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Legislation removes municipalities hosting parades from obligation

Any time there is going to be a parade crossing state roads or use of state right-of-way, a special events permit is necessary from the state Department of Transportation.

State regulations require the municipality to indemnify, or hold harmless, the commonwealth as part of the process, but pending legislation, co-authored by state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, and before Gov. Tom Wolf, for either a signature or veto, removes municipal obligation and places the responsibility for the permit on the sponsoring organization.

“I think really the issue is there was a regulation in the code that PennDOT did not enforce and last year it began to enforce it in the COVID-19 pandemic,” said state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, who said he co-authored the legislation with state Rep. Brett R. Miller of Lancaster.

The current regulation requires the municipality, as host of a parade using state right-of-way or roads, to indemnify the Commonwealth, which means to hold harmless and provide for $1 million in insurance in the event a lawsuit arises from the event, Hamm said.

“That is exactly why I took the lead in fighting for House Bill 765, which removes that regulation on municipalities, providing for the organization or sponsor of the parade to be responsible under the permit,” he said.

“My argument was it was a duplication of the regulation,” Hamm said. “Why would a municipality have to do the same thing?” Hamm asked. “There is no reason to duplicate the process.”

House leadership, too, urged Wolf to sign the bill immediately, so that parades, such as Town Meeting, a celebration of the borough’s founding father’s, in conjunction with the U.S. founding father’s signage of the Declaration of Independence, can go on as it had before COVID cancelled it last year, Hamm said.

Hamm didn’t place any blame on the local PennDOT district office officials who, he said, were following regulations set forth by the department’s central office.

Hamm was contacted by Jersey Shore Town Meeting organizers who asked him to help out as the permission to hold the parade hadn’t arrived and the clock was ticking.

“I think that is too long of a turn-around time,” said Cody Hoover, Jersey Shore borough manager.

The parade is scheduled for July 8, he said. The Town Meeting is July 5 through July 10, the group’s Facebook site indicated. Organization officials did not return numerous calls for comment.

Meanwhile, those at PennDOT local office said the municipal sign-off and indemnification process was not completed, Hamm said. “I told the Town Meeting folks as soon as the governor signs it I will call district,” Hamm said.

This legislation, as amended, will become effective immediately, which isn’t always the case with some laws, Hamm said.

“I believe any time we can roll back a layer of government regulation we should,” he said.

If there is a connection between COVID-19 and hold up on permits it is this:

“The governor closed all state agencies and had employees work from home for the last 15 months,” Hamm said.

“They still aren’t fully back to the office.

“Any agency under the governor’s control has not been at work since March 2020, and are just beginning to go back,” he said.

“That certainly has caused delay on responses to permit requests,” Hamm said.

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