After Wednesday’s failed House attempt to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bipartisan-backed bill designed to give local school officials the final say on holding sports and setting crowd limits, some were left scratching their heads.
How could a bill that passed the House by a 155-47 fall short of the 135 votes needed to override the governor’s veto?
The answer: 24 of the Democratic legislators who voted “yes” on the bill originally apparently had a change of heart. One of the bill’s original supporters, Rep Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, was absent on Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, boasted that all House Republicans stood united in their support of the bill and for overriding the veto. But the effort failed because some Democrats decided to “cave to political pressure.”
“Until more Democrats are willing to stand up for the people of Pennsylvania instead of standing with their political party or their governor, the commonwealth will remain mired in the governor’s emergency rule,” Benninghoff said.
The bill, which also passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, would have invalidated the governor’s order on attendance at school sports and extracurricular activities. The Wolf administration had limited schools to 25 people at indoor events and 250 at outdoor contests to control the spread of the coronavirus. Even with those limits, attendance was limited to no more than 50% of the maximum capacity.
Wolf issued a statement Wednesday afternoon thanking Democrats for standing with him and “showing a commitment to working collaboratively to protect the people of Pennsylvania during this ongoing public health crisis. Pennsylvanians should be thankful as well.”
He referred to the veto override attempt as “a superfluous bill” that was unnecessary since schools already have the authority to decide whether to hold sports and his administration has no intention to change that.
U.S. Western District Judge William Stickman IV last week declared the governor’s limits on social gatherings to be unconstitutional. This week, the judge denied the Wolf Administration’s to stay that ruling pending appeal.
Until there’s a ruling on the appeal, the governor and his team are urging schools to voluntarily comply with those limits and issued guidance last Friday indicating as much.
Democrats explained their change of heart about supporting the high school sports bill.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County, fell into that category. He told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Wolf is “our governor. He vetoed it, and I’m the Democratic leader, … I am not going to override the governor’s veto.”
Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh County, told the Morning Call the bill “did more than was originally advertised” as his reason for flipping his vote.
State Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin County, declined comment on her rationale for changing her mind on the bill Wednesday.
But those who like to venture a guess on why Kim and Schlossberg had a change of heart pointed to the fact that they were among 13 Democrats who flipped who are politically safe because they happen to be uncontested in their re-election bid this November.
The others are: Reps. Austin Davis of Allegheny County, Dan Deasy of Allegheny County, Michael Driscoll of Philadelphia, Robert Freeman of Northampton County, Patrick Harkins of Erie County, Robert Merski of Erie County, Dan Miller of Allegheny County, Ed Neilson of Philadelphia, Eddie Day Pashinski of Luzerne County, Peter Schweyer of Lehigh County, and Melissa Shusterman of Chester County. Adam Ravenstahl of Allegheny County, who also switched his support of the bill, was defeated in the primary.
The other so-called flippers aside from Dermody were: Tina Davis of Bucks County, Carol Hill-Evans of York County, John Galloway of Bucks County, Neal Goodman of Schuylkill County, Jeanne McNeill of Lehigh County, Steve Samuelson of Northampton County, Wendy Ullman of Philadelphia, Dan Williams of Chester County and Michael Zabel of Delaware County.
Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland County, issued a statement saying Wednesday’s vote may not be the final word on this bill.
“To school parents and student athletes who had hoped for a different outcome, a reconsideration motion was filed,” which allows for a future override attempt to occur, Gleim said. “We intend to bring this up again. There will be continued pressure on this matter, so that the majority of constituents can be heard.”
Even amidst the failure of the veto override and the federal judge denying a stay of his ruling, confusion exists over the limits of school sports and extracurricular activities.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association said its review of the federal court ruling leads to one conclusion: schools still have no choice but to adhere to Wolf’s limits on the size of gatherings.
“Judge Stickman’s ruling does not have any effect on gathering size limits for…