PITTSBURGH, May 29 – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, released the following statement in light of the ruling today by Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini in the ongoing dispute between UPMC and Highmark: "Today’s decision by Judge Pellegrini is a momentous victory for consumers in western Pennsylvania. Under this decision, UPMC is required to continue to see Highmark Medicare Advantage patients at in-network rates which means that 180,000 seniors will not lose access to their doctors," Frankel said. "The decision is important in several ways. Not only does it resolve the ongoing confusion regarding Medicare Advantage, it requires both UPMC and Highmark to resolve outstanding issues related to their consent decrees through binding arbitration which must be completed by September 30, 2015. In doing so, this decision could help provide clarity to hundreds of thousands of consumers in Pennsylvania who’ve been held hostage by this ongoing situation," Frankel said. "Additionally, Judge Pellegrini made it clear that neither entity can make changes in their future business relationship with each other without court approval. The decision also requires the Commonwealth to make recommendations on how to change the corporate governance structure of both entities. This could lead to long-term changes in UPMC and Highmark’s behavior that reorients them to an even stronger commitment to serve Read more
PITTSBURGH, May 29 – State Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, today discussed legislation that would exempt volunteer emergency responders from paying fees that total more than $47 for state and federal background clearances. Costa, who was joined by fellow lawmakers from the Allegheny Delegation, volunteer firefighters and emergency responders at Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department, said that the financial burden on volunteers was an unintended consequence of changes to the state’s child abuse laws and that at least one bill in the House of Representatives, H.B. 1081 , would begin to right that wrong. He said that the bill would spare paid and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service responders from the $10 clearances from the state police and state Department of Human Services. “I know that many, if not all of the volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel, are prepared to do their due diligence, but let’s remember that these are the same firefighters and first responders who save the commonwealth millions of dollars, protect our communities, and most significantly, save lives – all while placing their own lives at risk,” Costa said. “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and more, and at the very least the state should recognize their sacrifice and contributions by doing these background and clearance checks at no charge to them.” House Bill 1081 has garnered significant bipartisan support and has been sent to Read more
HARRISBURG, May 28 – State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, today said that Bakers Construction, Inc. in Centre County and Databit Solutions in Clinton County both received a Small Business Advantage Grant. Hanna said he is proud to see Bakers Construction, Inc. receive $6,307 and Databit Solutions receive $9,500 from the state. Gov. Tom Wolf today announced that nearly 140 businesses across Pennsylvania will soon install energy-efficiency or pollution-prevention projects by using the Small Business Advantage Grants provided by the Department of Environmental Protection. This year, DEP awarded more than $980,000 to 139 small businesses. “Energy efficiency technology is improving the lives of all Pennsylvania residents,” Hanna said. “These grants will not only help the two small businesses in my district, but will help improve Pennsylvania’s environment as a whole.” Pennsylvania’s Small Business Advantage Grant Program is funded through the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, which helps businesses with 100 or fewer employees. It provides 50 percent matching reimbursement of up to $9,500 to implement projects that will save 25 percent annually in pollution-prevention or energy-related costs. Since 2004, the program has awarded nearly $9.5 million to 1,915 small businesses statewide. Read more
The Senate and House Democratic policy committees hosted a joint hearing at Philadelphia City Hall to discuss legislation that aims to improve public health and safety by giving workers the opportunity to accrue paid sick leave. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 28 – State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne/Lackawanna, will introduce an omnibus Public School Code bill that would establish a moratorium on Keystone Exams being used as a requirement for graduation. Carroll said this suspension would benefit students and their families, while offering much-needed relief to school districts that face significant financial and educational obstacles to fully implement the graduation requirement. "It has become ever more apparent to me that the linkage of Keystone exam passage to graduation is riddled with problems and that more thought is required to assess students with a wide range of abilities," said Carroll, a member of the House Education Committee. "A one-size-fits-all approach seldom works in the real word and the Keystone exam requirement is no exception." Carroll said this provision of his pending bill complements an effort by state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, Democratic chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Carroll's bill also will include all of Gov. Tom Wolf's education code changes, except that his bill will go beyond Wolf's plan to ensure fairness in special education funding for both charter and cyber charter schools. It will seek to accomplish this by applying the special education formula recommended by the Special Education Funding Commission to both charter and cyber charter schools. Another key difference between the Wolf plan and Read more
HARRISBURG, May 27 – State Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, said the Commonwealth Financing Authority today approved nearly $800,000 in state gaming grants for important projects in portions of Lackawanna County he represents.
“While the casinos have provided thousands of jobs and helped the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania, an additional benefit is the local economic development dollars that are provided to adjacent counties,” Flynn said.
Rep. Robert Freeman reports that the Commonwealth Financing Authority has approved a $200,000 state grant for infrastructure improvements to the Easton Public Market, a multivendor, indoor food market scheduled to open this fall. Read more
State Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Lackawanna, announced the state has awarded gaming fund grants totaling $479,500 to area organizations and municipalities to fund vital community projects. Read more
The House Democratic Policy Committee will conduct a public hearing at 10 a.m. Monday, June 1 in Harrisburg to discuss Gov. Tom Wolf’s energy investment plan included in his budget proposal. Read more
ABINGTON, May 27 – Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2015-16 budget supported by Democrats puts the commonwealth on the right track toward healthy and balanced education funding, state Rep. Madeleine Dean said during a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Abington today. The hearing examined Wolf’s budget proposal, which advocates for increased education funding, reduced property taxes and a commitment to invest $2 billion in public education over the next four years under the Education Reinvestment Act. Local- and state-level education experts also provided insight during the hearing. “As a legislator, I have a moral duty to advocate for an adequate, equitable and consistent education system that is excellent for all children in Pennsylvania,” said Dean, D-Montgomery. “This year’s budget presents the opportunity to do so with historic reform that would help Pennsylvania emerge as a leader in education.” Under the Wolf budget plan, Abington School District would receive a $508,144 funding increase, with an estimated 20-percent reduction in property taxes. Upper Dublin School District would also see a 20-percent property tax reduction, as well as increased funding of $148,530. “Governor Wolf’s budget increases the state’s portion of public education funding to 50 percent, while also increasing availability of high-quality early education – which is critical for children’s development and Read more
PHILADELPHIA, May 26 – State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., and House Education Committee Democratic Chairman Jim Roebuck, D-Phila., today hosted a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing at Drexel University on the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency’s Act 101 program, which provides higher education opportunities for the disadvantaged. The state-funded Act 101 program allocates money to Pennsylvania schools to provide services to academically and financially disadvantaged students to assist them so they can complete postsecondary study. “It was enlightening to hear firsthand from administrators that this program works and is needed in the community,” Kinsey said. “Everyone deserves an opportunity when it comes to education, and thanks to the Act 101 officers and the program itself, Pennsylvania is delivering on that promise.” Roebuck added, "Act 101 was created to help thousands of disadvantaged Pennsylvanians pursue higher education, and we want to make sure it fulfills that goal.” House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said: “Every young adult deserves access to a quality post-secondary education. Representatives Roebuck and Kinsey understand that and I commend them for working hard to make sure students continue to have access to PHEAA's Act 101 program.” More information about the Act 101 program is available online at http://pheaa.org/Act101 . Read more
TEMPLE, May 26 – In an effort to increase early detection of vision and potentially life-threatening abnormalities, state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, said he intends to introduce legislation that would establish the Infant Vision Information, Education and Wellness program.
Rozzi's proposal would ensure that all newborns are screened for vision abnormalities before leaving the hospital. All newborns who are not born in a hospital would need to be screened within the first 30 days of life.
"The intent of the IVIEW program is to ensure every child in this commonwealth is properly screened for possibly debilitating vision abnormalities that potentially could cost them their vision or even their lives," Rozzi said. "The good news is that screening for these abnormalities is a simple process and early treatment often can resolve the underlying issue."
Rozzi said the ailments that the IVIEW screening could detect include cataracts, glaucoma, leukocoria and retinoblastoma.
The IVIEW program, which would be established within the Department of Health, also would provide all parents with information about the merits of continued screening and details about needed follow-up care.
"A simple eye test can make a world of difference for children born with these abnormalities," Rozzi said. "I look forward to introducing my legislation shortly to address this crucial issue.
Rozzi said the IVIEW program would bring Pennsylvania closer to meeting the current American Acade Read more
HARRISBURG, May 26 – Several state House and Senate Democratic leaders have filed a legal brief urging Commonwealth Court to protect Medicare enrollees who are at risk in the ongoing UPMC-Highmark battle. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said: "About 182,000 western Pennsylvania seniors will be harmed if UPMC is allowed to end its Medicare Advantage contract with Highmark. We believe that would violate both the letter and the spirit of the two companies' 2014 consent decrees with the state. "We're urging the court to enforce what both UPMC and Highmark already agreed to do and to require binding arbitration to settle all disputes between the two companies, including the Medicare issue, emergency and trauma services, out-of-network billing procedures, disputed claims processing and payments for cancer patients," Frankel said. House members who signed on to the legal brief are: Frankel; Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, Appropriations Committee Democratic Chairman Joseph Markosek and Insurance Committee Democratic Chairman Tony DeLuca, all D-Allegheny; Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre; Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster; and Democratic Caucus Secretary Rosita Youngblood, D-Phila. Senators signing on to the legal brief are: Democratic Leader Jay Costa and Democratic Caucus Chairman Wayne Fontana, both D-Allegheny; and Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, Read more
HARRISBURG, May 26 –The Senate and House Democratic Policy Committees will hold a joint public hearing on paid sick leave at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 28 at Philadelphia City Hall, Courtroom 253, Broad and Market Streets, Philadelphia. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 26 – Following the announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice has reached a settlement with the Cleveland Police Department over officer conduct, state Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Phila., chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and its membership expressed optimism on behalf of the city, its residents, and the family and friends of the victims. The results of the settlement are expected to be announced sometime this week and come just days after a Cleveland police officer was found not guilty in the 2012 fatal shooting of two unarmed, black occupants inside a car. The acquittal prompted protests in the city. "While the judge’s ruling went for the police officer, which outraged many people in the city of Cleveland, we all must remember that all lives matter," Brown said. "The PLBC emphasizes its faith and optimism in hearing the results of the settlement and that the issues with the Cleveland Police Department will be addressed by the DOJ with its decree. "The PLBC truly remains committed to finding real solutions to the issues that plague our cities and minority populations. With the many injustices that have occurred across the nation involving law enforcement, we must take a proactive approach to prevent similar incidents from happening in Pennsylvania. It is important and necessary that we build a bridge between the public and law enforcement to create a level of trust that Read more
HARRISBURG, May 26 – State Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Peter Schweyer, both D-Lehigh, have introduced a resolution that would examine the unfair balance of income and the factors that contribute to it in Pennsylvania. House Resolution 326 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study on income inequality in the commonwealth. The study would include factors that have contributed to the increase in income inequality over the last several decades, gender differences in education levels and occupations and how they contribute to the gender wage gap, comparing wages for working minorities and working non-minorities with the same level of education, comparing wages for minority women and non-minority women with the same level of education, and comparing wages for men and women in female-dominated, gender-balanced and male-dominated occupations. “We can only begin fixing a problem by fully understanding it,” Schweyer said. “There have been concerns over the issue from business, community and economic leaders and faith-based communities in my district, so we really need to get our arms around it.” "Income inequality is the greatest challenge of our modern society; the rich have more and the poor have less than at any point since the Great Recession," Schlossberg said. "We must gain a better understanding of the specific challenges at play with this issue in order to build momentum for a positive Read more
HARRISBURG, May 26 – State Reps. Peter Schweyer and Mike Schlossberg, both D-Lehigh, have introduced a resolution that would examine the unfair balance of income and the factors that contribute to it in Pennsylvania. House Resolution 326 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study on income inequality in the commonwealth. The study would include factors that have contributed to the increase in income inequality over the last several decades, gender differences in education levels and occupations and how they contribute to the gender wage gap, comparing wages for working minorities and working non-minorities with the same level of education, comparing wages for minority women and non-minority women with the same level of education, and comparing wages for men and women in female-dominated, gender-balanced and male-dominated occupations. “We can only begin fixing a problem by fully understanding it,” Schweyer said. “There have been concerns over the issue from business, community and economic leaders and faith-based communities in my district, so we really need to get our arms around it.” Click on the picture below to see more of Schweyer's comments: "Income inequality is the greatest challenge of our modern society; the rich have more and the poor have less than at any point since the Great Recession," Schlossberg said. "We must gain a better understanding of the specific challenges Read more
LEVITTOWN, May 21 – State Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks, today introduced legislation that would exempt experienced emergency responders from fees totaling more than $47 for state and federal background clearances. “I understand and endorse the need for better protections for our children,” Davis said. “However, first responders who have proven their integrity and value to their communities deserve a break from the financial burdens of such background checks.” Flanked by emergency responders at the Newportville Fire Company station, Davis said her House Bill 1081 would spare paid and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service responders from the $10 clearances from the state police and state Department of Human Services and the $27.50 fee for an FBI criminal background clearance. Those fees and clearances are requirements under new laws enacted last year in an effort to better address how Pennsylvania responds to child abuse. “Many if not most of our experienced first responders have previously received clearances as a condition of their employment or service,” Davis said. “My measure would exempt them from burdensome fees as well as the FBI clearance requirements if they have clean records and have been state residents for the last 10 years.” “Our firefighters and EMS providers save lives and property throughout the commonwealth every day, and I believe they deserve to be spared from clearance fees Read more
HARRISBURG, May 21 – State Reps. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, and Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, recently introduced legislation that would both help enhance public health and generate revenue in the commonwealth. House Bill 1213 would increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and impose a 40 percent tax on the wholesale price of other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipes, “roll-your-own” tobacco and smokeless tobacco. Daley said imposing these taxes could help deter young people from using cigarettes and OTPs. “Many teens succumb to peer pressure by using tobacco products and end up becoming life-time users,” Daley said. “What’s troubling is there are now alternative products, such as e-cigarettes, that are growing in popularity and have the same addicting effects as regular cigarettes. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter of a million young people who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013.” Frankel said Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not impose some type of tax on smokeless tobacco and one of two states that does not tax cigars. “It’s time that Pennsylvania joins every other state in the nation in levying a fair tax on these kinds of tobacco products,” Frankel said. “We’re faced with a $2 billion structural budget deficit and we cannot continue to overlook reasonable Read more
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