HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf plans to veto legislation that would give protection against COVID-related lawsuits to schools, businesses and nursing homes, his spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said Wednesday.
House Bill 1737 had been backed by groups lobbying for local schools, as well as business and health care industry groups.
Wolf is rejecting the legislation as being “too broad,” Kensinger said.
“That’s a big disappointment,” said Curt Schroder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, based in Harrisburg. “I hope he will reconsider.”
Schroder said HB 1737 was “drafted carefully to be targeted and temporary.”
The bill would have provided one-year of liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits.
Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said that if Wolf’s vetoing HB 1737, the governor should use an executive order to extend liability protection to schools.
“We’re very concerned about litigation coming down the road,” he said.
When Wolf announced a new round of COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, he also announced that the state is extending liability protection to businesses when they enforce the state’s mask mandate.
The legislation to extend liability protection passed mostly on party lines with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.
In debate on the House floor, Democratic lawmakers said the liability protections would go too far and would make it too difficult for people to sue if they were harmed by missteps by businesses or health care facilities.
“This is nothing more than a giveaway to special interests,” state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny County, said last Friday.
Gordon Denlinger, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Pennsylvania said that the protections in Wolf’s order are “in practical terms worthless” and that the protections in HB 1737 are needed.
“HB 1737 provides the robust liability protections our small business sector needs. Governor Wolf’s very limited grant of liability protection within his most recent Executive Order is a poor substitute,” Denlinger said.
Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said that some businesses have already begun to get hit with COVID-related lawsuits.
The number of cases seeking damages related to actions taken by businesses, health care facilities and schools during the pandemic could grow dramatically, he said.
Lawyers have two years to file civil lawsuits, he said.