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May, 2015


“Honoring Our Veterans” Motorcycle Plate Another Way to Offer Support for Those Who Served

A pair of bills establishing an “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate for motorcycles passed the Senate unanimously.

Senate Bill 284 would authorize the creation of the newest specialty plate. A similar plate for passenger vehicles was created through Act 194 of 2012 , but did not include an option for motorcycle owners.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 285, calls for $15 of the $35 license plate fee to be transferred to the Veterans Trust Fund, a state-run fund dedicated to helping needy veterans with food, utilities, mortgage or rent payments, health care and other necessities of life. To date $1.2 million has been raised for that fund from various sources including the license plate sales. In March, grants totaling $350,000 from the fund were awarded to 10 charitable organizations and veterans’ service organizations by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The idea for us to do a plate for motorcycles came from a group of Vietnam veterans in my Senate District that like to do motorcycle rides for charity. The plates will be another source of pride for those who want to support our veterans.

Both bills head to the House for its consideration.

Committee Looks at the Impacts of Increasing the Minimum Wage

Labor & Industry Committee Hearing

On May 5, the Senate Labor and Industry Committee held a hearing to consider the impacts raising the minimum wage would have on businesses and the economy. Among those who offered testimony were representatives of two major employers in the 2oth District – Woodloch and Metz Culinary Management.

Click on photo to view the hearing and testimony.

Responsible Pension Reform a Priority for Taxpayers

An aggressive plan to modernize the state’s public employee pension systems was recently passed with my support. Senate Bill 1 restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) – in order to make them viable in the long term.

It is certainly understandable why the members of the state pension systems want to retain the current structure, and the arguments in favor of it do have merit. However, in recent years there has been a great deal of study and debate directed toward the growing problem of unfunded liability in the SERS and PSERS and the negative implications for taxpayers. The unavoidable conclusion drawn by many experts is that the status quo is unsustainable, financially and politically.

If there is general agreement on any aspect of the issue, it is on the causes of the crisis – the 2001 pension increase, two severe recessions, and years of employer contributions that were far too low. This combination has created a problem that most experts do not believe can be solved solely through better investing and more responsible budgeting.

Pennsylvania is not alone in suffering from a significant pension fund shortfall, but our situation now ranks among the worst in the nation. Without significant corrective steps, neither the problems nor the public demands for reform will subside. There are substantial short-term costs already apparent in the form of higher taxes, funding reductions, program eliminations, and higher interest rates. The impact on spending and tax decisions for years to come is providing the impetus for action.

On the spending side, there has been considerable unhappiness expressed over the limits on state funding and cutbacks that have been used to balance state budgets in recent years. Rising requirements for pension contributions have crowded out program funding from both state and local budgets.

The assertion frequently made is true – the pension problems are not the fault of workers. But the same can be said for the majority of taxpayers who are private sector employees. They face the prospect of higher state and local taxes to support a pension system far better than they have. Reform does not exclude state legislators, who will face the choices other workers will.

I realize that some individuals and groups would prefer a slower process. The parts of the pension reform proposal are not new. These items have been discussed for years, and the arguments for and against have been aired in numerous public forums and public hearings. What is new is the combination of elements and the extent to which the bill changes the structure. The pension problem is tied to the state budget, so a demonstration of support for substantial legislation is needed to prompt negotiations.

The bill passed by the Senate is a good start, but is unlikely to represent the final product. Additional steps, including those proposed by Governor Wolf, are potential items for negotiation and inclusion.

Medical Cannabis Bill Moves to the House

Senate Bill 3 , allowing the use of medical cannabis, passed the state Senate by a substantial margin, but without my support. This does not end the discussion or the exchange of information, by any means.

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to listen to parents, advocacy groups, medical professionals, and other state legislators present their differing views on the subject. I certainly understand and respect the advocacy of parents whose children suffer from conditions that do not respond to traditional treatments. I support an approach that would offer some immediate relief through clinical trials.

But it does not seem there has been enough scientific research to justify full-scale legalization, a position held by The American Medical Society, The American Epilepsy Society , The Pennsylvania Medical Society, and other organizations representing considerable medical experience and judgment. With The American Academy of Pediatrics calling for marijuana to be moved to the DEA’s Schedule 2 listing, this will possibly open the door to research to determine the medical benefits.

Early indications are that the legislation might have a tougher time passing the House of Representatives. If Pennsylvania decides to approve medical cannabis, the law should be more tightly drawn than what is proposed in Senate Bill 3.

Senate Marks 2015 The “Year of the Law Enforcement Official”

I was proud to join my colleagues to recognize 2015 as the “Year of the Law Enforcement Official in Pennsylvania” and focus public attention on the increasing dangers that law enforcement officials face daily. 

Click photo to watch the rally.


Senator Baker Floor Remarks

State Workers’ Compensation Law Hits Century Mark

The Senate recently marked the 100th anniversary of the adoption of Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Law.

Click photo to watch the video of my floor remarks and for additional information.


Marking Missing Persons’ Day

On May 13, I attended and offered comments during the Missing Persons’ Day Program held in the Capitol Rotunda. With me at that event were Joanne Decker and Shirley Masters, who have tirelessly looked for their sister, Shelva Rafte, who has been missing since May 29, 2006, and Jennifer Storm, a superb advocate for crime victims. See my remarks here.

Marking Missing Persons' Day

Shirley Masters of Harford Township, Susquehanna County speaks at the annual Missing Persons’ Day program in the Capitol Rotunda. Masters’ sister Shelva Rafte has been missing since 2006.



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