Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (left) speaks during a news conference Nov. 10, 2020, at the Statehouse in Harrisburg as House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (right) looks on.

(The Center Square) – The Republican leaders of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly said Monday their respective agendas will focus on contesting the statewide school masking order and reviewing regulatory waivers granted at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’ve consistently fought for local control because we feel [local officials] are the best informed and closest to the people in terms of making those decisions,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville, during a news conference Monday. “We think they are the best situated to do that.”

The comments come after the House Health Committee sent a letter to the Joint Committee on Documents requesting a regulatory review of the Department of Health’s Aug. 31 order mandating masks in all public, private and parochial schools.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said the administration’s reversal on the policy – after months of espousing mitigation plans adopted by individual school districts – generated a flood of complaints from constituents, who preferred the “local control” approach too.

“That same control was working before and reflected the needs of local values prior to the statewide mandate,” he said. “Those who are reaching out to our offices in large numbers deserve to know their voices are being heard.”

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Although Benninghoff and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, said restoring local control of public health decisions tops their lists, it’s not the only pandemic item on the agenda.

The chambers must also sort through up to 500 regulatory waivers suspended over the past 18 months of the pandemic that will expire on Sept. 30. Many, the leaders hope, can be rolled back permanently.

As such, the House State Government Committee advanced a bill Monday morning that asks the administration to list the current waivers so that legislators can determine which ones will make the cut. Ward said during a phone call with reporters later that day that many regulations surrounding telehealth will be addressed.

The chambers will also address lingering regulatory issues stemming from the opioid epidemic and the extension of the statewide disaster declaration for storm damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida earlier this month.

“This fall, Pennsylvanians continue to face a number of challenges beyond their control,” Cutler said. “Our residents are rebuilding after a storm, recovering from the pandemic and still dealing with statewide mandates from an overreaching executive branch. Our members have heard from frustrated people in all corners of our Commonwealth, and we are ready to carry those messages into the work we do in Harrisburg.”

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