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House Democrats elect leaders for upcoming legislative session

Republican budget ignores heroin crisis

(Jun 29, 2017)

The current version of the House Republican budget ignores the heroin crisis and threatens the ability of many Pennsylvania counties to provide mental health services. State cuts would reduce services for mental health patients in counties that already were forced to eliminate services during the last round of Republican budget cuts. Reducing or eliminating support for people with developmental disabilities will leave many families with stark and painful choices. They'll be forced to care for their loved ones at home on their own, or place them in an institution. The cuts would further impact nearly every family in the state by interfering with Pennsylvania's ability to address the growing heroin abuse and addiction crisis. A recent report shows that hospital admissions for heroin and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 2010 in Pennsylvania. This growing crisis is having a devastating impact on families, communities and taxpayers. The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council estimates heroin-related hospital admissions alone cost $27 million last year. The cuts in the Republican budget would deny treatment to 1,200 people not eligible for Medicaid. That many people losing access to treatment creates additional public safety and healthcare costs that Pennsylvania cannot afford to bear. Counties and healthcare providers in Pennsylvania have excelled at doing more with less -- Read more

 

Republican choices limit families' financial security and children's future

(Jun 28, 2017)

The House Republican budget bill (H.B. 218) could drive waiting lists for quality child care in Pennsylvania to their highest levels in history. The Republican budget cuts childcare assistance and services support by nearly $70 million. This would eliminate childcare services for 10,000 PA children and increase waiting lists by almost 20,000. House Bill 218 also denies more funding for home visiting programs that evidence shows keeps many new moms and their babies healthy. The governor's proposed budget would help provide quality childcare options for the parents of an additional 1,800 children. This support would allow parents to work while their children receive reliable, safe care. The governor's proposed budget also supports home visiting services for 1,700 families. House Democrats support these important investments in our state's future. The days of middle class families being able to get by with only one parent working are long gone. The vast majority of families require two incomes to make ends meet. The absence of safe, reliable childcare options threatens the job stability and financial security of many parents. Without a strong commitment to child care and pre-K from the state, thousands of middle class parents cannot afford quality care for their children. They risk losing the income their family needs, and their kids miss out on the opportunities and Read more

 

New report on Pa. charter schools calls for reform, opposes House GOP bill

(Jun 28, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 28 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said a major education bill could pass in a rush around Friday's state budget deadline. So he's issuing a new report on charter schools in Pennsylvania that calls for strong reforms and explains why a House-passed Republican bill is mostly the opposite of reform. Roebuck's latest report, his fourth on the topic, also comes as Pennsylvania's charter school law turned 20 years old this month. "Unfortunately, the House Republican charter school bill, H.B. 97, is the equivalent of taking a leaky roof and drilling more holes in it. We need to fix the problems with Pennsylvania's outdated charter school law, not create more. Not all changes are 'reform,'" Roebuck said. The report is available online at https://is.gd/2017CharterReport . One highlight is an update on the performance of charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, including: For 2015-16, based on a scale of 100, the average School Performance Profile, or SPP, score for traditional public schools was 70.3; for charter schools, 58.4; and for cyber charter schools, 50.9. As was the case in 2012-13 and 2013-14, charter schools, particularly cyber charter schools, still performed academically worse than other traditional public schools. For the 2015-16 school year, 54 percent of traditional public schools had SPP scores at or above 70, while only 24 Read more

 

House unanimously passes Caltagirone’s 2nd historic bill to boost pediatric cancer research funding

(Jun 27, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 27 – State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, today announced the House unanimously passed his bill to require the Department of Transportation to provide a check-off box on driver’s license and vehicle registration forms for people to contribute to the first-ever pediatric cancer research fund in Pennsylvania. Caltagirone's legislation, H.B. 407, would provide Pennsylvanians the opportunity to donate money to the fund when they apply for a driver’s license or vehicle registration. The funds raised by the legislation would be distributed to eligible institutions in Pennsylvania that conduct pediatric cancer research, including The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Cancer Center; Penn State Hershey Pediatric Hematology/Oncology; Abramson Cancer Center, the University of Pennsylvania; and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. "This is another historic step in our efforts to fund better treatments and hopefully a cure for pediatric cancer,” Caltagirone said. “The House action shows we have wide bipartisan support among state decision-makers. As we speak, children are fighting for their lives in Reading and Berks County, across Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. Pennsylvania has an opportunity to lead the way in pediatric cancer research. “This bill would create an easy way for Pennsylvania residents to contribute to childhood cancer research directly in a manner that could save Read more

 

Trumpcare is not healthcare "reform;" it's a tax cut for the wealthy

(Jun 26, 2017)

The Senate Trumpcare bill confirms our worst fears. It's as bad as or worse than the House version that passed in May. It's a collection of the worst ideas -- disguised as "healthcare reform" -- in American history. It dramatically cuts funding for Medicaid to the states. It will force Pennsylvania to choose between keeping people healthy and cutting support for schools and other core services. It shuts down Medicaid expansion and will take health insurance away from 700,000 people in Pennsylvania who just recently were able to get it. It gives millions in tax breaks to the wealthy -- and to insurance and medical device companies. It will make coverage unaffordable for thousands of Pennsylvanians and drive up uninsured rates and expensive emergency room care. It will take health insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions and flood the market with expensive policies that don't cover basic services. And, it will eliminate 85,000 jobs in Pennsylvania over the next 10 years and cost our state's economy more than $4.5 billion dollars. Fundamentally, Trumpcare is not about protecting health insurance markets, expanding coverage, or reducing healthcare costs. It’s not really a healthcare bill at all. It’s a tax cut for the wealthy paid for by cutting health insurance for the middle class. It shows Republicans in Washington are Read more

 

Will state’s next budget keep Pennsylvanians safe or solvent?

(Jun 23, 2017)

Rep. Ryan Bizzarro says the House Republican budget, H.B. 218, approved along party lines in April, does little to spark confidence on the crucial mandate of government -- public safety. Read more

 

Republican budget bill risks public health and safety

(Jun 23, 2017)

One week remains before the fiscal year starts anew. If the House and Senate send to Gov. Wolf the House Republican budget bill passed in April, public health and safety is automatically put at risk. Severe cuts in the House Republican budget bill (H.B. 218) would devastate Pennsylvania's fight against heroin addiction. Heroin and opioid abuse is the worst public health crisis Pennsylvania has ever faced. We lose 13 people a day to overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, and almost no family or community has gone untouched. Last year, more than 3,500 lives were saved in PA using naloxone. The Republican budget eliminates $10 million to get naloxone out to residents and first responders in our communities. The Republican budget also reduces funding for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and Behavioral Health Services. Those cuts will jeopardize efforts to stop addiction and abuse before it happens and to provide treatment and save lives once it does. A fully funded budget balanced with recurring, sustainable revenues is the only way to maintain support for the work being done at the state, county and local level to reduce the impact of the heroin crisis on our families and communities. The Republican budget also includes huge cuts in state police funding, complicating efforts to make sure all communities and resident in Pennsylvania are safe. The Republican plan ignores several Read more

 

It's time for Pennsylvania to stop papering over its budget holes

(Jun 22, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 21 – For many years during budget negotiations, Democrats have proposed commonsense solutions like a severance tax on gas drillers and closing corporate tax loopholes, but each year Republicans have resisted. This year Pennsylvania is facing a $3 billion deficit, and there is still no tax on gas drillers or move to close loopholes. Republicans who like to paint themselves as fiscal conservatives have helped create a $3 billion deficit and now may try to do something that makes our fiscal situation even worse. Instead of a commonsense tax on natural gas or closing loopholes in our law that favor greedy out-of-state corporations, Republicans are proposing a borrowing scheme that would further threaten Pennsylvania taxpayers. As Democratic Leader of the House, I am eager to explain to my colleagues why borrowing $2 billion to fill the deficit is the wrong plan when we can simply tax gas drillers and close loopholes. But like Washington Republicans, Harrisburg Republicans aren't willing to listen. While congressional Republicans are getting slammed for crafting a massive health care bill in secret and without hearings, Harrisburg Republicans are making plans to borrow something like $2 billion with virtually no public discussion to try to balance the state’s grossly out-of- whack budget for one year. They plan to borrow this huge sum and repay the loan with the state’s future Read more

 

Pa. Senate passes bill with Cruz language to address 'Air Bridge' issue

(Jun 21, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 21 – The state Senate today passed a bill (S.B. 446) that includes language identical to an amendment by Rep. Angel Cruz, D-Phila., designed to address the "Air Bridge" issue. "Both the House and Senate have now passed bills containing my language to address the Air Bridge problem. Now we just need to have one bill pass both the House and Senate. After these two votes, I am optimistic we can get this reform to the governor's desk and signed into law," Cruz said. On June 7, the House of Representatives passed a bill ( H.B. 119 ) that includes Cruz's amendment. Cruz’s proposal would ban the owners, administrators and employees of recovery houses from requiring residents to sign over their public assistance benefits. It would also ensure that all drug and alcohol recovery houses throughout Pennsylvania not in compliance with federal, state or local law be referred to the appropriate agency for further investigation. "My amendment is important in making sure that the Air Bridge issue is resolved," Cruz said. "Families sent their relatives from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia to get treatment for drug addiction, but quality treatment options were not provided. Instead, they were prisoners of unregulated recovery homes that stole their money, food stamps and other government assistance in return for their stay. This is a big step to resolving the issue, but we can do more." Air Bridge is a network Read more

 

Kortz, English bipartisan ethical hunting legislation passes House

(Jun 21, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 21 – State Reps. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, and Hal English, R-Allegheny, today reported that their legislation aimed at not penalizing honest, ethical hunters for a mistaken harvest unanimously passed the House. Specifically, the bill would remove the threat of a license suspension for those truthful hunters who make an honest mistake and then self-report the mistaken harvest by contacting the Pennsylvania Game Commission, turning in the animal and pleading guilty to the offense. "Given the facts that borders of Wildlife Management Units and the special areas within them can be easily confused, and that the commission is now using staggered dates around the state for some big-game seasons, hunters can think they are legally hunting when in fact they aren’t," Kortz said. "For hunters who make an inadvertent mistake, due to a few yards or recently changed dates, to face the same revocations as a common poacher who is hunting out of season or at night isn’t fair. “Current law can create havoc for bear and elk hunters. With different hunting dates for different Wildlife Management Units, the difference of a few yards in the woods can mean the difference between a legal or illegal harvest." Kortz added, “Mistakes while out in the woods can easily happen. This bill would eliminate the unfair, excessive punishment for an honest mistake. While the hunter must claim responsibility and pay a small administrative Read more

 

Neilson receives award for his advocacy on Real ID enforcement in Pa. (with video)

(Jun 21, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 21 – State Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Phila., today was awarded for his efforts on moving Pennsylvania towards enforcement of the federal Real ID Act requirements. The award comes as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, this week granted Pennsylvania a Real ID enforcement extension through Oct. 10, 2017, which means Pennsylvanians will not face access issues when entering federal facilities through that date. Neilson said PennDOT estimates Real ID-compliant driver's licenses and identification cards will be available at the customer’s option in 2019. This will allow ample time for people who want a Real ID product to obtain one before the final DHS effective date of Oct. 1, 2020. “The General Assembly made real strides in May to get Pennsylvania in compliance with the federal law and as a result, the Department of Homeland Security granted us with yet another extension to work towards that compliance,” Neilson said. “I am proud to receive the Recognition Award for Homeland Security Leadership and Public Engagement and to have been part of the movement to assure Pennsylvanians would not need to get passports to board a plane or to have access to federal facilities.” Neilson said he had been working since the 2015-2016 session to get legislation passed that would repeal the 2012 state law and require the Department of Transportation and other state agencies to comply with the 2005 Real ID Act. Read more

 

Bizzarro: Overhaul of Pa. animal abuse laws on verge of becoming law

(Jun 20, 2017)

Rep. Ryan Bizzarro reports that the Senate has passed H.B. 1238, a sweeping overhaul of Pennsylvania’s animal abuse laws. “I join the governor in looking forward to his signing the measure into law," Bizzarro said. Read more

 

Severance tax would make PA's fiscal challenges - and your property tax burden - easier

(Jun 20, 2017)

Pennsylvania's stubborn fiscal problems would look a lot less challenging if we had $1.6 billion more for our schools, communities and residents. That's how much revenue Pennsylvania has given up in the past 6 years by refusing to collect a severance tax from natural gas drillers. Last year, the state generated just $173 million with its inadequate impact fee -- more than $14 million less than the previous year. At the same time, the value of the natural gas being produced in Pennsylvania rose by 7%. Natural gas production continues to rise in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, because we refuse to levy a severance tax on gas, so do the household property taxes we increasingly rely on to support our schools and community services. Rising property taxes threaten the homes of many senior citizens on fixed incomes and the financial security of many working families. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax on natural gas. This failure isn't just a missed opportunity, it's a dereliction of duty. A group of powerful legislators beholden to corporate special interests continues to block the commonsense severance tax that most Pennsylvanians support. They insist on governing based on what's best for the drillers and wealthy gas corporations. House Democrats believe we should be governing on behalf of what's best for you, your kids' Read more

 

Wheatley resolution calling for examination of tax system unanimously adopted by House

(Jun 19, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 19 – The House today unanimously adopted H.R. 327 , a resolution by state Rep. Jake Wheatley calling for creation of a select subcommittee to thoroughly examine Pennsylvania’s tax collection system and suggest improvements. Wheatley, D-Allegheny, previously gained approval for the measure from the House Finance Committee, where he serves as Democratic chairman. As envisioned by Wheatley, the Select Subcommittee on Tax Modernization and Reform would be tasked with making a thorough review of the process, rates and methods by which the commonwealth collects revenue – and the collective impact on taxpayers. “I am pleased that this resolution garnered bipartisan support in the full House, just as it did earlier in the Finance Committee,” Wheatley said. “This subcommittee will perform important work, giving us ideas on how we can modernize our tax collection system and methods to ensure that government services are sustained at needed levels.” Wheatley said he wants the subcommittee to delve into deeper issues than just taxing and spending, and look into the realms of what the commonwealth is seeking to create or achieve in its budgeting process. A review of Pennsylvania’s various revenue-generating mechanisms – including whether they are sustainable and in need of changes – should be central to the subcommittee’s work, said Wheatley. Read more

 

Severance tax is a step toward a smarter, better budget

(Jun 19, 2017)

Pennsylvania faces a serious and growing budget deficit as talks get underway on the 2017-18 state budget. We can't continue to rely solely on temporary revenue sources, more borrowing from critical programs, or accounting gimmicks to balance our budgets. And we can't keep cutting from our schools, our economy and public health and safety -- all these things are important to the future of our state and our residents and their families. What we can and should do to begin closing the deficit and moving our state forward is taking a better approach to the budget. House Democrats want a responsible approach that includes making government more efficient, closing loopholes that increase the burden on the middle class, and having everyone, including corporations and the wealthy, pay their fair share. The best way to address a stubborn and lingering deficit problem is with predictable, sustainable revenues that grow with the economy. One option Republican budgets have ignored for years is a natural gas severance tax. A severance tax would provide sustainable, predictable revenue that grows as the industry grows. The impact fee Republicans prefer helps host communities, but it continues to shrink as natural gas production and profits expand. The burden on middle class taxpayers should go down as revenues and profits for gas drillers go up. Here in Pennsylvania, we have it backwards. A Read more

 

More jobs doesn't mean we have to give up our health or safety

(Jun 16, 2017)

A state budget bill (House Bill 218) House Republicans wrote and passed in April puts public health and safety at risk in Pennsylvania. The partisan plan was written and passed with no input or support from House Democrats or the governor. Under the House Republican budget bill, there would be 600 fewer inspections of public water systems -- water systems that provide clean drinking water to more than 80% of Pennsylvania residents. The House Republican budget bill would reduce the number of underground mine inspectors in Pennsylvania -- the people who ensure the safety of our coal miners and the mines they work in. The DEP staff cuts forced by the House Republican budget would also slow down the permit review process. That's bad for job growth, businesses and economic development in Pennsylvania. DEP has been forced to reduce its staff by more than 750 under Republican budgets. Those reductions have made it nearly impossible for the state to adequately monitor and protect the air you breathe and the water you drink. Last year, the EPA warned Pennsylvania that further cuts in staff could lead to the federal government taking over responsibility for these programs. That loss of authority would include a loss of federal funds for Pennsylvania. Republican attempts to shrink DEP have had an impact on businesses and the economy that's opposite to the one Republicans say they intend. Read more

 

Trumpcare is a job killer

(Jun 15, 2017)

Concern over attempts by Republicans in Washington to dismantle the Affordable Care Act is about much more than just millions of people losing health coverage -- although that's certainly bad enough. There's also tremendous worry about the impact repealing the ACA will have on the economy -- nationally and in the states. A new report released this week says more than 1 million jobs could disappear across the nation over the next 10 years as the result of a repeal. Pennsylvania stands to lose nearly 85,000 jobs. The study, by The Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare-focused foundation, and the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, concludes that Republicans' American Health Care Act -- Trumpcare -- would cause every state in America to suffer an economic downturn. States like Pennsylvania that expanded Medicaid so more residents had access to affordable health coverage would suffer the worst, the study says. As healthcare coverage losses mount in 2020 and beyond under the Republican House-passed plan, job losses and economic decline would get worse. If the plan to dismantle the ACA passed by Republicans in the U.S. House in May were to take effect in its current form, gross state products would fall by $93 billion and business output in the states would decline by $141 billion. Pennsylvania would lose 84,900 jobs by 2026, including 52,500 healthcare jobs. Read more

 

Kortz, English bipartisan ethical hunting legislation reported out of committee

(Jun 14, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 14 – State Reps. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, and Hal English, R-Allegheny, today reported that their legislation aimed at not penalizing honest, ethical hunters for a mistaken harvest was unanimously approved by the House Game and Fisheries Committee. Specifically, the bill would remove the threat of a license suspension for those truthful hunters who make an honest mistake and then self-report the mistaken harvest by contacting the Pennsylvania Game Commission, turning in the animal and pleading guilty to the offense. "Given the facts that borders of wildlife management units and the special areas within them can be easily confused, and that the commission is now using staggered dates around the state for some big game seasons, hunters can think they are legally hunting when in fact they aren’t," Kortz said. "For hunters who make an inadvertent mistake, due to a few yards or recently changed dates, to face the same revocations as a common poacher who is hunting out of season or at night isn’t fair. “Current law can create havoc for bear and elk hunters. With different hunting dates for different wildlife management units, the difference of a few yards in the woods can mean the difference between a legal or illegal harvest," he said. “While the hunter must claim responsibility and pay a small administrative fine under this legislation, the bill would eliminate the three-year suspension of Read more

 

Bill to address 'stop and go' alcohol nuisance issue advances to full House

(Jun 13, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 13 – A bill introduced by three Philadelphia state representatives to address the issue of "stop and go" nuisance alcohol-selling businesses today advanced out of the Liquor Control Committee to the full House of Representatives. House Bill 1547 was introduced by state Reps. Jordan Harris and Donna Bullock, both D-Phila.; and Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware. The bill would allow the state Liquor Control Board to designate saturated nuisance market areas, where violations would be subject to enhanced penalties, fines and suspensions, and allow the board to remove licenses from those areas. Harris said, "While the majority of business owners who sell alcohol are responsible business owners, there are those who have been able to operate using business practices that are not in the best interests of the communities that they provide service to; understanding that, we have created legislation that will provide greater state and municipal oversight of those businesses who have skirted the rule of law and created nuisances in our communities that in many cases have altered the quality of life for those residents who live in the areas these businesses serve." Bullock said: "A key part of this bill is allowing for more coordination between the state and local communities to regulate these nuisance businesses. Under this bill, the Liquor Control Board would be given the authority to look at the number of citations, police Read more

 

Matzie bill would allow voting by mail in Pennsylvania

(Jun 13, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 13 – Seeking to increase voter participation, cut election costs and reduce voter fraud, state Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver/Allegheny, today introduced H.B. 1546, which would permit voting by mail. Matzie said his bill was one of several proposed bills to bring Pennsylvania’s voting system into the 21 st century. Under Matzie’s legislation, any eligible Pennsylvania voter would have the option of casting their ballot by mail. “As elected representatives in state government, I believe it is our duty to find ways to make voting for our constituents easier, more accessible and more secure,” Matzie said. “One of those ways, as other states have shown, is to allow any eligible voter to cast their ballot for any and every election by mail.” Matzie said the ability to vote is the most basic tenet of U.S. democracy – and access methods should change with the times to enable participation by the maximum number of eligible voters “Currently, 22 states have provisions allowing certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail, and three of those states – Oregon, Washington and Colorado – hold all elections entirely by mail. California will begin holding all-mail elections in 2018,” Matzie said. Matzie’s bill directs the Department of State and the commonwealth’s county election boards to establish a vote-by-mail system in Pennsylvania. Voters would only have to request a mail-in Read more

 

Republican budget ignores heroin crisis
Jun 29, 2017

Republican choices limit families' financial security and children's future
Jun 28, 2017

New report on Pa. charter schools calls for reform, opposes House GOP bill
Jun 28, 2017

House unanimously passes Caltagirone’s 2nd historic bill to boost pediatric cancer research funding
Jun 27, 2017

Trumpcare is not healthcare "reform;" it's a tax cut for the wealthy
Jun 26, 2017

Will state’s next budget keep Pennsylvanians safe or solvent?
Jun 23, 2017

Republican budget bill risks public health and safety
Jun 23, 2017

It's time for Pennsylvania to stop papering over its budget holes
Jun 22, 2017

Pa. Senate passes bill with Cruz language to address 'Air Bridge' issue
Jun 21, 2017

Kortz, English bipartisan ethical hunting legislation passes House
Jun 21, 2017

Neilson receives award for his advocacy on Real ID enforcement in Pa. (with video)
Jun 21, 2017

Bizzarro: Overhaul of Pa. animal abuse laws on verge of becoming law
Jun 20, 2017

Severance tax would make PA's fiscal challenges - and your property tax burden - easier
Jun 20, 2017

Wheatley resolution calling for examination of tax system unanimously adopted by House
Jun 19, 2017

Severance tax is a step toward a smarter, better budget
Jun 19, 2017

More jobs doesn't mean we have to give up our health or safety
Jun 16, 2017

Trumpcare is a job killer
Jun 15, 2017

Kortz, English bipartisan ethical hunting legislation reported out of committee
Jun 14, 2017

Bill to address 'stop and go' alcohol nuisance issue advances to full House
Jun 13, 2017

Matzie bill would allow voting by mail in Pennsylvania
Jun 13, 2017