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Local business was closed for a few days following Wolf order violation

A local restaurant ended up shut down by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture last week after inspectors said they caught the establishment allowing patrons to dine in in defiance of Gov. Wolf’s three-week-long prohibition on in-person dining in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The department noted the closure in its latest enforcement report released Tuesday. According to additional information provided by a department spokesperson, this business was the American Sandwich Company in Wyalusing, which had previously voiced intentions to continue operations as normal on Facebook despite the governor’s order.

The temporary restrictions were put into effect on Dec. 12, 2020 and continued through Sunday. During this time, restaurants were prohibited from offering sit-down dining and could only provide take out, delivery or curb-side pickup.

According to the department, the American Sandwich Company was closed following a Dec. 30, 2020 visit by inspectors, which was prompted by a complaint related to the COVID-19 order. It is now back in business with the expiration of the restrictions earlier this week.

On the morning of Dec. 30, in a Facebook post promoting this past weekend’s Drive In/Fly In Freedom Rally, the business posted: “We The People will stand and fight for what we know to be right. We have equal protection under the law, (the) same protections for small businesses that are enjoyed by Walmart, Amazon. We have the right to conduct lawful business, to feed our families and our employees’ families.”

Under the governor’s order, when the department received a complaint, it would first send an “educational letter” followed up by a surprise inspection, according to its website. Those unwilling to make corrections on-site would then receive a warning letter, followed by an unannounced inspection to ensure compliance, with punitive action that could follow. This could include citations ranging from $25 to $300 per offense.

When the restrictions were first handed down, Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman stated he would not pursue local punitive action against “people for the simple act of providing for themselves, their families, and their employees.” However, he also warned business owners that the state “could harass and punish citizens in ways that do not involve the criminal justice system.”

At that time, The American Sandwich Company was joined by at least one other restaurant in posting: “We take exception with the Governor and declare our restaurant a free zone. We respect the constitution of the United States and declare his ‘mandates’ as unconstitutional. These are my statements as a United States citizen. I will stand by them and I’m willing to defend them and myself by any means necessary.”

Additional cases

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported an additional 21 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to Monday’s reporting. However, this number could potentially include some cases from Sunday after the department said a server issue kept case totals from being updated across the state.

Tuesday’s reporting also included one additional COVID-19-related death in the county. Statistics for the county’s nursing or personal care facilities have remained unchanged since Dec. 30, 2020.

Yaw, Pickett, and Owlett sworn in for new terms

HARRISBURG – Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony in Harrisburg marked the official start of the 2021-2022 Legislative Session. Republicans currently hold the majority in Pennsylvania with 113 seats, including one vacancy following the untimely death of state Rep. Mike Reese (R-59) on Saturday.

Fourteen new Republican House members were sworn in during Tuesday’s ceremonies, and officials re-elected state Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-100) as Speaker of the House.

State Reps. Clint Owlett (R-68), Tina Pickett (R-110), and state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) were re-elected in November to serve another term by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Owlett will serve a second term on the House Appropriations Committee. The committee works towards developing the annual state budget and reviews and approves each bill that seeks to spend taxpayer money, according to the press release.

Like in 2020, this year’s state budget is expected to be a challenge as the state – along with the country and the rest of the world – works through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related expenditures, including those from mitigation measures which weigh down on the businesses and employees of Pennsylvania, according to Owlett.

“Especially this year, as our commonwealth seeks to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we scrutinize each and every dollar spent in the annual state budget,” Owlett said. “After all, it’s not the state’s money we are spending; it is yours.”

As a member of the committee, Owlett will take part in detailed budget hearings with officials from major state agencies and departments to accurately determine what funds they will need. He will be monitoring state expenditures as they go to make sure they are operating within those enacted budgets.

“I am really grateful that Clint has agreed to serve on the Appropriations Committee for another session,” said Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R-94), “Drawing on his background running a small business, Clint keeps a watchful eye on government spending and fights to protect taxpayers.”

The state budget process is set to begin in February following Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement of the outline for his 2021-2022 state budget proposal.

Passage for a finalized budget plan for the fiscal year is set for June 30.

Owlett took his first oath of office in 2018, while Pickett began serving the 110th District in 2001.

“I am proud and humbled to once again be able to serve my friends and neighbors in our region and look forward to getting to work on their behalf in the new session,” Pickett said.

Pickett took the oath of office to begin her 11th term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives during Tuesday’s ceremony in Harrisburg. She also announced that she’s been reappointed to serve a fifth term as chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee, which works to ensure that the state’s insurance laws are protected for consumers.

“As we begin a new legislative session, one of our top priorities is to continue the work that is already underway to guarantee the integrity of future elections in Pennsylvania. Our review of the 2020 election is expected to result in changes that will lead to renewed trust in the election process, which many voters currently do not have,” said Pickett. “We will continue our work to return economic prosperity to families and business owners who have struggled to survive the pandemic, and also ensure that our schools can provide the highest quality of education to students.”

Yaw was sworn into his fourth term in the state Senate during yesterday’s ceremony as well.

“I want to thank the voters of the 23rd Senatorial District for again placing trust in me to represent their interests in Harrisburg,” Yaw said, “There are many serious challenges facing our great state in the new legislative session and they will take dedicated commitment to address. I will continue to be faithful to that mission. We need to work together, within our own party and across party lines, to address these challenges. Together, we can continue to make our state a better place to live, work and raise our families.”

He’s a U.S. Army veteran who graduated from Montoursville High School, attended Bucknell University, and earned degrees from Lycoming College and the American University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

Yaw is a continuing member of the Lycoming Law Association and Pennsylvania Bar Association, Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and a former member of the Board of Directors of Susquehanna Legal Services.

According to a press release, Yaw serves as “Of Counsel” with the McCormick Law Firm in Williamsport, a prominent firm which has been in continuous existence for 150 years.

To limit the number of people in the House chamber for COVID-19 safety, the oath of office was administered four times to four separate groups of officials Tuesday. Members and guests were required to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks/face coverings.

Pa. GOP senators refused to seat a Democrat and removed Lt. Gov. Fetterman from presiding

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HARRISBURG — The new session of the Pennsylvania Senate got off to a chaotic start Tuesday, with Republicans refusing to seat a Democratic senator whose election victory has been certified by state officials.

Amid high emotions and partisan fingerpointing, Republicans also took the rare step of removing the Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, from presiding over the session. They apparently did so because they did not believe Fetterman was following the rules and recognizing their legislative motions.

Democrats, in turn, responded by refusing to back Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) from assuming the chamber’s top leadership position — an unusual maneuver on what is most often a largely ceremonial and bipartisan vote.

The bitterness and rancor on display was a departure from the normally staid and sedate workings of the chamber. And it potentially sets the stage for a tumultuous two-year session, which will include debate over key legislative priorities such as redistricting.

“With this reckless, out-of-control, cowboy-like behavior, with this Trumpian behavior that we saw today from Republicans … this does not bode well. It does not bode well for the people of Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Vince Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

For now, at least, Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster, of Allegheny County, will not be allowed to take the oath of office, as Republicans believe litigation over the outcome in his race must first play out in federal court. GOP leaders have said the state constitution gives senators the authority to refuse to seat a member if they believe the person does not meet the qualifications to hold office.

Brewster narrowly won reelection over Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli, who is asking a federal judge to throw out the election results. At the center of that legal dispute is several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on an outer envelope, as required by state law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed those ballots to be counted, which gave Brewster the edge in the race.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), along with Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Philadelphia), delivered stinging rebukes to Republican colleagues for refusing to acknowledge Brewster’s win. Costa has said he believes the maneuver was out of “the Trump playbook” of nakedly partisan maneuvers and refusing to accept valid election outcomes.

Costa also had tough words for Corman as he urged his colleagues to vote against the senator.

“The president pro tempore is to be a leader for the entire body — not of one party,” Costa said. “Nowhere in the constitution does it say that the leader should be beholden to the partisan whims of his own party.”

The state’s top Democrat, Gov. Tom Wolf, called the Senate’s refusal to seat Brewster, whose reelection was certified by the state, “simply unethical and undemocratic.”

“Republicans in Pennsylvania and nationally have spread disinformation and used it to subvert the Democratic process,” the governor said in a statement.

For his part, Corman appeared unruffled. Addressing the chamber, he called his new role “the honor of a lifetime,” and said he would work as a leader not just of Republicans — as he did in his previous role as the GOP’s majority leader — but the entire Senate.

He also pledged transparency and good-government reforms.

“We are here today and every day to serve the public,” Corman said. “And I’ve always been a big believer that things that unite us are far stronger than things that divide us.”

As the session opened Tuesday, Democrats attempted several legislative actions to force the GOP to swear in Brewster. But as the minutes ticked by, tempers flared and several senators began to shout across the aisle as the two sides locked horns and Fetterman presided.

Within an hour, Republicans had voted to remove Fetterman from his spot at the rostrum at the front of the chamber after he failed to recognize a GOP motion to prevent Brewster from being seated.

For several chaotic minutes, there appeared to be two people presiding over parallel sessions, as Fetterman refused to leave the chamber.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Fetterman said he was disappointed that what should have been a day of pictures and smiles as senators were sworn into office devolved into bitterness.

But, he said, he had a conversation with Corman before the session in which he was unequivocal about his belief that the chamber should seat Brewster, just as every other senator whose election had been certified.

“He has the identical credentials that everyone else who was sworn in had today,” Fetterman said, adding that what unfolded on the Senate floor “subverted the democratic will of voters.”

The fracas overshadowed a moment of history in the chamber, with Republican Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County becoming the first female majority leader.

Meanwhile, across a hallway in the Capitol, the mood was much calmer in the House of Representatives. There, members elected Rep. Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) as speaker.

“I hope that as we begin this new legislative term that you will always remember that the most important people here in this commonwealth are not the ones that occupy the seats in this beautiful chamber. And to be clear, they’re not in the Senate either,” Cutler said. “It’s all of our citizens back home. Let us never forget that in a Republican form of government, the sovereign is always the citizens of the commonwealth.”

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Bradford County to receive over $500,000 for watershed and stream corridor rehab

Local waterways may soon get a much needed makeover as Bradford County has been granted $596,000 to be used for watershed and stream corridor rehabilitation.

The more than half a million dollar grant has been awarded through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener program, according to a press release made public by the office of state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) on Dec. 30.

Projects scheduled to be completed with Growing Greener funding include the Bradford County Conservation District’s Satterlee Creek Stream Corridor Rehabilitation 2 project, which will receive $171,000 of the grant to “reduce sediment and nutrients reaching Satterlee Creek through the stabilization of stream and road corridors.”

The Wysox Creek Watershed Association, Inc.’s Comprehensive Watershed Conservation project in and around Rome township and borough will also be awarded $100,000 of Growing Greener funding to “stabilize headwater tributaries, reduce stormwater runoff from municipal roads, create retention basins to decrease time of concentration of stormflow and increase groundwater recharge within the Bear Creek watershed.”

Yaw’s press release also announced that the Bradford County Commissioners have been awarded $325,000 for the Bradford County Watershed Initiative 2020, which “will enable the county to complete up to 10 stream bank stabilization projects to reduce approximately 1,000 tons of sediment, 1,000 lbs. of phosphorus and 2,500 lbs. of nitrogen annually.”

The county will also offer more classroom and field demonstration trainings to municipal officials, contractors, and landowners about stream function and sediment transport through the funding.

Lycoming County has also benefited from the Growing Greener grants as the county is set to receive $292,206 to improve water quality in Wolf Run and $80,000 for its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan.

Through a regional initiative, $447,380 has been awarded to Bradford, Clinton, Luzerne, Montour and Columbia counties “to promote soil health practices and benefits through education, outreach, and implementation,” according to Yaw’s press release.

“Our local conservation districts and watershed associations are the boots on the ground when it comes to protecting the environment, regularly offering technical assistance and educational guidance to the people and communities in our region,” Yaw was quoted saying. “I was pleased to hear that this funding will be directed to our region for site and waterway improvements.”

According to the press release, the Growing Greener program is an initiative started in 1999 “to protect and improve watersheds, reduce storm water runoff and acid mine drainage (AMD), and to support educational programs and other critical conservation related efforts” and is supported by the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Act 13 natural gas drilling impact fees.

Yaw’s press release states that the Growing Greener program has provided more than $1 billion to environmental projects statewide since it’s creation.

Frustrated by the Pa. legislature? How obscure rules kill reforms and fuel partisan gridlock

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HARRISBURG — It looked like Rep. Steve Samuelson’s proposal had a bright future.

In 2017, he co-authored a joint resolution to turn over legislative redistricting power to ordinary people, rather than lawmakers. At its peak, the measure had 110 co-sponsors, he said, including dozens of Republicans — more than enough support to pass the House.

But instead of getting a floor vote, the measure languished in committee for months, as Samuelson pleaded with the panel’s chair, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), to bring it up for a vote.

With time running out, the Northampton County Democrat in 2018 attempted a last-ditch parliamentary move called a discharge resolution to release the proposal from committee.

Instead, Metcalfe called up the measure and gutted it with support from the other 14 Republicans.

How does an idea that has majority support never get a vote? In Pennsylvania, the answer lies in ordinary operating procedures that lawmakers in the House and Senate vote to approve at the beginning of each two-year session. That will happen this Tuesday after lawmakers in both chambers are sworn in.

The rules put much of the power in the hands of the majority party, including Republican committee chairs and caucus leaders, which Democrats and good-government groups said effectively stifles the voices of many Pennsylvanians.

After years of rollbacks to bipartisan parliamentary reforms adopted when Democrats controlled the House, lawmakers from both parties and the anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA want the rules adopted in 2021 to emphasize collaboration, rather than partisan politics.

“You can have a framework which is more inclusive, which allows the rank-and-file members to have a greater impact in the process, and which is, for want of a better word, less arbitrary,” said Rep. Robert Freeman (D., Northampton). “Or you can have rules that put a tremendous amount of power in the hands of leaders and chairman, and as a result can be an impediment — a serious impediment — to advancing good, strong, bipartisan legislation.”

What are the rules and what do they do?

The operating procedures of the state House and Senate are governed by dozens of pages of rules members vote on at the beginning of each new session, every two years.

The rules lay out how members can debate, which legislative expenses can be reimbursed, and how a bill can be placed on a calendar or called for a vote, among other significant details.

“The rules are one of those things that oftentimes are perceived as insider baseball, but they really do have a major impact on what policies get considered and voted on,” said Freeman, who has served in the legislature for decades.

Bills must successfully pass out of a committee before getting a full floor vote in the House or Senate. Each committee has its own rules, written by a Republican chair, who also determines the committee’s agenda.

Using this power, Democrats in leadership, as well as some rank-and-file Republicans, told Spotlight PA that committee chairs often refuse to bring up proposals.

Only once a bill is voted out of committee can it be placed on the calendar for a full floor vote, per the rules. To take that step, a bill must gain favor with one of two powerful Republicans. In the Senate, those decisions are made by Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland). In the House, Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) decides which bills are called for a vote, a process his spokesperson characterized as “thoughtful, informed, and intentionally driven.”

“There could be any number of factors” as to why “a bill runs before another one that has waited longer,” Jason Gottesman, the spokesperson, said. “The same could be true for a bill that does not get considered on the House floor. It all depends on the bill and the numerous factors and influences affecting it.”

Why are the rules controversial?

In both chambers, the rules are written by Republican leadership and usually passed on the first day of session. In previous years, GOP leaders in the House have moved resolutions making the rules unamendable after they pass.

Democratic lawmakers and some rank-and-file Republicans said bills that have wide, bipartisan support sometimes never get a vote because powerful legislators manipulate the rules to kill measures they oppose, fueling intense partisanship.

Samuelson, for example, tried using a discharge resolution to get his bipartisan redistricting measure out of the House State Government Committee. It’s a four-day process that involves gathering signatures from members, but in this case Metcalfe, the panel’s chair, intervened by calling up the proposal and gutting it with amendments.

“The bill was changed 180 degrees,” Samuelson said. “It would have actually made gerrymandering worse.”

Once a bill does reach the full House or Senate, lawmakers only have a small window to review changes. In the House, members are guaranteed just three hours to analyze recently amended, significant bills.

For years, a House rule gave lawmakers at least 24 hours to review bills that had been amended before taking a final vote. The timeframe was chosen by a 2007 bipartisan committee that offered commonsense solutions, according to Freeman, who was a member of the group.

The Speaker’s Reform Commission met after House Democrats, in the majority at the time, elected Rep. Dennis O’Brien, a moderate Philadelphia Republican, as speaker.

Slowly, that 24-hour wait period has been eroded to just three hours, House lawmakers said, a timeframe that does not allow them to review potential consequences of policies they are unfamiliar with.

There are similar issues in the Senate, where lawmakers are given at least six hours to review amended bills.

Sen. Lindsey Williams (D., Allegheny) said she’s made it a “rule” for herself to vote “no” on bills or amendments she has not been able to read at least a day before.

“That doesn’t give me any time to read it, understand it, engage with constituents, engage with stakeholders that it may be an issue to,” she said. “There is no time to educate yourself about what you’re voting on.”

“Being a senator,” Williams said, “you get more in the weeds and you really understand how the rules can be used to hide things from the public.”

Another issue, according to House members and advocates, is a lack of proportional representation in powerful committees. In the House, 15 Republicans are assigned to most committees alongside 10 Democrats — making it nearly impossible for the minority party to advance bills, they said.

Samuelson said last session, Democrats represented 46% of House districts, yet held only 40% of committee seats.

“If the voters say they would like 54% of the House members to be Republican, why would the Republicans have 60% of the committee seats?” Samuelson said. “It just makes no logical sense.”

Will the rules change?

House and Senate lawmakers will be sworn in for a new session Tuesday and will then debate the rules.

In the Senate, Democrats were prepared to offer amendments but, according to Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), Republican leadership “rejected them outright and threatened us with more draconian rules if we offered our proposals as amendments.”

A spokesperson for Ward called Costa’s claim “simply untrue.”

“They have rights to offer amendments, and we indicated that our members do as well,” the spokesperson, Rob Ritson, said. “It’s reckless for the Senate Democrats to suggest that any of our members would propose a rule change that violates a statutory act.”

In the House, a group of Democrats plan to introduce 10 amendments “to reduce the impact of partisan politics, make sure ideas with broad public support get a fair hearing, and restore the people’s faith in government,” according to a Monday news release.

But whether these reforms will even be considered is unclear.

Freeman said Tuesday Democrats still plan to offer amendments. “However, it is anticipated that the House Republican Leader will offer a resolution that will prohibit any amendments to the resolution that will adopt the Rules for the 2021-22 session,” he said. “It is a ploy that they have used in the past to block debate and any proposed amendments to the proposed rules.”

The House Republican caucus on Tuesday said in a tweet the proposed rules “reflect the input of Democrats, Committee Chairs, and rank-and-file members and were compiled in a deliberative process that ensures good government and adopts current practices into formalized rule.”

“The #PAHouse will swiftly move to consider these rules today to allow the chamber to form committees and begin operating more effectively,” another tweet read.

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