Pa. lawmakers plan early return to Capitol to fight against school mask mandate
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will return to the State Capitol next week, a couple weeks ahead of schedule, to respond to the burgeoning fight over the Wolf administration's school mask mandate.
House members were originally slated to return Sept. 27, but they've accelerated that to this Wednesday It will be a non-voting day to get legislation ready.
On Sept. 20, the House and Senate will return to voting sessions.
"Over the past week-plus our members have heard from parents, families, and school administrators from across Pennsylvania who are concerned with the Wolf administration’s new statewide mask mandate," said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus.
"Putting forward a legislative response to that mandate is one of the many thing we are likely to address with the additional session days to let them know their voices are being heard in Harrisburg."
Pennsylvania Republicans have been at odds with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf since the pandemic began, taking opposing views on masks, shutdowns and public health mandates.
As of Tuesday, a Department of Health mandate required all students, teachers and staff to wear masks in schools.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and other plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that order, and some school boards have faced groups of angry parents.
The majority of Pennsylvanians, including pediatricians and teachers' unions, support masks in schools, according to polling. That's especially true of masks in elementary schools, where most children are too young to receive the vaccine.
But there are loud pockets of opposition, and Republican lawmakers have been fielding calls and correspondence from those constituents.
What the House can do to respond to the situation is unclear.
Wolf would likely veto any bill that would overturn the school mask mandate. And the Legislature has not been able to come up with the two-thirds of support to override the governor's veto.
Republicans have talked about using a constitutional amendment process, but that would take years to go into effect if it passed.
Gottesman did not immediately respond to questions about the path forward for Republicans.
But it's clear lawmakers will return to session much like they left — stuck in a partisan gridlock.
Democrats are also repeating familiar refrains, criticizing Republicans for not focusing on pressing issues like making sure Pennsylvanians are vaccinated as the Delta variant surges, increasing evictions and overdoses or distributing COVID relief money to state residents who need it.
"Returning early to use Rescue Plan billions to help people and small biz? No," said J.J. Abbott, executive director of Commonwealth Communications and Wolf's former press secretary.
"Returning early to address climate change and disaster recovery after deadly storms? Nope. Returning early to keep families in their homes? No way. Returning early to fight about masks? You bet."
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.