In This Update:
My Legislative Accomplishments
I wanted to share my legislative accomplishments from the first two years in the Pennsylvania Senate, I was able to author new laws providing additional resources to support Pennsylvania farmers; allowing temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 emergency declaration to receive certification to continue working in the field; helping community-based health centers better meet the needs of patients in underserved areas; providing a tax exemption for any improvements and new construction on blighted properties in deteriorated areas; strengthening penalties for assaults against healthcare practitioners and technicians; protecting victims of domestic violence; and expanding Pennsylvanians’ access to psychology services. Most of these proposals were brought to my attention by constituents in need of a solution. The 17 measures I authored that were ultimately signed into law– and also one that drew the ire of Governor Wolf and earned a veto- are listed below. I had the honor of being ranked 3rd among my 253 colleagues by GovNetPA in the amount of bills being passed into law for 2019-2020. I am reintroducing the pieces of legislation that did not become law and I look forward to continuing to solve problems and remove barriers that folks like you may be having with state government.
Vetoed by Governor Wolf
Senators Ward, Yudichak Call for Auditor General to Examine Wolf Administration’s Handling of Long-Term Care Facilities During Pandemic
As questions continue to mount over the Wolf Administration’s rules for managing COVID-19 at long-term care facilities, Senator John Yudichak and I called on PA Auditor General Timothy DeFoor to review the policies from Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Human Services (DHS) and the impact on these elder care facilities.
We are truly concerned that the guidance and the lack of state resources deployed by the DOH and DHS have played a role in increasing the tragic spread of COVID-19 infections in Pennsylvania’s long-term care living facilities, such as nursing homes, personal care homes, and assisted living communities. The high death toll in our long-term care living facilities is alarming and reflects a disastrous policy resulting in nearly 70 percent of all deaths in this Commonwealth occurring in elder care facilities early on, a higher proportion than in most other states.
We pointed out the Wolf Administration’s failure to make personal protective equipment and widespread testing available in these facilities as well as the policy that required nursing facilities to accept COVID-19 positive patients contributed to the spread of COVID -19. The letter also questioned the reliability of data on COVID-19 cases in deaths when at times the number of deaths at a facility exceeded the number of residents. Here is a copy of the letter.
Senate Panel Passes My Bill to Help Farmers with Barn Wedding Venues
The Senate Labor and Industry Committee approved my bill that would set commonsense safety standards for barns and other agricultural buildings that are repurposed for weddings and other social events.
Senate Bill 191 would allow farmers to file an annual affidavit that their venue meets certain safety standards alleviating the costly requirements included in the state’s Uniform Construction Code for buildings that host weddings, receptions and similar events.
Family farms face significant challenges and difficulties in keeping their operations profitable and preserving their farms for the next generation. Farmers are looking to supplement their income by offering agritainment or agritourism activities on their land. However, current regulations require venues that host these events to meet costly building code standards.
Several farmers in my district have raised concerns about being unable to legally host weddings and other special events due to the fact that they don’t have sprinkler systems and other costly features that cost tens of thousands of dollars to install. We need to make sure state law strikes a responsible balance between the safety of guests and financial costs to the farmers who want to host these events.
The bill would still require repurposed agricultural buildings to meet a number of safety standards, including the availability of functioning smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and signage indicating all external entrances in case of a fire. Smoking and all open flames would also be prohibited. In addition, owners would be required to carry liability insurance.
Senate Bill 191 is before the full Senate for consideration.
Hearing Highlights Importance of Getting Students Back in the Classroom
A joint hearing of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday explored the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students, families and educators. The message from teachers, parents, students, representatives of state agencies and other key stakeholders was clear – Pennsylvania students need to be back in the classroom as soon as possible to safeguard their educational development and mental health.
Testifiers explained the numerous ways that school shutdowns and current policies are hurting young people and families. The hearing also included discussion about meeting the needs of students with special needs, challenges associated with virtual learning and hybrid models, the need for consistency in state and federal guidance to school districts, concerns about standardized testing during COVID-19, and much more.
While the education of all students has suffered during this pandemic, I specifically questioned the state Secretary of Education about the unique needs of students enrolled in the variety of special interest programs and how their independent education plans are being implemented and monitored – or not – during COVID-19 remote and hybrid learning. These students deserve to have their educational needs met and I worry their educational requirements are being lost in the shuffle. View my question here.
Funding Released to Support Struggling Restaurants, Hospitality Industry
The Senate approved legislation that was signed into law last month to provide $145 million to Pennsylvania restaurants and other employers in the hospitality industry that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Governor Wolf’s mitigation orders. Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced last week that the funding has been distributed to counties, clearing the way for employers to begin applying for grants on March 15.
The grant program will be administered by local economic development organizations and/or community development financial institutions. Below is information for Blair and Fulton counties.
Blair County COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Grant Program (CHIRP) Open
Blair County has announced the opening of the application period for the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). CHIRP offers grants to eligible businesses in the hospitality industry to alleviate revenue losses and pay eligible operating expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Blair County has received $1.38 million to help protect and preserve the state’s hospitality industry.
Grant Amounts: $5,000 – $50,000
Application Dates: March 9, 2010 (noon) – March 26, 2021 (5 PM)
How to Apply:
Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation (ABCD)
Fulton County COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Grant Program (CHIRP) Open
Fulton County has announced the opening of the application period for the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). CHIRP offers grants to eligible businesses in the hospitality industry to alleviate revenue losses and pay eligible operating expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fulton County has received $164,572 to help protect and preserve the state’s hospitality industry.
Grant Amounts: $5,000 – $50,000
Application Dates: Round 1 applications are due by March 15, 2021. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis in six rounds or until funding has been fully disbursed.
How to Apply:
Johnstown Area Regional Industries (JARI)
Michele Clapper (814-262-8368 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Blake Fleegle (814-254-4023 or email@example.com
Lauren Thompson (814-262-8367 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
PUC Urges Consumers to Explore Assistance Options
Consumers and businesses who are struggling with higher heating bills this winter are encouraged to explore assistance options before existing programs are changed or eliminated. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is urging individuals and employers to contact their utility company to learn about assistance programs that are available, including payment plans, late-payment fee waivers and other options to resolve overdue balances.
Consumers can also call PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services toll free at 1-800-692-7380 for more information.
Wildlife Conservation Officer Training Program Applications Due March 14
Pennsylvanians who are interested in a career as a Wildlife Conservation Officer can apply now through March 14 to be a part of the next training program, which begins this summer.
The training includes a 26-week basic training course for municipal police officers in Hershey, followed by an additional 26 weeks of training at the H.R. Stackhouse School of Fishery Conservation and Watercraft Safety in Bellefonte, Centre County.
March into Spring
The Let’s Move Blair County and the Chamber of Commerce Workplace Wellness Committee are conducting the next two-month Steps Challenge for teams, schools, community groups, workplaces, faith-based organizations, and/or individuals. The goal for the year is to reach 110,000,000 steps as a community and march toward a healthier Blair County. The challenge runs March 21, 2021 through May 15, 2021. Like them on Facebook, check out the website for the Active Living Brochure and how to register.
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