In This Update:
Senate Advances Legislation for the Robert F. Kile Sr. Memorial Highway
The Pennsylvania Senate has unanimously advanced House Bill 11, legislation to designate a portion of PA Route 92 from Apple Tree Road to Rustic Lane in Exeter Township, Luzerne County, as the Robert F. Kile Sr. Memorial Highway. The legislation has been sent back to the House of Representatives for consideration. I was honored to offer remarks on the Senate Floor, highlighting Robert Kile’s hard work and dedication within his community, and within Luzerne County, which has left a lasting impact on the lives of so many people.
COVID-19 Restrictions Relaxed on Businesses, Gatherings
After weeks of dedicated advocacy from lawmakers, employers and employees, Governor Wolf finally announced that several restrictions on businesses and gatherings would be relaxed effective April 4. Some of the changes include:
In addition, occupancy limits will be increased to 25 percent for indoor venues and 50 percent for outdoor venues, regardless of size.
Although this is positive news for industries impacted by Governor Wolf’s unilateral orders and restrictions, the fact that these restrictions are still in place today speaks to the dangers of allowing one branch of government to control all the power during an extended emergency declaration. Lawmakers approved potential amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would give the people a stronger voice in emergency response through their elected officials. An explanation of the amendments – and how Governor Wolf is working to sabotage them – is available in this editorial.
Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Legislation
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance three bills this week, including legislation to support victims of child sexual abuse, further address drug related DUI incidents, and merge the Board of Probation and Parole within the Department of Corrections.
House Bill 14, introduced by Representative Gregory, amends Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by creating a two-year period in which victims of childhood sexual abuse may bring a civil lawsuit, in cases where the statute of limitations period for their claims has already expired. This legislation was amended to change the measure to an emergency constitutional amendment in order for it to be presented to voters this May, and to clarify that victims are able to be hold both public and private institutions accountable for abuse. The amendment and bill as amended received bi-partisan support and passed by a vote of 10-4.
While so many of us were distraught to learn of the Wolf Administration’s colossal failure to advertise the original constitutional amendment last session as was required by law, I don’t know that any one of us can truly understand the pain that victims have felt learning that the conclusion they were anticipating would not be achieved as planned. I believe that given what took place, it is vital that we work together to pass House Bill 14 as an emergency constitutional amendment, to help give victims timely access to the justice they so greatly deserve.
Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Senator Hutchinson, amends Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes by adding a new section to establish the Drug Recognition Expert Training Fund. Money in the Fund will be appropriated to the Pennsylvania State Police and used to train law enforcement in drug recognition. This type of education includes training of law enforcement to detect if an individual is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, narcotics, controlled substances or other impairing substances. In addition to any other costs imposed for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, a convicted individual will be assessed $5 which will be deposited into the Fund by the State Treasurer. SB 137 was unanimously passed by the committee.
In my district, we recently saw the benefits of a drug recognition expert, who helped to determine that a vehicle crash that occurred in the middle of the day, was caused by an individual under the influence of drugs. These experts have an important skillset, which can go a long way to address drug related DUI incidents, and this bill will help to expand their availability.
Senate Bill 411, introduced by Senator Browne, amends Title 42 and Title 61 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to transfer to the Department of Corrections, the offender supervision and certain administrative functions, currently performed by the Board of Probation and Parole as well certain functions, duties and powers of the Board of Pardons. SB 411 was unanimously passed by the committee.
This legislation will help to reduce the costs associated with the Board of Probation and Parole, while also taking necessary steps to ensure they remain independent in their decision making responsibilities.
The bills now advance to the full Senate for consideration.
Budget Hearings Continue with Discussion on Education
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s series of hearings on Governor Wolf’s budget proposal continued this week with a discussion regarding the future of education in Pennsylvania with the Department of Education and representatives from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Some of the topics of discussion included the importance of returning students to in-person instruction safely, the need for schools to use federal stimulus funding prudently, and redesigning PASSHE to provide a quality education to students at an affordable price. Key Points
Budget hearings will continue Monday, March 21, with the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole at 10 a.m. and the Department of Community and Economic Development at 2 p.m. The hearings will be streamed live at www.PASenateGOP.com.
Camp Industry Must be Allowed the Reopen this Summer
The summer camp industry in the Pocono region is a vital part of northeastern Pennsylvania’s economy. The forced closure of summer camps due to COVID-19 had a severe and negative impact upon the local economy. I am awaiting a response to a letter sent to Governor Wolf on March 10, 2021, stressing the need to allow the summer camps to responsibly reopen this summer.
Many families depend upon these camps to provide their children with recreation, education, socialization, and skills development during the summer months. Camp owners are prepared to reopen with full safety accommodations, utilizing an enhanced mitigation approach, developed in consultation with the American Camp Association. The average camp has been a mainstay of the Pocono economy for 66 years. A report on the Economic Impacts of the Pocono Summer Camp Industry, highlights the tremendous footprint of this industry.
Senate Approves Bill to Open Career Opportunities for Individuals in Recovery
Individuals in recovery for substance use disorders could stand a better chance of breaking the cycle of addiction by maintaining meaningful employment under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. The bill would create a Recovery to Work pilot program to connect individuals suffering from substance use disorders with high-priority occupations.
The pilot program would allow state agencies to work with local workforce development boards, treatment and recovery providers and employers to find job training and employment opportunities for individuals in recovery.
Senate Continues Bipartisan Review of Election Issues Next Week
The Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform will continue its comprehensive review of the 2020 General Election with a hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The hearing will include testimony from the Pennsylvania Department of State, local election officials and county officials to gather state and local insight on the administration of the election.
The committee held its first meeting on Monday to review best practices of election integrity and security from other states. State residents are encouraged to submit their thoughts and comments through the online form.
Unemployment Compensation Programs Extended
The federal government recently extended all Unemployment Compensation programs, including the additional $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, through September 6. The maximum number of weeks of eligibility for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was also extended from 24 weeks to 53 weeks, and the maximum number of weeks of eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is extended from 50 weeks to 79 weeks.
In addition, up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits for an individual (or $20,400 for a couple, if both members received unemployment benefits) will not be considered federal taxable income in 2020, assuming the individual or couple earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income for the year.
World Down Syndrome Day is March 21
March 21 is designated as World Down Syndrome Day by numerous states and countries in recognition of the incredible achievements of the individuals living with this condition. Each person with Down syndrome has different talents, abilities and needs – and that makes every person living with this condition special and unique.
More information on World Down Syndrome Day is available here.