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House fails to override Wolf’s restaurant capacity veto

HARRISBURG (AP) — The state House narrowly failed Tuesday to override last week’s veto by Pennsylvania’s governor of a bill that would have let restaurants reopen at full capacity in some circumstances.

The override required two-thirds approval to be sent to the Senate, but it failed on a vote of 133-69.

It would have allowed taverns and restaurants to operate at half of capacity, or more if they met state and federal social distancing standards or erected appropriate barriers.

Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, warned the legislation would put patrons and restaurant workers at risk.

Dermody said the higher capacity limits would not have required federal or state approval if barriers were erected, “and they don’t even define physical barriers in this bill.”

Democratic Whip Jordan Harris noted that infections and deaths have both risen in Pennsylvania since the bill passed a month ago.

“We are in a pandemic,” Harris said. “Now I know to some people this isn’t real. I understand that. I get that. To some people this is just fuzzy math, funny science. I understand that. But tell that to the people that lost their loved ones.”

Republican backers said they read the bill differently — that restaurants would still have to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Health Department to go beyond half of capacity.

They said the bill was needed to save financially distressed enterprises and aid their desperate employees.

“Every day more businesses are being put out of business because of unrealistic rules,” said Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland. “Don’t cripple an entire industry over some bad actor.”

Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, said Wolf’s business closures and other mitigation policies have lacked a basis in science.

“The bottom line is, all this was pulled out of thin air,” Moul said. “There is no science, there is no data in which these decision were made to shut down or drastically reduce beyond repair the restaurant situation in Pennsylvania.”

The Republican-majority Legislature has repeatedly attempted to modify or reverse some of the efforts led by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to control or cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but so far none of their veto override attempts has succeeded.

In a veto message issued last week, Wolf called the bill “another meaningless attempt to change a necessary tool for fighting the pandemic.”

The bill passed both chambers a month ago with margins that, if they had been repeated, would have been large enough to override Wolf: 43-6 in the Senate on Sept. 22 and 145-56 in the House on Sept. 23.

Along with loosening capacity, the legislation also would have ended a requirement that Pennsylvania customers buy food when they purchase alcohol and would have let people be served drinks at the bar.

The Wolf administration currently allows restaurants to run at half of capacity if they have certified they meet state and federal standards for mask wearing, social distancing and hours of operation.

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