Senator Baker E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Working to Increase School Bus Safety
  • Senate Backs Israel, Condemns Hamas
  • Senate Advances Critical Support for EMS, Hospitals and Nursing Homes
  • Empowering Parents to Control Sexually Explicit Content for Their Children
  • Senate Votes to Increase Access to Addiction Treatment Programs
  • Grants Available to Prep PA for New Businesses
  • Last Chance to Register to Vote in the Nov. 7 Election
  • Recognizing National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Working to Increase School Bus Safety

The Pennsylvania Senate earlier this week, unanimously passed a bill that I sponsored to enhance the safe transportation of school children by establishing new traffic rules and strengthening penalties for overtaking a school bus.

Violators of school traffic laws are fundamentally guilty of one of two offenses – aggressive or distracted driving. Neither is defensible nor acceptable. Deaths and injuries are entirely preventable.

Senate Bill 897 extends the stopping distance requirement to 15 feet before reaching a school bus when the red signal lights on the bus are flashing and the side stop signal arm is activated. 

Pennsylvania is one of only a few states with a mere 10-foot stopping distance. Creating this extra buffer gives students more space to safely walk around the stopped bus and sends a message to motorists that this safety zone cannot be ignored.    

For the first time, the law would include specific penalties for drivers who fail to proceed with caution or those who do not prepare to stop when a school bus has engaged its flashing amber lights.     

The bill also creates increased penalties for repeat offenders of the school bus stopping law.  Upon conviction for a subsequent offense, violators would be subject to the same driver’s license suspension and accumulation of points, plus an increased fine and completion of either a driver improvement school, or examination testing, as determined by PennDOT. 

As we observe National School Bus Safety Week, we are reminded there are too many reports of drivers ignoring the traffic safety laws regarding school zones and buses. This measure is directed toward reversing this trend and providing for greater public safety.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Backs Israel, Condemns Hamas

Following the murderous attacks of innocent people by the terrorist group Hamas, the Senate approved a resolution condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 carnage.

Senate Resolution 185 shows Pennsylvania’s support of the Jewish people as they defend against this terrorist threat. It says that we stand “firmly with the people of Israel and their right to defend themselves.” It labels the attacks by Hamas as “shocking, barbaric and evil,” further adding they “amount to war crimes of the worst kind.”

The resolution further stipulates, “Israel has every right to defend itself with all due force” and noted Pennsylvania’s “special relationship” with Israel since the country declared independence in 1948.

Senate Advances Critical Support for EMS, Hospitals and Nursing Homes

This week, the Senate approved legislation advancing critical public health components of the budget process.

Passage of House Bill 1351 addresses the crucial public health needs for emergency medical services, hospitals and nursing homes and ensures Pennsylvanians continue to receive access to needed health care services.

The bill:

  • Increases EMS reimbursement rates for services and ensures providers are compensated for all loaded miles. The changes will drive $126 million of new revenue and new resources into the EMS network statewide.
  • Reauthorizes a state assessment on hospital services, generating revenue supplemented by federal funds and returned to hospitals. The first payment to hospitals is typically made in mid-October.
  • Freezes the Nursing Facility Case Mix Rate to reduce volatility and level the playing field so Pennsylvania nursing homes can continue to meet the needs of vulnerable patients.

Empowering Parents to Control Sexually Explicit Content for Their Children

The Senate Education Committee advanced a bill to provide parental control of student exposure to sexually explicit content, which Pennsylvanians over the age of 18 can view examples of here, in schools. Prior to the vote, the committee held a public hearing on the measure.

Senate Bill 7 would require schools to:

  • Identify sexually explicit content in school curriculum, materials and books.
  • Create an opt-in policy that would:
    • Notify parents of the sexually explicit content by including a list of the book titles on the form.
    • Give parents the opportunity to review the materials.
    • Require parents to give direct consent for their children to be provided or have access to sexually explicit content.
  • Provide children with non-explicit alternatives if their parents do not opt in.

Importantly, Senate Bill 7 would not ban any books from any Pennsylvania school curriculum or library, but rather empower parents to control only what their own children have access to in school. Empowering parents and families is a priority of the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.

Senate Votes to Increase Access to Addiction Treatment Programs

To combat prevalent opioid addiction, the Senate unanimously passed legislation increasing access to licensed addiction treatment programs for Pennsylvanians.

Senate Bill 941 would provide regulatory flexibilities that can be used during an opioid epidemic to create real solutions to workforce shortages and directly help those in need of treatment get access quicker. 

Additionally, Senate Bill 941 would establish annual reporting requirements to the General Assembly regarding unnecessary barriers to workforce recruitment and access to treatment.

Grants Available to Ready PA for New Businesses

To attract and retain more businesses in the commonwealth, PA SITES (Pennsylvania Strategic Investments to Enhance Sites) will make $10 million in grant funding available to help locations become “shovel ready.”

Eligible projects must be in Pennsylvania and support the development of competitive sites. These include undeveloped sites and sites that were previously utilized or underutilized – such as former industrial, commercial, military, school, or hospital sites or buildings.

Municipalities, economic development organizations, redevelopment authorities, municipal authorities and industrial development agencies may apply for the funding here through Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Last Chance to Register to Vote in the Nov. 7 Election

If you wish to vote on Election Day on Nov. 7, you must be registered to vote by Monday, Oct. 23.

There are four ways to register to vote: online, by mail, in person at your county voter registration office and at PennDOT and some other government agencies.

Find the details about each of these methods here.

Recognizing National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

In October, we focus on staying safe online by taking steps to protect personal data. Simple steps you can take include using strong passwords, using multifactor authentication, recognizing and reporting phishing, and updating software.

My colleagues and I are also working to put measures in place that will better shield you from online threats. Senate Bill 565 would protect students’ personal data from unauthorized or inappropriate disclosure.

Other legislative measures would safeguard the state’s online assets. Senate Bill 563 would establish that commonwealth agencies have strong capabilities in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks. Senate Bill 284 would establish a standalone Office of Information Technology (OIT) under the Office of Administration. The OIT would create a strategic plan for future IT projects across state government, as well as manage and maintain all future IT procurement within state agencies.

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