Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Hearing Examines COVID-19 Policies for the 2021-22 School Year
  • Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality Technology in PA Farming
  • Transparency: Senate Expenses to be Posted Online Beginning Sept. 1
  • Federal Unemployment Benefit Programs End Sept. 4 
  • Legislative Review: Supporting Emergency Responders
  • Out & About in the 30th

Hearing Examines COVID-19 Policies for the 2021-22 School Year

With the start of the new school year approaching, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on COVID-19 policies and guidance for Pennsylvania schools.

The committee questioned Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam, Education Secretary Noe Ortega and Acting Deputy Secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Sherri Smith. Committee members questioned the constitutional authority for school districts to impose pandemic-related mandates on students without an emergency declaration.

I’m not sure we have the evidence that can address the concerns about masking children all day, every day. The parents that I hear from every day have concerns about masking and the long-term effects on learning and their children’s health.

I am Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee and you can watch portions of my questioning.

8/6/21 - Q&A: Secretary of Health Allison Beam and Secretary of Education Noe Ortega

You can view the hearing and read the full hearing here.

Masking should be a decision handled by local school boards with parents having a say due to concerns about adverse health effects, inhibited breathing, student psychological development, decreased communication skills with other students and learning impairment.

I am sponsoring a plan to allow parents and legal guardians to “opt out” their children from having to comply with a school’s mask mandate. The bill would require all school districts to develop (and abide by) a form that will allow parents or legal guardians to sign off on “opting out” their child from a mask mandate. Parents and legal guardians have the fundamental right to make health and educational decisions that are best suited for their children.

Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality Technology in PA Farming

Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, providing a composite view. It’s increasingly used in manufacturing and the military and its potential to aid farmers is great.

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held an informational meeting this week to explore how augmented reality technology can be applied to Pennsylvania farming.

The panel learned that the technology can be used for monitoring fields, repairing equipment, training new farmers, and more. You can view the presentation here.

Transparency: Senate Expenses to be Posted Online Beginning Sept. 1

The Pennsylvania Senate has developed a new reporting system to make all Senate expenses available to the public online beginning on Sept. 1.

The information will include all office leases, per diems, reimbursements for meals and lodging, supplies, mileage, office maintenance and much more. The information will be available on a new webpage, which will be updated monthly by the Chief Clerk and will apply to all Senate offices — Republican, Democrat, Independent and institutional.

The Senate’s new expense transparency system will build on existing good government measures in state government, including:

  • Information on contracts and purchases of $5,000 or more are available via the Pennsylvania Treasury Transparency Portal page – Contracts e-Library Database.
  • The Pennsylvania General Assembly website, which includes information on all roll call votes taken in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as upcoming committee meetings, operating rules, proposed amendments, and a live session feed.
  • Campaign finance reports and search tools from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Federal Unemployment Benefit Programs End Sept. 4

Reminder for affected Pennsylvanians: Federal unemployment benefit programs, including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), will end Sept. 4.

The state’s regular unemployment compensation program and those receiving benefits from it are unaffected.

Individuals currently enrolled in PEUC and PUA can take advantage of free jobseeker services offered through PA CareerLink. These services include access to a free job database, resume assistance, information about reskilling opportunities and more. To schedule an appointment, contact your local PA CareerLink office listed here.

Legislative Review: Supporting Emergency Responders

The police, fire and rescue, and EMS organizations that lead local emergency response are critical components for ensuring public safety. The Senate passed several bills in 2021 to support the men and women who support our communities.

Senate Resolution 96 directs the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to conduct a performance audit on Pennsylvania’s critical 9-1-1 System and make recommendations in advance of the reauthorization of the 9-1-1 Law.

Senate Bill 36 provides for license fee exemptions for service dogs used by a fire department, sheriff’s office or in the performance of rescue services or medical emergency services.

Senate Bill 83 creates grants to establish fire training programs for students in high school.

Senate Bill 158 provides for medals of commendation for law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel.

Senate Bill 243 allows volunteer fire departments, veterans organizations and other non-profits to conduct small games of chance fundraisers online until May 1, 2022 to make up for fundraising revenue lost during the pandemic.

You can find a full list of bills of note passed by the Senate in 2021 here.

Out & About in the 30th

I had a nice time at the Fulton County Youth Livestock Annual Sale. Pictured with me is Cloe Fletcher and her market swine that I purchased in support of the event.

Always a pleasure to visit Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural expo. The show is hosted by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and showcases educational programs, current research, and the latest innovations in agricultural equipment and technology. I was joined by, from left, PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, my intern Aiden Conese and Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

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