According to the news this morning, several counties are now considering backing down on their plans to reopen after Governor Wolf’s threats yesterday. For that reason, NOW is the time for you to contact your county and municipal government. These officials need to know that they have your support if they challenge the Governor.
Several posters have inquired about a plan for municipal ordinances to deal with COVID-19. We are happy to consult with you about the substance of a municipal ordinance. However, what we will initially tell you is that the plan for the ordinance should have three components to it:
A municipality enacting an ordinance for businesses to reopen will only work if neighboring municipalities enact the same approach. Ideally, a whole county’s municipalities would enact the same ordinance. There are multiple reasons for this: 1) there is strength in numbers, the Governor is much less likely to react the more municipalities become involved, 2) it is much easier for the public to understand the rules for a whole county as opposed to having to keep track of individual municipalities, 3) if there are repercussions from the Governor, the costs involved can be split between the municipalities.
A county government can coordinate the ordinance among the county’s municipalities. Most or all counties also have a full time solicitor’s office, which can provide guidance in terms of the various legalities of the situation.
Contents of the Ordinance
There are multiple different plans that could be used to reopen businesses. You can literally find dozens in the United States. For simplicity’s sake, the Municipality could use an ordinance using the Governor’s Red, Yellow, Green plan. But does that make sense for the Municipality? Other plans may make more sense, but are more likely to confuse businesses and the public.
Another piece of this needs to be confidentiality. With the Governor making threats to strip businesses of licenses, businesses need to know that if they follow a municipal ordinance, the business’ information will be kept confidential by the municipality. It should not be easy for the Governor’s office to get a list of businesses that have chosen to reopen under a municipal ordinance.
There also needs to be a clear statement to the public that compliance with a municipal ordinance DOES NOT guarantee that a business will be immune from actions by the Governor of Pennsylvania. As discussed previously, compliance with a municipal ordinance does provide a strong defense if any business finds themselves in a licensing or other legal proceeding.
The final piece of the ordinance needs to be a review process. If a municipality moves from Red to Yellow, what will the criteria be for moving from Yellow to Green? To be clear, “Green” does not signify no restrictions. Under the Governor’s plan, many restrictions are still in place. Should there be another color after Green? What will the criteria be for that?
There is also a real possibility that there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases, what will the procedure be for returning to Red from Yellow?
I fully anticipate that businesses will be so happy to reopen that there will be tremendous compliance with an ordinance. However, there still needs to be education for businesses and the public as to what is allowed and what is not allowed. There need to be internet postings and handouts given to participating businesses. Someone does need to check for compliance.
Many local sheriffs have pledged to cooperate in businesses reopening contrary to the Governor’s order. There is a way that Sheriffs can help, Sheriffs can assist in education in municipalities that do not have local police.
Municipal codes officers and Municipal police can also be involved in the education component.
To be very clear, the education component is not about issuing citations. The education component is about making sure that newly reopened businesses understand the steps that they need to be taking to protect their employees’ health and the health of the public. I expect that nearly all businesses will be willing to accept advice as to what they need to do.
We strongly encourage individuals and municipalities to take responsibility for themselves and their own communities and develop an ordinance that works with your local conditions.
Prince Law Offices is ready to assist you as an individual or as a government official.