In this Update:
Senate Passes Comprehensive Probation Reform
The Pennsylvania Senate has approved three probation reform measures, aimed at reducing the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the system, while better integrating probationers into society.
Senate Bill 904, Senate Bill 905 and Senate Bill 913, take a giant step forward to implement greater fairness in the process, eliminate excessive incarceration, give individuals a more reliable second chance to get their lives right, offer taxpayers a break from ever-rising state correctional costs, and improve the scheduling of probation and parole meetings.
I am proud to have worked with reform advocates, judicial and correctional leaders, and legislators seeking to achieve constructive and sustainable reform, and I commend their efforts to come together.
Ensuring community safety is paramount with every reform put forth in Senate Bill 913. To release an individual should not be a unilateral or rash determination. Those involved in the front end of justice, including victims, warrant a say on terminating a legally imposed sentence and the transition to freedom. But with one of the largest systems of state supervision in the country, efficient and effective changes are needed.
Read our full press release with details here.
Preliminary Redistricting Plan Approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission
For the past ten years, the 20th Senatorial District has functioned well as a community of interest. It may not look elegant on a map, but the perspectives and concerns of families are fairly similar from one end to the other. Population shifts obviously dictate that the map will change for nearly every district. However, there are many troubling aspects to the newly proposed map, including the way that the Wyoming Valley is split between four separate Senate districts.
This initial map of proposed Senate districts will be subject to a great amount of public and community comment. If there is enough concern expressed across the state, and viable alternatives are offered, the approved map could look different for our area. I strongly encourage citizens, community leaders, and organizations to offer input as this process continues.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is accepting comments on their website for a 30-day, public comment period, prior to a final vote by the Commission in January. To submit feedback, visit: https://www.redistricting.state.pa.us/comment/.
Baker, Yudichak Legislation to Protect Children from Lead Poisoning Advances
Senate Bill 522 is bi-partisan legislation that seeks to ensure that all pregnant women and all children in Pennsylvania receive blood tests to detect lead poisoning. Effects of lead poisoning are irreversible and severe, including neurological and developmental disabilities. No level of lead is safe for children, and symptoms may not present themselves until it is too late.
In Luzerne County and across Pennsylvania, we continue to see the devastating impact of lead exposure in our homes, which negatively affects our children’s physical and behavioral health. The task force report was clear that one of the best approaches to successfully stop this cycle is to prevent lead exposure in childhood, before it starts. Identifying lead exposure at a young age, is one of the smartest investments that we can make in keeping our children healthy.
Senate Acts to Provide Parents with Online Access to their Children’s School Curriculum
Parents would have greater ability to review what their children are being taught in school through curriculum transparency legislation approved by the Senate.
House Bill 1332 would require K-12 schools to post curricula online in a standardized, user-friendly manner. Under the bill, beginning with the 2022-23 school year, school districts must post on their websites an internet link or title for:
To prevent placing another burden on teachers, the bill stipulates that a school administrator or designee would be required to post the curricula online. House Bill 1332 is on it’s way to the Governor.
Senate Votes to Expand School Choice Eligibility
The Senate approved three bills that preserve school choice access for families and give more flexibility to students pursuing college degrees without incurring unnecessary debt.
Senate Bill 931 excludes pandemic stimulus payments from a household’s income when determining eligibility for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. This important legislation ensures children will not see their educational opportunities diminished because of one-time government handouts.
Senate Bill 932 revises the definition of “school-related fees” so students can use EITC and OSTC scholarships toward dual enrollment programs. This option gives Pennsylvania’s next generation of professionals the flexibility to pursue college degrees or access career training while minimizing excessive student loan debt.
Both bills will head to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
House Bill 1642 loosens the threshold for schools to be considered “economically disadvantaged,” which would allow more students to access a supplemental tax credit scholarship offered through the EITC’s Economically Disadvantaged Schools program.
House Bill 1642 was sent to the governor for enactment.
Senate Prohibits Vaccine Mandates for School Children
As Pennsylvania has struggled to keep children in their classrooms because of questionable COVID-19 policies, the Senate acted to prevent students from being barred from school if they don’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Senate Bill 937 would prohibit a child from being required to be immunized for COVID-19 as a condition of attendance in any public or private K-12 school. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The bill does not contest the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, which is now available to children ages 5 to 15 under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization, and full FDA approval for anyone 16 years of age and older.
The legislation acknowledges parents have a right to be involved with the health care decisions for their children. And because the COVID-19 vaccine for those under age 16 has only received FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), federal EUA law prohibits patients from being coerced into taking the vaccine. That means those children have the right to refuse the medical treatment, with their parents exercising that right on their behalf.
Landmark Bipartisan Broadband Legislation Approved by Senate
The Senate acted to improve access to high-speed internet in underserved communities by creating the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA). The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.
House Bill 2071 would establish a single point-of-contact for federal broadband funding and includes safeguards so legitimate contractors are chosen. Entities eligible for funding must have technical, managerial and financial expertise to design, build and operate high-speed service infrastructure.
The PBDA primarily would be tasked with creating a broadband plan that allows the state to apply for competitively awarded federal infrastructure money. The bill would also require the state to create a database to monitor all broadband deployment activities across the state.
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