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September 24, 2020

Republicans don't get enough votes to override Gov. Wolf’s veto of school sports bill

Legislation aimed to give school districts control over whether they'd play seasons during COVID-19 pandemic and how many spectators would be allowed at games

Government COVID-19
pa house legislature veto bill voting Rlibrandi/Wikimedia Commons

When HB 2787 passed the House earlier this month, 155 Democrats voted in support of the legislation. But after Gov. Wolf rejected the measure on Monday, only 130 Democrats supported the veto override — curtailing any GOP hope that the bill could be resuscitated.

Republicans in the Pennsylvania House failed to overturn Gov. Tom Wolf's veto of a bill that would have given school districts control over their schools' scholastic sports decisions, including how many spectators to allow at high school sporting events.

The House vote on Wednesday did not get support from two-thirds of members, which is necessary to override a veto by the governor.

H.B. 2787 passed earlier this month 155-47, which appeared to be a veto-proof margin. But after Wolf rejected the measure on Monday, only 130 votes were cast in favor as 25 Democratic lawmakers switched their votes. 

Wolf praised House Democrats "for continuing to stand with me and showing a commitment to working collaboratively to protect the people of Pennsylvania during this ongoing public health crisis."

"The bill would have done nothing more than create legislation for something that already exists," Wolf said. "Instead of wasting time on a veto override attempt on a superfluous bill, the Republican legislature needs to start taking this pandemic seriously by focusing on the health and safety of our children, staff, and teachers in their learning environments, minimizing exposure to COVID-19, and preventing the spread of this deadly virus."

GOP House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff slammed Democrats for caving to political pressure "by flipping their vote instead of standing up for their constituents."

"We have said from the beginning that this effort is more than just about school sports," Benninghoff said. "It is about safely providing families the best educational opportunities for their children both inside and outside the classroom and ensuring certainty and consistency in the resumption of these activities."

Benninghoff added that Republicans will continue to oppose Wolf's "overboard, inconsistent and contradictory orders." 

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody called on the GOP to "get serious about our work and end the legislative games."

"It's regrettable that the majority party spent so much time and effort on this misdirected effort when many more serious matters demand attention, including providing hazard pay and PPE for frontline workers, time-sensitive election reforms, help for small businesses and ensuring the continuation of health insurance coverage," Dermody said. 

The school sports bill would have given 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 would have given them the ability to make decisions about the number of spectators permitted at games. 

Sporting events currently follow to the state's gathering limits – 25 people indoors and 250 people outdoors, although after last week's federal court ruling declared Wolf's COVID-19 restrictions unconstitutional, there were questions whether the limit on spectators even remained in place. School districts in Lancaster and Altoona, already have announced they will allow more spectators at upcoming high school sporting events than permitted under Wolf's restrictions.

The fall sports season in Pennsylvania kicked off on Aug. 24 despite Wolf calling for high school and youth athletics seasons to be postponed until January. The PIAA left school districts to decide whether to participate in the fall seasons. Fans must wear face coverings unless they are outside and able to practice social distancing. 

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