HARRISBURG, Pa. – After more than a year of being stonewalled by the Wolf administration on information relating to virtually all aspects of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state House is quickly moving forward with legislation sponsored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/ Bradford/ Potter) that would require an in-depth review of the Commonwealth’s response.
House Bill 1264, which requires a detailed report on issues related to COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and personal protective equipment (PPE), passed the House State Government Committee on Monday. It was brought up for second consideration in the full House Wednesday, where it was further improved by more than a dozen bipartisan amendments.
“The people of this Commonwealth have been kept in the dark about so much over the past year, most recently about the state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the administration of COVID-19 tests and vaccines,” Owlett said. “We all deserve better. It’s time to shine the light on these issues so we can learn from them and move forward.”
As passed by the House State Government Committee earlier this week, the bill requires detailed information about the state’s PPE stockpile, including the types of PPE acquired and how many of each type, how much has been distributed, how much remains and how much money was spent on it. Several amendments were approved, most with significant bipartisan support, to expand the amount of information required in the report.
Owlett himself sponsored an amendment that would require reporting on the country of origin of the state’s PPE, as well as measures taken by the administration to secure the PPE stockpile and protect against rodent infestation. The stockpile is currently kept at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, a building that is located in a flood plain and is no stranger to mice, rats and other vermin.
Other amendments regarding PPE-related information include ones requiring information on whether the stockpile is insured; how much PPE or other medical supplies have been disposed of, and how, because they were expired, damaged or otherwise unusable; and the cost of storing the supplies at the Farm Show Complex, including lease agreements, payments and loss of rental revenue. Additional proposals would create an advisory board to identify other storage options for the PPE supply; prohibit storage of PPE in a flood zone; require development of a quick removal plan in the event of a flood; and outline the administration’s use of non-disclosure agreements for anyone who saw, handled or acquired PPE from the state stockpile.
“Recently, several committee chairmen attempted, at the invitation of the administration, to view the stockpile at the Farm Show complex, but they were denied entry when they refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would have prohibited them from discussing what they saw or learned,” Owlett said. “That’s not the way legislative oversight works.”
Other amendments would boost capacity for COVID-19 testing; require the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to consider the information in these reports when issuing its annual report to the General Assembly; provide information on the state’s medical oxygen supply; report on how many vaccines in the Commonwealth have been wasted, expired or destroyed; and provide COVID-19 vaccine personal information privacy, a timely addition given the recent data breach involving the personal information of more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians who were contact traced by the state and its contractor, Insight Global.
“These amendments all aim to achieve the kind of transparency and accountability our citizens deserve,” Owlett said. “Members of the General Assembly are elected to be the voice of the people in their districts, and those voices have been silenced for far too long.
“That we have to pass such detailed legislation to get information about what the administration is doing is just another example of why I, along with a bipartisan majority of my colleagues, voted to put questions on the ballot giving people the opportunity to weigh in on how we will handle prolonged disaster emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic in the future,” Owlett said.
House Bill 1264 is awaiting third and final consideration in the state House.