In This Update:
Senate Passes Martin-Tomlinson PASSHE Reform
Many schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) were facing considerable financial and enrollment pressures even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and these problems have been made worse by the temporary closing of all 14 system schools due to concerns about student health. The Senate approved a bill this week that would promote the long-term viability of all schools in the system and protect access to an affordable education for Pennsylvania students.
Senator Tomlinson and I teamed up to lead PASSHE reform efforts in the Senate, including introducing Senate Bill 1172 and negotiating with stakeholders which resulted in the amendments to HB 2171. The goal of the legislation is to promote the long-term viability of all schools in the system, protect access to an affordable education for Pennsylvania students, and ensure any changes to the system are completed with full transparency and accountability.
The bill is on its way to the governor to be signed into law.
Hearing Explores Progress Toward Protecting Long-Term Care Facilities
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been among the hardest-hit populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a Senate hearing last month exposed the Wolf Administration’s failure to protect these vulnerable members of our communities.
The Senate Aging and Youth Committee scheduled a follow-up hearing on the issue this week to learn more about what is being done to protect residents and staff at these facilities, particularly in light of the $692 million in federal CARES Act funding that was approved by lawmakers to support long-term living services recently.
Video and testimony from the hearing are available here.
Police Reform Measures Advance in the Senate
In response to tragedies that have occurred in other states in recent weeks, the Senate took action on a number of police reform bills this week to strengthen officer training and minimize the risk of similar incidents happening in Pennsylvania. Passage of these bills was the result of hearings by two Senate committees last week that included the support of law enforcement officials, criminal justice experts and public safety advocates, as well as several statewide and national advocacy groups.
The Senate approved bills this week that would ban the use of chokeholds except in situations where the use of deadly force is authorized; and require municipal law enforcement departments to adopt a use of force policy and to train officers on procedures allowed under the policy.
In addition, Senate committees advanced bills this week to promote the use of in-service training, including annual instruction on the use of force, de-escalation, and harm reduction techniques; require law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough background investigation of police officer job candidates; and improve the safety of individuals in police custody, as well as Department of Corrections staff.
In addition, lawmakers gave final approval to a bill this week that would end the practice of blanket prohibitions on state job licenses for certain criminal records. The bill would provide a second chance for rehabilitated individuals seeking meaningful employment, while also expanding our state’s skilled workforce.
Senate Committee Examines Pennsylvania’s Participation in RGGI
In October, Governor Wolf unilaterally ordered Pennsylvania to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan would impose a carbon tax on electricity production and require fossil fuel generators to purchase allowances, creating the threat of higher energy costs and fewer jobs at a time when the state simply cannot afford it.
Senate leaders have asked Governor Wolf to rescind his order in light of the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on Pennsylvania’s economy. The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing this week on the impact that this proposal would have on Pennsylvania families and employers.
Committee Reviews Ways to Safely Reopen Southeastern PA Economy
The Senate Majority Policy Committee continued a series of workshop discussions regarding the safe reopening of Pennsylvania’s economy this week with a closer look at unique challenges posed by Governor Wolf’s business shutdowns in the southeastern region of the state. Southeastern Pennsylvania was the first part of the state to close and the last to reopen.
Local business leaders detailed the economic devastation caused by the state’s response to COVID-19, and health experts again emphasized the need to safely open businesses in accordance with CDC recommendations.
The discussion followed similar meetings regarding issues in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania in recent weeks.
Bills Protecting Healthcare Workers Earn Final Approval
Two bills that would extend new protections for healthcare professionals were approved by lawmakers this week and sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Senate Bill 351 would stiffen penalties for assaults against a broad range of healthcare practitioners and technicians, and Senate Bill 842 would eliminate a requirement for employee badges in healthcare facilities to include an employee’s last name.
Senate Approves New Marketing Tool for Veteran-Owned Businesses
Pennsylvania veterans, reservists and members of the National Guard who own their own business could soon have a valuable new marketing tool under a bill approved by the Senate this week.
The bill would direct the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to create special logos to promote veteran-owned businesses, creating new opportunities for Pennsylvanians to support the brave men and women who have served in the military at a time when that support is desperately needed during the state’s recovery from COVID-19.
Lawmakers Approve Bill to Require Insurance Coverage for Additional Breast Cancer Screenings
Dense breast tissue and other factors can make it more difficult to detect breast cancer early in some women, heightening the long-term risks. The Senate approved a bill this week that would require insurance companies to cover supplemental screenings if a physician believes a woman is at an increased risk for breast cancer due to these conditions.
New Guidance Released for Veterinary Care, Reopening Senior Centers
While we await a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on whether Governor Wolf must perform his constitutional duty to end the current disaster declaration in accordance with state law – a ruling that could come as soon as next week – the Wolf Administration has released guidance for veterinary care and reopening senior centers, adult day centers and other senior services.
New veterinary guidance allows for the resumption of non-essential services and routine or elective surgical procedures, like spaying and neutering.
Guidance from the Department of Aging includes procedures to resume operations at adult day centers, senior community centers and aging and protective services that involve in-home visits.
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