In this Update:
$279 Million to Improve Roads and Bridges Across the Commonwealth
Last week I announced the 2021-22 budget includes a new appropriation of $279 million to improve roads and bridges across the Commonwealth.
We targeted these dollars to put Pennsylvania companies and workers back to rebuilding our transportation system. This investment will alleviate the immediate concerns we heard over the last several months regarding the transportation shortfalls. I want to applaud the hard work of Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, who led this effort to invest in the Commonwealth’s transportation system.
On June 2, Senator Langerholc announced the DRIVE SMART Act to reform and invest in the Commonwealth’s multimodal transportation system. The comprehensive plan called for a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act to provide immediate relief for the design and construction of roads and bridges, as well as to prioritize innovative federal financing over the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s bridge tolling initiative.
This decision by the General Assembly will help launch the DRIVE SMART Act, as we continue working on legislation to reform and invest in the Commonwealth’s multimodal transportation system. In my role as Senate Transportation Chairman, I will continue holding conversations with the public and stakeholders on how we can adequately address our transportation needs.
The DRIVE SMART Act is a short-term and long-term plan to overhaul the Commonwealth’s transportation system by reforming and investing in our roads and bridges, public transportation, airports, passenger rail and active transportation.
Increased Support for Crime Victims Approved by Senate
The Senate approved legislation to improve communications with crime victims and ensure they receive any compensation they are owed.
The effort uses savings generated by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, launched in 2012, to strengthen public safety and reduce prison and probation costs. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Passes Kayden’s Law to Protect Children during Custody Disputes
The Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives legislation known as Kayden’s Law to increase protections for children during child custody disputes.
The legislation is named after Kayden Mancuso, a 7-year-old Bucks County resident murdered by her biological father in 2018 during a visit ordered by the court, despite evidence of his abusive and violent behavior.
The bill imposes safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse, modifies the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child, and recommends better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.
Homeless Students and Students in Foster Care Aided by Senate Measure
Students experiencing homelessness or living in foster care face additional graduation challenges because they changed schools before earning full credit or are unable to take a required course at their new school. Their new school also may not honor the credits they earned.
The Senate approved legislation by Senator Langerholc and Senator Browne to create a smoother transition to high school graduation for these students by designating a point person to review past transcripts and provide the essential support needed to aid student graduation.
The bill would also provide students with other methods to demonstrate that their coursework has been satisfactorily completed so necessary credit can be awarded. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Helps Open Agritourism to More Farmers
Last week the Senate passed HB 101, which will provide Agritourism businesses with limited liability protection. Agritourism includes farm markets, pick-your-own produce, corn mazes, paintball, petting zoos, hayrides and farm tours. They can make the difference between having a positive year on the ledger or ending up in the red, especially for small family farmers. Throughout the legislative process, I heard from farmers and others about the benefits that this legislation would have on our community, therefore I was proud to cast an affirmative vote. HB 101 is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Senate Passes Plan for Voter Verification Constitutional Amendment
The Senate this week approved a plan to allow voters to decide if the Pennsylvania Constitution should be amended to require identification each time a voter casts a ballot.
Currently, voters are required to show identification only the first time they vote at a polling place. The proposed constitutional amendment asks voters to decide if some form of verification should be required every time a ballot is cast, including when voting by mail.
A recent poll by Franklin & Marshall College found 74% of Pennsylvanians favored requirements that all voters show a photo ID and only 25% opposed. Nationally, that number climbs to 80% in support of some sort of identification to vote and drops to 18% opposed, according to a Monmouth University poll.
With Gov. Tom Wolf’s refusal to consider legislation that asks voters to provide verification every time they vote, the Senate passed a bill to place the issue on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment so voters can decide. Unlike a piece of legislation, constitutional amendments do not need the governor’s approval.
Bill to Expand Senior Access to Prescription Drugs Approved by Senate
Legislation to expand senior access to prescription drugs received Senate approval and was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The anticipated savings from enrolling eligible PACENET individuals in Medicare Part D plans will provide enough savings to cover the cost of the income expansion.
Measure Offering Optional Year of Education Due to COVID-19 Goes to the Governor
Parents would have the option to allow their children to repeat a grade level due to learning disruptions caused by COVID-19 under a bill approved by the Senate and sent to the governor.
In current practice, the decision on whether to hold a student back is made solely by the child’s school and teacher. The bill would only apply to the 2021-22 school year to address learning gaps related to the pandemic.
Senate Bill 664 would also give parents the option to extend enrollment in special education programs for an extra year due to COVID-19. This provision would prevent students with special needs from aging out of the system at age 21 after missing out on much of the specialized attention they need due to COVID-19 disruptions.
Gov. Wolf will have 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
General Assembly Approves Budget that Holds the Line on Taxes, Boosts Rainy Day Fund, Supports Schools, Roads and Nursing Homes
The Senate approved a 2021-22 state budget that supports Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing a financial safety net for the future. The plan now goes to the governor’s desk for enactment into law.
The fiscally responsible budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by the governor in February — including a 46% Personal Income Tax hike.
While Pennsylvania is on pace to end the current fiscal year with $2.5 billion in surplus revenue, revenue projections for the current fiscal year were made as Pennsylvania was coping with the financial devastation caused by the global pandemic and the governor’s business closure orders.
Despite a significant rebound in revenues and the availability of federal stimulus funds to help balance the budget, lawmakers must remain vigilant and pragmatic because Pennsylvania’s mandated spending growth still outpaces its revenue growth and the Commonwealth cannot depend on continued federal funding.
The budget provides a three-tier approach to create a strong financial safety net for coming years:
The spending plan includes $300 million more for Basic Education Funding, $50 million more for Special Education, $25 million more for Pre-K programs and $5 million more for Head Start.
It also allocates $279 million in federal funding to support highway and bridge improvement projects. This will enable the Commonwealth to address its deteriorating transportation network while supporting employers and creating family sustaining jobs.
Marcus Irwin & Hunter Kagarise – Shadow
Last week it was my pleasure to host both Marcus Irwin and Hunter Kagarise as my shadow for the day.
Marcus is an alumnus of Bishop McCort Catholic High School and a resident of Richland Township.
Hunter is a junior at Northern Bedford County High School and a resident of Hopewell.
Cambria County Satellite Office Hours:
FREE Training Opportunity – “Drug Impairment Training for the Educational Professional”
The Cambria County Drug Coalition is hosting a Drug Impairment for the Educational Professional course July 21 and 22 to better combat students under the influence.
The training will enable school nurses to determine whether or not the student is impaired and what the cause of the impairment is.
If the impairment is drug related, the training will help identify what drugs are likely causing the observed impairment using proven diagnostic procedures.
July 14 – Cambria Drive-Up Distribution
Save the date! Register now for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s drive-up distribution on Wednesday, July 14 from 12 -2 pm at Johnstown Galleria, 500 Galleria Drive. You must make a reservation here in advance of the event.
Fish for Free Day
The second PA Fish for Free Day is July 4 allowing residents & non-residents to fish on PA waterways with no fishing license or trout/salmon/Lake Erie permits required. All other fishing regulations still apply.
Have a Happy Independence Day
The United States of America remains the world’s beacon of liberty, 245 years after the 13 colonies took the brave step of challenging the British Empire for independence.
Open displays of love of country might seem old fashioned to some, but it is found in abundance in the homes and communities of everyday Americans. I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July celebrating our nation’s birthday.