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House Democrats elect leaders for upcoming legislative session

DeLuca highlights voting modernization bills

(Jun 13, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 13 – State Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, joined a number of state representatives and senators to offer a series of bills to update and modernize Pennsylvania’s voting rules. DeLuca featured H.B. 945 , which would create a process to allow same-day voter registration and H.B. 946 which would create an early voting window. “During the May primary election, only about 17 percent of all eligible Allegheny County voters found the time to go to the polls,” DeLuca said. “Our democracy only works when we, the people, vote. “The District of Columbia and 13 states now have same-day registration. The opportunity to register on Election Day can raise voter participation dramatically. Those states and Washington, D.C. had a voter participation rate of 68.8 percent in 2012, more than 10 percent higher than states without that option. “More than two thirds of the states also have an early-voting window. My bill would permit early voting from 15 days before the election through the day before Election Day. More than 30 percent of all the votes in the last two presidential elections were cast during early voting periods,” DeLuca said. Both bills are currently awaiting further consideration in the House State Government Committee. Other bills highlighted by others at the media event aimed at improving voter turnout are focused on automatic voter registration, no-excuses absentee voting and providing paid time Read more

 

Solomon, Bernstine encourage workforce opportunities for Pa. youth

(Jun 13, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 13 – State Reps. Jared Solomon, D-Phila., and Aaron Bernstine, R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence, introduced legislation that would help provide opportunities for Pennsylvania’s youth to get a jumpstart in Pennsylvania’s competitive workforce. “Providing our young people with a quality education is a priority for me, and I would like to see them have a chance to get real-world workforce experience while they are still in school,” Solomon said. “This program would help our students obtain a better idea of what path they would like to pursue after high school, whether it’s college or other secondary education or perhaps remain with the company where they received workforce experience.” House Bill 1522 would establish a pilot grant program that would provide incentives to schools and local businesses to collaborate in providing work-based learning opportunities, apprenticeships, and jobs for high school students during the school year, the summer and after the student graduates. In addition, the bill would encourage a dynamic relationship between schools and businesses to create curricula that bring real-life experiences into the classroom that prepare students for life after high school. Solomon said while Pennsylvania offers job training programs and partnerships for adults, there are no prospects for high school students. “By offering our young people with these opportunities, it would benefit them along Read more

 

Federal Medicaid cuts threaten addiction treatment in PA

(Jun 12, 2017)

Last session legislators in the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a number of bipartisan measures to address the growing heroin addiction crisis in Pennsylvania. Now, Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate are poised to wipe all that progress away with huge cuts to #Medicaid. Those cuts would endanger addiction treatment, which many Pennsylvanians receive under health care supported by Medicaid. For some patients, medications that help them overcome addiction cost as much as $1,000 a month or more. Without their medication, these patients will likely relapse into heroin and other drug addiction. What's worse, if #Medicaid cuts of the size Republicans are pushing in their Trumpcare bill become a reality, many doctors believe more people will die from overdoses, and Hepatitis C and HIV infections will rise because of dirty needles. Slashing Medicaid so that private insurance companies and the wealthy can get even richer will make what is already a public health crisis in Pennsylvania and other states even worse. More than 124,000 Pennsylvanians who are trying to beat drug or alcohol addictions depend on Medicaid to help them afford their medications. The Republican Trumpcare bill, which has already passed the U.S. House and could soon be voted on in the Senate, would cut Medicaid funds for the states by $800 billion over the next decade. Nine House Republicans from Pennsylvania voted for Read more

 

Pashinski introduces legislation aimed at helping grandfamilies

(Jun 12, 2017)

Citing a growing need due to Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at helping grandfamilies who take temporary custody of young relatives.“I’ve been working on this legislation for several years, but with families being broken apart by the opioid epidemic, it’s necessary now more than ever to help grandparents and other family members who are caring for grandchildren or nieces and nephews,” Pashinski said. “It’s easy to overlook, but grandfamilies often encounter unique legal problems where the law is unclear, such as making medical decisions or enrolling a child in school.” Read more

 

Trumpcare would be devastating for older Pennsylvanians

(Jun 09, 2017)

If at first you don't succeed, rig the game. Apparently, that's the Congressional Republican strategy on ending health coverage for 23 million Americans. While everyone was distracted by the growing Trump-Russia scandal this week, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a special rule that allows the Senate to fast-track the healthcare repeal bill the House already passed and vote on it without committee debate or hearings. So-called Republican "moderates" (seemingly an oxymoron) in the Senate who originally opposed the House bill now seem to be falling in line, and Trumpcare could pass the Senate before July 4. By stacking the deck in favor of insurance companies and the wealthy, Trumpcare poses a great danger to thousands of older Pennsylvanians. Trumpcare raises costs and imposes a crushing age tax on older Pennsylvanians right when they need the money the most ? just before retirement. Trumpcare allows insurance companies to increase premiums for older Americans as high as they like -- draining the savings of older Pennsylvanians and forcing them to retire in poverty. The Congressional Budget Office estimated some older Pennsylvanians could see their premiums rise by 800 percent under Trumpcare. Trumpcare also unravels protections in the Affordable Care Act that older Pennsylvanians need. The ACA requires insurance companies to cover essential health benefits such as mental Read more

 

Comitta supports pension reform bill

(Jun 08, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 8 – State Rep. Carolyn Comitta today voted for meaningful pension reform, saying it is past time to address Pennsylvania’s pension crisis. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to vote on this very important issue,” Comitta said. “Senate Bill 1 might not be perfect, but it is an important, positive step to move Pennsylvania forward.” Senate Bill 1 , which passed 143-53 , is expected to save the state $1.4 billion over 30 years. It does so by increasing employee contributions for new hires of the State Employees’ Retirement System and Public School Employees’ Retirement System while reducing benefits, beginning in 2019. Current employees can opt in as well. It would not affect current employees who choose not to opt in or retirees already receiving benefits. The plan offers future public employees a choice among three retirement savings options – two hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plans and a defined contribution retirement plan. The element of shared risk provides better protection for future generations of taxpayers, Comitta said. Comitta said the bill, which has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf, is the result of years of bipartisan work and compromise. “I’ve spent my entire career working on initiatives that have brought diverse stakeholders together to affect change that improves people's lives, and this is a great example of collaboration,” Comitta said. Read more

 

Caltagirone announces support for pension reform bill

(Jun 08, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 8 – State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, D-Berks, a longtime advocate for responsible pension reform, voted for S.B. 1 today because it responsibly protects the retirement security of state employees, shifts the financial risk from taxpayers and saves more than $1 billion over the next several decades. Pennsylvania’s state employees are among the most talented and dedicated professionals in the country and after decades of service, they should earn a fair and reasonable retirement, Caltagirone said. In the past, Caltagirone has opposed legislation that would have been unconstitutional and would have undermined the retirement security of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians. “I have held out for a long time for pension reform legislation that continues to pay down our pension debt, does not unlawfully take benefits already earned, does not put our current systems at risk, shifts future risk away from the taxpayers, requires board members to be educated in investment practices, and reduces Wall Street fees, all while providing workers with a fair retirement benefit,” Caltagirone said. “I am happy to say S.B. 1 accomplished these goals.” Notwithstanding, Caltagirone vowed to continue his efforts to address issues within the pension systems, including H.B. 1253 that would limit high-risk venture capital investment to 2 percent and H.B. 1016 that would prohibit public pension board members from accepting gifts and political Read more

 

Krueger-Braneky urges action to add Pa. into U.S. Climate Alliance

(Jun 08, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 8 – State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware, introduced a resolution today urging action to lead Pennsylvania into the U.S. Climate Alliance in response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Members of the U.S. Climate Alliance are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the goals of the federal Clean Power Plan. “President Trump put the future of our communities, commonwealth, country and planet at risk when he decided to not honor the United States’ commitment to fighting climate change and withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” Krueger-Braneky said. “It is now up to local and state governments to step up to slow and mitigate the consequences of climate change, which include rising sea levels, more intense weather events and increased risk of draught and famine.” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has come forward in support of upholding the alliance. “Pittsburgh is the example of why the Paris Agreement is good for economic development: such work is good for business too,” he said. “We’ve rebuilt our economy on the future and our people, not the past.” In response to the United States’ withdrawal, the U.S. Climate Alliance was formed by the states of California, New York, and Washington to uphold the Paris Agreement. Members of the Climate Alliance include Connecticut, Delaware, Read more

 

Bizzarro: Senate Bill 1 offers progress on reforming public pensions

(Jun 08, 2017)

Rep. Ryan Bizzarro reports that Senate Bill 1 is a modest but significant step toward fiscal solvency in Pennsylvania’s public pension plans. “The legislation represents a significant, bipartisan compromise, supported by the governor, and worthy of support,” Bizzarro said. Read more

 

Readshaw/Turzai bill passes House,

(Jun 08, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 8 – House Bill 1490 , introduced by state Reps. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, and Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, unanimously passed the House today. The bill would establish Public Utility Commission oversight of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Under state law, the PUC does not have jurisdiction over municipal authorities. “PWSA has been experiencing a number of very public issues over the past year or more,” Readshaw said. “News items in the past year have highlighted unsustainable debt levels, billing errors, leaks, unmetered accounts and, especially, lead and other water quality issues. "This bill would offer Pittsburgh water customers a new, unbiased level of protection and oversight for local water quality.” Failure to comply with state and federal standards would result in monetary fines. While PUC oversight of a municipal authority is very uncommon, it is not without precedent. In 1999 the legislature passed a law that placed Philadelphia Gas Works under the PUC. The bill now moves to the Senate for its further consideration and review. ### Read more

 

Donatucci condemns VGTs in gambling expansion bill

(Jun 07, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 7 – State Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Phila./Delaware, today voted against legislation that would dramatically expand gambling in Pennsylvania. Donatucci, chairwoman of the House of Representative’s Philadelphia Delegation, said the expansion would not only saturate the gambling market at the expense of the Pennsylvania Lottery and the senior citizens programs it supports, it would further threaten the safety and quality of life of residents in the neighborhoods she serves and throughout Philadelphia. House Bill 271 includes authorizing up to 30,000 locations for video gaming terminals at licensed liquor retailers and establishments by the end of 2018 and 40,000 by 2020. “Video Gaming Terminals in the 9,000 liquor license establishments across the commonwealth are bad for Pennsylvanians. They are bad for families, children, older Pennsylvanians, and bad for our state lottery fund and state gaming fund,” Donatucci said. “Philadelphia families don't want gambling in their corner stores. “VGTs authorized in this bill are not all about helping bars and taverns but more about helping out those out of state VGT operators from Las Vegas and Chicago. They are all cued up to make hundreds of millions of dollars off the backs of Pennsylvania's bars and taverns, and our defenseless constituents," Donatucci said. Donatucci added the "stop and go" liquor businesses that have been such a problem in Read more

 

Kinsey condemns gambling expansion bill

(Jun 07, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 7 – State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., today voted against legislation that would dramatically expand gambling in Pennsylvania. Kinsey said the expansion would not only saturate the gambling market at the expense of the Pennsylvania Lottery and the senior citizens programs it supports, it would further threaten the safety and quality of life of residents in the neighborhoods he serves and throughout Philadelphia. House Bill 271 includes authorizing up to 30,000 locations for video gaming terminals at licensed liquor retailers and establishments by the end of 2018 and 40,000 by 2020, as well as gambling tablets or “iGaming” at Pennsylvania’s six international airports, including Philadelphia. Kinsey said the "stop and go" liquor businesses that have been such a problem in Philadelphia would be eligible and that there is no distribution formula for ensuring that Philadelphia neighborhoods are not saddled with the majority of machines. “Communities in Philadelphia are sick and tired of being targeted by businesses from outside the commonwealth that come to our communities to deteriorate them,” Kinsey said. “I’m opposed to this legislation because in addition to deteriorating our communities, this legislation will damage the property tax relief seniors need to stay in their homes, programs that help senior citizens afford prescriptions and transportation services across the commonwealth, Read more

 

McCarter, Sturla seek to amend the way cyber charter schools are funded

(Jun 07, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 7 – At a Capitol news conference today, state Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, and House Democratic Policy Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, called attention to legislation that would amend the Public School Code to change the way cyber charter schools are funded. Their bill — H.B. 1206 — seeks to cap the amount of funding unaffiliated cyber charter schools receive for students who live in an area in which the school district or an intermediate unit operates its own cyber charter school. Under their proposal, unaffiliated cyber charter schools would receive either the per-student funding amount of the school district cyber school program or the intermediate unit cyber school program, whichever figure is higher. “The actual cost of cyber charter education has dropped dramatically in the 20 years since Pennsylvania’s charter school legislation was passed, whereas our reimbursement formula for cyber charters, which is still based on the cost of a brick-and-mortar education, has not, and the Pennsylvania taxpayer has shouldered the burden,” McCarter said. Sturla added: “I want all Pennsylvania kids to have access to exceptional educational opportunities and to do that, we need to have fair, reasonable and accountable reimbursement practices in place. The proposal by Representative McCarter and myself is a fair and reasonable approach that makes sure cyber charters aren’t receiving more than what it Read more

 

Warren, Levine, advocates spotlight bill to help schools, parents communicate over eating disorders (w/Video)

(Jun 06, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 6 – State Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks, Pennsylvania Physician General Rachel Levine and members of the National Eating Disorders Association spotlighted Warren’s bill to bring awareness to eating disorders during a Capitol news conference today. House Bill 531, which has received bipartisan support, would require schools to annually provide information regarding eating disorders to parents with children in grades 5 through 12. Its companion in the Senate, S.B. 730, was introduced by state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, and also has bipartisan support. Additionally, both bills would create guidelines for local school boards to pursue the optional development of an eating-disorder screening program, specify training requirements for personnel and volunteers, and provide the framework for parental notification procedures in the event of a positive indication of an eating disorder. “People, especially children, who struggle with eating disorders, need to seek, or be provided with, professional help,” Warren said. “The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.” “Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are serious conditions that can lead to significant, even life threatening, medical complications,” Levine said. “Treatment involves a multi-disciplinary team, and the Read more

 

Time to act on a minimum wage increase in PA

(Jun 06, 2017)

Time to act on a minimum wage increase in PA States and cities across the United States continue to increase minimum wages for workers, including every state that borders Pennsylvania. Every worker should be able to expect a fair day's pay for a hard day's work. No full-time worker should live in poverty. No working family should be forced to depend on public assistance to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Rep. Patti Kim has is proposing legislation that would give workers in Pennsylvania a measure of dignity and ensure they can support their families by increasing the state's minimum wage, in increments, to $15 per hour by 2024. In addition, the legislation would boost the minimum wage each year after that based on the annual cost-of-living adjustment. A minimum wage increase would help boost earnings for millions of working people in Pennsylvanian. Women earning the minimum wage outnumber men earning the minimum wage by 2 to 1 in Pennsylvania. In many households, these women work full-time, are raising children, and are the primary breadwinner for the family. So raising the minimum wage is not just a worker issue, it is a women's issue. And, raising the minimum wage an economic issue. More small business owners are rejecting the message of special interest groups that claim to represent them and are supporting a minimum wage increase as state Read more

 

Legislators, hunger-fight leaders push Pa. 'lunch shaming' ban

(Jun 05, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 5 – State legislators and leaders in the fight against hunger spoke at a Capitol news conference today about bipartisan legislation that would stop "lunch shaming" in Pennsylvania schools. The term includes a wide variety of practices by a school to embarrass a child whose family is behind on their lunch payments, such as: ordering cafeteria workers to throw away the hot lunches of children who owe money – "yes, this actually happens!" said state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., the lead sponsor of the House bill to ban lunch shaming ( H.B. 1403 ); making the children work to pay off the debt; and publicly stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes a meal debt by, for example, requiring that the child wear a wristband or hand stamp. "These things often result in children being humiliated and embarrassed in front of their peers. These things often result in tears. Of course we all want parents to stay current on their children's lunch accounts, but publicly shaming the child to collect that debt is shocking and completely unacceptable. And we need to help parents to apply if their kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches," Bullock said. "Lunch shaming is counterproductive. It is cruel. And it only hurts a child's ability to learn. Under my bill, based on a recently enacted New Mexico law, these practices would be banned and schools would be required to direct Read more

 

Restore the partnership between the counties and Harrisburg

(Jun 05, 2017)

The House Republican budget bill (H.B. 218) would cut or eliminate tens of millions of dollars in state support for county justice, corrections and healthcare services. In many of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, the loss of these funds could cripple county budgets already devastated by deep cuts in previous Republican spending plans. Because of those previous cuts and the 2015-16 budget impasse, most counties have already drawn down on their reserves and lost millions in interest as a result; 30 percent of counties have had to borrow just to keep required programs and services operating. Few counties are in a position to survive the deep cuts in the latest Republican budget bill. So although H.B. 218 is touted by House Republicans as a “no tax increase” state budget, in reality, its lack of adequate support for counties will place additional pressures on local budgets and additional burdens on local taxpayers. The Republican budget bill completely eliminates nearly $60 million in state support for things like sentencing, juvenile and adult probation, court staffing, drug and alcohol treatment, and county and community support services. As well as eliminating these funds, the Republican budget also reduces support for other health, safety and wellness services for counties by more than $17 million. Services negatively impacted by these cuts include mental and behavioral health, homeless assistance, and other Read more

 

Let's build success for our youngest residents

(May 31, 2017)

This week, district attorneys, nurses and other children's advocates from across Pennsylvania were joined by a few Senate Republicans to call for more state investments in preventing child abuse and neglect. The senators should start by talking to their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. A budget bill written and passed entirely by Republicans in the House of Representatives earlier this year severely underfunds important services for younger Pennsylvanians, including home visiting programs that have been shown to reduce child abuse and neglect. A $9 million increase for home-visiting services that Gov. Wolf and House Democrats have advocated for in Pennsylvania's 2017-18 budget was not included in the Republican version -- House Bill 218. Republicans also left out proposed increases to help give more working parents access to safe, affordable child care, and severely cut proposed investments for pre-K and Head Start. The D.A.s, senators and other officials at Tuesday's news conference agreed that programs like Nurse-Family Partnerships, Parents as Teachers, Healthy Families America and Early Head Start prevent child abuse and neglect and give more children access to a good education, health care and more. Investments in these and other programs aimed at giving kids a safe, healthy and successful start in life are also supported by Pennsylvania's police chiefs and sheriffs associations as a way to Read more

 

In Trump budget, your family's health is not a priority

(May 30, 2017)

You may recall that Presiden't Trump's "healthcare" proposal, as passed by the U.S. House earlier this month, is especially tough on Pennsylvanians . His new budget proposal doubles down on the hurt. Trump's budget proposal would devastate three of the linchpins of Pennsylvania's ability to keep our residents healthy: Medicaid, children's health insurance and the fight against chronic diseases. Trump's budget would cut Medicaid support by $600 billion over a decade -- after he promised to protect this healthcare program vital to seniors and people with disabilities during the campaign. His budget cuts come on top of more cuts proposed in his Trumpcare plan. If both the Trump budget and Trumpcare pass, states would lose more than $1 trillion in support for Medicaid. The only "flexibility" these cuts would provide to Pennsylvania and other states is the flexibility to decide which patients don't receive care or which other services are cut from the state budget instead. Trump's budget also cuts $6 billion from state children's health insurance programs. Pennsylvania would lose federal CHIP funding for thousands of children who qualify under PA's program but whose families earn too much to qualify under Trump's budget. Under the Trump budget, children's healthcare costs would skyrocket while wellness and healthcare services for tens of thousands Read more

 

Making sure REAL ID isn't a real hassle for you

(May 24, 2017)

You should be able to continue flying on domestic airlines and accessing federal buildings in the immediate future without interruption using your Pennsylvania driver's license or photo ID under legislation the General Assembly passed today and the governor said he will sign into law. The legislation repeals a law Pennsylvania passed in 2012 prohibiting the state from implementing the federal REAL ID Act. REAL ID, passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sets minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and photo IDs. Pennsylvania and several other states refused to participate, arguing that Congress was overstepping its authority and issuing an unfunded mandate to the states. But last fall, the Department of Homeland Security said residents in states that did not follow the federal law would begin facing airline travel bans and other restrictions. The General Assembly had a deadline of June 6 to begin taking steps to implement REAL ID in Pennsylvania. Today's repeal of the 2012 state law begins that process. With today's state action, the federal Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue extensions that would allow PA residents to continue using their current driver's license to fly and access federal buildings until 2020. In the meantime, PennDOT will be working with the Department of Homeland Security to develop REAL ID-compliant PA Read more