HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state senate has passed a bill that would allow school districts to decide if and how many fans to allow at sporting events.
While recently updated guidance from Governor Wolf does allow spectators, capacity is capped at 250 people for outdoor events, including players and coaches.
HB 2787 would allow districts to decide how many fans to allow into games, from none to well over the current limit.
“The problem with that is, it doesn't account for what these activities really are,” said State Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland County), who sponsored the bill.
A flat limit of 250 for outdoor events and 25 for indoor just isn’t realistic, Reese said.
For example, high school football teams often arrive to games with 60 players each. Along with coaches, cheerleaders and bands, events could easily hit the gathering limit even before including any fans.
“We're actually going to have some students who are going to have to be out in the hallway or potentially out in the parking lot waiting to be substituted into the game,” Reese said.
Several members of the state senate spoke in support of the bill before voting Wednesday. Some argued school districts should be given the autonomy to decide the level of safety measures they need to take.
“Let them decide. I mean no one has more at stake in the health of their children and the health of their community than their local school district,” said State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre County).
The senate voted to pass the same bill that already passed in the state house of representatives, without any amendments.
HB 2787 will now head to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf.
The governor plans to veto the bill. His office wrote in a statement,
“The bill is unnecessary given that school districts already have local control on decisions on school sports. Further the virus is not stopping and spreads more easily when people are in close proximity with one another. This bill would allow for the potential gathering of thousands in close proximity, a widely-reported, well-known public health risk. We should focus on preventing the spread and creating a safe environment for children students back to learning and, if possible, in the classroom. Minimizing exposure to COVID-19 is paramount.
Instead of passing unnecessary legislation like this, the Republican legislative majority should do things to help people impacted by the pandemic like funding for small businesses, child care funding, and paid sick leave for employees. The governor outlined a comprehensive plan to provide relief for workers and families, support for businesses, and reform for government. The legislature should stop wasting time and pass the governor’s plan to help Pennsylvanians.”
A veto override vote is likely to be scheduled in the legislature.
The override would require a two-thirds majority from each chamber, 136 of 203 votes in the house and 33 of 50 votes in the senate. The bill had passed 155-47 in the house and 39-11 in the senate.
For the athletes and coaches already competing in the fall high school sports season, having more fans in the stands is a positive.
“Fans have a different feel to it in a game… For us, having families there is by far most important, especially parents,” said Christopher Grube, head football coach at Kennard-Dale High School in York County.
Kennard-Dale High School was open to allowing more spectators, Grube said, as long as they continued to follow CDC, PDE and PIAA guidelines.