Local businesses react after Gov. Wolf vetoes public liability protection bill

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Business owners across the commonwealth and in our area are reacting after Governor Tom Wolf vetoed legislation that would have provided businesses protection from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

Disappointment and even disgust is being shared among owners and others that work in organizations that say they are already struggling because of the pandemic.

Governor Wolf, however, says the legislation was too broad and argued that it could have actually encouraged noncompliance with coronavirus safety protocols mandated by the state.

Supporters of the bill insist it would have provided a so-called “safe harbor” to businesses that are operating in compliance with state and federal health guidelines.

“It could pretty much destroy me. It could be a very detrimental thing for us,” Rosa Bellia, Owner of Franco’s Pizza told Eyewitness News.

She says that her business is taking all precautionary measures but can never know for certain if someone coming through the door may be sick. With the bill vetoed, Franco’s Pizza can face a COVID-19 related lawsuit.

The legislation was supported by healthcare providers and their employees. Adam Marles of Heads Up, Leading Age PA advocates for nursing homes across the commonwealth and some 50,000 healthcare workers.

“For the governor to say you know not withstanding all that you’ve done, we don’t believe you deserve protection is really upsetting. I think it’s a slap in the face to those providing care,” Marles said.

The President and CEO of Little League International, Stephen Keener also supported HB 1737. He says he is hopeful something can be done in Harrisburg to provide liability protections for the nearly 400 Little Leagues across the nation.

“We are very disappointed. I think it’s a big mistake to not provide these protections to local Little League programs. People are either volunteering who operate these or just try to provide healthy beneficial activities in their communities,” Keener said.

The legislation would have also increase liability protection to school districts. However, Crestwood School District Superintendent Rob Mehalick says districts are already protected from lawsuits as long as they follow state COVID safety guidelines.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me. I think if we follow the plan as we outlined then, we take all the safety measures, wearing masks, social distancing, all those things we need to do, we don’t have to worry about the added legislation giving us added layers of protection,” Mehalick said.

Eyewitness News reached out to the governor’s office today for comment. We have not yet received a response. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they will work on COVID-19 liability legislation when they return to season in January.  

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