In this Update:
General Assembly Approves Budget that Holds the Line on Taxes, Boosts Rainy Day Fund, Supports Schools, Roads and Nursing Homes
The Senate approved a 2021-22 state budget that supports Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing a financial safety net for the future. The plan now goes to the governor’s desk for enactment into law.
The fiscally responsible budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by the governor in February — including a 46% Personal Income Tax hike.
While Pennsylvania is on pace to end the current fiscal year with $2.5 billion in surplus revenue, revenue projections for the current fiscal year were made as Pennsylvania was coping with the financial devastation caused by the global pandemic and the governor’s business closure orders.
Despite a significant rebound in revenues and the availability of federal stimulus funds to help balance the budget, lawmakers must remain vigilant and pragmatic because Pennsylvania’s mandated spending growth still outpaces its revenue growth and the Commonwealth cannot depend on continued federal funding.
The budget provides a three-tier approach to create a strong financial safety net for coming years:
The spending plan includes $300 million more for Basic Education Funding, $50 million more for Special Education, $25 million more for Pre-K programs and $5 million more for Head Start.
It also allocates $279 million in federal funding to support highway and bridge improvement projects. This will enable the Commonwealth to address its deteriorating transportation network while supporting employers and creating family sustaining jobs.
Federal funds are also directed to supporting Pennsylvania’s nursing homes ($247 million) and assisted care facilities and personal care homes ($30 million), many of which were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increased Support for Crime Victims Approved by Senate
The Senate approved legislation to improve communications with crime victims and ensure they receive any compensation they are owed.
The measure broadens the timeframes victims’ compensation may be sought and expands critical access to compensation. It requires the law enforcement officer responding to or investigating an incident to provide basic information about the rights and services available to crime victims.
The effort uses savings generated by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, launched in 2012, to strengthen public safety and reduce prison and probation costs. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Passes Kayden’s Law to Protect Children during Custody Disputes
The Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives legislation known as Kayden’s Law to increase protections for children during child custody disputes.
The legislation is named after Kayden Mancuso, a 7-year-old Bucks County resident murdered by her biological father in 2018 during a visit ordered by the court, despite evidence of his abusive and violent behavior.
The bill imposes safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse, modifies the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child, and recommends better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.
Homeless Students and Students in Foster Care Aided by Senate Measure
Students experiencing homelessness or living in foster care face additional graduation challenges because they changed schools before earning full credit or are unable to take a required course at their new school. Their new school also may not honor the credits they earned.
The Senate approved legislation to create a smoother transition to high school graduation for these students by designating a point person to review past transcripts and provide the essential support needed to aid student graduation.
The bill would also provide students with other methods to demonstrate that their coursework has been satisfactorily completed so necessary credit can be awarded. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Advances Bill to Increase Vaccine Transparency
The Senate voted to increase the transparency of Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout by requiring the Department of Health to make public the amount of vaccine doses that have been wasted.
The measure addresses the Department of Health’s unwillingness to release details of their pandemic response using a law from 1955. Media organizations across Pennsylvania have expressed their frustration throughout the pandemic with this refusal to publicize information.
The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for their consideration.
Senate Helps Open Agritourism to More Farmers
Agritourism includes farm markets, pick-your-own produce, corn mazes, paintball, petting zoos, hayrides and farm tours. They can make the difference between having a positive year on the ledger or ending up in the red, especially for small family farmers.
The Senate approved the Agritourism Activity Protection Act to create a statewide standard for agritourism and provide limited civil liability protection for persons who offer agritourism activities on a farm and meet requirements.
The legislation was returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Have a Happy Independence Day
The United States of America remains the world’s beacon of liberty, 245 years after the 13 colonies took the brave step of challenging the British Empire for independence.
Open displays of love of country might seem old fashioned to some, but it is found in abundance in the homes and communities of everyday Americans. I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July celebrating our nation’s birthday.
As part of your celebration this weekend, I encourage you to take a moment to read the Declaration of Independence as a strong reminder of what the day represents.
Around the 40th District
Congratulations to Colonial Regional Police Chief Roy Seiple on his retirement after more than 25 years of dedicated service to our communities. I join PA State Rep. Ann Flood in presenting citations from the House and Senate in appreciation of his devotion to keeping our citizens and communities safe. Congratulations and best wishes in your retirement!
On Tuesday, I helped cut the ribbon on the newest hospital in the 40th District Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hecktown Oaks. The state-of-the-art facility is located off of Hecktown Road in Lower Nazareth. You may have seen their new electronic sign along Route 33 near the Hecktown Road exit. This 201,000 square-foot facility will be opening in July once they receive their final approvals. The site includes a new hospital – including a 24/7 ER, and surgical center, cancer institute and medical office building.
As we held a marathon week of votes in the General Assembly last week to complete the state budget, I received some welcome relief. Constituent Amie Eckert and her son Renzo visited the Capitol and brought me some essential oils from her store for me to share with the other members of the Senate. Earlier this month, I attended the ribbon cutting for Amie’s new business Carera Organix in Nazareth Borough. Amie’s store is part of a new wave of small businesses that have popped up in Nazareth recently. Thank you Amie and Renzo! I put your products to good use and brought some calm to the Senate Chamber!
On Saturday, we attended two Eagle Scout Court of Honor Ceremonies as we added two more Eagle Scouts to the 40th District. The first was for Reece Anderson of Northampton County (First Picture). He is the son of Jean and Bill Anderson and a member of Troop 242 at Hope Lutheran Church in Cherryville. His Eagle Project was to re-roof the pavilion at the church. The second was for James Hagerty of Monroe County. He is the son of Jodie and Matthew Haggerty and a member of Troop 300 of Stroudsburg. His Eagle Project was to install several benches and flowering trees at the Stroudsburg Middle School. Congratulations Reece and James!
We recently attended a retirement party for Tim Lee at the Mountain Center. Tim is retiring after 14 years of distinguished service to Pocono Services for Families and Children (PSFC). For the last 11 years Tim served PSFC as Executive Director. In 2016, Tim worked with myself and other elected officials and non-profit agencies to turn an abandoned school into a true community resource in The Mountain Center. Now, rather than having to drive down into Stroudsburg, Monroe County residents in the Northwest part of the county have access to multiple non-profit agencies and other valuable resources close to home. Thank you Tim for your commitment to PSFC and tireless service to benefit hundreds of families and thousands of children in the Poconos. Happy retirement!
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