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Lycoming County commissioners seek clarity for reopening

As the telephone calls are coming in and the face-to-face meetings take place, Lycoming County commissioners recently vented their frustration, echoing many in business communities who tell them they want more clarity from Gov. Tom Wolf on reopening the state in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are adults that are being treated like children,” Commissioner Scott Metzger said.

“It’s unconstitutional what’s going on,” Commissioner Tony Mussare said.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito said he’s heard back from an independent contractor who could not receive a loan from the state Payroll Protection Program because he didn’t have employees.

The loan provides incentives to small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

Commissioners needed to hear more from constituents on ways that funding could help employers and small businesses make it through the pandemic, Mirabito said.

It has been more than two months since Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses, Metzger said.

Then, on April 13, Wolf said he was aligning Pennsylvania with six other states to coordinate a collective approach to reopening each state and was going to have three people assigned to work on that coordination. Metzger said.

Besides Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were in that group, Metzger said.

“If you go to each one of those states’ websites, you’ll find your plans for reopening,” Metzger said. “New York is the hardest hit, and operating on a two-week period of continued progress with a regional approach to each phase. In Pennsylvania, there is nothing detailed.”

Mussare said, because of the color codes and county-by-county implementation, he envisioned lawsuits on the constitutionality of the restore plan. It is putting police officers and law enforcement “between a rock and a hard place,” Mussare said.

Earlier this week, county District Attorney Ryan Gardner said he would not prosecute businesses violating the order.

But state police work for the state, and Gardner noted in a news release that the state can still revoke licenses for uncooperative businesses.

“Let me assure you that the commissioners are 100 percent behind you,” Mussare said of businesses that choose to remain closed or defy the order.

Mussare said that financial assistance to businesses would be available from the Williamsport/Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce and business owners are not waiting until a green phase.

He said he anticipated judges hearing lawsuits on the constitutionality of these closures and reopening. He also said he expected these cases to rise to the level of the Supreme Court.

“They (business owners) will do what is necessary to protect their jobs,” he said.

“If you believe that your constitutional rights have been violated, do not be afraid to take a stance,” Mussare said.

Metzger also ripped apart the state waiver system. “Who gets waivers?” he asked, as several “big-box” stores stayed open and more are scheduled to open on Memorial Day.

Meanwhile, small businesses were given directives to close, he said.

Metzger said the purpose of the closures has been achieved.

“Remember the original reason why we shut down society was to prevent the hospitals from mass hospitalizations,” he said.

The governor needs to provide a fully detailed plan to get Pennsylvania back to work, Metzger said.

It should be a step-by-step accounting of each area progressing from red to yellow to green to no phase, he said.

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