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Lebanon County Commissioners vote in favor of moving to yellow phase, defying Governor Wolf's order

The District Attorney is reminding businesses, while they may not face any criminal consequences from her office, they could face repercussions from the state.

LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. — "Do we open and risk losing our business through having our licenses revoke or do we stay closed and risk losing our businesses," questioned one Lebanon County salon owner on a Zoom call Friday afternoon.

It's a choice now that more businesses in Lebanon County are free to make -- with two out of three commissioners, both republicans, voting in favor of moving to the yellow phase and allowing businesses to reopen. State Senator Dave Arnold also backs the move.

"We got to take a strong stance and say we need to do the right thing for our entire community, and the right thing is to safely allow our citizens to get back to work," said Senator Arnold.

Democratic Commissioner Jo Litz opposed the move.

"We have no authority to tell businesses they are in the yellow zone," said Litz. "That puts the county in a liable situation and we may experience lawsuits. I want people to have hope -- but not false hope. We have no formal plan for PPE for all of the hospitals, much less rest of the businesses. We don’t have adequate contact tracing, and we need more general testing for COVID-19."

Even though Lebanon County is technically moving from the red to yellow phase, to some people, it feels and looks more like green. Some "non-essential" businesses have already opened, and others could be opening as soon as this Friday.

“This was a tough decision for my office,” explained Pier Hess Graf, the Lebanon County District Attorney. “I thought it was the right decision to make and to return the individual liberties back to the people.”

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In a letter, Pier Hess Graf states her office will not prosecute any business that decides to reopen this Friday. On FaceTime, she address confusion created throughout the COVID-19 health crisis.

“I don't want to create gray areas or nuances as the Governor did and his giving waivers to some people and clearing some businesses but not others,” explained Hess Graf. 

She’s hoping the tough decision ensures those businesses have a future in Lebanon County when all is said and done.

“I was born and raised in Lebanon County,” she explained. “My family still lives here, and we are five generations in Lebanon County so I’ve had some people question my background and why I did this. I grew up here. My high school classmates are raising their children here. I went to high school here. It’s very important to me that when we come out of this all of those people that came here, that work here, that makes it such a vital, vibrant community that they're still here that their businesses still exist.”

That’s not to say businesses should treat it as the wild wild west; the DA says precaution is necessary.

“As long as you're a business that can comply with the mandate set forth with Dr. Levine's April 15th order that was issued by the administration - it talked about less than 10 people in immediate area, the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves, and social distancing,” explained Pier Hess Graf.

She's also reminding businesses, while they may not face any criminal consequences from her office or even the local police, Governor Wolf has said there could be other repercussions.

“You may face a civil liability or a civil sanction from the state department,” she said. “If your business is subject to regulation, licensure, that is something you need to be mindful of and take into account when you make your decision."

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