In This Update:
Wolf Administration Announces Plan to Add Tolls to Nine Existing PA Bridges
Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) unveiled a plan to toll nine existing bridges on the Interstate System in this Commonwealth through a Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3).
Since being appointed Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on January 13, 2021, PennDOT’s bridge tolling initiative has been a top priority of the committee. I have met with the Secretary of PennDOT, stakeholders, and held a public hearing on January 25, 2021 to address concerns regarding this initiative. In addition, I circulated a co-sponsorship memo to introduce legislation that would bring transparency and accountability to the P3 statute (Title 74, Chapter 91).
I have serious concerns with PennDOT’s authority to essentially tax and appropriate funds without additional oversight from the General Assembly. At a time when transparency to our constituents is of paramount concern, we must ensure the voices of our constituents are heard and that they are involved in the process. Act 88 of 2012 authorized the creation of the P3 Board to expedite project delivery in Pennsylvania. In fact, there are various P3s benefiting the transportation system, such as the construction of compressed natural gas fueling stations at transit agencies and the rapid replacement of 558 state-owned bridges.
The P3 Board, under PennDOT’s jurisdiction, supported a proposal on November 12, 2020, to impose user fees or tolls on six to 10 bridges on the Interstate System in Pennsylvania. This was the first time in the P3 Board’s history to consider a proposal with user fees.
I look forward to working with PennDOT to address the many transportation challenges facing the Commonwealth. We must work together and in a bipartisan manner to find creative ways to address funding discrepancies and ensure that revenue is properly allocated to the sources it is derived for. I welcome that transparent dialogue.
Lawmakers Authorize Use of PA National Guard to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine
The Senate voted recently to authorize the use of the Pennsylvania National Guard to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill would allow the National Guard to operate under the guidance of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Human Services to help collect, secure and transport doses of the vaccine.
In addition, National Guard members who have the necessary training would be permitted to administer the vaccine to Pennsylvanians who want to receive it. The proposal could help improve Pennsylvania’s troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state currently ranks 46th in the nation in terms of the percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered.
Senate Approves Bill to Generate More Private Donations to Support Veterans
Pennsylvanians could donate more money to help veterans under a bill the Senate approved on Wednesday. The legislation would increase the donation amounts to the Veterans’ Trust Fund when Pennsylvanians renew a driver’s license, ID card or vehicle registration.
The bill would increase the donation amount from $3 to $5, or from $6 to $10 when applying for a two-year vehicle registration. All donations support grants to county directors of veterans’ affairs, veterans’ service organizations and other charitable organizations that provide assistance, shelter and living necessities to veterans and their families.
Legislation Would Create Medals of Commendation for Firefighters, Law Enforcement, EMS
The Senate passed legislation this week that would create a new way to honor members of law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel who demonstrate uncommon heroism in the line of duty. The bill would establish special medals of commendation to be awarded to members of these organizations who are injured or killed in the line of duty, or who demonstrate exceptional gallantry, heroism and bravery in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
The color of each medal – the Star of Valor, Heart and Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice – would coordinate with the respective program: blue for law enforcement, red for firefighters, and white for EMS personnel.
Senate Passes Bill to Boost Farmland Preservation
Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation efforts could take a critical step forward under legislation approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill would help generate new funding for the program without placing additional burdens on taxpayers.
The legislation dedicates a portion of existing farmland preservation funding to private land trusts – groups that take stewardship over a property with the permission of the landowner. Land trusts would be required to provide matching funds, which would make more resources available to preserve farms.
Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation Claimants Must File by March 12
The Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional $100 in weekly benefits for claimants who earned at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment. Claimants must submit acceptable documentation by March 12 to receive the extra benefits. The additional benefit applies from January 2 through March 13.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants are not eligible for the program. Details on the program, applicable tax years and documentation are available here.
CamTran offering free rides to COVID-19 vaccination appointments
Camtran will be offering FREE shared ride trips to anyone in its coverage area who need transportation to and from a confirmed COVID-19 vaccination appointment. (graphic attached)
*Advance reservations are required by calling 1-800-252-3889. Residents will need to call CamTran no later than 2:00 pm the business day prior to your appointment. CamTran staff will assist you in the reservation process.
LIHEAP Applications Being Accepted
The 2020-2021 Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is open. The season is scheduled to close on April 9, 2021. LIHEAP helps families living on low incomes pay their heating bills in the form of a cash grant ranging from $200 to $1,000 based on household size, income, and fuel type. The grant is sent directly to the utility company/fuel provider to be credited on the family’s bill. Households experiencing a heating crisis may be eligible for additional benefits through the LIHEAP crisis program. More info here: https://bit.ly/2Nih07o
Johnstown Soup Kitchen
My wife Cortney and I, as well as my Richland office staff, are volunteering at the Johnstown Soup Kitchen. The Johnstown Soup Kitchen is a program of St. Vincent de Paul Food for Families. Established in 1994, the kitchen provides daily lunchtime meals to anyone in need. There is never a charge for their service. More information on services they provide or ways to volunteer can be found here.
If you do not wish to receive this email, click here to unsubscribe.