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EDITORIAL: Sign the bill, governor

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Rep. Seth Grove makes a fired-up response to Governor Wolf calling local officials cowards as members of the General Assembly from York and Adams counties hold a rally at Gene Latta Ford in Hanover to discuss the need to reopen the local economy by allowing people to safely and responsibly return to work. 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Gov. Tom Wolf would be wise to consider the corner in which he's backed Democrats in the Legislature before grabbing his veto pen.

Republicans have sought, often cynically, to undermine Wolf's expansive use of executive authority throughout the coronvairus pandemic.

They've passed bills seeking to overturn his emergency declaration and lockdowns. Those bills died by veto.

They've taken Wolf to court, claiming executive overreach. They lost. Badly.

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They've railed against his health mandates and tossed around the word "dictator" as if Wolf's efforts to stem the virus' spread were in line with edicts from King George III.

None of it stuck.

And then, this past week, a seemingly boring, technical bill unanimously passed both chambers of the Legislature.

That bill was drafted by Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and would compel executive agencies to comply with information requests under the state's Right to Know Law, even under a governor's disaster declaration.

It came after Wolf shuttered state offices and suspended responses to RTK requests, arguing that even the most basic government functions posed a threat to employees' health and safety. 

FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2015 file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf is attacking local elected officials making plans to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders as cowards deserting the pandemic battlefield. Wolf threatened Monday, May 11, 2020 to block aid to rebellious counties in an escalating political fight over his administration's handling of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

And it's Grove's legislation — and the unanimous support for it — that could finally jam Wolf up. 

Wolf has vowed to veto the legislation by week's end, sending it back to the very lawmakers who, just this month, approved it without a single dissenter. 

Wolf's veto would leave Democrats a problematic political choice: They can either stand by their earlier vote or they can make a partisan reversal in service to the governor.

Of particular note, Grove's bill contains a retroactive clause should it become law. Many of those questions about which businesses received exemptions and why could be answered. All that data Wolf withheld from the public about infection rates in nursing homes and the coronavirus' disparate affect on minorities could come to light.

In effect, Grove's legislation would offer the public a complete picture of the pandemic's effects on Pennsylvania and Wolf's administration's efforts to combat it.

Remember, every single member of the state Legislature — Democrats and Republicans, alike — supported Grove's bill.

Wolf's administration has made no bones about its disinterest in releasing the reams of documents, emails and spreadsheets that would flesh out the story of the earliest days of the outbreak.

And it's that information Wolf seems so interested in keeping secret in perpetuity.

Grove's bill could expose people's health information, the administration argues. It could force the release of trade secrets for businesses that sought exemptions from Wolf's order, they say.

But none of those defenses stack up. The state's RTK has explicit and detailed carve-outs for the very information Wolf says would be exposed.

Frankly, the administration's defense is bogus pretext.

What's clear is Wolf has no interest in a public vetting of his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. 

But his veto would require Democrats to either conduct an indefensible about-face or abandon him and support a veto override.

It isn't worth it, governor. Sign the bill.