(HARRISBURG) – The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Senator Mike Regan (R-31), has filed an application in Commonwealth Court to request an expedited ruling to force Governor Wolf to release documents associated with mandated business closures related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This matter is of great importance to the Commonwealth and needs to be decided swiftly.
“Governor Wolf and his administration have prevented elected officials, media, employers and employees from having access to business waiver information that should be available to the public,” Senator Regan said. “From the start of this public health emergency, the business waiver process implemented by Governor Wolf has lacked transparency and led to more confusion. It is greatly concerning that the Wolf administration has failed to comply with our request for information in an appropriate legal manner. Even more concerning is that recently, waivers have likely been altered or rescinded in an attempt to change the truth behind this process.”
The application for an expedited ruling explains that:
“The matter before the Court poses a pure question of law upon which the material facts are not in dispute. The question is simple: Can the Governor and the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development lawfully refuse to comply with subpoenas duces tecum issued by a Pennsylvania Senate Committee? They say ‘yes’. Yet because their refusals to comply thwart the exercise of exclusive constitutional powers conferred on the General Assembly, and are 2 otherwise not supported by constitutional or equitable grounds, the answer must be ‘no’.”
“…on May 8, 2020, Governor Wolf published a website listing the names of businesses that received exemptions to operate; the information ordered to be produced in the eighth document demand in the subpoenas. See DCED, Businesses that Received an Exemption from Closure, https://dced.pa.gov/covid-19-exemptbusinesses/. The website did not respond to all of the information demanded in the subpoenas, including, critically, the methodology of how exemption decisions were made. Also, the website information was not supplied directly to the Senate Committee as a response to the subpoenas: it was published on the internet. Since the posting of the DCED website, it has been publicly reported that the list of names of businesses appearing on the website may have been altered or amended at the last minute, with some businesses having their waivers rescinded or revoked on the eve of the list’s publication. In addition, since the posting of the DCED website, DCED has been contacting those businesses that submitted waiver requests and advising them to contact the Senate Committee directly about whether they believe that their waiver request submissions should or should not be disclosed to the Senate Committee.”
“The Wolf administration’s latest directive to businesses that had submitted waiver requests is wholly inappropriate,” Senator Regan stated. “These businesses have been forced to deal with government bureaucracy in order to try to keep their doors open and support their employees and families. The administration’s emails advising businesses to contact my office is not fair to these hard working men and women, and in no way legally fulfills the request of the subpoena. Governor Wolf must stop playing games with business owners and their employees.”
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted on April 30 to subpoena the documents following the March 19 closures. In a letter responding to the subpoena, the Governor says he cannot release the information to the Senate due to executive privilege and an audit being conducted by the state’s Auditor General at the request of the Senate.
The subpoena action followed a request via letter on April 24 letter from the Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness and Community, Economic and Recreational Development committees asking for the documents that Governor Wolf and the Department of Community and Economic Development denied.