Gov. Wolf plans to veto bill allowing school districts to decide who can attend fall sports

Gov. Wolf plans to veto bill allowing school districts to decide who can attend fall sports

PITTSBURGH — Just a few hours after a bill giving hope to more fans in the stands at fall sports passed both the Pa. House and Senate, Channel 11 learned that Gov. Tom Wolf plans to veto the bill when it gets to his desk.

While fans can attend games in the fall, some parents want more control over that decision. Plenty of coaches and parents told Channel 11 that Pa. House Bill 2787 was their last chance to have fans in the stands.

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The bill passed in the House last week, 155-47. And it just passed the Senate Wednesday, 39-11. That bill, which now is headed to Wolf’s desk, would leave the decision up to each school district regarding fans -- not the county or the state.

Each school district in Pa. would be able to decide how many fans could attend games under enforced safety protocols.

However, Wolf’s office told Channel 11 he plans to veto the bill because it’s “unnecessary given that school districts already have local control on decisions on school sports.”

The governor’s office said this bill would allow for thousands of people to gather in “close proximity,” which is a public health risk during the pandemic. You can read the full statement from Wolf’s office below:

"The governor plans to veto the bill. 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."

State Rep. Josh Kail co-sponsored the bill. He told Channel 11 local officials are the “most qualified to make those decision” since they are involved in the day-to-day operations.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, fans are technically allowed at games under Wolf’s new guidance, but many coaches said it would be impossible to have fans with the 250 person outdoor capacity limit.

Scott Heinauer, athletic director for Mars, shared his attendance breakdown for football.

  • Players/coaches - 120
  • Cheerleaders/band members - more than 90

Then when you add up referees, trainers, administration and others who are at games, that quickly adds up to 250 already.

“I think we all know our own students, we all know our own school district. And I think we’ve done a great job managing this from the very beginning, so why not give us a chance ... to prove this thing can work?” Heinauer said.

In Allegheny County, the health department and WPIAL are also only allowing 250 people at outdoor sporting events, but in individual pods of 50 people.

State lawmakers wanted to get the bill on the governor’s desk before Friday night football on Sept. 11, but it appears it won’t be signed into law. Wolf has up to 10 days to sign or veto the bill.

Don Holl, Gateway’s athletic director, said their stadium can hold more than 5,000 people and believes there is plenty of room to safely socially distance fans in the stands.

“I think there’s room in between a fully-packed house ... and an empty stadium with no fans,” he said. “I think there’s a middle ground, and I hope that’s where we are headed.”

If Wolf does veto the bill, the state legislature can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

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State bill passes, school districts will decide who’s allowed to attend fall sports