In This Update:
Judge Denies Wolf Administration’s Request to Delay Ruling on Gathering Restrictions
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the Wolf Administration’s business shutdowns and restrictions on large gatherings were unconstitutional. This week, the judge affirmed that ruling and denied the governor’s request to delay implementation while the administration pursues an appeal.
The ruling makes it clear that the governor’s restrictions on gatherings (no more than 25 people indoors or 250 people outdoors) cannot be enforced. Although these restrictions were struck down as unconstitutional, I encourage community residents to use common sense and defer to CDC guidance on issues such as attending gatherings, maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask in public spaces.
I am hopeful that this ruling will serve as a wake-up call that we cannot follow one-size-fits-all approaches to combat this pandemic. We need cooperation at all levels to find real solutions that work for each individual community to protect both lives and livelihoods.
Effort to Override Governor’s Veto of School Sports Bill Fails in the House
Governor Wolf vetoed bipartisan legislation this week that would have ensured school districts could make the final decision on allowing school sports, extracurricular activities and spectators during the 2020-21 school year. Unfortunately, an effort to override this veto in the House of Representatives fell short.
Although the bill was approved by more than two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House on final passage, the vote to override the Governor’s veto fell short in the House by just four votes when more than two dozen House Democrats who originally supported the bill reversed course and threw their support behind the Wolf Administration instead of standing up for school officials, parents and student-athletes.
Despite the failed effort to override the veto, school sports and activities are set to continue this fall under PIAA guidelines. However, the failed override effort means that the Wolf Administration will maintain the authority to halt these activities at any time.
Time for Broadband Access in Rural PA
This pandemic has highlighted what we in rural areas have known for some time, that access to high-speed broadband is crucial to education, safety and economic development.
The time is now to ensure broadband access to those across this country in vast rural areas.
August 2017 saw a major train derailment in Hyndman, Bedford County; one of three counties that make up the 35th Senatorial District that I have the privilege of representing. This town is quintessential rural America – one main road, few stop lights and hardworking salt of the earth Americans.
As several thousand tons of fuel and combustible material ignited the skies amid the crisp mountain air – emergency responders scrambled to effectuate an evacuation of the town’s residents. But on this day, they faced a foe that could have been cataclysmic to this region. They could not effectively communicate with the residents or each other to warn of the impending explosion as no high-speed broadband existed, with little or no cellular phone service to compound the matter.
I thank God for the swift action of those brave men and women as they went door-to-door putting their own lives in jeopardy to save others. We dodged a bullet that day, but what about the next time? In today’s age of technology and instant communication, why had this area been left behind? And more importantly, what could we do to remedy the problem?
That event served as the impetus to the research, development and ultimate drafting of Senate Bill 835 which will create a pilot program for the deployment of high-speed broadband to unserved areas of rural Pennsylvania. As the Trump administration has led the efforts to assist our residents in so many ways, and expanded access to telehealth services thereby ensuring rural Americans have access to desperate healthcare, we need to ensure an effective delivery mechanism for these services. Senate Bill 835 will spur that development.
This pandemic has highlighted what we in rural areas have known for some time, that access to high-speed broadband is crucial to education, safety and economic development. As our schools were forced to close amid concerns of the pandemic in late March, our local school districts were given the unenviable task to deliver education remotely.
It was routine to hear those call for our students to learn remotely, or go virtual, or log in to school from their homes. That was great for the student in cities such as Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or even in my hometown of Johnstown; but what were we to tell the kid in Northern Bedford County or rural Clearfield or parts of rural Cambria, where high-speed broadband was simply not available?
In speaking with those affected by the lack of broadband as well as stakeholders, we needed to formulate an incentive to get this to our residents. Typically, vendors of broadband would invest in an area where they would get the most return on their investment, i.e. larger pockets of population, and few could fault them for this business decision. Some of our remote areas were just too sparse to attract the deployment of broadband to them.
Thus, Senate Bill 835 provides the funds for this build out, provided that they use 25% of their own funds in the process. And, the language is clear; this must be for unserved areas, not to increase bandwidth to an area that is already served.
As this bill passed the Senate, I am confident it will pass the House and be signed into law. Then, we can begin to implement it into action contemporaneously with the efforts the Trump administration has spearheaded to ensure that rural Pennsylvania, and America aren’t left behind.
PUC Reminds Area Residents – New Phone 10-Digit Dialing Will Be Phased In Beginning Next Week
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) has received notice that the number 582 will be the new overlay area code for the current 814 area code, which covers all or parts of 27 counties across Central and Northwestern Pennsylvania.
The 582 area code will be assigned to new telephone numbers once the available supply of numbers in the current 814 area code is exhausted. The use of an overlay area code preserves existing phone numbers for residents and businesses in the region, while also ensuring that a supply of new numbers will be available for decades to come.
The biggest adjustment for residents and businesses across the 814 area code will be the eventual switch to “10-digit dialing,” where callers will be required to dial the area code plus the seven-digit telephone number for all calls.
To help consumers and businesses in the region adjust to the upcoming change, the PUC approved a timetable to implement the new overlay:
• Oct. 3 – Residents and businesses are encouraged to voluntarily start 10-digit dialing for calls in the 814 area code.
• April 3,2021 – 10-digit dialing will be required for all calls.
• May 1, 2021 – The new overlay area code will be placed into service.
Senate Votes to Ease Wolf’s Arbitrary Restrictions on Restaurant Industry
The constantly shifting guidance and severe restrictions placed by the Wolf Administration on Pennsylvania bars and restaurants has created a serious strain on the industry and jeopardized the jobs of more than 500,000 employees. A bill approved by the Senate this week would ease the most burdensome restrictions on these businesses while ensuring they can continue to operate safely.
The legislation would set the minimum capacity for bars and restaurants at 50 percent, with the ability for increased capacity if their premises allows. In addition, the bill would remove the ban on bar service, eliminate the meal requirement to purchase alcohol, and allow for event venues to operate at a minimum of 50 percent capacity.
Bill to Protect Nursing Home Residents Earns Senate Approval
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities faced the greatest threats from COVID-19, and approximately two-thirds of all deaths attributed to the virus were residents of these facilities. The Senate took action this week to better protect some of our most vulnerable populations against the threat of contagious diseases.
The measure would require the Secretary of Health to ensure long-term care facilities follow and implement disease prevention and control guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during an emergency declaration.
In addition, the legislation would ensure no individual who has tested positive for a communicable disease within 14 days is placed in a facility without being placed in isolation. Under the bill, the Secretary of Health would be prevented from forcing the admission of a patient to a long-term care facility without considering the ability of the facility to care for the patient.
Measure Would Improve Transparency on COVID-19 Death Reporting
As early as April, serious discrepancies began to emerge on the number of COVID-19 deaths that were being reported by the Department of Health and county coroners. A bill approved by the Senate this week would help eliminate these inconsistencies.
The legislation would ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency. The bill would aid county coroners in investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding suspected COVID-19 deaths and other cases of death by contagious disease.
Bill Would Create Tougher Penalties for Endangering First Responders
The Senate approved a bill this week that would rebrand the state’s “Steer Clear Law” as the “Move Over Law” to ensure motorists know how to react when approaching an emergency response area. The legislation would better protect law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel, tow truck drivers and other emergency responders.
The measure also increases fines and points for violations and boosts public awareness of the responsibilities of motorists approaching an accident scene.
Legislation Could Prevent Phone Number Spoofing By Telemarketers
Telemarketers frequently “spoof” phone numbers to trick consumers into answering calls by making it appear as if their call originates in the same area as the recipient. Legislation approved by the Senate this week would prohibit this practice in the future.
The bill would prevent any individual or entity from engaging in caller ID spoofing in order to defraud, cause harm or obtain anything of value from another person. It would also prohibit telemarketing and robocalls between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Senate Honors Prisoners of War, Servicemembers Missing in Action
The Senate approved a bill this week that would honor our nation’s prisoners of war and servicemembers missing in action by requiring all PennDOT and PA Turnpike service plazas, welcome centers and rest stops to fly the POW-MIA flag. The bill is intended to serve as a lasting tribute to those brave soldiers still missing in action and the families who have lost their loved ones.
Legislation Approved to Reduce Unused Office Space, Save Taxpayer Dollars
A bill that would help curb costs to taxpayers by reducing unused officed space earned the approval of the Senate this week. The measure would require executive, independent, and state-affiliated agencies to report their space usage on an annual basis to identify ways to reduce costs and make the best use of existing resources.
Over the past three decades, Pennsylvania has seen a 26 percent reduction in the number of state employees without any evidence of a corresponding reduction of office space.
Senate Passes Bill Requiring Notification of Information Breaches
The Senate approved a bill this week that would protect consumers by requiring timely public notification when a security breach compromises personal information held by state agencies. The bill updates the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act to require state agencies victimized by a breach involving personally identifiable information to report the incident to those affected within seven days.
The legislation also requires the state Attorney General be informed of any breach and for executive branch agencies to notify the Office of Administration within three days following a breach.
State Farm is offering “Good Neighbor Citizenship Community Grants” to be used for Safety, Education, and Community Development
State Farm is offering “Good Neighbor Citizenship Community Grants” to be used for Safety, Education, and Community Development.
Organizations that are eligible are as follows:
State Farm will accept grant applications for 2021 funding from October 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020.
A local motel is in the running for national honors