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Coronavirus Latest: Pennsylvania House Approves Bill To Reopen Businesses If They Follow CDC Guidelines On Social Distancing

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It's been roughly four weeks since Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf shut down most businesses across the commonwealth. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania House lawmakers voted yes to a bill that will allow businesses to reopen, so long as they follow CDC guidelines on social distancing.

The bill was met with intense contention as all Democratic lawmakers voted against the measure. Republican lawmakers, however, say it is essential to restart the economy and lower unemployment rates.

Barbera's Autoland in Northeast Philadelphia and most auto dealerships all across the commonwealth were forced to stop selling cars a month ago, even online.

"I'm in favor of the virtual online sales more now than ever, realizing the need of our consumers who are out there that really need us," Barbera's Autloland founder Gary Barbera said.

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Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania say Wolf's closure of all non-essential businesses has been the most restrictive order in the nation and led to staggering unemployment.

"We have the highest number of claims in the entire United States," Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai said.

The House voted Tuesday to reopen all businesses if they follow CDC guidelines, like social distancing. It passed 107-95, with a unanimous no from Democrats. It now goes to the state Senate for approval.

Many Democrats, like state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler of South Philly, says it's too early.

"Reopening all businesses is not the safe thing to do for any our families," Fiedler said. "We need to stay home, stay safe and stay calm."

A left-leaning think tank, called the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, is concerned because the bill would have trumped the governor's decision.

"The governor's business closure orders have actually been successful. That's the reason we have seen the rate of increase of COVID infections drop from 34% a day, when he made that order on March 23, to about 7% a day. That's a huge achievement," said Marc Stier with the policy center.

Still, big-box stores like Target remain open despite small businesses that sell some of the same items were forced to close.


"If it's safe for those big box stores to operate that way, maybe it's safe for some small businesses to open," Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens, of Montgomery County, said.

Eyewitness News spoke with one local music shop owner who agrees with the Republican legislators.

"There's a lot of things we could do, just filling people's needs. If there's something specific they know they wanted or needed where I feel like I can do it safely without any risk of transmitting any virus," said Ed Russakoff, owner of Rustic Music.

As the bill moves to the Senate, some business owners are hopeful lawmakers will rethink what's considered essential.

"People want to sit and play guitar, listen to music. They break strings, stuff like that, all kinds of stuff. People need more than just food to survive, I think," Russakoff said.

The Senate could move on the bill as early as Wednesday, sending it to the governor's desk for approval.

If it makes it to Wolf's desk, he would have three choices: Sign it, veto it or let it sit for 10 days, in which it would become law.

CBS3's Matt Petrillo and Kimberly Davis contributed to this report.

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