HARRISBURG — With the state’s small business owners, schools, service providers and others struggling to stay afloat in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Reps. Tina Pickett, R-Sayre, Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint and Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, on Friday applauded passage of a key liability protection measure.

House Bill 1737 is designed to protect those businesses and organizations that follow guidance from the state and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of coronavirus. It also ensures bad actors who fail to follow the guidance are held accountable for their actions.

In addition to COVID-19 liability protections, the measure also helps pave the way for farmers who want to expand their businesses to include agritourism by providing them with limited liability protections as well.

“Farmers across the Commonwealth have been struggling for years and looking for opportunities to diversify to be able to stay in business,” Causer said. “Agritourism offers a solution many have been looking for to keep their operations in the black. Similarly, the COVID-19 protections are a necessary step toward helping our Commonwealth recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.”

Owlett, who represents part of Potter County, lauded agritourism as well.

“Our schools, business owners and health care providers have been working so hard to take care of themselves and their employees, students, patients and clients during this pandemic, and they should be protected from frivolous lawsuits,” Owlett said. “And at a time where there are so many people who don’t know where their food comes from, agritourism is a great way to introduce them to the hard-working men and women who work from sunup to sundown to feed them.”

The COVID-19 liability protections outlined in House Bill 1737 would apply to schools and childcare providers; manufacturers, distributors, labelers and donors of personal protective equipment; business and government service providers; and health care facilities and providers. Any of these entities would be held liable in the case of gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.

As for the agritourism protections, the bill requires farmer or other activity provider to post specific warning signs and have a signed, written agreement with a participant that they have acknowledged the risk of participating in the activity. Again, the protections would not apply in cases of gross negligence, recklessness, willful misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.

The bill passed by a vote of 104-98 and now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

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