HARRISBURG, Feb. 11 – Pennsylvania state legislators are making a bid to assist hundreds of workers idled by Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s six-month lockout who are about to see their unemployment benefits expire. Reps. Frank Dermody and Joe Petrarca this week teamed up to introduce a bill that would provide financial help to workers who were locked out of their jobs and have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits. "Workers and their families are in severe financial distress after being locked out of their jobs for half a year," Dermody said. “These workers helped make ATI what it is today. They take pride in the work they do and they want to get back to doing it. Until that happens, we need to help them weather the crisis.” The bill (H.B. 1857) introduced by Dermody and Petrarca would provide temporary unemployment benefits to any Pennsylvania workers who see regular unemployment benefits expire after being locked out of their jobs. Only unemployed workers affected by a lockout would be eligible and the state Department of Labor and Industry reports the locked-out ATI employees are the only ones in Pennsylvania currently affected. “Hundreds of people would rather be working, but instead they are about to lose unemployment benefits through no fault of their own,” Petrarca said. “Their families are suffering along with them, as well as all the local businesses that depend on the daily spending generated by Read more
HARRISBURG, March 17 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, supported legislation this week that would end the nine-month budget standoff and help ensure community organizations and schools do not have to close their doors. The House passed a supplemental budget bill and several budget-related bills Wednesday evening, including bills to fund Penn State, which included its agricultural and cooperative extension services, and the University of Pittsburgh, and were sent to the governor. "It was important for me to support these proposals, that while not perfect, would help bring an end to the uncertainty of whether our communities' most vulnerable residents will continue to receive needed services. Families will receive financial assistance to help send their students to college, students will be able to attend school without threat of closure before the end of the school year, and seniors will continue to have access to state programs," Petrarca said. "Also, important to me is that this budget would not require any new state taxes." The governor signed a scaled-down budget bill in December, which authorized the flow of emergency funding to schools, counties and human service providers, but it was not a complete budget and left many areas and services unfunded. "I am hopeful that Wednesday's votes will bring an end to Pennsylvania's budget impasse so that we can wholly concentrate on crafting a budget Read more
HARRISBURG, March 16 – State Rep. Peter Schweyer praised today’s House passage of legislation that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The House passed an amended version of S.B. 3, which originally passed the Senate in May 2015. The amended bill would require a prescribing doctor to be registered with the Department of Health before they would be authorized to prescribe the use of cannabis for the following conditions: intractable seizures, cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntingdon's disease, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, autism and neuropathic pain for which traditional therapies are contraindicated as well as other neuropathies and certain spinal cord injuries. The main amendment of the bill was the result of a bipartisan task force, of which Schweyer was the only Lehigh Valley member, which worked together for months to craft a bill that would be acceptable to a majority of legislators. "It’s a great day in Pennsylvania and while it took a long time, we are closer than ever to finally seeing the legalization of medical marijuana," Schweyer said. "I’m proud to have been a part of a working group of legislators from both sides of the aisle who put politics aside and placed the health and well-being of people at the forefront. "There is a real need for this critical treatment Read more
HARRISBURG, March 16 – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today approved legislation that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, supported S.B. 3 and helped steer the measure through the House during three days of debate before the final vote. This was the first time the House passed such a bill despite the Senate overwhelmingly approving similar proposals in the past two legislative sessions. The House-amended version of the bill would strictly regulate the use of medical marijuana. Petrarca was part of a bipartisan task force that met last summer and fall to craft an effective medical marijuana bill that could be supported by a House majority. The legislation passed today contains changes suggested by that task force. "The task force debated the issue and looked at what was done in other states," said Petrarca, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "We saw things that worked and things that didn't work. We looked at medical marijuana as a tool for doctors to help people. "Parents want to help their children, and doctors want to help their patients, and medical marijuana can do that. I'm pleased we were able to draft legislation that would give Pennsylvanians another option in palliative care -- one that doesn't result in overdose and death -- while at the same time tailoring its use to ensure it is used only for specific Read more
‘Luzerne County school districts need funding to properly finish school year’ HARRISBURG, March 16 – State Rep. Gerald Mullery today voted in favor of a GOP spending plan to wrap up the long-overdue 2015-16 state budget. Mullery said the spending plan increases spending by 3 percent overall, and provides an additional $200 million more to public schools. Citing looming threats from school officials in his district who say they may have to close schools before the end of the year, Mullery said students can no longer be the victims of political gridlock in Harrisburg. "Today, I set aside party politics and voted for a budget. Although not perfect, this budget is a compromise that will increase funding to our schools and does not raise taxes," Mullery said. "Hopefully, this budget will bring an end to the nine-month struggle our schools and community organizations have endured. "It is time to begin the work on next year’s budget and make certain we do not make the same mistakes." Read more
HARRISBURG, March 16 – State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, today joined House and Senate Democrats and Republicans at the state Capitol to rally support for redistricting reform legislation. The bipartisan and bicameral redistricting reform group and its legislation has seven core principles: Assign redistricting authority to an independent citizens commission; reform both congressional and legislative redistricting; prohibit districts from being drawn to favor or discriminate against a political party or candidate; use statistically sound methodology when setting district boundaries; ensure transparency in the process with meaningful opportunities for active public participation; make all districts as equal in population as possible with a minimum range of deviation; and respect political subdivisions and communities of interest. "The political representation currently in Pennsylvania has made the commonwealth a national example of gerrymandering at its worst," Daley said. "Redistricting should result in a fair map, putting aside partisan interests and protecting the interests of the voters." Daley added that as a member of the redistricting reform group, she has authored legislation ( H.B. 878 ) that would create more openness and fairness in the redistricting process. "My legislation would require a commission to consider plans drawn by Pennsylvania residents, hold public meetings on those plans, and establish a website to share the Read more
HARRISBURG, March 14 – State Rep. Gerald Mullery today introduced legislation that would prohibit individuals and organizations from using drones to interfere with lawful hunting, fishing, and boating activities. House Bill 1896 would make operating a drone a punishable offense when it intrudes on a person who is partaking in outdoor sportsmen activities. It also would make it a punishable offense to use a drone that interferes with someone engaging in the lawful taking of wildlife or other permitted activities. Mullery said while some drone operators claim they are operating them to spot illegal activities, many times, they are disrupting a law-abiding citizen’s leisure time, whether they are hunting, fishing, or boating. "The reality is that operating drones in this matter is becoming an overwhelming nuisance," said Mullery, D-Newport Township. "Many of these folks enjoying the great outdoors of Pennsylvania are doing so legally and they shouldn’t be disturbed by someone using a drone who thinks there may be illegal activity going on." Mullery added several states have already enacted laws making it an offense to use a drone to interfere with hunting and fishing activities. Read more
In an effort to build on recent changes to Pennsylvania’s criminal-expungement laws, state Rep. Jordan Harris has partnered with Rep. Sheryl DeLozier, R-Cumberland, on a bill to help low-level, nonviolent criminal records earn a clean slate upon rehabilitation.
The bill, which has yet to be formally introduced, would allow certain records to be automatically sealed, saving petitioners extra work and taxpayer dollars.
LATROBE, March 3 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, congratulates Loyalhanna Lodge No. 275 in Latrobe for being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. “This designation is important because it allows the property to receive consideration when state or federal projects are being planned – and it also may qualify for federal-designation tax credits or grant assistance," Petrarca said. The placement was effective Feb. 2, according to information provided by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Read more
Citing the growing concern both nationwide and in Pennsylvania about the dangers of hidden lead poisoning, state Rep. Angel Cruz, D-Phila., will introduce a package of legislation aimed at increasing lead testing in several main areas.
"It’s a tragedy that the events in Flint had to remind us of the dangers of lead poisoning, but the danger is real and the danger is high," Cruz said. "Studies from the Department of Health show that multiple cities across Pennsylvania are dealing with children testing positive for high blood lead levels, including Allentown, Scranton, York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, among others. This is not an issue we can afford to take lightly."
HARRISBURG, Feb. 10 – State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, released the following statement in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2016-17 budget proposal: “Governor Wolf has laid out a responsible budget plan that would finally put Pennsylvania back on track by balancing the budget and funding our schools properly. It is similar to his proposal that he presented during his first year as governor, which faced much resistance and still does to this day. “The governor has presented a choice for Pennsylvania: We can either follow a path with a budget that will invest in education, eliminate the deficit and put the commonwealth fiscally on the right footing; or we can continue down the same path that we have been traveling without putting the needs of our schools, our middle class and our homeowners first. “We are now dealing with an embarrassing and frustrating situation. Pennsylvania remains without a fully funded and responsible budget for 2015-16 and we will soon be holding budget hearings on the governor’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, so we have a lot of work to do. The legislature must finish its job that was vacated in December when the Speaker of the House adjourned session without a final vote on the budget framework. “It’s way past time for Republicans to stop playing politics and start working with Governor Wolf and Democrats to be honest and transparent with the people of Pennsylvania. We need to pass a Read more
HARRISBURG, Feb. 10 – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved an amendment authored by state Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, designed to stiffen penalties for aggravated assaults against public transportation company employees. Schweyer’s amendment to H.B. 1219 would add this category of employees to the list of victims for which the alleged assailants are subject to an offense of a second-degree felony. “Our bus drivers, train operators and other employees of our public transportation agencies deserve the same protection as other public service employees," Schweyer said. "But beyond protecting these transit workers, this also would increase the safety for all transit riders and motorists in general. “This amendment is a commonsense way to help protect our roads, riders and operators.” House Bill 1219, which Schweyer also co-sponsored, today passed the House and will go to the Senate for consideration. Read more
HARRISBURG, Feb. 10 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, today supported a resolution that authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the conduct of Attorney General Kathleen Kane and to determine whether she should be subject to impeachment. “I think many people share my concern about the conduct of the attorney general, especially in light of the suspension of her law license," said Petrarca, Democratic Judiciary Committee chairman. "Today's adoption of this resolution is the first step in a very deliberative process to determine if her actions merit impeachment." The resolution directs the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts to investigate Kane's conduct and make recommendations to the committee. The subcommittee will take testimony, review documents, and subpoena and interview witnesses during the course of its investigation. "I sincerely hope that a thorough and unbiased investigation will take place with the goal of making a report in a timely manner," Petrarca said. The resolution was adopted 170-12. Adoption of H.R. 659 is just the first step in the impeachment process under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Depending on the subcommittee's findings, another House resolution would be needed to formally file one or more counts of impeachment, which then would have to be approved by the House. If adopted, the Senate would conduct the trial, and requires a Read more
HARRISBURG, Feb. 9 – State Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, released the following statement in response Gov. Wolf’s 2016-17 budget proposal: “A very smart, community-minded business leader once told me ‘No money, no mission.’ His organization dealt with the very sick and very poor, and as much as they truly wanted to do everything for those they served, he was acutely aware this was impossible without fiscal stability. “Today, Governor Wolf essentially gave that same sage wisdom to the House and Senate. He made it clear that without an honest budget, our state will go broke. And if that happens, our schools and the children they educate will suffer, our property tax rates will spike, and seniors will be put at greater risk. “In Allentown, we already lost over 400 teachers and yet our property taxes keep increasing. Adoption agencies, domestic violence and rape crisis centers, and early childhood schools have reduced hours and laid off workers. No money, no mission indeed. “Feelings may have been hurt today, but we in Harrisburg need to put that aside, be adults and do our job. I remain committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to find common ground and put this harmful budget impasse behind us. And I remain as always committed to the people of Allentown and our working-class values.” Read more
HARRISBURG, Feb. 9 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, has signed onto a bill that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed due to a labor lockout and have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits. More than 1,700 skilled union workers have been locked out of their jobs at Allegheny Technologies Inc. since mid-August. In western Pennsylvania, that has impacted workers in mills at Latrobe, Bagdad, Brackenridge, Midland and Vandergrift. "With their health care benefits expired since November and their unemployment due to expire shortly, these workers are rapidly reaching a financial crisis," Petrarca said. "What's even worse is that because of the possibility of recall, employers aren't interested in hiring them, so they can't secure other work. This bill can ease their burden while efforts continue to resolve the labor dispute." This isn't the first time Petrarca has taken action to help the union workers. In September, Democratic members of the House Southwest Caucus, at Petrarca's urging, sent a letter to ATI's president and CEO urging a resolution to the continued lockout, then two months old. And, last month, Petrarca wrote to the governor , encouraging him to intervene. Now, Petrarca is supporting this bill, to be introduced by Rep. Frank Dermody, which would provide benefits for those locked out equal to the weekly unemployment benefit amount of Read more
State Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, issued the following statement following Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2016-17 budget address today:
"Unfortunately, today’s budget address comes at a time when we still are without a budget for the previous fiscal year. That is a disservice to all Pennsylvanians and shows a serious gap in leadership in state government. We now have two budgets on our plate and are stuck in a static position because some members of the General Assembly would rather put politics before people.
HARRISBURG, Feb. 3 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong/Indiana, announced that the Latrobe-Unity Youngstown Parks and Recreation Commission has received a $40,000 state grant. The grant, from the state's Community Conservation Partnerships Program, will be used to build a pavilion, install play equipment with safety surfacing, and provide Americans with Disabilities Access, landscaping, a sign and other related site improvements at Third Ward Park in Latrobe. "This grant will enable the commission to build a pavilion for the community to use at the park and create a safe place for children to play," Petrarca said. "I'm pleased to have been able to help the commission obtain this grant." The state's Community Conservation Partnerships Program is administered by the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. It uses funding from a variety of state sources, including the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (Key ’93); the Environmental Stewardship and Watershed Protection Act (Growing Greener); the Act 68 Snowmobile and ATV Trails Fund; the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund; and the Recreational Trails component of federal transportation funding programs. The grants provide financial and technical assistance to local governments, river and trail organizations, land trusts and other nonprofits to plan, acquire and develop park, recreation, Read more
WILKES-BARRE, Feb. 1 – State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski today said he was pleased with the results of Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s audit that lifted the five-year freeze on state funding to the Wilkes-Barre Township Volunteer Firefighters’ Relief Association after an outstanding, undocumented loan was finally paid. The Department of the Auditor General withheld more than $252,000 after finding former relief association leaders failed to follow several audit recommendations from as far back as 2006. The auditor general attributed some of the mismanagement to an association officer who pleaded guilty to theft and was ordered to pay $45,000 in restitution to the Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Department. Pashinski said today’s announcement is great news for the community and for the hard-working volunteers of the fire department. "The results of the audit and reconciling a past due loan will help restore the once-held good reputation of the department before it was tarnished by poor management practices," said Pashinski. "The association can now refocus on its primary goal of providing emergency services and assistance to the people of their community." Auditors will complete an on-site verification within 12 months to evaluate internal controls and compliance with audit findings. Auditors already verified a system of checks and balances to ensure future compliance. The new procedures will include opening of a new bank Read more
HARRISBURG, Jan. 29 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong, has introduced a four-bill package designed to improve safety for railroad employees. "Rail freight transportation is on the increase in the United States," Petrarca said. "Not only because of an increase in consumer goods shipping, but also because it's a way to transport crude oil long distances. Believe it or not, crude oil is the single, fastest-growing rail-transported commodity in the U.S. "Because rail freight transportation is a $60 billion industry, supporting 221,000 jobs across the country, and because it reduces road congestion, highway fatalities and fuel consumption, it's important that we continue to ensure the vitality of this industry, while also protecting the health and safety of its employees and the general public." Petrarca worked with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen to develop these bills. The first bill (H.B. 1090) would establish uniform requirements for drivers hired by contract carriers to transport railroad crews. Railroads contract with these carriers to transport small groups of railroad employees to and from crew change points and between terminals. "In many instances, railroad workers are sleeping or otherwise not paying attention to the transport driver," Petrarca said. "This bill would help ensure workers' safety during these transports with driver standards regardless of the Read more
HARRISBURG, Jan. 27 – State Rep. Joseph Petrarca said a bill that would expand the availability of expungement for criminal convictions has been sent to the governor for his signature. Petrarca, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this bill becoming law would help the state on many levels. "By expunging an arrest record and shielding records of nonviolent misdemeanors from the public in cases where the offender has remained free from arrest or prosecution in the decade since, it helps not only the offender where such a criminal offense may be a barrier for them seeking work, but also the state as law enforcement agencies are still able to access those records," said Petrarca, D-Westmoreland/Armstrong, Indiana. "It also helps ex-offenders rejoin our workforce, counters recidivism and relieves an overloaded pardon system." Current law only permits the court to expunge adult convictions in certain instances. The only other way to get a conviction expunged is to petition the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. Under the bill (S.B. 166), ex-offenders with second- or third-degree misdemeanors or an ungraded offense that carried two years or less in prison, and who has been free from arrest or prosecution for 10 years, would be able to apply for expungement of their criminal record. Cost of the filing would be $132. Once an expungement petition is filed, the district attorney would have 30 days in which to file objections and a Read more
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