Several Otten policy issues win big in Harrisburg this week

HARRISBURG, Dec.  15 – State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, marked several significant legislative achievements in Harrisburg this week, with committee hearings on two of her bills, another legislative proposal signed into law, and the passage of a resolution recognizing native Pennsylvanian Taylor Swift for her recent selection as TIME magazine’s Person of the Year.

Otten also applauded several of the legislature’s collective accomplishments, as the General Assembly passed tax code and fiscal code bills containing multiple provisions to support working families.

On Wednesday evening, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Josh Shapiro signed into law a school code bill authorizing funding for Otten’s student-teacher stipend program, which allocates $10 million in funding to help alleviate the statewide teacher shortage by providing stipends of up to $15,000 for prospective teachers during their student teaching semester. Otten’s proposal first passed the House in June with strong bipartisan support, and her proposal language was included in the state budget.

“Student teaching stipends are an essential step in both addressing our teacher shortage and supporting every aspiring educator in Pennsylvania so they can join the workforce fully prepared to teach upon graduation,” Otten said. “I am excited to see this program enacted into law so that we can provide our student teachers with the resources and compensation they deserve and eliminate some of the undue financial burdens that prevent many from pursuing a career in this high-demand field.”

On Monday, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a public hearing on H.B. 1467, Otten’s proposal to modernize Pennsylvania’s renewable energy standards and put Pennsylvania on a path to generate at least 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. The bill received support from testifiers including numerous renewable energy advocacy organizations and David Altoff Jr., director of the Energy Programs Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

“Right now, we have an historic opportunity to incentivize renewable energy development in our commonwealth through federal Inflation Reduction Act funds and re-establish Pennsylvania as a competitor and a leader in our nation’s clean energy economy,” Otten said. “Our current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards set the bar for energy policy when they were enacted in 2004, but today, neighboring states with stronger energy standards have surpassed Pennsylvania. Over the last two years, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York have all significantly increased their renewable energy standards for 2030. It’s time for Pennsylvania to get back in the game. My bill would create a path for the development of solar and other renewable energy projects in our commonwealth and put Pennsylvania on the path toward 30% renewable energy by the year 2030.”

Wednesday morning, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a joint resolution co-prime sponsored by Otten and state Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, proposing a Reproductive Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The proposed legislation, introduced as H.B. 1888, comes on the heels of a referendum approved by voters in Ohio this November, when Ohio became the seventh state, and the latest “red” state, where the people voted to protect reproductive rights by ballot initiative following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Otten and Hanbidge bill proposes an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would reaffirm and protect every individual’s right of reproductive liberty with respect to personal, sexual, and reproductive healthcare decisions, including the right to choose or refuse an abortion, the right to choose or refuse contraceptives, and the right to choose or refuse fertility care, without discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status.

“Abortion is currently safe and legal in the commonwealth, and as a mother to a young girl, I feel a responsibility to ensure that we protect and preserve that right. I do not want my daughter’s personal health or economic future to be at the mercy of a governor’s veto pen. We need to explicitly enshrine these rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Otten said. “While the people of Pennsylvania strongly support personal reproductive liberty, our call to action is engaging and building a pro-choice majority in both the House and Senate to move this initiative forward and ultimately get it in front of the voters. This is just the beginning of the work, and my colleagues and I are committed to seeing it through.”

Wednesday evening, as the House awaited the code bills back from the Senate, House members passed a number of resolutions, including Otten’s resolution recognizing Taylor Swift for her recent selection as TIME magazine's 2023 Person of the Year and acknowledging her positive impact on Pennsylvania's economy, voter registration numbers, consumer protections and pro-labor practices.

Also on Wednesday, the House and Senate passed and Shapiro signed into law the Fiscal Code bill authorizing state agencies to spend the money that was included in the general appropriations bill passed by the General Assembly in August.

“This week we finally completed a budget that will deliver real help for thousands of Pennsylvanians,” Otten said. “I am especially glad to see significant increases in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which will ease the burden for working families who pay for and rely on child and dependent care in order to work.”

Eligible families who qualify for the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit are eligible for the state tax credit, which is currently equal to 30% of the federal credit. These families claim this tax credit when they file their federal and state tax returns. As a result, nearly a quarter million working families will see their state tax credits more than triple beginning with the 2023 tax return people will file in spring of 2024.

“As a mother and as the family member of someone who required round-the-clock care, I know just how difficult it can be to balance work, bills, and securing access to affordable and dependable care for our loved ones,” Otten said. “This budget prioritized making child and dependent care accessible for families. That’s a win for our families, our workforce, and our economy.”