News & Brews September 15, 2021

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Wolf’s business waiver process wrought with ‘deficiencies’

Yesterday, Auditor General Tim DeFoor released the much anticipated audit of Gov. Wolf’s business waiver process. Among the five findings, the audit notes that “[d]eficiencies related to the development of the waiver program resulted in a lack of accountability and transparency,” and “[q]uestionable decisions by DCED for certain waiver requests potentially resulted in detrimental effects for businesses and an unnecessarily increased risk to public health.” Along with the findings, the audit offers 22 recommendations for improving the program in case it’s ever used again in the future. (My footnote: The program should never be used again in the future.)

DOH releases post-vaccine data…sort of

Yesterday, the Department of Health released data on vaccine breakthrough cases, sort of. In a press conference, the Department announced that since January 2021, 97% of COVID deaths, 95% of hospitalizations, and 94% of cases are among unvaccinated Pennsylvanians. Since January. Remember, in January (or February, or March, for that matter), the vaccine wasn’t even available to all Pennsylvanians, but cases and deaths were happening then. Now, math isn’t my strong point, but even I know something’s missing here. What the Department needs to release is data by month (or week) as the vaccine has rolled out to give an accurate picture of what’s happening now. If the percentages are the same, that’s helpful to know. If they’re not the same, that’s also helpful to know. Either way, Pennsylvanians deserve transparency. Sadly (but not surprisingly) reporters at the news conference didn’t bother to press this question. (Hello, Journalism 101.)

PA turnpike had $104M in uncollected tolls last year

Almost 1 in 2 non-EZ-Pass drivers on the PA Turnpike skirted paying tolls last year, according to an internal turnpike report that the Associated Press accessed via a Right-to-Know request. The report showed that in the year ending May 31, 2021, almost 11 million of the turnpike’s approximately 170 million rides brought in exactly zip in revenue, marking a revenue loss of more than $104 million in tolls.

Lawmakers look to obscure committee to review Wolf’s mask mandate

Capitol reporter John Finnerty reports that the House Health Committee has asked the little-known Commonwealth Joint Committee on Documents to review the school mask mandate recently issued by the Department of Health to determine if the mandate is actually a regulation that needs to go through the regulatory process or an order that takes effect immediately. Health Committee Chair Kathy Rapp stated, “It is my strong belief that the secretary does not have the authority to proclaim this order. Because it is being interpreted as law. It would be no different than the Secretary of Agriculture sending out an order that all children in a school district should drink a half a pint of milk for lunch every day. We are not under a declared emergency. She does not have the authority, in our opinion, to send out this order.” Most members the Commonwealth Joint Committee on Documents are Democrats or appointed by the governor.

Battle over election audit continues

The Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee plans to vote on issuing subpoenas to the Department of State requesting “17 sets of records ranging from department communications with county election directors between May 2020 to May 2021 to voter information from the November 2020 general election and May primary,” PennLive reports. Meanwhile, the Wolf administration continues to blast any audit of last year’s election.

Senate committee passes RGGI disapproval resolution

Yesterday, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee passed a disapproval resolution on regulations for joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. If the full House and Senate pass the resolution, it would head to Gov. Wolf. He would, of course, veto it, and the Legislature would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto. If the Legislature fails to override Wolf and block RGGI, Attorney General Josh Shapiro would have the opportunity to block the regulation.

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