In this update:
Senators seek audit on nursing home deaths
On Tuesday, I joined Senate Aging and Youth Committee Chair Judy Ward and Vice Chair John Yudichak to call on Auditor General Tim DeFoor to review the governor’s unilateral handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
Specifically, Governor Wolf through the state Department of Health issued a March 18, 2020, order that said long-term care facilities “must” accept COVID-19 positive patients. While the Administration points to federal guidance for their policy, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy says “can” accept.
States that followed similar policies, like New York, have come under scrutiny for the way nursing home deaths were addressed over the last year by their executive branch of government.
As of this morning, according to the Department of Health, 12,904 COVID-19 deaths have been in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities, while the total number of deaths in Pennsylvania stands at 24,953.
You can watch the full news conference below.
Learn more here.
After Gov. Wolf’s blunder on helping victims, Senate votes to propose new constitutional amendment
The Senate of Pennsylvania voted unanimously to restart the process this week to amend YOUR state constitution to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers even if the statute of limitations had expired.
The resolution would address the issue after an egregious blunder by the Wolf Administration will prevent the amendment from appearing on the ballot in the spring primary election on May 18. This blunder led to the resignation of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Lawmakers approved a proposed Constitutional amendment that would create a two-year window for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired.
However, the Wolf Administration failed to properly advertise the amendment, meaning sexual assault survivors must now wait until 2023 at the earliest for the measure to be considered by voters, assuming no more errors by the administration.
Creating a window for retroactive lawsuits would complete all the recommendations of a 2018 Grand Jury Report that detailed shocking cases of the sexual abuse of children.
Lawmakers have already created laws to address the other recommendations, including eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for future cases of sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking; extending the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 55; clarifying mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse; increasing penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse; and ensuring survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.
Fined for wearing a cross in the classroom? Senate committee approves my bill to protect First Amendment right to Freedom of Religious Expression
Every state in the nation except Pennsylvania has removed laws that punish educators for wearing religious garb. Nebraska was the last state to repeal their law in 2017.
That is why I have joined Senator Judy Schwank, a Democrat from Berks County, to propose bipartisan legislation that would eliminate a state law dating back to the 1800s that imposes fines and penalties on educators who wear any religious symbols. Earlier this week, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved this bill and the legislation now awaits a vote by the full Senate.
The legislation is supported by educational advocates as well as various religious organizations across the Commonwealth.
By way of background: A federal court case was brought forward in 2003 after a Pennsylvania teacher was suspended from her job pursuant to Section 1112 as well as the intermediate unit’s religious affiliations policy. Her suspension was due to her refusal to comply with her supervisor’s request that she remove or conceal a small cross she regularly wore on a necklace. The court ruled in favor of the teacher, who was rehired with back pay.
The court’s ruling found that the intermediate unit’s religious affiliations policy violates the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the First Amendment.
You can learn more here.
Local business owner featured in efforts to Prioritize Pennsylvania’s small businesses
How have Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts affected your small business? Listen to these small business owners from across the Commonwealth talk about their experiences for the past year and how the legislation I am proposing alongside Senators Ryan Aument, Camera Bartolotta and Judy Ward in our Prioritize PA Small Businesses package could help them rebuild in the aftermath of the pandemic.
As part of the Prioritize PA Small Businesses initiative, we are seeking to elevate the voices of small business owners from across the Commonwealth to bring awareness to the grave impacts the pandemic has had on our communities’ locally owned businesses. We invited entrepreneurs from across the state to participate in a video project where they shared how the pandemic has impacted their business and how an effort to “prioritize PA small businesses” would be beneficial to them.
Local small business owner Kristin Rohrbaugh weighed in with several other small business owners from across the state. You can watch their video below.
Learn more about the Prioritize PA Small Businesses initiative here.
The results are in – where do local residents stand on governor’s budget proposal and tolling bridges in PA
Thank you to our neighbors who took time to weigh in on two important issues before the General Assembly.
My first survey asked if you support or oppose the governor’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Here are the results:
Support 157 21.7%
Oppose 558 77%
Undecided 10 1.3%
My second survey asked if you support the governor and PennDOT’s plan to add tolls on various bridges throughout the state, including the South Bridge on I-83 in Dauphin County.
Here are the results:
Support 27 5.7%
Oppose 443 92.9%
Undecided 7 1.4%
If you did not get a chance to weigh in on these issues issue, you can always send me an email.
Thanks again for your feedback and stay tuned for my next legislative survey!
Why is the governor giving mixed messages on broadband deployment?
During Monday’s Senate Appropriations Committee with the Department of Community and Economic Development, I asked a series of questions. During our first round of Q&A, I asked about oversight and transparency when it comes to state-issued grants and incentives. I have legislation that would “clawback” unused or misused state grants.
You can watch that back-and-forth below.
During my second round of Q&A with Secretary Davin, I asked about the governor’s mixed messages when it comes to the prioritization of broadband deployment in Pennsylvania. You can watch our discussion below.
State corrections department pays nearly $100M in overtime costs each year, how do we fix it? I asked.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also heard from the Department of Corrections on Monday. I asked Secretary Wetzel for an update on inmates released early due to the pandemic, as well as the need to curb overtime costs. You can watch our discussion below.
Recognizing veterans who served in Persian Gulf War and Global War on Terrorism
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee unanimously approved legislation I sponsored with Senators Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush that would designate March 6 as Persian Gulf War Veterans Day and October 7 as Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day in the Commonwealth.
Sgt. Harold Redding of Spring Grove brought the issue to the attention of Representative Seth Grove and me.
More than 2.5 million Americans served and over 6,000 Americans, including 324 Pennsylvanians, made the ultimate sacrifice over these two conflicts we are seeking to recognize annually.
I am hopeful the Senate will consider this important legislation soon to forever remember and honor the veterans who served.
You can learn more here.
Senate and House committees hold hearings on election integrity
The bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform held its second public hearing on Tuesday to gather testimony on the administration of the election from state and local officials, including representatives from the Department of State, county election officials and county commissioners.
State residents are encouraged to submit their thoughts and comments through the online form.
Furthermore, the House State Government Committee, chaired by Representative Grove, continued its series of hearings this week, focusing on Election Day operations and satellite offices. You can view their entire schedule and watch their hearings here.
Pennsylvania State Grange supporting bipartisan efforts to close digital divide
The President of the Pennsylvania State Grange, Wayne Campbell, met with me at the Capitol earlier this week to discuss ways the Grange can help assist in building support for comprehensive solutions to address our digital divide. The State Grange has been one of the strongest proponents for addressing this long-standing issue and I greatly appreciate their input and advice on this subject.
I recently introduced two bills, which I plan to advance out of the committee I chair when the Senate reconvenes in two weeks.
You can read more about my two broadband bills here and here.
Last call: YCEA’s COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program grant applications accepted until March 31
If you have not already applied and are eligible, the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) application process will close on March 31 at 5 p.m. This program is NOT first come, first served.
You can find more information about the CHIRP program here.
PennDOT CDL and Learner’s Permit extensions end March 31
The expiration dates for commercial driver licenses (CDL) and commercial learner’s permits have been extended several times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The final extension is scheduled to expire on March 31, and no additional extensions are expected to be offered.
Motorists who are covered by extensions that run from March 16, 2020, through March 31, 2021, are encouraged to renew these licenses and permits as soon as possible before they expire next week.
Local jobs from PA CareerLink
PA CareerLink shared with me their latest list of local job openings, which you can view below. You can also find job postings shared with the York County Economic Alliance here.
Upcoming PennDOT projects
PennDOT shared with me their list of upcoming scheduled maintenance projects, which you can view below.
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