In this update:
PennDOT claims Mt. Rose Interchange to be completed on May 11
Here we go again – another deadline promised by Transportation officials and the contractor in charge of the Mt. Rose Interchange.
During an exchange I had with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Committee Secretary Yassmin Gramian on Wednesday, I asked her point blank when the Mt. Rose Interchange will finally be completed.
Her reply: The contractor told her May 11.
If you watched my dialogue above, you can see that I pushed for answers from PennDOT’s top official to ensure this sort of debacle never occurs in this commonwealth ever again.
Mixed messages on broadband from Governor’s Administration
I’ve discussed this and the issue is rather complex. Several years ago, as a House member, I began working with Rep. Pam Snyder, a Democrat from Greene County, to address our state’s digital divide.
One of the major challenges is how it can be cost-prohibitive to connect rural Pennsylvanians to high-speed internet. I get that. We believed one opportunity would be to leverage state-owned assets.
After all, the state is the largest landowner in the Commonwealth with largest swaths of state forests and parks through many rural parts of Pennsylvania.
However, at the time, the state did not have accurate data or an inventory of what assets it had to offer to an entity looking to deploy broadband on state facilities. We drafted legislation to change that.
In the interim, the administration looked like it may be on a parallel path by looking at marketing these assets to grow broadband. However, the state entered into a 20-year contract with two five-year renewals that now has nothing to do with deploying broadband to urban or rural communities, despite the original request for proposal seeking to do just that.
This contract is now a revenue generator for the state without a guarantee to connect one home to high-speed internet. If you care to read more, you can read this op-ed I wrote with my former committee vice chair, Senator Scott Hutchinson, here. (I have a plan to address that, which you can read about in the next story)
I asked about it at Thursday’s Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing. I also asked about how the state spends over $1 billion in information technology yet has very little controls over contracts for software licenses. Workstations have sat vacant for over a year, yet expensive software licenses are loaded onto those machines.
Many state employees are still working from home. I heard from a whistleblower who informed me that some state employees did not receive laptops until August – five months after state agencies began working remotely. I asked about that and more, which you can watch below.
However, Secretary Topper’s comments were not in line with what the contract stated. I set the record straight, which you can view below.
Advancing two bills to address broadband funding, cutting outdated regulations
The Senate Communications and Technology Committee approved two bills I sponsored to address our digital divide. As I indicated earlier in this email update, one of the big concerns over broadband expansion comes down to funding.
The bill I wrote would pull in all revenues generated from the third-party entity and use it for deploying broadband to unserved and underserved areas.
The other bill I wrote would address many outdated regulations faced by our landline telecommunications providers, which will allow them to also address our broadband challenges.
You can read more about these proposals, including a link to watch the committee meeting in its entirety and links to both bills referenced above, here.
Sgt. Harold Redding leads effort to recognize Veterans of Persian Gulf War and Global War on Terrorism
The Senate unanimously approved legislation I sponsored at the request of Spring Grove’s own Sgt. Harold Redding. Sgt. Redding has been a leading advocate for veterans in our community and across our Commonwealth. In fact, Sgt. Redding has had a profound impact on veterans across our nation through his efforts with U.S. Senator Toomey to pass a federal law to nationally recognize March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
Sgt. Redding asked Representative Seth Grove and me to sponsor legislation that would designate March 6 as Persian Gulf War Veterans Day and October 7 as Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day in the Commonwealth.
You can watch the comments I made prior to the Senate’s vote on this matter below.
You can learn more here.
Strengthening the First Amendment by ridding state of 1895 law
Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously approved a measure I sponsored alongside Senator Judy Schwank that would align Pennsylvania with every other state in the nation in preserving and protecting First Amendment rights for educators.
Senate Bill 247 would eliminate a section from the state’s Education Code that prohibits teachers from wearing any dress, mark, emblem, or insignia indicating his or her faith or denomination.
Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Ku Klux Klan supported similar laws across the nation due to anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. Pennsylvania’s original 1895 law served as the model for three dozen states that pursued similar anti-First Amendment laws. Today Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with this law in place. Nebraska was the most recent state to repeal their law in 2017.
Learn more about this bill here.
Acting Secretary of Dept. of Health not interested in vaccine passports
During a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing on Thursday, I asked Acting Secretary Alison Beam of the Department of Health if she has had conversations regarding the requirement of vaccine passports in Pennsylvania.
As you know, I am sponsoring legislation that would ban the state from requiring these to perform routine tasks in the state, like going to a restaurant, movie theater or getting a haircut.
The overwhelming feedback I have received is that you do not wish to see vaccine passports mandated by your state government. Some of you have expressed the desire to see vaccine passports used for air travel. That is a federal issue and if you have an opinion on that, I would encourage you to reach out to your federal lawmakers.
The Acting Secretary and I also discussed improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine to seniors who lack internet and/or email.
You can watch my discussion with Acting Secretary Beam below.
Further community park improvements coming to Spring Grove Borough
Great news for the residents of Spring Grove Borough – Representative Seth Grove and I announced that funds provided by the Marcellus Shale impact fee would be spent in our local community to make further enhancements to the Community Park.
You can learn more about how this funding will be utilized in our community here.
Congratulations to everyone involved in this competitive grant process!
Don’t forget to take my survey on third-party election grants
Have you completed my latest survey seeking your input on third-party non-profit grants to fund our county elections efforts?
If you have taken my survey: thank you!
If I have not heard from you and you have an opinion, please take a few minutes to fill out my latest survey here. I will share the results with you soon!
Also feel free to share with a neighbor or friend who has an opinion on this issue. The more feedback I receive, the better!
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.
The Senate of Pennsylvania reconvenes for voting on Tuesday, April 27 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and review our agenda at SenatorKristin.com/session.