In This Update:
Senate Votes to Strengthen State’s Emergency Response
State government’s efforts to respond to emergencies could be bolstered by a potential amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would limit the length of future disaster declarations unless an extension is approved by lawmakers.
The blanket authority given to the Executive Branch under Governor Wolf’s emergency declarations have been used to change and suspend state laws, prevent shuttered businesses from reopening with safety measures in place, and spend state and federal taxpayer dollars with no oversight or input from the legislature. Our Constitution doesn’t belong to Governor Wolf. It belongs to the people of Pennsylvania.
This is why I voted for Senate Bill 2 today. This Constitutional amendment would ultimately restore the system of checks and balances that our government was built on.
Limiting the length of an emergency declaration would ensure greater cooperation between all branches of government during an emergency and restore the system of checks and balances that Pennsylvania was founded upon.
Because the measure would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters via referendum. The bill was approved by the General Assembly during the last legislative session. If approved by the House of Representatives, the measure would appear on the ballot in the next election.
COVID-19 Relief Package Earns Senate Approval
The Senate took the first steps toward providing a new round of financial assistance to restaurants, schools, employers, and tenants impacted by the pandemic by passing a comprehensive $912 million COVID-19 relief bill this week.
The relief package dedicates federal funding for rental and utility assistance, as well as non-public schools, career and technical centers, Intermediate Units, charter schools for the deaf and blind, and approved private schools. Funding is also included to support the redesign of the State System of Higher Education.
In addition, the package allocates $145 million from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund to the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account to provide county block grants to assist the hospitality industry, including restaurants, bars and hotels.
Senate Aging & Youth and Health & Human Services Committee Hearing on Implementation of the State Vaccination Plan
I have heard a number of concerns from constituents regarding the availability of the vaccine since the department made the announcement that individuals 65 and over now qualify.
That said, the Senate Aging & Youth Committee, which I chair, along with the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, has scheduled a joint public hearing on Thursday, February 4th at 11a.m. to hear from state officials and other interested parties regarding the implementation of the state vaccine plan to find out why the slow roll out and what the department plans to do to improve the delivery of the vaccine.
You can view the hearing on my website at the following link: https://aging.pasenategop.com/.
Legislation Advances to Enhance Penalties for Child Pornography
The Senate approved a bill this week that would crack down on individuals charged with possession of child pornography. The legislation would boost penalties in all cases of child pornography in which the child is under the age of 10 or prepubescent and provide sentencing enhancements for offenders who sexually abuse children who are known to them.
In addition, the bill would create a special task force to review all laws pertaining to child pornography and make recommendations to improve the investigation and prosecution of offenders.
The bill was previously sponsored by the late Senator Dave Arnold (R-48), who tragically passed away earlier this month.
New Online Filing Option Available for Property Tax and Rent Rebates
The state’s popular Property Tax Rent Rebate program provides rebates of up to $650 on rent or property taxes paid in the previous year by low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. A new online filing tool will make it easier to file applications for the program.
The new myPATH system allows applicants to complete applications online, track the status of their claim and benefit from faster processing and direct deposit options. Rebates will be distributed beginning July 1.
Applicants can also still file by mail. I encourage community residents to contact my district office if they need additional information on filing Property Tax Rent Rebate claims.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program Reopens
The Department of Labor and Industry reopened the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) on Sunday. The program provides additional benefit weeks to qualified individuals who have exhausted their regular Unemployment Compensation benefits.
Claimants can receive an additional 11 weeks due to the extension of the program. More details are available here.
Huntingdon County Broadband Ribbon Cutting
I was pleased to participate in the ribbon cutting event celebrating the expansion of broadband internet service in Huntingdon County.
The Huntingdon County Commissioners allocated over $1M of County CARES Act funding for two projects to quickly deploy broadband internet access to residents and businesses in several portions of the county. Rural Broadband Cooperative (RBC) and Upward Broadband successfully completed the projects by the aggressive deadline. These projects are a great example of what can be accomplished when the federal, state and local governments work together to solve important problems to make life better.
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