Despite the clean slate of a legislative session, the first day of the new session was filled with partisan rhetoric from both sides. PRLA will focus on bipartisan recovery legislation this session; however, many issues are expected to be presented that will lead to much debate over the coming months.
House & Senate Make-up
Republicans were able to maintain their majority in the House (111-90) and Senate (27-20-1). A special election will be held on May 18 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland). No announcement has been made as to when a special election will be held to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Dave Arnold (R-Lebanon/Dauphin). Governor Wolf (D) remains in office until 2022, when his final term as governor concludes.
Committee Chairs are a key part of PRLA’s legislative strategy. Bills don’t move out of committee and get traction without support of those chairs. All chairs and committee assignments have been announced, and it looks like PRLA will have great leadership within our key committees.
First Issues in the Legislature
Republican leaders have made it no secret that they want to revisit legislation that made changes to PA’s election law. Further, it is expected that the House and Senate will pass a voter referendum that will allow voters to decide if Governor Wolf can continue to have unilateral control in declaring a “State of Emergency.” If passed, the referendum could be on the ballot by the May primary.
PRLA’s State Legislative Priorities
PRLA is beginning this legislative session with a key focus on COVID-19 recovery efforts and ensuring the industry can come out on the other side. While PRLA does have a three year plan that is reviewed every year in January, the policy committees will review the plan in March this year so we can have a better feel for what our needs will be in the future.
While vaccine distribution has begun in PA, we don’t expect our industry to start receiving vaccines until March. Restaurant employees are currently listed in priority group 1C of the vaccine roll-out, while hotel employees are bundled with the general public in group 2. PRLA is working with the Department of Health to add hotel employees to group 1C.
Federal State of Play
Now that the Presidency and U.S. Senate have Democrats in the majority—Democrats now control the legislative and executive branches of government. This can be good and bad for our industry. On the positive side, there will be an increased desire to pass government relief during COVID and there will be a long-term focus on the importance of tourism. On the negative side, pro-labor policies will likely see more action and traction as part of this new administration.
COVID-19 at the Federal Level
While Congress did pass another round of PPP and made a few other changes to help businesses during COVID, PRLA views that legislation as a “down payment” to the recovery package this industry will need to get through this time. We do expect Congress to return and begin work on the next package, which should include the “Restaurants ACT”—a $120 billion recovery package specific to the restaurant industry. President Biden did release a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal, which does not specifically address our industry. While it does include a minimum wage increase and the elimination of the tipped wage, we believe those pieces will be eliminated from the final package and negotiated separately down the road.
Philadelphia City Council will return at the end of the month and we expect them to pass an extension of paid emergency leave related to COVID, focus on recovery items for the industry and continue to discuss labor legislation that continues to gain traction around the country.
We anticipate Allegheny County Council will pass paid sick leave legislation, like the legislation passed in Pittsburgh, at some point in the first half of 2021.