Senator Baker tours Mission Central in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. A world wide disaster response & mission outreach ministry of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church.
State Senator Lisa Baker voted in favor of the 2013-2014 state budget. The reasons behind her “yes” vote are as follow:
“I believe that this is a reasonable and responsible plan within the available revenues. It is consistent with previous efforts to control state spending, but there is also recognition that additional dollars are needed in key areas to avoid negative consequences for families and communities.
There is still a need to be careful with the overall spending level because of anticipated added costs next year and beyond.
Where there is money to make discretionary choices, the priorities are good ones – Pre-K Counts, basic and higher education, school safety and community protection efforts with a 350% increase for school resource officers and safety enhancements. Extra money for the state police will and the Attorney General are two instances where the requests for funding for public safety and crime-fighting purposes proved compelling, providing 3 new cadet classes and a mobile crime lab to address gang violence.
The slow economic recovery means that a lot of families are still hurting from the recession, and there is some increased funding for programs to help meet those needs.
From my committee chair perspective, I am pleased that Pennsylvania’s one million veterans have not been forgotten. Support for veterans homes has been increased over the governor’s proposal. Emergency aid for veterans is retained, for those struggling to put food on the table, buy medication, pay a heating bill, and make a rent or mortgage payment.
This budget will give our Veterans Trust Fund time to secure a healthy fund balance, so that it can meet the many needs of those brave and women in uniform who are coming home at last to be reunited with their families and return to civilian life as quiet heroes. Veterans outreach services have also received a deserving injection of funds. These funds for our veterans service organizations yield an amazing return on investment as one dollar in outreach leads to more than $80 in state and federal benefits secured.
From a district standpoint, money is included to help the innovative Workforce Wayne project, to fund critical access hospitals in rural communities and to assist the Commonwealth Medical College in training doctors in northeastern Pennsylvania.
It is easy to find places where we wish more money could be directed. I heard a lot of expressions from individuals and groups for either catch-up dollars to restore services or new money to expand successful efforts. The difficulty is that it is not easy to gain broad agreement on acceptable ways to generate revenue to pay for higher spending, for this year and for subsequent years.
This budget is not a solution for all our challenges and problems, but it will work to improve our fiscal and economic situations, and that represents progress.”
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
Governor Corbett made a sound selection with his nomination of Judge Correale Stevens to the state Supreme Court. As important as it is to fill the vacancy, given the significance of the issues the court is likely to consider, it is even more important to have the right person there, given this may be the tie-breaking vote on controversies that deeply divide the court.
As someone who served as an authority solicitor, state legislator, district attorney, Common Pleas Court Judge, and now as a state Superior Court Judge, Judge Stevens has evidenced an uncommon commitment to public service. He has seen the legal system, its strengths and its challenges, from about every angle.
He has time and again secured the support of voters, who regard him as reliable and trustworthy. Because of the time he spent on the county bench and on a state appellate court, he has a body of work and numerous decisions that attest to his capacity as a jurist. By virtue of being chosen as President Judge, he has clearly earned the respect and confidence of his colleagues.
I am pleased to recommend his approval by this committee, and hope that confirmation by the full Senate will soon follow.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
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This week—state Veterans Homes Week—is a golden opportunity to honor and thank the residents and staff of Pennsylvania’s six veterans’ homes. Even better than a resolution, I encourage you to visit one of the homes and remind America’s heroes that they are not forgotten. Listen to their tales of heroism and struggle, and hear why they served, where they served, and what they did for democracy.
Then beyond a visit, we must show our defenders that we remember them by supporting their needs in the budget process and beyond.
As a board member of the Gino Merli Veterans Home in Scranton, I have had the privilege of talking to these still-proud soldiers in wheelchairs and hospital beds —the brave members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard who defended our freedoms in their younger and stronger days. They never fail to impress and inspire with their riveting stories and their infinite patriotism. The entire staff, from doctors and nurses to aides and therapists, display that same patriotism and respect as they tend to the needs of these great American heroes.
It is no accident that the Gino Merli home was named after the Medal of Honor recipient who inspired Tom Brokaw’s book THE GREATEST GENERATION.
The state veterans homes are one of the most visible ways in which we honor our obligation to our nation’s defenders. We have improved the physical plant of the homes and the quality of care, which has led to extremely high patient satisfaction levels. But that doesn’t mean the homes are without challenges.
With the state budget process in its final stages, we must keep the veterans in these homes in the forefront of our minds and our priorities. They were often the first to defend our flag and should be the last to suffer from budget shortfalls.
Throughout the year, many volunteer groups visit the homes to socialize, to sing, to donate blankets, and to make the veterans home a true “home.”
Veterans’ homes are caring for aging veterans in Scranton, Erie, Hollidaysburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Spring City. The staff in each home works to maximize the independence of every sick, aging and injured veteran and their spouse, for it is these veterans who fought so bravely to preserve OUR independence as a free nation.
As we salute the 1,600 veterans and their caregivers in these homes during State Veterans Homes Week, I encourage everyone to visit a veterans’ home and say thank you to our heroes. Remember them in the state budget, and remind them that we have not forgotten that we are forever in their debt. Thank you.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
Today is National Guard Day. You will see men and women in uniform throughout the Capitol today, along with demonstrations and displays of the Guard’s state-of-the-art military equipment and programs in the East Wing Rotunda.
We will be honoring the 19,000 brave men and women of the Guard with a Senate resolution that salutes their enduring commitment to this Commonwealth and this country. With many soldiers and airmen still in harm’s way, we thank these protectors for their service and sacrifice, and pray for their safe return home.
This elite force is led by The Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Maj. General Wesley Craig. General Craig is the face of our Guard and its dual mission to protect freedom and save lives both here and abroad. Like the citizen-soldiers he leads, General Craig is highly trained and unceasingly prepared for any crisis or challenge. He exhibits enormous calm in the face of danger, and is both a peacekeeper and a combat soldier, as the need arises.
General Craig has devoted more than 40 years of his distinguished life to the military. He currently leads one of the most deployed National Guard units in the nation.
The reason Pennsylvania is deployed so frequently is simple: As General Craig often says, “It’s because we’re the best.”
Just last week, General Craig led our Commonwealth in his most challenging role of all – mourning the loss of two heroic servicemen who were killed in action in Afghanistan—Chief Warrant Officers Matthew Ruffner and Jarett Yoder.
Matthew and Jarett became our 52nd and 53rd Guardsmen killed in action in the past ten years. That casualty total exceeds the losses suffered by any other state.
While we know the risks of war, each loss is still an agonizing shock to the system and a heartache felt by all of us.
On National Guard Day, and any time we suffer such an unbearable loss, we are reminded: we must never forget the fallen, never neglect their families, and never abandon the survivors who bear the wounds of war, both visible and invisible.
No matter how strong the fiscal pressures on Pennsylvania, we can never weaken our commitment to our veterans.
The Guard’s esteemed leader has been a tireless advocate for that cause. It is my great privilege to present to you Pennsylvania’s 51st Adjutant General, Major General Wesley Craig.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
HARRISBURG — The state Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) that would allow crime victims, or their families, to provide testimony to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole when a perpetrator is being considered for parole.
Current law permits a crime victim to present written or oral comments for parole board consideration, as well as to testify before a hearing examiner, but does not allow for direct testimony before the board. Senate Bill 508 would address that gap in the process.
“We afford families the chance to make victim impact statements during sentencing. But we do not afford them an equal opportunity when the minimum sentence has been served and the perpetrator is seeking to return to the community,” Baker said during remarks on the Senate floor. “Putting words on paper cannot match the emotional impact of face-to-face input from survivors. The purpose of this bill is quite simple – to give a victim or their representative the chance to meet with, or provide electronic testimony to, the board members charged with making the decision, or a hearing examiner, should that be the preference.”
Baker credited Susan Hooper, from Luzerne County, who served on the Victim Advocate’s Task Force and pushed for the measure for several years. Her brother, Robert Curley, died suddenly in 1991. His wife Joann later pled guilty to third-degree murder for systematically poisoning her husband. She has been denied parole since she was first eligible in 2006.
“The decision to grant parole is a serious determination, and should be made with the fullest understanding of the implications,” Baker said. “This bill helps accomplish that goal.”
Senate Bill 508 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
HARRISBURG, March 19 – Leslie Nicholas, a language arts teacher at Wyoming Valley West Middle School who was recently named the country’s top educator, was honored Tuesday by state Representative Phyllis Mundy and state Senators Lisa Baker and John Yudichak.
Nicholas, known as Mr. Nick to his students, was introduced on the House floor by Mundy and the Senate floor by Baker. He received citations in both chambers recognizing his accomplishment. He also delivered a powerful address to the full Senate on the importance of education in Pennsylvania.
“While we are fortunate to have many excellent teachers in our area, the sustained excellence in approach demonstrated by Les Nicholas is remarkable and inspiring,” Baker said. “The national recognition he is receiving is well-earned. But I know that what counts most for him is the success in life and professional pursuits that his students have gone on to achieve.”
“All good teachers leave an indelible impact on their students but very few have been a more positive influence on area children over the years than Les Nicholas,” Yudichak added. “We are fortunate enough to have hundreds of great teachers throughout NEPA and I am extremely proud to see one of these fine educators receiving this well-deserved national recognition.”
“Les Nicholas has left an indelible impression on the thousands of students who were fortunate to have him as a teacher,” Mundy said. “He consistently goes the extra mile to show his students how the skills they are learning relate to real-life situations.”
Nicholas, a fourth-generation educator, started his career in 1981 teaching journalism to Wyoming Valley West High School students. He built radio and television studios to give his students that real-life experience as part of their education. He also advised the award-winning yearbook, literary-art magazine, and newspaper at the high school before moving to the middle school.
During his career, he’s received numerous awards. He was named Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year in 2004 and 2005, and in 2009, he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
The National Education Association selected him as one of five finalists for the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence.
Nicholas was selected for the award after he gave a mock lesson in New York City and was interviewed by members of the NEA.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson
Follow Up Hearing on School Safety
Senate Education and Veterans Affairs and Emergency
March 13, 2013
Hearing Room #1/North Office Building
Please click on links to view testimony in PDF format
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HARRISBURG (March 12, 2013) Because a joint state Senate hearing on school safety raised a host of disturbing questions about emergency planning in child care centers, buses and colleges, a second hearing will be held tomorrow to explore strategies for protecting infants, toddlers, college students and staff in these venues.
The follow-up hearing will again bring together members of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), and the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48). The first hearing, held on Feb. 13, included experts who discussed the benefits of armed guards, school resource officers, and additional training and drills.
Tomorrow’s hearing (agenda listed below) will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in North Office Building, Hearing Room 1, Harrisburg, and will feature Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who oversees school safety audits; Alison Kiss of the Clery Center for Campus Security; campus police from the Luzerne County Community College; spokespersons from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference; and representatives of other schools and child care centers.
“We will examine how preschools, parochial schools, and public and private colleges plan for and respond to both internal and external threats,” said Baker. “After the Sandy Hook tragedy and Superstorm Sandy, every facility and staff member responsible for the care of large numbers of children should be reviewing, updating and drilling their emergency plans.”
“As elected officials, ensuring the safety and security of all Pennsylvanians, especially those who are most defenseless, is paramount,” said Folmer. “At our first school safety hearing, Senator Baker and I heard from public school district officials and law enforcement professionals. I’m hopeful we can take those opinions, along with the information and perspectives gathered today from preschool, parochial, and collegiate communities, to help provide a safe environment for all children.”
Many school districts across the Commonwealth already employ armed police and school resource officers, or are debating their hiring.
Senator Baker’s Office: Jennifer Wilson, 570-675-3931
Senator Folmer’s Office: Beth Williams, 717-787-5708