Senator Baker E-Newsletter

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November Enews

Statute Of Limitations Reform

Sen. Baker and other elected officials joined the governor as he signed House Bills 962, 1171 and 1051 into law during a ceremony at Muhlenberg High School in Reading. The bills help victims of sexual abuse cases and address the recommendations of a grand jury investigation that was released to the public last year.

A comprehensive package of bills to support survivors of sexual abuse, including legislation to reform the statute of limitations to give survivors more time to come forward, was signed by the governor this week.

The new laws address the recommendations of a grand jury investigation that was released to the public last year. They are designed to ensure victims are supported and all perpetrators of sexual crimes against children are held responsible for their heinous actions.

The bills signed into law include:

  • House Bill 962, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking. The bill also extends the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 50.
  • House Bill 1051, which clarifies mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse and increases penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse.
  • House Bill 1171, which ensures survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.

In the next legislative session, we will have a responsibility to give swift second round approval to a proposed constitutional amendment, so it can be put before voters on the 2021 ballot.

  • House Bill 963, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to create a two-year window of time for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired. The legislation addresses concerns lawmakers raised last year about whether the two-year window was unconstitutional.

These actions are a culmination of a years-long effort to create effective and permanent laws to ensure perpetrators of sexual offenses against young people are held accountable by the legal system.

To read and watch my comments on the legislation, please click here.

11/20/19 – Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania Working To Boost Rural Health

Hospitals exist to save lives, but legislation approved recently is aimed at increasing community health outreach and improving the sustainability of rural hospitals. Rep. Tina Pickett and I were proud to lead the effort to gain support in the legislature.

Sustaining and expanding health care is essential for the future of small communities and rural areas. This rural health initiative is a well-constructed plan, and we now have the legal and financial pieces in place to allow it to work.

For the last several years, Pennsylvania has been collaborating with the federal government on a program to increase access to high-quality care in rural communities.  As the first of its kind in the United States, this innovative approach seeks to help participating hospitals remain financially healthy through more predictable payment plans and fixed budgets.  It also helps providers expand community health services and programs to address needs like behavioral health and substance abuse treatment.

Administrators from the three local hospitals that have already been successfully participating in the pilot were glad to hear the news, as the continued pressures of providing high quality, low cost healthcare is putting many rural hospitals in jeopardy of closure. Those hospitals are: Barnes-Kasson County Hospital in Susquehanna Depot; Endless Mountains Health Systems, Inc. in Montrose; and Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale.

Landmark Election Reforms To Take Effect Next Year

Landmark legislation, now Act 77 of 2019, will fundamentally change how Pennsylvanians are able to vote.

This major election reform measure, which I supported, will:

  • Allow Pennsylvanians to vote by mail. Currently absentee ballots are able to be mailed by voters for a limited number of reasons, including illness, physical disability or for being out of their home area for employment-related purposes. The law permits no excuse absentee ballots to be used for voting, meaning Pennsylvanians will be able to conveniently vote by mail in any election for any reason. With this change, Pennsylvania will join 28 other states in allowing mailed absentee ballots to be used by voters whenever they would like.
  • Provide more time to register to vote. The deadline to register to vote under current Pennsylvania law is 30 days before a Primary or General Election. The act will cut that time period in half, moving the deadline to 15 days before an election so that residents have more time to register to vote.
  • Extend absentee ballot deadlines. Currently absentee ballots must be received by county election boards by the Friday before an election. Act 77 will give voters more time to submit an absentee ballot by extending the deadline until 8:00 pm on Election Day. Forty-seven states allow absentee ballots to be received by Election Day or later.
  • Provide much-needed funding for voting machine upgrades. With 67 counties and nearly 9,200 polling places, Pennsylvania has one of the largest election systems in the country. As voting machines continue to age, the law provides $90 million through the issuance of bonds to help upgrade and properly secure the state’s vast election system.
  • Eliminate antiquated voting practices that benefit political parties. Currently Pennsylvania law has a requirement for a straight ticket voting option to appear at the beginning of every ballot. This provision unfairly impacts minor party candidates who do not belong to the Democratic or Republican parties. When used, this option often reflects voters’ views of candidates at the top of a political ticket and discourages thoughtful voting for all of the candidates on the ballot. Act 77 will eliminate the straight party voting option at the beginning of a ballot, putting Pennsylvania in line with 45 other states that also do not permit straight party check boxes on their ballots.

One component of this package was the result of a suggestion by my neighbor, Joyce Coolbaugh, a quadriplegic frustrated by the process.  Every four years she was asked to recertify her disability, despite the fact that her health status had not changed. Because of her advocacy this requirement has been removed, ensuring those on the permanently disabled absentee ballot list are not disenfranchised.

New Law Restricts Robocalls in Pennsylvania

A bill that would limit the amount of nuisance robocalls that Pennsylvania residents receive has been signed into law. Act 73 of 2019, will allow state residents to remain on the do-not-call list on a permanent basis instead of having to renew their listing every five years.

The new law also prohibits telemarketing on legal holidays and provides new options for consumers to opt-out of receiving future calls from businesses. Consumers can verify whether their number is included on the do-not-call list and learn more about how to eliminate nuisance calls at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website here.

Pennsylvania Commission on Legislative Conduct Would Investigate Misconduct

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation I am advancing to establish a legislative review board that would probe accusations of harassment and misconduct, as well as public corruption.

SB 809 would create the Pennsylvania Commission on Legislative Conduct, under the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board, where legislators, third-party experts and lay people would investigate misconduct complaints and offer a determination of their credibility. If the board found an allegation credible, it would launch an investigation and send its findings and recommendations back to the House and Senate to render any discipline.

The proposal comes at a time that multiple legislators have been accused on inappropriate conduct. Because of increasing revelations of abuse, harassment, and other forms of wrongdoing, private and public institutions and entities have been forced to upgrade their policies and strengthen investigatory practices. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is no exception to the imperative for reform.

Because the House and Senate have different rules, this commission would make things equitable across the board. It also shows the public that policing themselves behind closed doors is no longer acceptable.

If we are serious about restoring public trust, this is the kind of substantial reform step we need to take to begin earning it back. 

The holiday season is a time for appreciation and charity. While you contemplate what makes you thankful, please take a moment to also consider helping those in need.

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