PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.

The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.

“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”

The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.

In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:

  • The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
  • Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
  • COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
  • Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
  • Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
  • Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
  • Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
  • Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
  • Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
  • Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
  • Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
  • Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
  • Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
  • Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)

“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”

“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.” 

“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”

“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”

“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health.  I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”

“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”

“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”

“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”

“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”

“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”

“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”

“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority.  In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”

“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times.  What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses,  job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection  of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.   

 “We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work.  We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”

 “As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”

More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.

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Members of Pa Senate Democratic Caucus Request Disaster Declaration on Gun Violence

Members of Pa Senate Democratic Caucus Request Disaster Declaration on Gun Violence

Harrisburg, Pa. − June 24, 2019 − Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus today jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.

“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”

Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:

  • Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
  • Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
  • Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
  • Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
  • Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
  • Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
  • Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
  • Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
  • Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education

View full letter →

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Members of Pa Senate Democratic Caucus Request Disaster Declaration on Gun Violence

 

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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