September 22, 2020
Republican lawmakers are vowing to override a veto of a bill that would award Pennsylvania school districts complete control over scholastic sports decisions, including whether to include spectators.
Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the legislation Monday, saying the bill would curtail the ability of state and local officials to respond to potential COVID-19 outbreaks, Wolf said.
The bill gives districts and private schools the authority to decide whether to hold sporting events and other extracurricular activities during the 2020-21 school year. It also gives them the ability to make decisions about the number of spectators permitted at games.
Sporting events currently must adhere to the state's gathering limits – 25 people indoors and 250 people outdoors. Because those limits account for all people, including athletes, that makes it difficult for some sporting events to include fans.
Wolf, a Democrat, called on the state legislature to focus on "bills that protect the health and safety of our children in their learning environments, minimize exposure to COVID-19 and prevent the spread of this deadly virus." He said the Department of Health must maintain the authority to limit exposure to COVID-19.
"As we continue the fight against COVID-19, we need to continue to prioritize the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians and minimize public health risks," Wolf said. "However, this bill does nothing to promote public health or ensure that our children have a safe learning environment."
The legislation passed both chambers of the General Assembly with the two-thirds majority needed to override Wolf's veto. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, said House Bill 2787 represents "good bipartisan work" reflecting the voice of state residents.
"In vetoing this bill, Gov. Wolf stands directly opposed to children and families looking for some semblance of normalcy and to receive the numerous invaluable benefits of fully participating in school sports," Benninghoff said. "In contradiction to his word, Gov. Wolf is once again going back on his self-proclaimed desire for educational decisions to be made at the local level.”
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a Republican, said the bill includes safeguards to ensure any resurgence of the virus can be contained.
"I remain hopeful that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will have the courage and conviction to do what is best for Pennsylvania, and not what is in the best political interests of the governor," Corman said. "We remain willing to work with the governor to respond to the virus and strengthen our communities, but that is not going to happen if he continues to ignore the will of the people."
The bill requires school districts to develop a health and safety plan for athletics and other in-person extracurricular activities. The plan must include protocols on spectators and be in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plan must include protocols over permitting spectators to attend sporting events and limits on gatherings for indoor and outdoor sporting events to ensure social distancing. It also must be in accordance with CDC guidance for youth sports to safely take place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fall sports season in Pennsylvania kicked off on Aug. 24 despite Wolf calling for high school and youth athletics to be pushed back until January. The PIAA left school districts to decide whether to participate in the fall sports season. Fans must wear face coverings unless they are outside and able to practice social distancing.