Senate Democrats Outline Legislation to Combat Opioid and Heroin Crisis

Harrisburg, May 18, 2016 – With drug overdose deaths reaching epidemic levels, Senate Democrats unveiled legislation today to address the opioid addiction crisis from prevention through recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and there is no easy solution to fix the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said. “When addiction finds its way into a family, it can nearly paralyze them for fear of what the future may hold.”

Recognizing the need to provide support at all levels, the Senate Democrats’ legislation focuses on providing new opportunities for education and treatment as well as expanded support options in the community for addicts, professionals and families.

“We cannot address this problem in a vacuum and must work to provide the necessary services and support to everyone involved,” Costa said. “Families are being affected and communities torn apart as a result of opioid abuses and heroin addiction.”

Opioids are a class of drug that include heroin as well as the prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. According to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14 fold between 1979 and 2014.

“We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis said. “It will continue to take a collaborative effort among many partners to effectively address this crisis.”

The package of legislation includes:

Emergency Addiction Treatment Program – Charging the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs with establishing a comprehensive program that includes new addiction treatment facilities for those drug users that are currently going without care; new intake methods to provide information to those with addiction problems or their family and friends; advice and assistance in accessing treatment; and data collection to help identify patterns of addiction.

School Aged Children Opioid Awareness Education Program – Requiring the Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, and Education to work cooperatively to design an opioid awareness education programs to be delivered in schools.

Addiction Treatment Professional Loan Forgiveness Program – Require the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to develop an addiction treatment professional loan forgiveness program.

Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Assessment – Impose a 10 percent assessment on the first sale of an opioid into the state. Revenues from the assessment will be used to support the purchase of naloxone for local law enforcement and emergency management personnel in addition to supporting addiction prevention and treatment programs.

Responding to the Senate Democratic proposals to the drug and alcohol problem, Deb Beck from the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania said that the drug and alcohol problem “has reached epidemic levels in the state and these proposals will be life saving in impact.”

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$ 300 Million Education Common Core Mandate Threatens Graduation

No Legislative Oversight, Lack of Financial Backing Panned by Senate Democrats

Harrisburg, May 13, 2013 – A new unfunded education mandate now being quietly pursued by the Corbett administration will soon saddle school districts with a $300 million expense and threaten graduation for thousands of students across Pennsylvania, Senate Democrats said today at a Capitol news conference.

Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Sens. Judy Schwank, John Blake and Jim Brewster all expressed their displeasure and concerns about the proposed changes.

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“We are not opposed to the implementation of Common Core standards for Pennsylvania’s students,” Dinniman said. “But we are opposed to Common Core standards without adequate state financial resources for our schools so that all of our students have the opportunity to succeed under those standards, including those in financially distressed school districts.

“For the Commonwealth to increase standards without the adequate fiscal resources is a charade. It is a sham that will only lead to false hope,” Dinniman said.

Common Core standards are being sought by the state Department of Education as a way to determine proficiency and graduation eligibility.

According to Dinniman, the implementation of Common Core standards will result in an unfunded mandate of at least $300 million for local schools. There is no specified funding or plan to provide for the remedial instruction, the redesign of curriculum, or the project-based assessments for those who repeatedly fail the tests.

“The implementation of these new standards should be reviewed thoroughly by the General Assembly,” Costa said. “This whole new testing structure will cost taxpayers dearly and it is being implemented without a full understanding of the benefits for students, teachers, administrators and taxpayers.

“A complete explanation of what is being sought by the department is necessary before Pennsylvania schools put these new standards into play.”

Schwank, who represents the economically and academically struggling Reading School District, said the new testing will be particularly devastating to fiscally challenged schools.

“School districts like Reading, as well as many others around the state, are drowning in red ink now,” Schwank said. “These new mandates, without proper fiscal support, will make their financial plight even worse.

“There is certainly nothing wrong with increasing proficiency standards but students, teachers and schools must have resources to invest to address deficiencies.”

To implement new standards and testing procedures without adding dollars makes no sense, Blake (D-Lackawanna) noted. Especially, he said, after the Corbett administration has slashed basic education support by $900 million.

“To add new core testing procedures and a mandate at a cost exceeding $300 million after cutting education support is irresponsible,” Blake said. “The local property taxpayer is going to get squeezed and economically strapped schools and taxpayers will bear an even greater burden.”

Brewster said instead of implementing more tests and costs, educators and the Corbett administration need to step back and decide whether the current testing structure is constructive. He has proposed Senate Bill 823 to create a bi-partisan commission to recommend changes or a total scrapping of the current student testing procedures.

“My belief is we need to look at what we are doing with student testing and come up with a new, better approach that accurately reflects student, school, teacher and community performance,” Brewster said. “Today’s tests are flawed and the whole system is need of restructuring.”

Senate Democrats also lamented that the new Common Core tests involve 10 days of testing, which takes even more time away from traditional instruction.

They added that districts could receive a deeper financial bludgeoning if students fail to pass the tests.

The new Common Core standards will exacerbate the problem of teaching to the test, Senate Democrats said.

 

Pennsylvania Senate Democrats Discuss Plan to Address Distressed Cities

Harrisburg, December 18, 2012 – Acknowledging the escalating problems in economically-challenged communities across the state, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats today discussed their plans to address a wide range of problems impacting aging and distressed cities.

The “Growth, Progress & Sustainability” or GPS plan focuses on developing new policies that foster cooperation while addressing and strengthening the core of distressed communities.

“The reality is instead of planning for growth and economic development, many cities are contemplating bankruptcy,” Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said.   “We could no longer stand back and watch while the rich heritage of Pennsylvania erodes amid shrinking tax revenues and tax bases.”

Costa said the intention of the plan is to help transform communities and bring some much needed light to the end of the tunnel.

“Pennsylvania needs a new road map to help our cities and our towns,” said Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria).  “Communities are struggling – from Scranton to Harrisburg and Reading to Johnstown and all places in between.  Today we’re presenting the GPS plan to serve as a foundation to address the issues and transform our cities and communities.”

Senate Democrats are committed to working with local leaders to further develop the GPS plan which highlights broad areas of legislative interest.  The areas the Senate Democrats outlined are including:

  • Economic development
  • Rebuilding the local tax base
  • Urban blight
  • Crime/Public Safety Initiatives
  • Education & workforce development
  • Modernizing and streamlining local government to reduce costs
  • Act 47 and Local government Unit Debt Act

According to Senate Democrats, many of the identified communities continue to face huge obstacles as each attempts to provide government services at a time when tax revenues and tax bases are shrinking.  They said that they recognize no solution can be effective or lasting without addressing each of the interconnected parts outlined in the plan and understanding how they affect residents.

“Revitalizing our urban areas and strengthening surrounding communities requires we assess and understand their struggles,” said Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks).  “Our focus needs to be squarely on quality of life for the families living in these areas.  We owe it to them to ensure these issues are addressed and their needs met, as we move forward.”

Working with local governments, Senate Democrats acknowledged the need for vision, focus and commitment.  This includes providing the tools communities need to help themselves before their circumstances become untenable, they said.

“We want public policy that is proactive, cooperative and supportive, not reactive, punitive and vindictive,” said Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna).  “We want to develop long-term, sustainable solutions that will enable these communities to rebuild and thrive.”

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