In this update:
Public hearing on safely reopening schools
As schools throughout the state continue to refine plans to meet the educational needs of students this fall, the Senate and House Education committees held a joint public hearing this week with Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to get an update on efforts to safely reopen schools during COVID-19.
The hearing included discussion of several important topics, including questions about reopening guidance, legal liability issues, local control, mask mandates for students and recommendations on responding to COVID-19 cases.
You can watch the public hearing in its entirety below.
To date, I have had numerous meetings with Superintendents and School Directors from across the 28th District who have expressed frustration with confusing guidance and whether the guidelines issued are enforced or merely suggestions for schools to follow. Earlier this week, the Department of Health revised their guidance on masks at the 11th hour for schools in our area preparing to reopen by indicating how “mask breaks” would work, as well as that school districts that fail to comply could be punished.
As of today, York City School District will be conducting classes online. I have said all along: these decisions should be made locally and not through a sweeping statewide mandate.
Please contact your locally elected school directors to share your opinion on this important matter.
Video and testimony from the hearing are available here.
Re-appointment to the FCC’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee to continue collaboration on broadband issues
I am honored to have been reappointed to serve on the Federal Communications Commission’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC).
The IAC is comprised of elected and appointed officials of municipal, county, state, and Tribal governments and provides guidance, expertise, and recommendations to the Commission on a range of telecommunication issues. I am one of five state legislators across the country and one of three Pennsylvania officials on the IAC.
The people of York County come first. This exchange of ideas is imperative as we continue to see the demand for closing our digital divide growing stronger by the day during this coronavirus outbreak. The IAC was helpful to put forward ideas that the Senate Communications and Technology Committee, which I chair, pursued this session.
You can learn more about my re-appointment here.
Here I am pictured at a 2018 IAC meeting. In the center of the photo is FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Helping small businesses get back on their feet
This past week, I joined County Commissioners Smith and Hoke, along with Representative Jones and other local leaders and the York County Economic Alliance to visit small businesses to share information on the YoCo Restart Fund.
When the federal Congress and President Trump approved the CARES Act, the state allocated those federal funds to counties. York County partnered with the York County Economic Alliance to create the YoCo Restart Fund. We met with small business owners and employees in Shrewsbury and Dallastown to share the information on this fund.
For more information on the YoCo Restart Fund, please visit PreparedYork.com.
Transparency needed – secret agreement between Department of Health and Carlisle Events uncovered by Pittsburgh-area TV station
“Channel 11 has obtained a secret agreement that shows the health secretary allowed a car show near Harrisburg to go on, allowing 20,000 people in per day.”
At the time, I questioned the confusing guidance that limited counties in the “green” phase to only 250 people if the event was held outdoors. The governor and Secretary of Health fought to shut down the Carlisle car show event days after the governor marched shoulder to shoulder in a protest in downtown Harrisburg.
I questioned how HersheyPark could open with more than 250 visitors, but a car show could not.
Now a media outlet in western Pennsylvania uncovered this secret agreement between Carlisle Events (the entity that holds car shows in Cumberland County) and the Department of Health.
All along, I’ve argued for transparency and clarity to avoid confusion and chaos. With many of our local summer carnivals and fairs canceled and upcoming community parades likely not happening due to COVID-19 and outdoor gathering restrictions, this secret agreement does not sit well with many local residents.
You can read WPXI Channel 11’s story here.
The governor recently “strongly recommended” that no high school sports commence until January 2021. Representative Seth Grove filed Right-to-Know requests seeking the data used to make this recommendation. The Department of Health confirmed there is no data to justify this recommendation.
Rep. Grove asked, “The fact that data was not used to make the recommendation by the governor to cancel sports this upcoming semester begs the question about what other policies from the governor were made without any data or science to support them?”
Fortunately, Act 77 of 2020 requires the administration to respond to Right-to-Know requests during a disaster declaration. Many parents, students, teachers, community leaders and taxpayers have reached out to me over the last several months seeking clarity. Secret agreements, and lack of supporting data for sweeping decisions are very concerning based on feedback I’ve received over the last several weeks from local citizens.
We will keep pushing for more transparency and clarity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fox43 obtained the data used to issue statewide sweeping orders to shutdown all bars and limit restaurants to 25 percent capacity (down from 50 percent). You can read their story here.
I created this chart (using figures in the story linked above) to illustrate the data the governor and Secretary of Health used to make this decision.
PIAA decision on fall sports
Earlier today, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association released their final decision on fall sports, despite the governor’s strong objection to fall sports this year.
The PIAA recommends that each school district decide on how to proceed with fall sports across the Commonwealth.
2021 Farm Show moving online
For the first time in its 105-year history, the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which is the largest indoor agricultural exposition, will be held solely online.
This is a huge disappointment and again, raises concerns about “data-driven decisions.”
On one hand, the governor recommends high school sports resume in January 2021, when winter sports are played indoors, while the state essentially cancels the state Farm Show for the first time in over a century.
This is a major blow to local farms and our state’s number one industry. Several local businesses have booths to offer locally grown products to patrons as well.
You can read more about the Farm Show here.
Deadline to apply for LIHEAP Recovery Crisis Grants is August 31
Pennsylvanians who are struggling to pay utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic can still apply for assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis program. The program offers payments directly to utility companies or fuel providers for renters and homeowners who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
The program is scheduled to end on August 31. Applications are available online or by contacting your local County Assistance Office.
Important 2020 Election deadlines
Ratification of 19th Amendment celebrates 100th Anniversary
Wednesday marked the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, which pushed the amendment over the 3/4 hurdle needed to obtain the agreement. Then Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification a week later.
You can learn more about this important milestone in American history here.
Upcoming PennDOT projects
PennDOT shared with me the upcoming maintenance project list for next week. You can view that below.