Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill E-Newsletter

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In this update:

  • Governor Wolf’s state budget proposal would raise taxes, increase spending by 8 percent
  • Public hearing reviews PA’s deficient COVID-19 vaccine rollout
  • Senate committee approves local suggestion to state’s dog law
  • Secretary of State resigns after botching constitutional amendment to help victims
  • Legislature approves financial relief for industries most affected by prolonged shutdown
  • Resources available to answer unemployment claimants’ year-end tax questions
  • New fraud attempts target social media users
  • 2021 trout stocking schedule available now
  • Last call: Take my survey to let me know what you think of proposed constitutional amendment

Governor Wolf’s state budget proposal would raise taxes, increase spending by 8 percent 

On Wednesday, Governor Wolf unveiled a $40.2 billion spending plan for 2021-22 that includes more than $3 billion in new government spending – which would be the largest spending increase in the state’s history. This represents an 8.2 percent increase in state spending!!

2/3/21 – Response to Governor Wolf’s Budget Address

The governor’s plan also includes an increase in the Personal Income Tax that would boost the amount of state tax taken out of many Pennsylvanians’ paychecks by 46 percent, as well as another new tax on natural gas that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy bills.

I said earlier this week that taking the increased revenue from the income tax to grow state spending rather than provide meaningful school property tax relief is a deal-breaker for many Pennsylvanians who have seen their school property taxes remain the same if not increase while they have been laid off from their job through no fault of their own.

You can learn more about my reaction to this budget proposal here.

Please know that this is the governor’s starting point in budget deliberations. This is not a final product, but in my opinion, based on the feedback I’ve received: This budget seeking higher taxes is incredibly tone-deaf to the challenges many of us have experienced over the last 10 months.   

Public hearing reviews PA’s deficient COVID-19 vaccine rollout 

A Senate hearing this week detailed serious deficiencies in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan and its negative impacts on communities throughout Pennsylvania.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Aging and Youth Committee heard testimony about the difficulties in prioritizing vaccines for residents of long-term care facilities during a public hearing on Thursday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control data tracker, as of the day of the hearing, Pennsylvania ranked 45th in the percentage of received COVID-19 vaccines administered.

One testifier representing long-term care facilities pointed out that only 32 of the state’s 1,200 assisted living facilities and personal care homes have been scheduled or received their first vaccine, and approximately 150 of the state’s 700 nursing homes have not completed their first vaccination clinic.

The hearing also included testimony on other challenges related to the state vaccination plan, including:

  • Delays in administering first doses after they have been allocated to the state.
  • Abrupt changes in guidance and vaccine eligibility criteria from the state.
  • A lack of information on providers who have available doses of the vaccine, particularly for older Pennsylvanians who are not familiar with new technology.
  • Inadequate supply of vaccines from the federal government.
  • Ensuring providers adhere to guidance and provide vaccines only to eligible individuals.
  • Expanding vaccine access to rural areas.

Testimony was provided by representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, hospitals, long-term care advocates and pharmacies.

Providers offered several suggestions to improve the state’s distribution plan and ensure more vaccines are distributed to eligible Pennsylvanians quickly and efficiently. Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam expressed a willingness to explore new options to improve the state’s distribution plan.

You can watch the hearing in its entirety below.

2/4/21 - COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution in Pennsylvania

Senate committee approves local suggestion to state’s dog law 

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee approved my legislation that was suggested by the former Controller for York County, who brought me this idea to me from a local fire department.

This bill would amend state’s Dog Law to exempt service dogs and their handlers from paying for licensing fees if those canines are used by the Sheriffs’ offices, fire departments and/or for rescue or emergency medical services missions. The legislation would require service dogs seeking an exemption to have their explanation filled out using the letterhead of the emergency or public safety group seeking an exemption.

You can learn more about this legislation here.

Secretary of State resigns after botching constitutional amendment to help victims

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced this week that she would resign today following news that she neglected to advertise a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would have allowed victims of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits against their attackers, even if the statute of limitations had expired.

As a result of the department’s failure to perform the simple task of advertising this amendment, victims could now have to wait an additional two years to have their day in court. This is a completely unacceptable result for victims who have already endured so much, and lawmakers must investigate further to determine how the Wolf Administration botched this simple process so badly.

This embarrassing error is the latest in a string of questionable actions taken by Secretary Boockvar that have damaged our Commonwealth. I am hopeful that Governor Wolf will nominate a qualified, capable, and nonpartisan individual to lead the Department of State in the future.

Read more here. 

Legislature approves financial relief for industries most affected by prolonged shutdow>

On Friday, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a COVID-19 relief bill to help the state’s restaurants, renters and schools that have not received other forms of assistance. The Senate was in session earlier today to approve this legislation to push out this financial assistance to entities and individuals most impacted by the state’s prolonged economic shutdown.

You can find the legislation here. You can find additional background on this legislation that I shared when the Senate initially passed this legislation here.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Resources available to answer unemployment claimants’ year-end tax questions

 

Unemployment claimants who have year-end tax questions can find answers through a new Frequently Asked Questions page developed by Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity’s office. The page includes information on what claimants should do if they have not received their 1099G, how to dispute the amount reported on a 1099G form, and what Pennsylvanians should do if they receive a 1099G because they were a victim of fraud or identity theft, among other topics.

Information is also available on how state residents can report identity theft and fraud related to unemployment benefits, as well as how Treasury can provide evidence that fraud has taken place so victims of these crimes can resolve the issue. The Department of Labor and Industry also has its own FAQ page that covers questions about how to obtain forms, report fraudulent activity and more.

New fraud attempts target social media users

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is urging social media users to be on the lookout for fraud attempts involving fake Facebook pages and profiles. By creating fake pages and social media profiles posing as department employees, criminals can attempt to obtain the personal information of Pennsylvanians.

A few helpful reminders:

  • The department does not communicate directly to claimants through replies to posts or private messages.
  • The department will never ask individuals to call or text a phone number or send an email.
  • The department’s official Facebook account has a blue check next to the name that identifies it as a verified page.
  • Pennsylvanians should never divulge personal information to the department through social media.

If you have a question pertaining to unemployment benefits, the contact information for the Department of Labor and Industry is:

2021 trout stocking schedule available now

 

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently announced its 2021 trout stocking schedule for all Pennsylvania waterways. This year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to stock approximately 3.2 million trout in 701 streams and 128 lakes open to public angling.

Trout season will officially open on April 3, following a single statewide Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day on March 27.

Last call: Take my survey to let me know what you think of proposed constitutional amendment 

Thank you to the hundreds of local residents who have already completed my legislative survey on a proposed constitutional amendment.

I have some great news: The House of Representatives approved of Senate Bill 2 earlier today that will send this proposal constitutional amendment to you to decide.

By way of background: This measure would, if approved by Pennsylvania voters, limit a governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days before requiring the support of the General Assembly to renew and extend the declaration beyond three weeks.

Pennsylvanians will get to weigh in on this matter as early as this upcoming Primary Election. If you have not done so, and have a minute to spare, please take my latest survey on this critical issue here.

If you have friends or neighbors who would be interested, please feel free to forward them the survey so I can learn of their opinion on this issue.

Below are my comments that I provided during a debate in the Senate last month arguing in strong support of this proposed constitutional amendment.

1/26/21 – Constitutional Amendment (Senate Bill 2)

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