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Bill Aims To Make It Easier For State To Determine Which Businesses Are Essential And Life-Sustaining

WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) -- There's a new bill moving forward in Harrisburg that aims to make it easier for the state to determine which businesses are essential and life-sustaining.

Local businesses found themselves in the middle of this at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which is why one local lawmaker is pushing for this legislation.

One group of businesses that had to shut down was daycares, including Rainbow's End Learning Center in Washington County.

State Senator Camera Bartolotta said closing daycares was a mistake. In March of 2020, businesses across the state had to shut down after Governor Tom Wolf ordered all non-life sustaining businesses closed due to the pandemic.

"If you're considered an employee, you're working no matter what. Whether at home or in a business and still working, it's hard when you have a child anywhere from the age of infant to school age," said Courtney Angert, program director at Rainbow's End Learning Center.

With this legislation, the commonwealth would have to abide by the Department of Homeland Security's guidance that provides a uniform process of determining which businesses are essential and which ones aren't.

This is a process some lawmakers say Wolf didn't follow.

"Governor Wolf shut down everything in Pennsylvania for about 7 1/2 weeks, even those things that should have been included in essential services," said Bartolotta.

If this legislation becomes law in Pennsylvania, daycares would be considered an essential business.

"I think it would be huge if it would stay that way and stay open and be considered an essential employee," said Angert.

Another business that didn't fall under Governor Wolf's order as essential and also doesn't fall under the Homeland Security guidelines is hair salons. Hairstylist Kathy Swihart at Hair and There Salon in Washington said that should change.

"If you're a nurse, doctor, retail worker, grocery store clerk, why can't they get their hair done and look professional?" said Swihart. "We could have opened one person at a time with the extra cleaning and still been in business and kept everybody safe."

The construction industry and supply chain sector would be considered essential if the bill goes through. Right now, the legislation has gone through Senator Bartolotta's Labor and Industry Committee and is on its way to the Senate floor.

Gov. Wolf's office released a statement, saying:

"This bill is unnecessary. The existing provisions of the Emergency Management Code provide the tools for quick action during an emergency. In addition, this bill requires use of specified Federal guidance that may not be applicable or helpful to all types of disaster emergencies."

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