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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 17, 2020 11:20 AM
From: Senator Lisa Baker
To: All Senate members
Subject: Novel Coronavirus After Action Assessment
Once Pennsylvania is in a position where we are adequately coping with the coronavirus, we have a high responsibility to conduct an informed, nonpartisan after action assessment of state capabilities and response.  This effort will dwarf recent efforts, such as after a paralyzing ice storm.
Medical experts are warning that the coronavirus may be here to stay.  Some are conjecturing there will be more novel viruses coming.  Pandemic planning must be a central feature of state policy.
If there is anything that has garnered widespread agreement, it is that Title 35 and our health statutes are woefully insufficient for providing direction and guidance for responding to a pandemic.  That is the starting point for legislative action and an intensive undertaking, but still only a part of what we must do.
The purpose of the commission charged with conducting the assessment is to apply the lessons learned from our experience since February and design a structure in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.  We all realize that mistakes and misjudgments were made in the midst of uncertainty.  This is not an exercise in fault-finding or refereeing disputes over executive and legislative authority.  It is meant to develop recommendations – laws, policies, regulations, proposed constitutional amendments – whatever is necessary so that we move in coordinated and expeditious fashion to protect public health and safety in the future.
The commission will be constituted of those who are part of the response and those who are economically affected by shutdown orders including representatives of state and local governments, the courts, educational institutions, health care and human service providers, the business sector, tourism, agriculture, community and nonprofit organizations and professional groups.  We have to ensure that there is a full appreciation of all the challenges and the costs of remedies.  Costs would include the stockpiling and maintenance of supplies and assurance of supply chains where needed, which will not be easy given the revenue shortfalls we must contend with.  Long-running concerns such as the quality and sufficiency of elder care and child care have been magnified by the pandemic.  These items all have to be addressed.
Because of the friction points that have become evident during the pandemic, the commission should weigh how to find the proper balance between the responsibilities of elected and appointed officials and the rights of individuals and the operators of commercial, institutional, and care-giving facilities.  This will include distinguishing between mandates and recommendations, and what methods are appropriate for encouraging and enforcing compliance.
One of the key considerations is selecting someone of stature to head the commission, to ensure that it stays true to the crucial mission, is insulated from partisan politics to the extent possible, and has public credibility in these times of division and controversy.
My view is that we should work through the issues now in establishing this commission, so that the framework is in place whenever the moment is reached when its deliberations to identify legislative and regulatory remedies can constructively begin.
It was impossible for us to get things right in the onset of a novel pandemic with so much uncertainty and so many unknowns even now six months later.  Given the number of cases, the tragic deaths, the folks who are suffering lingering symptoms, the stress on the health care system, the economic losses, and the disruption of lives, we are compelled to modernize our laws before the next crisis strikes.
Please join me in cosponsoring this important initiative.