Gov. Wolf vetoes House Bill 2787, leaving high school sports spectators in limbo

Monday, September 21, 2020 | 11:33 AM

Gov. Tom Wolf followed through on his promise Monday and vetoed legislation that would have let school districts set their own attendance limits for sports.

Now what?

The primary sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Mike Reese, said he expects the General Assembly to override Wolf’s veto and give schools that authority anyway. The Westmoreland County Republican hopes the override process can start this week or next.

“We technically cannot vote until we’re in receipt of the governor’s veto,” Reese said. “When we get that, I don’t know. There’s a gray area about when he has to submit it to the chamber that sent him the bill he vetoed. We’ll see when that gets there.”

Wolf has shown little urgency. The Legislature sent House Bill 2787 to Wolf’s desk Sept. 11, starting a 10-day window for him to act. The bill would let schools avoid gathering limits imposed by his administration. Under the governor’s guidelines, groups were limited to 250 individuals outdoors and 25 indoors.

Anyone who ignores covid-19 does so “at your peril,” Wolf said Monday, while answering questions at an unrelated press conference. He’s characterized the gathering limits as vital to prevent coronavirus spread among crowds.

“I’m always amazed at politicians thinking that they can somehow wave a magic wand and suspend reality,” Wolf said. “Next I’m waiting for someone to come and say we’re going to suspend the law of gravity.”

Wolf indicated in recent days he would veto the bill.

“Instead of ignoring it, we ought to try to figure out what we can do to keep that virus from infecting too many people,” Wolf said. “Apparently, the folks who voted for this decided they just wanted to ignore that reality. I can’t. And I don’t think Pennsylvanians can afford to ignore that reality.”

State lawmakers may override Wolf’s veto. The bill passed the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority the first time. To override the veto, the bill again needs to pass both chambers by a two-thirds vote.

“It would be great to get it done this week, but it’s just a matter of timing,” Reese said. “If we can’t, then I suspect we’ll do it first order of business Tuesday morning.”

The House isn’t in session on Yom Kippur.

A number of lawmakers would need to change their votes to prevent the override from passing. The House approved the bill 155-47 and the Senate voted 39-11.

“It’s really, really hard for a member in the House or Senate — Democrat or Republican — to vote differently than you did the first time a bill was in front of you,” Reese said, “because then you have to justify why. … That’s a tough things for a member to do, so I suspect we’ll have the votes.”

In a statement Monday, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin, said “the House will vote to override this ridiculous veto.”

“In vetoing this bill, Gov. Wolf stands directly opposed to children and families looking for some semblance of normalcy and to receive the numerous invaluable benefits of fully participating in school sports,” Benninghoff said.

The governor’s gathering restrictions have forced schools to exclude spectators from many interscholastic events, particularly football and all indoor contests. However, those limits are in question after a federal court judge ruled them unconstitutional last week. Wolf has said his administration intends to appeal that decision.

But in the meantime, school administrators are curious how that court decision impacts them.

The state Department of Education released a statement Friday encouraging schools “to voluntarily enforce the 25-person indoor and 250-person outdoor gathering limitations while all of us wait for the court to rule on the stay request.”

Unless or until a court issues that stay, schools can exceed those limits, said Reese, who encourages school administrators to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“We want to make sure we pass this legislation,” he added, “so that power stays with our local school boards.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at

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