A rundown of legislative news across the region.
State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. joined Gov. Tom Wolf to unveil $300 million in investments in the Port of Philadelphia, which will result in an estimated 7,000 additional jobs.
The Capital Investment Program ranks as one of the largest by a state on the East Coast. It will boost three of the busiest sectors of the port, including the Tioga Marine Terminal in Port Richmond.
“The Delaware River has played a critical role in the economic history of our community. This investment will help the city continue to create jobs, bring in significant revenues and boost the regional economy,” Sabatina said. “Pennsylvania is competing in a 21st-century global market, and our port terminals continue to serve as critical locations for trade. We must make sure that the Tioga Marine Terminal remains a relevant location and keeps up with evolving market trends.”
The program, which will continue through 2020, will double container capacity, position the port for future growth, create thousands of jobs, improve efficiency and increase tax revenues.
Specifically, Tioga Marine Terminal will receive $12 million for improvements to the main on-dock warehouse that has been handling and processing Brazilian wood pulp cargoes since 2014. A second warehouse there will be converted into a food-grade warehouse, allowing the port to increase its wood pulp volumes to meet the demands of Pennsylvania companies requiring wood pulp. Improved rail access and the purchase of a second mobile harbor crane will also add capacity for Tioga Marine Terminal.
Boyle wants campaign finance reform
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle introduced legislation to prevent members of Congress from personally asking for campaign contributions.
The bill is intended to have federal elected officials focus on serving their constituents rather than fundraising.
“The past election made absolutely clear that the American people are sick and tired of business as usual in Washington,” Boyle said. “They want a government that works for them, not special interests. This is a simple, straightforward way to do exactly that. We will never make Washington work for the people until we fundamentally change the way we conduct our elections and reduce the influence of big money in politics.”
The bill is cosponsored by Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.
Boyle bill would boost Pell awards
U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Brian Fitzpatrick have introduced the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act [H.R. 949], which would eliminate the expected family contribution used to determine Pell Grant eligibility for children of first responders who have died in the line of duty, providing eligible students the ability to receive up to the maximum Pell award each year.
“We owe our fallen heroes and their families an eternal debt of gratitude. Easing the crushing burden of student loan debt for these families who have made the ultimate sacrifice is the least we can do,” Boyle said. “It is my hope that this legislation provides a needed boost to these deserving families when they need it most.”
Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey will introduce the Senate version of the bill. Last Congress, the Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act unanimously passed the Senate.
The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Major Cities of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition and Sergeants Benevolent Association NYPD.
Tartaglione opposes Senate bills
State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.) opposed three bills that recently passed the Senate.
Senate Bill 241 makes pay equity ordinances uniform across the state.
Senate Bill 3 moves the threshold for most non-emergency abortions from 24 weeks of pregnancy to 20 weeks.
Senate Bill 166 would bar government agencies from automatically deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks to be used for political activity. It would still permit union deductions for non-political activities such as collective bargaining and grievances.
“The new session kicked off with an ideologically driven agenda that assails women and working families. The Senate approved heavy-handed government involvement in women’s health care choices, a weakening of equal pay efforts and restrictions on free speech,” Tartaglione said.
“The new abortion restrictions put government between a women and health choices — a place it should never be. The so-called ‘pay equity’ bill would actually weaken equal pay efforts and reverse important gains made through local ordinances to ensure that women are treated fairly — such as the one adopted in Philadelphia that addresses pay discrimination. Finally, the prohibition of deductions of political contributions from workers’ paychecks would impact workers’ free speech rights. Women, workers and working families continue to be treated unfairly. Instead of creating jobs, enhancing education and building up health care, the Senate is being saddled with an extreme agenda that rips away rights.”
White wants end to sanctuary city policy
State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) urged Mayor Jim Kenney to abandon his position on sanctuary cities.
“The law is clear, only the federal government can make immigration law and policies. Mayor Kenney has overstepped his authority, and the damage to Philadelphia could be devastating.” White said.
In the 2015–16 term, the House passed White’s legislation — House Bill 1885 — to allow those injured by illegal immigrants to sue sanctuary cities and municipalities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. The session ended before the bill could reach the governor’s desk. White has reintroduced her legislation.
“The citizens of our commonwealth should know their safety is a primary concern of their local officials,” White said.
Tartaglione wants higher minimum wage
State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.) has introduced legislation to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
“An increase in the minimum wage is justified morally and makes sense economically,” Tartaglione said. “It is unconscionable that someone working a full 40-hour week at the current minimum wage is in economic peril.”
Under the proposal, the current $7.25 minimum wage would increase to $12 on July 1, 2017 and incrementally go up until it reaches $15 in 2021. An inflation index would then be applied to eliminate the need for any future legislative action on the issue.
“There are few things that lawmakers can do that directly impacts working families as much as raising the minimum wage,” Tartaglione said. “The General Assembly has failed to act — and working men and women have suffered.”
Pennsylvania last raised the minimum wage in 2006. The federal government raised it to the current $7.25 per hour in 2009. Thirty-one states, five of which surround Pennsylvania, have minimum wages above the federal rate. Nineteen states have passed laws tying minimum wage increases to inflation.
“We need to make sure that the wage is raised to a rate that lifts workers and working families out of poverty,” Tartaglione said. “We need strong legislative support for a robust increase to account for its loss in value since the last time the minimum wage was raised.”
Solomon serving on five committees
State Rep. Jared Solomon (D-202nd dist.) has been appointed to serve on the House Aging and Older Adult Services, Children and Youth, Education, State Government, and Tourism and Recreational Development committees for the 2017–18 legislative session.
“As a new legislator, I am thrilled to represent the interests of my district on these important committees. From helping our children get the best start in life, to making sure our elderly are well taken care of later in life, and much in between, these committees are great platforms to help the people of Lower Northeast Philadelphia and the commonwealth as a whole,” Solomon said.
“Education is a top priority of mine here in Harrisburg. I’m passionate about helping young people who are not on a college track to be afforded meaningful opportunities to develop their skills, career and employability. Hopefully, my work on this integral committee will allow me to advance my ideas and work with colleagues on theirs.”
Solomon said residents can stay up-to-date with his work in the legislature by signing up for his periodic email updates through his website, www.PaHouse.com/Solomon
White assigned to four committees
State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) has been reassigned to the Urban Affairs Committee for the 2017–18 session.
The committee reviews legislation affecting the state’s largest cities, including housing, urban redevelopment, economic development, land use planning and zoning, growth management, infrastructure financing and city services such as police, fire, sewage and water.
“This is quite an honor, as the committee will investigate legislation to target the challenges unique to Philadelphia,” White said. “That includes issues like blight and redevelopment, which is critical for the healthy growth of our city and some of our neighborhoods that are struggling economically.”
White will also serve on the Health, Consumer Affairs and Judiciary committees.
The House Judiciary Committee focuses on issues and legislation relating to the Judicial Code, the Crimes Code and the Domestic Relations Code. Some of the topics overseen by the committee include identity theft, firearms laws, domestic violence, child abuse laws, state prisons and criminal law.
“While on the Judiciary Committee, I will be able to affect the laws that are crafted to protect our citizens, including our police officers,” White said. “On the Health Committee, I will be able to share the input I’ve received from our local hospitals and medical research facilities so the legislation we craft will make sure Pennsylvanians receive the best care and cutting-edge technologies.”
Murt gets committee assignments
State Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) has been reassigned to the House Human Services Committee.
“It is an honor to serve on the Human Services Committee, where I will focus on making sure adults with special needs receive the services they need,” Murt said. “And that means shrinking the waiting list for adults with elderly parents who are in desperate need of help.”
Murt will also chair the subcommittee on mental health.
Murt has also been assigned to the Children and Youth Committee, where he will consider legislation that impacts child protection issues, along with child day care services, infant/child/mother health issues, juvenile delinquency and adolescent and teen problems.
“In the previous session, this committee played an integral role in updating the state’s child protection laws,” Murt said. “I will continue monitoring these laws to make any necessary updates to the laws.”
Murt will also serve on the Labor and Industry and Commerce committees.
Neilson remembers Holocaust
State Rep. Ed Neilson (D-174th dist.) has introduced a resolution to remember the lives lost under Germany’s Nazi regime.
House Resolution 32 recognizes Jan. 27, 2017 as “International Holocaust Remembrance Day” in Pennsylvania.
The day is recognized each year in the U.S. to honor Holocaust victims and educate people about the history of the Holocaust to help prevent future acts of genocide.
“As we look at past events, the genocide of millions of European Jews, as well as millions of other people, remains one of the most horrific crimes in the history of mankind,” Neilson said. “This day is proven to be a somber one, but one that we must also not ignore so history does not repeat itself.”
Jan. 27 was designed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations General Assembly because it was the day in 1945 that the largest Nazi concentration camp was liberated by Soviet troops.
Neilson backs programs for disabled
A bipartisan group of legislators from the state House of Representatives recently rallied to prevent individuals with disabilities from being forced to sit in the community and leave day programs and sheltered workshops where they are comfortable.
Following the rally, the House Human Services Committee conducted a hearing on the topic to gather more information.
The state Department of Human Services proposed changing how it administers its home- and community-based waivers. To be eligible, individuals with disabilities would be forced to spend time in the community away from sheltered workshops and day programs where they currently go. The initial proposal would have required individuals to spend 75 percent of their time in the community, rather than being segregated at day programs or sheltered workshops.
“I have met with and heard from families in my district whose loved ones participate in community activities, but do so at their discretion,” said Rep. Ed Neilson (D-174th dist.). “Changing the rules is not something they support and is not conducive to their lives. Many of these individuals with disabilities engage with their community and spend part of their day in a structured environment. The changes would have a devastating ripple effect, not only on the individuals and families that are directly impacted, but their communities as a whole.”
Murt wants more funding for people with special needs
State Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) recently testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee to urge the state to adopt a budget that improves funding for individuals with special needs.
Specifically, Murt wants to reduce the waiting list for services.
“Individuals on the emergency waiting list live in a heightened crisis situation on a daily basis without access to the support they need,” Murt said. “Many of these adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities live with their parents.”
The number of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities waiting on services is more than 13,000, with about 4,500 in emergency need of services.
“In many of these families, the parents are well into their eighties and some are even into their nineties,” Murt said. “These parents, who are caregivers to an adult child with special needs, are often struggling with their own health and age-related issues. The adult child, for whom they care, who has an intellectual or developmental disability, might be 60 or 65 years old. In addition to their disability or disabilities, the adult child is also frequently struggling from age-related issues.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $26.2 million increase for new community living waivers to service 1,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities on the waiting list and 820 Person/Family Directed Waivers for recent high school graduates.
The increased waiting list funding is part of the overall $195.9 million increase to provide home and community-based services to more than 55,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities, including residential and transportation support.
“Unfortunately, the governor’s suggested allocation only has the potential to reduce the waiting list by 8 percent,” Murt said.
“Believe me, the disabled community appreciates the current effort, but as you can see, we have significant work still needing to be done for these most vulnerable citizens of our great commonwealth. We also need assurances from the Department of Human Services that this funding will be utilized for new individuals coming off the waiting list in 2017–18, and not to fund prior year needs.”
Boyle bill addresses grants for homeless vets
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-13th dist.) recently introduced the Veterans Homelessness Contract Oversight Act, H.R. 1998, intended to bring congressional oversight to federal grants that provide assistance to homeless veterans.
The legislation requires that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notify members of Congress and relevant committees of the expiration or termination of these grants, and submit a plan on how it will continue to provide the services provided to veterans under the grant, to prevent a drop-off in care upon the contract’s conclusion.
White wants crackdown on sanctuary cities
State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) introduced legislation to allow those injured by illegal immigrants to sue so-called “sanctuary cities” and municipalities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
House Bill 28 would also withhold state funds from sanctuary cities that are not constitutionally mandated.
“I am committed to keeping citizens safe and preventing illegal immigrants who commit crimes in our communities from being released back onto our streets,” White said. “This is about the safety of families throughout the commonwealth, and holding accountable those city officials who consider themselves above the law.”
Under this legislation, if a law enforcement officer of a municipality has reasonable suspicion that an individual, who is lawfully under arrest, is not legally present in the United States, he or she must immediately report the individual to the appropriate United States immigration officials.
“Mayor Kenney is risking the loss of federal and state funding by defending a policy that is unlawful and ignores the negative impact it has had on our citizens,” White said.
White focusing on city issues
State House Speaker Mike Turzai has appointed Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) to head a subcommittee to addresses issues specific to Philadelphia.
White will serve a two-year term as chair of the Subcommittee on Cities, Counties — First Class under the Urban Affairs Committee. White has been a member of the Urban Affairs Committee since first elected in 2015.
“This is quite an honor, I look forward to this undertaking as we work to address the major issues facing our city.” White said.
The subcommittee focuses on issues pertaining to Philadelphia, including but not limited to, blight, land banks, affordable housing, financing authorities and economic revitalization.
“Know that I will use my insight and background as a lifelong Philadelphian to guide the subcommittee as we examine the many issues that impact the quality of life of the city’s residents,” White said.
Murt examining mental health issues
State House Speaker Mike Turzai has appointed Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) to head a subcommittee examining mental health needs and services in Pennsylvania.
Murt will serve a two-year term as chairman of the mental health subcommittee under the House Human Services Committee.
“I am honored to be given this responsibility,” Murt said. “It is one that I will take seriously to make sure families facing the challenges of caring for someone with developmental disabilities have the proper resources available to them.”
The subcommittee will examine issues critical to caring for those with all types of mental challenges, whether it’s within educational systems, while receiving medical care, or in the workplace.
“I will use my background as an educator to make sure we give a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves, whether it’s for fair funding in the budget, or for equal treatment under the law,” Murt said.
Boyle wants more funding for assault kit
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-13th dist.) was among 33 members of the House of Representatives who wrote a letter calling for increased funding for the Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
Boyle and the others wrote to the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
Developed and launched in 2015, the Initiative provides funding through a $41 million competitive grant program to help local jurisdictions reduce the backlog of rape kits that have never been submitted to a crime lab.
“The amount of rape kits that have sat on a shelf, untested, unable to bring justice to victims of a horrendous crime is a tragedy and a national crisis,” Boyle said. “Victims of rape and sexual assault must relive their pain in order to have their DNA tested at a law enforcement agency. What many victims do not realize is that their DNA kits can sometimes lie in wait on a shelf for months, even years, before ever being sent to the appropriate crime labs to be tested. I believe Congress must provide law enforcement greater funding in order to reduce the backlog, prevent it from happening again, and bring justice to victims.”
The goal of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is the creation of a coordinated community response that ensures just resolution to rape and sexual assault cases whenever possible through a victim-centered approach. Increased funding can build the capacities of jurisdictions to alleviate current backlogs and prevent conditions that lead to high backlogs in the future.
Boyle wants Ukraine protections
U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-13th dist.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th dist.) introduced the Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act, legislation to encourage cooperation between the United States and Ukraine on matters of cybersecurity and require the Department of State to report to Congress on best practices to protect against future cyber attacks.
In recent years, Ukraine has been the target of an increasing number of cyber attacks that have infiltrated state institutions and critical infrastructure to the effect of undermining its democracy.
“It is past time we step up to work with our ally Ukraine in furtherance of our mutual interest in cyber security, the modern battlefield,” Boyle said. “Ukraine is a frontline for nation state-directed cyber attacks, which are potential harbingers of attacks on the United States. Helping Ukraine strengthen its cyber defenses will not only protect Ukraine from future attacks, but it will also help the United States develop new and more effective technologies and strategies.”
The bill has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for consideration. Boyle and Fitzpatrick are members of the committee.
Dawkins backs “stop and go” crackdown
State Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-179th dist.) applauded House passage of a bill that would address “stop and go” nuisance alcohol-selling businesses in Philadelphia.
“I co-sponsored House Bill 1547 because I feel that greater control and a positive benefit to the commonwealth would result from giving local governments and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s Bureau of Licensing the ability to designate areas as saturated nuisance markets,” Dawkins said.
Under the bill, the LCB would look at the number of citations, police incidents, objections to liquor license renewals and conditional license agreements of eatery and restaurant licensees to determine if a ZIP code area should be deemed a saturated nuisance market location.
In neighborhoods designated as saturated nuisance market areas, violations would be subject to enhanced penalties, fines and suspensions, and the Liquor Control Board would be able to remove licenses from those areas. Saturated nuisance market areas also would have added community input and would be subject to additional conditions such as transaction scan devices and enhanced food preparation requirements.
The bill goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Driscoll honors survivors of fallen firefighters
The state House of Representatives recently adopted a resolution sponsored by Rep. Mike Driscoll (D-173rd dist.) designating “Fallen Firefighters Survivors’ Week” and “Fallen Firefighters Survivors’ Day” in Pennsylvania.
“Throughout the commonwealth, thousands of firefighters put their lives at risk with each emergency response they make. Tragically, not all who respond to such calls make it back to the station alive,” Driscoll said. “It is fitting that we honor them, helping their survivors and recognizing the valuable contribution they make to our lives every day.”
Driscoll said the resolution also recognizes the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation for being a pioneer in providing support programs and scholarships to the survivors. The organization offers preventative training to fire departments across the country with the goal of reducing line-of-duty firefighter deaths by 25 percent in five years.
“I’m proud to honor and thank those who help us, and express our gratitude for all the sacrifices made not only by the firefighters, but the sacrifices made by their families as well,” he said.
Neilson wants identity document safety
State Rep. Ed Neilson (D-174th dist.) backed compromise legislation that moves Pennsylvania toward compliance with federal Real ID regulations.
Neilson said passage of S.B. 133 was the first of many steps that need to be taken to secure Pennsylvanians’ identity documents and before the state can issue the Real ID-compliant IDs.
“It is important to remember that the federal Real ID law was passed by Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to ensure that every state was issuing IDs that were secure from counterfeit and fraud,” Neilson said. “In the past 16 years, we have done a lot to make this country a safer place, but we have done very little to secure our identity documents. This is the first step to ensuring all identity documents issued by Pennsylvania are safe, but only the first step of many.”
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill, which repeals the 2012 state law and requires the Department of Transportation and other agencies to comply with the 2005 Real ID Act. PennDOT will be required to provide eligible applicants the option of receiving a standard driver license or photo identification card, or one that is Real ID compliant.
“Before anyone pats themselves on the back for beating the June 6 deadline, we need to realize that there is no guarantee the Department of Homeland Security will grant Pennsylvania any further extension,” Neilson said. “In fact, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has in the past suggested that there will be no extension of the January deadline that would require airline passengers to present Real ID-compliant identification to get through airport security.
“I am glad to see the report on the cost and issuance of Real IDs is part of this legislation. This is especially important with the two-tiered system created by this bill so we can know how much this system will cost in the long run,” Neilson said.
Committee passes Murt bill on mentally ill
The state House Human Services Committee has passed legislation introduced by Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) to change the standards used to help families intervene when someone with a mental illness is too sick to seek treatment.
“My office has received requests from distraught constituents who are seeking help for someone with a serious mental illness who is too sick to seek treatment voluntarily,” Murt said. “Under existing law, we must wait until the individual becomes a danger to themselves or others before we can help.”
House Bill 1233 would create a non-punitive process and a continuum of services for seriously mentally ill individuals who are unwilling or unable to voluntarily to seek treatment.
“Keeping the ‘clear-and-present danger’ standard means losing the ability to use a less restrictive outpatient treatment setting, and the chance to intervene sooner,” Murt said. “Someone who is clearly and presently dangerous belongs in the hospital, not in outpatient treatment. We need a standard that allows timely intervention before someone becomes dangerous and tragedy strikes.”
Murt’s legislation would establish a standard for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment in the community, while leaving in place the clear-and-present-danger standard for involuntary hospitalization.
The new standard would be based on a medical determination of whether a seriously mentally ill individual needs and can benefit from assisted outpatient treatment to survive safely in the community. The standard would also take into consideration an individual’s history of involuntary inpatient commitments and acts of violence to self or others.
The bill moves to the whole House for a vote.
Boyle takes part in plaque presentation
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-13th dist.) recently participated in a ceremonial presentation of a plaque to the U.S. National Park Service on behalf of Irish President Michael D. Higgins and the people of Ireland to mark the 1916 Easter Rising and the bond between the United States and Ireland.
“No two nations on Earth share a closer personal connection than the United States and Ireland. American independence would not have been possible without all those Irish who fought and died for it. Ireland’s freedom was won with the help of tens of thousands of Irish-Americans. This plaque in the Washington Monument symbolizes the unbreakable bond that will always exist,” Boyle said.
The commemorative plaque, which contains the wording of the 1916 proclamation, will be showcased within the Washington Monument — a particular honor, in that memorial plaques are accepted in only rare circumstances.
Among those participating in the ceremony was Mick Mulvaney, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Senate approves Sabatina transplant bill
The state Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. John Sabatina Jr. (D-5th dist.) intended to protect health services for individuals with special needs.
Senate Bill 108, “Paul’s Law,” would prohibit organ transplant organizations from discriminating against patients on the basis of physical, developmental or mental disability.
“There is a set of national standards for transplant candidacy, but some institutions consider other criteria, such as mental, developmental and physical disabilities. This practice of denying patients critical care because of subjective factors is inhumane and unacceptable,” Sabatina said. “My legislation will end this discriminatory practice and ensure that patients have equal rights when being considered for a lifesaving transplant.”
The legislation was inspired by Paul Corby, of Pottsville. Corby, who has autism spectrum disorder, was denied a life-preserving heart transplant by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.
The legislation moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Council approves Parker bill on development
City Council approved a bill introduced by Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker (D-9th dist.) that requires developers of mid- and large-scale projects to complete a form outlining the potential impact of their development on neighborhoods to better inform residents and businesses.
The Project Information Form will ask developers to provide a brief description of the potential impact on traffic, parking and the environment as well as information about the project such as the proposed use, anticipated construction period and job creation.
The legislation will apply to any project that is 2,500 square feet or more and requires action by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Civic Design Review Committee or Council ordinance. Single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes are excluded. The information provided in the form will not be legally binding and is for informational purposes only.
“The adoption of this legislation is a huge win-win for the community and developers. For the first time in the city’s history, all community groups, regardless of their size, technical capacity or skill set, will receive a baseline of information when it comes to potential development in their neighborhood,” Parker said. “It also provides developers with a transparent tool to help prevent the spread of misinformation about proposed projects by making the information accessible to all parties.”
“The biggest obstacle for our organization in determining whether or not to support or oppose a project is a lack of information,” said Don Garecht, vice president of the Burholme Community Town Watch and Civic Association. “Despite our best efforts to communicate with applicants, on many occasions, we do not have basic details about projects until our community meetings. The Project Information Form will help educate community participants and further professionalizes the zoning process. The result of this commonsense legislation is a better working relationship between developers and residents.”
Under the bill, applicants will be required to complete the form and submit it to the ZBA and the Civic Design Review Committee, or attach it to the Council ordinance or resolution. The city will also post the form on its website for public review. The legislation will take effect in 180 days.
“I want to thank my Council colleagues, Mayor Kenney and his administration, and the many stakeholders who took part in this historic legislation.” Parker said. “It has been a truly collaborative process, and I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to ensure smooth implementation.”
Sign petition for pro-police bill
State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, urging him to sign House Bill 27 when it passes the Senate.
White’s bill would temporarily withhold the identifications of police officers involved in a shooting until an investigation into the incident concludes.
White is also gathering names on a petition on her website asking the governor to make the bill a law. The petition is at www.RepWhite.com/protectpolice.aspx
House Bill 27 allows for 30 days to pass before an officer’s name is disclosed or until an investigation is complete, whichever comes first.
“My bill allows time for the factual evidence to come to light so we can understand the events that transpired,” White said. “This gives officers the reassurance they need to do their work in a proactive manner and continue to keep our communities safe”
The legislation passed the House in March by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. It’s now in the Senate, where it is expected to pass soon. Similar legislation passed the House and Senate in the 2015–16 term, but was vetoed by the governor without allowing time for an override vote.
“The FBI does not release the names of its agents by law, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association believes innocent officers should never have their names released publicly,” White said in the letter. “The General Assembly, Fraternal Order of Police and citizens across the commonwealth overwhelmingly agree with House Bill 27.”
Neilson wins award for support of ID bill
State Rep. Ed Neilson (D-174th dist.) received an award for his efforts on moving Pennsylvania toward enforcement of the federal Real ID Act requirements.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security 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.
Keeping Identities Safe presented Neilson with the Recognition Award for Homeland Security Leadership and Public Engagement.
“Rep. Neilson has engaged with state officials, other legislators and the public to move the ball forward on behalf of his constituents and all the residents of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Brian Zimmer, president of Keeping IDentities Safe. “I earnestly believe that Rep. Neilson was the key initiator of action to remove legislation that was blocking the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s capability to comply.”
Keeping IDentities Safe works to raise awareness for states to protect people’s driver’s licenses and IDs from risk of terrorism and theft.
Murt bill on mental illness passes House
Legislation introduced by state Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) to change the standards used to help families intervene when someone with a mental illness is too sick to seek treatment has passed the House.
Murt’s bill is designed to encourage a more effective use of outpatient services.
“Under existing law, we must wait until the individual becomes a danger to themselves or others before we can help,” Murt said. “The problem is any individual who poses a clear and present danger is too sick to be treated on an outpatient basis, which means outpatient commitment is rarely used in Pennsylvania.”
House Bill 1233 would create a new, strictly non-punitive process and a continuum of services for seriously mentally ill individuals who are unwilling or unable to voluntarily seek treatment.
Murt’s legislation would establish a new standard for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment in the community, while leaving in place the clear-and-present-danger standard for involuntary hospitalization.
The new standard would be based on a medical determination of whether a seriously mentally ill individual needs and can benefit from assisted outpatient treatment to survive safely in the community. The standard would also take into consideration an individual’s history of involuntary inpatient commitments and acts of violence to self or others.
The need for assisted outpatient treatment would be shown by establishing evidence that the person would benefit from such treatment.
“Assisted outpatient treatment can help individuals avoid inpatient commitment, as well as provide critical step-down services in the community for those who are being discharged from inpatient facilities,” Murt said.
The bill moves to the Senate.
House passes Solomon’s veterans bill
The state House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jared Solomon (D-202nd dist.) intended to help veterans receive federal, state and local benefits.
“Every day, many of our veterans struggle to pay their rent or get groceries. House Bill 1231 develops a comprehensive approach for those who have served our country honorably. It incorporates all different state agencies and county veterans’ organizations to ensure that, not only the veteran, but also the families have access to the benefits they are entitled to,” Solomon said. “This registry would enable the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to engage veterans and provide more effective information on federal, state and local government benefits, programs and services available for them.”
According to Solomon, H.B. 1231 would expand the existing DMVA registry’s reach by bringing other agencies into the process of identifying veterans who stand to benefit. Currently, the DMVA manages an online registry that lists roughly 7,000 of the more than 894,000 veterans in Pennsylvania.
“I appreciate Rep. Solomon reaching across the aisle for help in moving this critical piece of legislation to help the men and women who have served or are serving our country,” said state Rep. Matt Gabler, a Clearfield County Republican who was the first co-sponsor of the legislation. “We hope our Senate colleagues will act quickly and move the bill to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.”
State bill would benefit homeless
State Reps. Isabella Fitzgerald (D-203rd dist.) and Thomas Murt (R-152nd dist.) have introduced legislation to enact a “Homeless Bill of Rights” to protect fundamental civil and human rights of homeless people.
House Bill 1664 would protect the homeless population’s rights to move freely in public spaces, and receive equal treatment by all government agencies, employers and health care providers. The legislation would also shield their right to vote and the confidentiality of personal records and information.
“As the burdens of joblessness grow and the pressures on public resources increase, we have a responsibility to lessen the negative effects of homelessness,” Murt said. “This bill is committed to making sure the homeless have the right to move about freely and are not discriminated against.”
Fitzgerald said, “It is past time to develop effective solutions for those on the streets and enable persons who are homeless to make a transition to stability. We need to provide permanent solutions — jobs and housing — so that people can break the cycle of homelessness and become productive citizens.”
Tartaglione backs revenue package
State Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.) supported a revenue package that passed, 26–24.
Without the approved revenue package, the $31.9 billion general fund budget approved by the General Assembly in late June would not be balanced.
The revenue package backfills the $2.2 billion revenue deficit and prevents a credit downgrade. For the first time, it includes a Marcellus Shale energy extraction tax valued at $108 million.
Tartaglione, though, said the new language added to the school code impacting teacher collective bargaining rights is an egregious attack that would harm teachers and impair contract negotiations.
“The provisions added to the school code would allow for teachers to be laid off for economic reasons, refuse to consider seniority rights as it relates to layoffs, and prohibit collective bargaining agreements from dealing with economic-based layoffs,” Tartaglione said. “These are egregious provisions that would hurt labor negotiations and impact the ability of school districts and teachers to reach fair and equitable contract agreements.”
The revenue package was sent to the House of Representatives for approval.
Boyle wants timely budget
As Pennsylvania deals with another budget impasse, state Rep. Kevin Boyle plans to re-introduce a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, requiring the General Assembly to stay in session until a budget is adopted by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed into law by the governor.
“As legislators, we owe it to our constituents to conduct the people’s business without needless delays and to concentrate on passing a responsible, complete and balanced budget for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians,” Boyle said.
For the legislation to be added to the state Constitution, the bill would have to be voted and passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then go to Pennsylvania voters in the form of a ballot question.
This bill is expected to be referred to the House Appropriations Committee. ••