In this update:
Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings cover Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Mt. Rose Interchange, health care taxes and more
The Senate Appropriations Committee concluded its second week of public hearings on the state budget. The committee held 13 public hearings in total, including the Department of Labor and Industry, Department of General Services, Department of Transportation, state-related universities, judicial branch, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Corrections/Board of Probation and Parole, Liquor Control Board, Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
As I did last week, I want to give you – the residents of the 28th Senatorial District – a brief update on this week of state budget hearings.
Please take a moment to watch this short video below:
Here are some of the key points I emphasized on this past week with various state agencies and higher education institutions:
Department of Labor & Industry
At our first hearing of this week of state budget hearings, I asked Secretary Oleksiak of the Department of Labor and Industry about our state’s workforce development programs and if there is any duplication of these programs as several other state agencies offer job training and workforce development programs. I also asked him about the possible impacts of Governor Wolf’s proposed minimum wage increase based on concerns I received from local residents.
Department of General Services
Also on Monday, I had the opportunity to ask Secretary Topper of the Department of General Services about how the state can assist the private sector to leverage state-owned assets to increase access to high-speed internet by working with the private sector, as well as ways we can improve the procurement and efficiencies with our state’s information technology.
The state currently spends about $1 billion on technology – this is an area where we need to ensure agencies are working together and not in silos to cut down on duplication and improve efficiencies.
Department of Transportation
My final hearing on Monday concluded with PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, who has heard loud and clear the needs (and frustrations) of us in York County.
At the hearing, I brought up the “construction fatigue” we are all enduring as well as the need to ensure the Exit 5 interchange project is not the debacle that the Mount Rose interchange project has been.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard from the four state-related universities, including Penn State University, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.
I asked the leaders of these universities about their schools’ student mental health/suicide prevention plans. Suicide rates in PA increased by 34.3 percent between 1999 and 2016, according to the CDC. I have more information on this issue later in this email update.
During Tuesday’s hearing with two Supreme Court justices who were testifying on behalf of the entire judicial branch’s budget, I asked what steps they are taking to improve their cybersecurity and protect against the threat of possible data breaches.
Pennsylvania College of Technology
Also on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Davie Gilmour, President of Pennsylvania College of Technology. Her institution, located in Williamsport, is in a unique position to help the Commonwealth address its skilled labor crisis while setting up grads for future opportunities outside of trades.
I asked her about the inclusion of liberal arts classes in a technical education program.
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
Our final hearing on Tuesday was with Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, which is located in Lancaster. This small institution has been a huge help to our skilled workforce in south central Pennsylvania.
I asked how Thaddeus Stevens bucked recent trends of reduced enrollment at other universities. I also asked about the process of how programs are added and removed.
Department of Health
Wednesday morning’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with the Department of Health provided me with the opportunity to ask Dr. Levine about delayed birth certificates from the department. This has been an ongoing issue for many local residents.
I also inquired about a recent data breach and ways the department is streamlining operations to ensure you can receive birth certificates in a timely manner. Finally, I asked about the impact of the governor’s minimum wage increase proposal and how it will impact staffing in nursing homes and other health care facilities throughout the Commonwealth.
Department of Human Services
During Wednesday afternoon’s hearing, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard from the largest state agency – the Department of Human Services. Governor Wolf is proposing to provide the department with a 3.23 percent increase in next year’s budget, taking the department’s total budget to nearly $13 billion.
I used my time at the hearing to ask about the steps the department is taking to reduce pharmacy benefit manager costs and increase transparency of prescription costs. I also raised concerns about a proposed ambulatory surgery centers tax. Finally, I asked about costs of nursing care, which has been an important issue for several local residents.
Department of Corrections/Board of Probation and Parole
Our final day of budget hearings for this week started with Secretary Wetzel of the Department of Corrections. I asked Secretary Wetzel about human trafficking inside our prisons and how that can be prevented. I also asked him about the overtime budget within the department, which is around $100 million annually.
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
The budget hearing with the Liquor Control Board was eye-opening. I inquired about the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s JANUS decision and what the board is doing to notify its employees of their options and rights with regard to union membership.
Department of Environmental Protection
Based on a lot of frustration and feedback from local residents, I asked Secretary McDonnell of the Department of Environmental Protection about the proposal to increase funding for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in the state budget in light of a scathing audit by Auditor General DePasquale. Read more about this issue in the next section of this email update.
Demanding answers on the out-of-control Susquehanna River Basin Commission
An audit completed by the Pennsylvania Auditor General in November detailed a number of cases of misspent funds by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, including tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars used for parties, alcohol, lavish meals and gifts for staff. SRBC also holds $10.5 million in a reserve fund.
I heard from a number of community residents who expressed frustrations about outrageous fines and fees levied by this quasi-governmental agency. These frustrations only grew more serious when we learned they were using that money for staff parties, filet mignon and alcohol, all while sitting on a $10.5 million surplus.
This is an insult to hardworking taxpayers. How can we justify spending even more money on an entity that is blatantly wasting our taxpayer dollars on extravagant meals, booze and staff perks?
You can read more about my efforts to draw attention to this major debacle during yesterday’s budget hearing here.
Sunday hunting in PA survey
Senate Bill 147, sponsored by Senator Laughlin (R-Erie), would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to institute Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania through regulation. I’ve heard strong opinions from several local residents on this topic and I want to learn where you stand on this bill.
I am asking for your feedback since the bill moved out of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee last month and may come up for a vote in the Senate in the future.
Also, if you have any family, friends, neighbors, fellow sportsmen or others who have an opinion on this bill, please forward them the link to my survey. I really need to hear from you as the feedback so far has been split evenly between the two sides. It is critical that those who fill out my survey reside in the 28th Senatorial District as interest groups are trying to tip the issue one way or the other.
Please let me know what you think! And thank you to those who already took the time to weigh in on the debate!
Learning about Farmland Preservation
Patty McCandless, Director for the York County Agricultural Preserve Board (Fawn Township), was shadowed by my Constituent Outreach Specialist, Galen Weibley, as part of the Ag Exchange Experience.
This program is part of the York County Agriculture Business Council’s annual agricultural recognition banquet where a farmer and non-farmer present their experiences of what it was like to shadow each other in their daily work environment.
Thank you Patty for sharing a portion of your day with my staff and for the opportunity to educate my staff about the importance of farmland preservation!
Addressing mental health crisis on college campuses
In December, I toured and met with leaders at Penn State’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services in State College with Representative Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh). Rep. Schlossberg and I worked together on House Bill 1822 last session, which requires higher education institutions in Pennsylvania to implement a suicide and mental health prevention program on and off campuses for their students.
Governor Wolf signed the bill into law as Act 110.
I became involved after learning of increases in suicides locally with college-aged students in York County. Suicide rates increased by 34.3 percent between 1999 and 2016 in Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Lincoln University and Temple University expressed the ongoing need to expand wellness centers throughout their campuses, as well as focusing on teams to work on referrals with students to mental health professionals.
Read more about this issue here.
Hosting legislative delegation to discuss economic development tools for community
On Thursday, my office hosted top staff from the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Our office invited the entire York County state legislative delegation and their staff to the event to learn how we can work together on programs that will assist with workforce development, cutting through bureaucratic red tape and job training that could benefit the entire county.
Thank you to the dedicated staff at DCED for making the trek down to York County and for the staff of Senator Folmer and Reps. Gillespie, Saylor, Klunk, Grove and Keefer for attending this seminar.
Answering questions on Libre’s Law with winter hanging around for a little longer
The Humane Society of Pennsylvania emailed me earlier this week with some FAQs about Libre’s Law, a recently enacted law that protects our four-legged friends and family members in harsh conditions.
I want to share the update with you as you, too, may have questions about how Libre’s Law applies in certain scenarios. The Humane Society posted the following sheet with helpful information.
REMINDER: March 4 REAL ID pre-verification event in New Freedom
Representatives Kate Klunk (R-Hanover), Mike Jones (R-York Township) and I are hosting an event to assist residents with pre-verifying documents required to obtain a REAL ID on Monday.
The event will be held at the New Freedom Community Center, located at 150 E. Main St. in New Freedom, on Monday, March 4, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Learn more about next week’s event here.
Read Across America Day
Today is National Read Across America Day! Such a pleasure to start the day reading to some of York’s littlest readers at Crispus Attucks Early Learning Center.
National Read Across America Day is in honor of Dr. Seuss and serves as a way to motivate and create awareness about the importance of reading and literacy. Thank you to the United Way of York and the many volunteers who went out today to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday by reading to children in our community.
The Senate Appropriations Committee resumes its public hearings on the state budget on Monday, March 4 at 10 a.m. with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. This is our final week of budget hearings. If you have not tuned in throughout the past weeks and are curious about how your tax dollars are spent, I encourage you to follow me on my social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. You can always access information on my online office at www.SenatorKristin.com.
You can always check all of my video clips on my YouTube Channel. I also feature the full length hearings on that page.
You can get a recap of all the state budget hearings, as well as access more state budget information, here.
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