In This Update:
Senators Continue to Highlight What a YES Vote Means on May 18
A group of senators held a news conference at the Capitol this week to highlight what a YES vote means when voters go to the polls to decide proposed Constitutional amendments on May 18.
Lawmakers approved three potential amendments to the Constitution that will appear on the ballot for voters in the May 18 election, including one question to prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity and two questions designed to improve the way the state responds to future emergencies.
The Wolf Administration has been widely criticized for wording the emergency response questions in a way that is deeply confusing and prejudicial.
A YES at the ballot box means voters favor:
A new webpage offers a detailed explanation of what the proposed amendments would accomplish.
Senators Martin and Aument Bill to Help Schools Find Substitute Teachers Passes Senate
Legislation sponsored by Senator Aument and myself that would continue a program that helps schools with the substitute teacher shortage problem passed the Senate this week. Senate Bill 381 would make the program created in 2016 permanent so schools, intermediate units and career and technical schools can ensure qualified substitutes are available to meet the needs of students.
Senator Martin Hosts School Reform Hearings
This past week I hosted two public hearings of the Senate Education Committee to discuss school reforms. Education and DCED officials as well as advocates, discussed school reforms involving accountability for all schools, school choice, charter schools and other potential changes to benefit students. On Monday and Friday, testifiers, which included teachers, parents as well as students, shared personal stories and their experiences on how they believe education can be improved in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Senators Call on Governor to Halt Unilateral Action on Carbon Tax
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans sent Governor Tom Wolf a letter Wednesday informing him that none of his nominations to the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) will be considered by the Senate if he continues to pursue a unilateral carbon tax on Pennsylvania employers and customers.
The letter notes that the governor’s effort to force Pennsylvania to join the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without the input of the legislature is a clear violation of the checks and balances provided by the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Hearings Examining Governor’s Budget Proposal Conclude
The Senate Appropriations Committee completed a series of 21 public hearings that closely examined the details of Governor Wolf’s state budget proposal.
The comprehensive review of the Governor’s proposed $40.2 billion General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22, which includes a massive increase in state spending, a substantial personal income tax rate hike, imposition of Marcellus Shale extraction tax, and elimination of funding for broadband expansion and vital agricultural and health programs.
The complete coverage of the hearings can be found here.
Senate Votes to Extend Program Helping Schools Find Substitute Teachers
Pennsylvania schools could have additional opportunities to find qualified substitute teachers under a bill approved by the Senate this week.
Lawmakers created a program in 2016 that allowed individuals training to be teachers to serve as a substitute teacher, provided the individual has valid clearances and at least 60 credit hours. However, the program is set to expire on June 30.
The legislation approved this week would make this temporary program permanent. As a result, schools, intermediate units and career and technical schools can ensure qualified substitutes are available to meet the needs of students.
Protecting the First Amendment Rights of Teachers
The Senate approved a critical bill this week to ensure the First Amendment rights of teachers are better protected. The legislation would repeal a provision of the School Code which prohibits teachers from wearing any garb, mark, emblem or insignia that would indicate they are a member of or adherent to any religious order or sect while in the performance of their duties as a teacher.
Although federal courts have held that the school’s religious affiliations policy violates the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the Constitution, these provisions are still in place and public school directors can be held criminally liable for failing to enforce this prohibition. Pennsylvania is the last state in the United States with this provision still in place.
Comments on 2020 General Election Due by Friday, April 30
This is the final week for Pennsylvanians to share their experience from last year’s election with the Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform. Election surveys for Pennsylvanians who voted by mail or in person will be accepted through Friday, April 30.
The committee is expected to use the survey responses and testimony gathered during its series of public hearings to produce a report with recommendations that will be presented to the General Assembly.
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