By Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland)
Over the past year, we have all been participants in a long journey to overcome COVID-19 and finally the finish line is in sight. Albeit slowly, vaccines are being rolled out to those who want them, and the governor’s restrictions are being lifted on our communities.
Now is the time to look toward rebuilding the state’s economy, and the lives of Pennsylvanians who were left jobless last March. Part of rebuilding includes doing everything possible to support the businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, schools, non-profits and personal protective equipment makers that had to change their operations overnight and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These organizations help make up the backbone of our economy. They played by the rules that they were told to follow even if they disagreed with the mandates. As we enter the last leg of this pandemic, it is time to remove yet one more barrier that could prevent these establishments from thriving once again. I am proud to be the prime sponsor of legislation to provide our hard-working businesses protections from opportunistic lawsuits that seek to take advantage of the COVID-19 emergency.
My House Bill 605, which is expected to be taken up by the House very soon, would offer limited civil liability protections to health care providers, schools, small business owners, farmers, restaurants and others that did their part to help keep people safe. I firmly believe businesses that did their best to provide our communities with safe ways to get essential goods and followed the necessary precautions should not have to worry about the threat of costly litigation. Furthermore, my bill does not protect any sort of criminal act or reckless, knowing or intentional misconduct.
Across the country, 26 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted various forms of legislation that provide some sort of targeted and temporary protections similar to what my bill would provide. These states include Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. Additionally, governors from other states such as Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland and New Hampshire have implemented executive orders offering far more protection than Pennsylvania currently does.
As I already mentioned, businesses, institutions and other organizations that acted with gross negligence or intentionally inflicted harm on others would not be protected by House Bill 605
. This is a commonsense approach to a problem that could tie up our legal system, hamper business growth and stifle our economy even more. To further prevent the courts from being bogged down, the legislation would also direct cases alleging personal injury or death relating to exposure to COVID-19 to first be heard by an arbitration board made up of three attorneys local to the area in which the case was filed.
Many organizations restructured their operations to assist others when they needed it most. Distilleries learned how to make hand sanitizer. Clothing and flag manufacturers learned how to make masks. Restaurants, stores, schools and health systems implemented plans to keep citizens safe for in-person activities. Most did their part to help all of us, and now it is time for us to do our part to help them.
This reasonable bill is part of a comprehensive package of legislation called the Commonwealth’s COVID Comeback and is designed to help achieve getting back to normal. The six bills and one resolution in the package seek to incentivize manufacturers and provide protections to small businesses, as well as offer tax and regulatory reform to bring family-sustaining jobs back to Pennsylvania.
With the end of the pandemic in sight, we have an obligation to reboot Pennsylvania’s struggling economy, which must include protecting those that were on the frontline of the pandemic offering life-sustaining goods and services.
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross