Today, May 13th, the Columbia County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to move the county from the red to yellow phase related to Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 reopening plan. While the change is scheduled to take effect Friday, May 15th, the commissioners have offered to comply with the red phase if the Governor announces moving Columbia County to the yellow phase by the 22nd. The PA Supreme Court has ruled that the governor has the authority to order businesses to close under a disaster declaration.
During the meeting, Columbia County District Attorney Thomas Leipold stated that he would advise local law enforcement against prosecution of businesses that resumed operations, as long as they comply with safety protocols issued by the Department of Health. The commissioners cautioned that the county cannot defend businesses against any enforcement actions taken by the state. On Monday, Governor Wolf outlined consequences to counties and businesses that do not abide by his order to remain closed:
- Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000.
- Businesses that do not abide by the law risk liability insurance coverage.
- Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service will be at risk of losing their liquor license.
- Other businesses that reopen will be at risk of losing occupancy permits and state-issued licenses.
The governor did not publicly indicate any plan for identifying and penalizing businesses that violate the order.
Several bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate in Harrisburg that would limit the governor’s role as it relates to business closures and give the authority of easing restrictions to the counties. Gov. Wolf has previously vetoed legislation with similar intentions.