Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is pictured at a news conference in Harrisburg on March 12.

HARRISBURG – The state Senate voted 39-11 to send Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that would allow school districts to determine how many spectators can attend scholastic sporting events and other extracurricular activities.

The measure passed the state House last week with bipartisan support.

As the measure was moving in the House, the Department of Health rewrote its guidance to schools to allow spectators at high school sporting events but said those gatherings must comply with the state’s crowd size limits of 25 people indoors and 250 outdoors.

Advocates for the legislation, House Bill 2787, say the Wolf Administration’s move isn’t good enough because of those crowd size limitations.

“There is no basis to these arbitrary numbers” limiting crowd sizes, said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County, chairman of the Senate education committee.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for Wolf said last week that the governor opposes the legislation, calling it unnecessary in light of the state’s move to allow spectators at high school sporting events.

Democrats argued that school officials have the authority to offer sports and that on other issues, Republicans have resisted efforts to give local officials more authority on other issues like gun control.

State Sen. Lawrence Farnese, D-Philadelphia, said that the next time the Legislature debates gun control, “remember these arguments.”

State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said that bill isn’t needed because school districts that want to offer sports have already begun to do so and the state hasn’t intervened. The legislation is just the latest in a series of efforts by lawmakers to limit Wolf’s authority.

“It’s about wresting control from the governor,” Williams said.

State Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, said that the state’s made exceptions, including allowing large car shows and allowing people to participate in large protests.

The state has allowed school districts to determine whether to open for in-person instruction or whether they should offer remote instruction or whether they should take a hybrid approach. If school districts are given the authority to determine how to operate for academics, they should be allowed to determine whether and how to offer athletics and extracurricular activities.

Scavello said he’d considered trying to add an amendment that would have required that, at a minimum, parents be allowed to attend sporting events. He decided against changing the legislation because he thinks school districts will make the proper decisions on their own, Scavello said.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said that school districts can offer sports but without the legislation, there’s no guarantee that the administration won’t reverse course.

“The problem is what the governor giveth, the governor can taketh away,” Corman said.

He added that since there are many school districts with large football stadiums, the school districts can safely accommodate larger crowds than permitted by the state’s 250 crowd size limit.