In This Update:
Divine Mercy Catholic Academy Visit
Last week it was a pleasure to stop by Divine Mercy Catholic Academy to speak with the 5th and 6th graders about state government and my job as a Senator.
These students were extremely engaged and asked some great questions about how things work in Harrisburg.
While there, I was honored to present a Senate citation to associate principal Mary Jo Podratsky for her retirement after 25 years of service. Congratulations and best wishes for an enjoyable retirement.
Senate Votes to Boost Fire and EMS Services Throughout PA
Our communities are fortunate to have many brave men and women who dedicate their time and efforts as first responders to protect our lives and property. The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms this week to support our first responders and improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state.
The bill contains key improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
Legislation was also approved this week to increase funding to the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund by approximately $11 million.
The reforms were based on recommendations included in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report that was created to explore ways to better support fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania.
Federal Funding Available for Volunteer Fire Companies
Volunteer fire departments can apply now for a new round of federal funding designed to assist with the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other related supplies. Applications for the second round of grants from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program must be submitted by November 13 at 5 p.m.
Preference will be given to applicants requesting reimbursement or immediate use of PPE. The program is also open to combination career/volunteer fire companies.
Bills to Improve COVID-19 Reporting Move to Governor’s Desk
Two bills to improve reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Pennsylvania are on their way to the governor to be signed into law. The bills are focused on protecting first responders and ensuring all COVID-19 deaths are reported and investigated properly.
Under the legislation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local health agencies would be required to notify 911 centers of the address of any known positive case of a communicable, aerosolized and transmissible disease. The legislation would ensure the information is provided to law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical services personnel, medical examiners and coroners when they are called to carry out an essential job function at the address.
In addition, the package includes a measure to 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 ensure coroners can investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding any death and eliminate inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported.
Legislation Moves Forward to Ensure Safe Visitation of Nursing Home Residents
Many Pennsylvania families faced COVID-19 restrictions that prevented them from visiting loved ones for months – even when all state and federal safety protocols could have been followed. The Senate approved legislation this week to ensure safe visitation and enhanced care for residents of long-term care facilities.
The bill would require facilities to designate at least one essential family caregiver per resident that would be permitted to visit and care for a loved one during a disaster emergency. Under the bill, caregivers would be able to remain in contact with family members and provide companionship and assist with activities requiring one-on-one direction.
Senate Advances Measures to Boost Availability of Broadband
The Senate approved two bills this week to boost the state’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband internet coverage to more unserved and underserved areas in rural Pennsylvania. The bills are designed to reduce regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and make better use of existing infrastructure to expand coverage to a broader number of communities.
One of the bills would reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment by modernizing the Public Utility Code and requiring the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review and waive regulations that are no longer necessary or in the public interest.
Another bill would make broader use of existing infrastructure to further deploy broadband in areas that lack coverage. The legislation would allow electric cooperatives to utilize existing utility poles to place fiber-optic lines if the placement does not adversely affect the value or use of the property.
Legislation Offers Relief for Rural Pharmacies
In recent years, many rural pharmacies endured severe cuts to reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers. Several rural pharmacists testified during a Senate Majority Policy Committee workshop discussion that the reimbursement rates they received were lower than the cost of the drug in some cases, forcing the pharmacy to operate in the red.
The Senate approved legislation this week that would support struggling rural pharmacies by improving pricing transparency for prescription drugs and ensuring these small businesses are reimbursed for the full cost of prescriptions for Medicaid patients.
The bill builds on recent progress to protect prescription drug consumers. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved the Consumer Prescription Drug Pricing and Freedom Disclosure Act to allow a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide information about the cost of a prescription drug to consumers, including the individual’s share of costs.
Bill Could Help More Pennsylvanians Benefit from Clean Slate
The Senate approved a key criminal justice reform bill this week that would allow more Pennsylvanians to have criminal records expunged if they receive a pardon or are not convicted of a crime. The measure would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records if all court-ordered restitution is paid.
Under current law, an individual who receives a pardon or is not convicted of a crime still must pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees to file for expungement. This bill would remove a serious barrier to employment, housing, education and other critical services for individuals who are otherwise unable to complete the process of criminal record expungement.
Your Vote Matters 2020: Voting Resource Page with Everything You Need to Know
Pennsylvania voters will have the option to vote in person or by mail this year. To vote by mail, you must apply online by 5 p.m. on October 27 to receive a mail-in ballot.
Additional details on completing mail-in ballots are available on the “Your Vote Matters” resource page. This new webpage also includes updates on voting resources, mail-in voting, polling place locations, key election dates and other critical election information to make sure your voice is heard at the polls in November.
Medicare Open Enrollment Runs Now Through December 7
The annual open enrollment period for Medicare allows new beneficiaries to sign up for prescription drug coverage and health plans, and it offers current beneficiaries a chance to review and change coverage to meet their individual health care needs. The open enrollment period is open now through December 7.
Medicare-eligible individuals can receive free, objective advice and information on coverage options through the APPRISE Program by calling the APPRISE Helpline at 1-800-783-7067 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Counselors are available to provide information on eligibility, enrollment, prescription benefits, financial assistance and more.
CDL and Commercial Learner’s Permits Extended Through November 29
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently extended the expiration dates for commercial driver licenses (CDL), commercial learner’s permits and hazardous materials endorsements through November 29. Previous deadlines that were extended for non-commercial driver licenses, photo ID cards and camera cards during the COVID-19 pandemic expired on August 31.
A list of driver license and photo licenses centers is available at www.dmv.pa.gov.
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month
October is designated as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in order to draw attention to the importance of staying secure online and understanding the dangers of cyberthreats. The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers educational materials and tips to help everyone remain vigilant of potential threats.
CISA resources include guidance on telework, cybersecurity best practices, election security, mitigating risks to infrastructure and much more. The Senate approved legislation earlier this month that would strengthen, secure and consolidate state government IT systems while saving taxpayer dollars, and a bill approved by the Senate in September would help minimize the damage caused by data breaches.
PHEAA Schedules Informational Financial Aid Events
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has scheduled a series of free informational webinars in October and November for students and families to learn more about financial planning and aid options for students.
The hour-long webinars cover two main subject areas: understanding financial aid offers, and covering the gap in aid. The full list of available webinars is available here under the PA Forward Student Loan heading.
If you do not wish to receive this email, click here to unsubscribe.