In this Update:
Constitutional Amendment Clarifying Powers of Department Secretaries and Agencies Passes Committee
The Senate State Government Committee approved a constitutional amendment designed to limit the use of emergency powers by the executive branch outside of emergency declarations.
This amendment is vital to ensure the checks and balances that protect the liberty of all Pennsylvanians. Covid was a wake-up call for many of us. Rules about how businesses can operate or whether we can gather with loved ones should not be made unilaterally by unelected members of the executive branch. A democracy cannot survive when department secretaries and executive officers can govern by edict and go around the people’s elected representatives.
I joined Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-28), Pat Stefano (R-32) and Scott Martin (R-13) in introducing the constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 959, after the Department of Health issued a mask mandate for schools in August 2021 that was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December of the same year.
The courts were thankfully able to strike down some of these unconstitutional mandates. This legislation hopefully puts in place constitutional safeguards to ensure that these types of harmful overreaches by the executive branch do not happen again.
On June 10, 2021, the General Assembly approved a concurrent resolution ending the COVID-19 disaster declaration. This ended the authority the governor and his administration cited under Title 35 to quickly execute statewide directives during an emergency response. This came after a ballot referendum was approved to limit the governor’s emergency authority and restore the balance of power in state government. Four months after the mandate was first issued the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appropriately struck it down.
Senate Bill 959 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Passes Frozen Dessert Law Revision
This past week my legislation, Senate Bill 960, was passed out of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. My bill will require tests of frozen desserts sold in restaurants to be conducted on an annual basis, as opposed to the current monthly basis. Existing statutes and regulations (i.e., Milk Sanitation Law, Food Safety Act) would remain in effect to assure the safety of frozen desserts. By this point, over 2,000,000 tests have been performed, at the expense of the frozen dessert licensees, without a problem having been detected.
This amendment will also reduce the amount of time and resources the department expends in administering the current act.
The department has noted that neighboring states have completely done away with specific “frozen dessert” regulations and the associated requirements for monthly bacterial count testing of frozen desserts.
Senate Bill 960 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
State Court Blocks Gov. Wolf’s $781 Million Carbon Tax Pending Further Order
In a win for Pennsylvania consumers and workers, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court this week ruled Gov. Tom Wolf’s $781 million carbon tax could not take effect pending a full order from the court.
The ruling came a day after Republicans stood united in an attempt to override the governor’s veto of the resolution that disapproves of Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The effort came up one vote short when Democrats voted against the state’s economic interests in favor of a policy that will spike residential electricity bills 30% and kill 22,000 jobs.
Just last week, impartial analysis from the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) concluded RGGI could nearly quadruple new electricity costs for consumers above the administration’s own year-old projections for the program. The IFO also warned members “those costs would be pushed through to final customers.”
As for environmental benefits, multiple independent reports show emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector declined at a comparable rate to the other 10 RGGI states over the last decade.
The Wolf Administration is attempting to enter this pact through the regulatory process without the approval of the legislature. Every other participating state entered RGGI through the legislative process – not unilateral executive action. A bipartisan majority of legislators has consistently voted against RGGI when the issue has been brought to the floor for a vote.
Senate Votes to Expand Sexual Assault Law to Cover Crimes Against Care-Dependent Pennsylvanians
The Senate voted to expand the law against institutional sexual assault to include assaults by caregivers on care-dependent individuals, closing a loophole that allows perpetrators to escape punishment.
Current law against sexual assault applies to institutions such as prisons, schools and law enforcement. It is premised on the fact that truly consensual sexual acts are not possible where someone is in a position of power over another.
Passage of Senate Bill 704 recognizes the same power disparity exists between caretakers and those in their care. Such individuals face additional challenges to reporting sexual abuse due to the circumstances that make them dependent upon others, including physical or cognitive disabilities, and mental and physical health struggles.
Expanding the law against institutional sexual assault eliminates the loophole that permits perpetrators to falsely claim the victim consented. Senate Bill 704 will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Observing Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Expanding the law against institutional sexual assault is just the latest action taken by the General Assembly to stand together against this vile crime.
In recent years, lawmakers enacted measures strengthening the rights of sexual assault survivors and bolstering their ability to obtain justice.
Need help? Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider.
Pennsylvania Leadership Conference
I was honored to speak at this year’s Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. The Pennsylvania Leadership Conference is an annual conference to discuss new ideas and issues that we are currently facing. I spoke alongside Sue Liebel and Judge Cheryl Allen on the Pro-Life Movement after Dobbs.
Saturday is National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day
It’s commemorated on April 9 because that day in 1942 was the prelude to the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of up to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war. Up to 650 American and 10,000 Filipino soldiers died during the brutal, 65-mile march.
We must never forget the ordeal faced by prisoners of war during captivity and the emotional toll on those fortunate enough to survive.
Out and About in the 30th
Congratulations to the Claysburg Hall of Fame Award winners who were honored at a special ceremony (Blair). I was honored to present citations to Mark Barnhart and NPC, Ernest Diehl (Posthumously), Rev. Taylor and Ella Dively (Posthumously), Clair and Rachel Feather (Posthumously), and Musselman’s Grove – Pioneer Award (Jarret & Ashley Musselman).
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