Senator Judy Ward E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Election Integrity: Senate Votes to Ban Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes
  • Election Integrity: Senate Acts to Keep Outside Money Away from PA Election Process
  • Senate Education Committee Passes Protecting Women’s Sports Bill
  • Senate Aging and Youth Committee Holds Hearing on Impact of Legalizing Marijuana
  • Child Abuse Prevention Month
  • Senate Boosts Crime Victim Protection and Support
  • Legislation to Aid Rural Remote Working Passes Senate
  • Recognizing Our Nurses
  • Senate Approves Measure to Encourage Responsible Solar Development, Protect Property Owners
  • Harrisburg Happenings
  • Out and About in the 30th
  • Happy Easter
  • Happy Passover

Senate Votes to Ban Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes and Private Funding of Election Operations

The Senate voted this week to safeguard the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections by approving two bills that would prevent the future use of unsecured ballot drop boxes and ban private money to fund election operations. The measures were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

No More Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes

Senate Bill 1200 would require mail-in ballots that are not returned in the mail to be returned only to the County Board of Elections office, effectively eliminating drop boxes in Pennsylvania. 

Drop boxes were permitted by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2020, despite the fact that they were never authorized or intended by the General Assembly through the legislative process. Since that time, numerous examples of drop boxes being misused have been discovered throughout the state, including:

  • Video evidence from Lehigh County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
  • Video evidence from Lackawanna County showing a man allegedly harvesting multiple ballots into a drop box during the 2021 Primary Election.
  • Video evidence from Montgomery County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
  • Memorandum from Lehigh County explaining how detectives reviewed video from four different drop boxes in the county and determined there were overvotes at each of the locations.
  • Testimony from a Luzerne County Judge of Elections indicating an individual admitting to repeatedly harvesting ballots at a drop box, not realizing it was even illegal.

Eliminating unsecured ballot drop boxes will not negatively impact voter access. There are more than 10,000 publicly available locations across the Commonwealth that voters can use to return their ballots.

Keep Outside Money Away from PA Election Process

Senate Bill 982 would ban any state employee or county from accepting money from outside groups to pay for the administration of elections in Pennsylvania.

The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election. Correspondence between CTCL officials, the Wolf Administration and county officials demonstrates that funding was intentionally directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.

Democrat-leaning counties were selectively invited to apply for the grants before Republican-leaning counties were even made aware of the funding. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties received more than $18 million from CTCL in the 2020 Election, while other counties received significantly less.

For example, Philadelphia received $8.83 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020. On the other side of the state, Venango County, with a Republican voter registration advantage, received only $.64 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020.

It was never the intent of the legislature to establish rogue election facilities on public street corners with pop-up tents, or in cars, trucks, and vans and without Board of Elections oversight while allowing outside third party entities to pay for them in areas of their choice.

The steps the Senate took with SB 1200 and SB 982 are a significant step towards ensuring the vote of Pennsylvanians is secure.

Senate Education Committee Passes Protecting Women’s Sports Bill

The Senate Education Committee advanced a measure to establish the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which Senator Phillips-Hill and I were proud to introduce.

Senate Bill 1191 would prohibit students of the male sex, which the bill defines as the biological distinction between male and female based on reproductive biology and genetic make-up, from participating in athletic teams or sports that are designed for women or girls.

I am grateful to the Education Committee for passing this important piece of legislation. Women of all ages deserve a fair chance to succeed and achieve. This piece of legislation ensures that our young women will be able to pursue the life changing opportunities that sport provides.

The bill would also prohibit a government entity or licensing, accrediting or athletic organization from entertaining a complaint, opening an investigation, or taking adverse action against a school entity or public institution of higher education for maintaining separate teams or sports for students of the female sex.

Having received support from the Senate Education Committee, the bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Aging and Youth Committee Holds Hearing on Impact of Legalizing Marijuana

As Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, we convened a public hearing today to discuss the impact of adult-use marijuana legalization on children.

Pennsylvania has already legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but this would be a step in the wrong direction for the Commonwealth. Before taking this step, I strongly believe that we must thoroughly vet all aspects of the issue including the potential impact of this decision on our children and young adults.

Experts from law enforcement, addiction treatment, public health and youth organizations testified about the negative outcomes associated with legalized adult-use marijuana markets across the country.  Together their testimony painted a troubling picture of what could happen to our children and youth if a legal marijuana market develops in Pennsylvania.  The hearing provided valuable insight that pushed back against the misconception of “harmless” marijuana.

The hearing was incredibly thought provoking. There are no doubt dangers associated with marijuana, and we need to be careful.  As an elected official it is my duty to take these dangers seriously and develop policy that promotes a safe and healthy Pennsylvania.

The hearing in its entirety and submitted testimony can be viewed on the Senate Aging & Youth Committee’s website.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

4/12/22 - Child Abuse Month

Senate Boosts Crime Victim Protection and Support

The Senate approved a package of bills aiding crime victims by providing stronger protections, increasing support and improving access to services. The bills now advance to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 1179 extends the Domestic and Sexual Violence Victim Address Confidentiality Act to give victims of child abduction and human trafficking access to substitute mailing addresses and allows applications for address confidentiality to be submitted electronically.

Senate Bill 118 expands Megan’s Law to require offenders convicted of any sex trafficking-related offenses to register.

Senate Bill 1040 requires law enforcement to make reasonable efforts to ensure a murder victim’s family has been notified before releasing the victim’s identity to the public and media.

Senate Bill 1172 expands access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to better provide quality care for victims. SANEs have specialized training in trauma and forensic nursing and are vital to a complete care system for survivors of sexual assault.

Legislation to Aid Rural Remote Working Passes Senate

Legislation to help more rural Pennsylvania communities establish remote workplace facilities was approved by the Senate. It now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 962 would create the Rural Co-Working and Innovation Centers Grant Program within the Department of Community and Economic Development to help rural communities create facilities equipped with high-speed broadband, furniture, and security systems for teleworkers. 

According to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 48 out of 67 counties and 1,592 municipalities are rural and could benefit from this program.

Recognizing Our Nurses

4/13/22 - Nurses Week 

Senate Approves Measure to Encourage Responsible Solar Development, Protect Property Owners

The Senate approved a proposal that would establish decommissioning and financial requirements for solar generation projects going out of service and offer better protections for landowners.

Senate Bill 284 includes a graduated, phase-in process for financial assurances, setting up five-year benchmarks using third-party professional engineers to assess and calculate fair market value of the project and costs to decommission it.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Harrisburg Happenings

I had a great time welcoming St. Thomas Elementary School to the Capitol this last week. I hope they had a wonderful tour and a good day in Harrisburg.

Out and About in the 30th

I was so proud to present a Senate Citation to Alexander Fix from Blair County for his Eagle Scout Award. Alex’s community service project was to put two bee hives at the Ruffles Gap Sportsmen’s Club to facilitate pollination.

Happy Easter

Happy Passover

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