable online database, "ensuring that consumers can make more informed choices about the food establishments they are looking to patronize," according to the Wolf administration.

In the House, a veto override would require the support of 27 Democrats if all Republicans voted for the measure. In the Senate, the chamber would need six Democrats to override Wolf's veto.

And Democrats this time around are already hinting that they'd have their governor's back once again, even if it may be too early to commit to a vote on overriding Wolf''s veto.

The Paddock on Market in Springettsbury Township opened this weekend with outdoor seating for customers. Named the Inaugural Paddock's Pop-up Patio, the outdoor dining is a big change of business for The Paddock, a family-owned restaurant for 70 years. Sunday, June 7, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"It’s too soon to speculate when the bill hasn’t even reached the governor’s desk," said House Democratic Caucus spokesperson Bill Patton. "But Gov. Wolf’s opinion does carry a lot of weight with members of the House," Patton said.

Last week, a similar scenario occurred after Democrats blocked an override attempt for a bill that would have given school districts the power to make their own decisions about how they handle sporting events.

Despite the legislation appearing to have a veto-proof majority in both chambers, Wolf said he believed his veto would stand.

And his instincts proved correct when a 130-71 vote in the House fell short of the two-thirds majority required to override it, thanks to the 24 Democrats who changed positions. 

Republicans are now mulling a second override vote on the school sports legislation, but there's little evidence Democrats will back down.

Patton said the Democrats made up their minds after further weighing the consequences of permitting large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also a factor was U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman's ruling last week that stated the Wolf administration's gathering limits violated the constitutional right to assemble, Patton said.

 "A number of legislators felt that after the federal court had decided the matter there was no longer a need to overturn the governor’s veto," Patton said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.