Senator Judy Ward E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Committee Approves Constitutional Amendment to Prevent Court from Changing Pennsylvania Abortion Laws
  • Measure to Provide Higher Quality Women’s Health Care is Reported Out of Committee
  • Election Reform Legislation Passes State Government Committee
  • Fulton County Election Investigation Update
  • Senate Passes New Funding for Hospitals, Health Care Workers
  • Student Loan Relief for Nurses Available through March 1
  • Senate Acts to Improve PA National Guard Health Care
  • Congressional Redistricting Map Approved by General Assembly
  • Federal Government Launches Website to Provide Home COVID Tests
  • National School Choice Week
  • Welcome State Champions Bishop Guilfoyle Football to the Senate
  • PA Motor Trucking Association Creates New Mentoring Program
  • Out and About in the 30th

Committee Approves Constitutional Amendment to Prevent Court from Changing Pennsylvania Abortion Laws

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved a constitutional amendment I sponsored on Tuesday to prevent the court from changing Pennsylvania’s abortion laws. 

Pennsylvania law does not permit taxpayer funding for most abortions. A case now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center v. PA Department of Human Services, jeopardizes existing restrictions on abortion and could result in taxpayer funded elective abortions.

In response, I offered Senate Bill 956. This amendment doesn’t change state abortion laws at all. It prevents the courts from changing them, and it prevents the courts from forcing taxpayers to pay for elective abortions. Senate Bill 956, if passed by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, will go to a vote of the people of Pennsylvania. 

The Supreme Court’s job is not to legislate from the bench. My constitutional amendment would make it so that the people’s elected representatives are the ones who set policy regarding abortions, not activist judges. When it comes to protecting the lives of the unborn and women’s health we must keep the power to legislate in the hands of the people’s representatives.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. 

Measure to Provide Higher Quality Women’s Health Care is Reported Out of Committee 

On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved legislation I sponsored, Senate Bill 152, that is aimed at providing higher quality healthcare to women.

This bill will help to ensure equitable healthcare funding for all women across Pennsylvania, including those in rural communities. This bill ensures the effective use of the state’s healthcare dollars by funding entities that provide comprehensive care. The bill, therefore, would prioritize and direct funding to nonpublic hospitals and federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and state health centers over those that offer only selective or limited services.

Senate Bill 152 is a significant step forward in our efforts to support our healthcare system as it prioritizes funding for women’s healthcare. Sending the money first to hospitals and federally qualified healthcare clinics helps to provide quality health care for rural and underserved women across the Commonwealth.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. 

Election Reform Legislation Passes State Government Committee 

My legislation, Senate Bill 322, would increase the transparency and accountability of our elections and help restore faith in our electoral process.  It was passed out of the State Government Committee this past week.

My legislation would allow more people to observe pre-canvassing and canvassing of ballots by permitting the county chairperson of each political party or a designee to be present.  In addition, the measure provides that individuals allowed to watch shall have a clear line of sight to view and hear the proceedings.

Second, the bill would further clarify that only those ballots received by 8:00 PM Election Day may be canvassed. The only exception would be for valid military-overseas ballots timely received.

Finally, my proposal would establish procedures for when signatures on absentee or mail-in ballots don’t match.

These three measures will strengthen and add clarity to election law to ensure it is interpreted as written.  This will benefit candidates of all parties and all voters regardless of their registration. 

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Fulton County Election Investigation Update

In December, Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee Chairman Cris Dush made a request to Fulton County to preserve information from the hard drives of decertified voting machines in support of the committee’s election investigation.

Although the county agreed to the request, the Department of State sued to prevent digital copies of the machines from being taken. The Commonwealth Court sided with the request for the review as a legitimate function of the lawmaking process, but the Department of State filed an emergency application to the PA Supreme Court, further delaying the inspection.

This week, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and Senator Cris Dush filed an amicus brief with the PA Supreme Court supporting Senator Dush’s request for access to the machines in connection with the IGOC’s investigation of the 2020 General and 2021 Primary elections.

Senate Passes New Funding for Hospitals, Health Care Workers

The Senate this week approved critical funding for hospitals and frontline health care workers who continue to keep Pennsylvanians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.

It allocates a total of $225 million to hospitals and their employees. The additional dollars will be allocated as follows:

  • $100 million for acute care general hospitals.
  • $110 million for critical access hospitals, facilities with a high volume of Medicaid patients, and behavioral/psychiatric providers.
  • $15 million for the PA Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program.

The legislation requires the funding to be directed to retention and recruitment programs for staff. Hospital executives and administration, contracted staff and physicians would not be eligible for payments.

Student Loan Relief for Nurses Available through March 1

Applications are being accepted through March 1 for the new Student Loan Relief for Nurses program.

Qualified nurses working through the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible to receive student loan relief of up to $2,500 for each year of work (beginning with 2020) for up to three years, with a maximum benefit of $7,500.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency indicates the high volume of applications has slowed the review process, and online applications are not offered. You can learn more about the program and the application process here.

Senate Acts to Improve PA National Guard Health Care

Legislation to increase the number of health care providers in the Pennsylvania National Guard was approved by the Senate. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The legislation improves the Medical Officer or Health Officer Incentive Program, which was created in 2014 to provide an education stipend to those who qualified through their time in the armed services.

This incentive program began to address the lack of health care providers within the Guard. However, some health professionals, such as dentists and physician assistants, were inadvertently left out of the program.

Senate Bill 927 would establish a broader definition of “health professional” to capture those left out of the original program. It would also create education stipend tiers based on the participant’s education level, so that physicians and physician assistants would get a higher reimbursement to help pay down their higher tuition debt.

Congressional Redistricting Map Approved by General Assembly

Legislation to redraw the boundaries of Pennsylvania congressional districts to reflect changes in population was approved by the Senate and sent to the governor, who vetoed the measure.

The U.S. Constitution requires congressional redistricting following the updated census count every 10 years.

The preliminary congressional map was developed after a series of public hearings held by the state Senate and House of Representatives. 

Federal Government Launches Website to Provide Home COVID Tests

The federal government has launched a website to order at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits.

Each household is eligible to order four tests. According to the website, orders will usually ship in 7-12 days and there is no cost.

These are rapid antigen at-home tests, also referred to as self-tests or over the counter (OTC) tests. They produce results within 30 minutes and no lab drop-off is required.

To place an order, provide your name and residential address. You don’t have to provide ID, credit card or health insurance information. You can find answers to frequently asked questions here.

National School Choice Week

Pennsylvania families should have a choice in selecting the best education for their children, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies and homeschooling.

This is National School Choice Week, a time to stand with parents and recommit to giving parents the power to choose what’s best for their children.

Welcome State Champions Bishop Guilfoyle Football to the Senate

I was honored to introduce the PIAA 1A Football State Champions Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School. They are a great group of young men and we are all so proud of what they accomplished this past season.

PA Motor Trucking Association Creates New Mentoring Program

I had a wonderful time meeting with the PA Motor Trucking Association and learning about their new program, PA Trucking Fast Forward. This mentoring program will get younger people involved in the trucking industry. We were able to discuss how the policy making process relates to businesses and how this impacts the trucking industry.

Out and About in the 30th

Recently, I participated in the Mid-State Regional Chapter of the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) legislative meeting to hear from school officials in my district. These annual meetings are a great way for me to learn about the issues that districts are facing and what priorities they would like to see in Harrisburg.

This week I had the honor of presenting a citation to Bruce Erb and Laura Burke, commissioners of Blair County. Blair County celebrated its 175th Anniversary in 2021, but due to the pandemic the commemoration was postponed.

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