Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Update on the Forensic Investigation into Elections
  • Standing Firm on Parent Decision Making on Masking in Schools
  • Legislative Review: Combatting Human Trafficking
  • Preserving Services for Seniors & Adults with Disabilities 
  • Senior Advocacy Award  
  • Reducing the Impact of Invasive Species
  • Hearings Begin on Department of State Controversies
  • School Buses are Back on the Roads
  • 162 Years Ago This Week Pennsylvania Strikes Oil
  • Out and About in the 30th

Update on the Forensic Investigation into Elections

Earlier this week the Senate State Government Committee questioned the Acting Secretary of State on the post-election audits.

Since I am not a member of the State Government Committee, I was not able to participate and question her. My colleague Senator Doug Mastriano, who does sit on the committee and has been at the forefront of election integrity, questioned the Acting Secretary’s decision to decertify Fulton County’s voting machines after local officials granted third-party access for a review of their election processes. 

Her action to decertify is very troubling. The election code clearly articulates counties are charged with administering elections and have the authority to investigate irregularities – whether real or perceived.

At the same hearing, the Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid said: “Voters, the election of 2020 is done. It’s over.”

The Wolf Administration continues to disregard the many Pennsylvania voters that have lost faith in our election process including many of you who have reached out.

The case for auditing the election is unmistakably well-defined. In the days and weeks leading up to the election, the Pennsylvania Department of State fundamentally and repeatedly altered the way Pennsylvania’s election were conducted.

The constantly changing guidance delivered to counties not only directly contradicted the Election Code language the department is obligated to uphold, but it also conflicted with the department’s own court filings as well as decisions of both the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

The department systematically worked to undermine the security features embedded in our Election Code. People voting in person were held to a higher standard than those who mailed in their ballots.

A disorderly 2020 General Election was followed by a confusing 2021 Primary Election. We must work to counter the damage that has been done to the integrity and confidence in our election process. I will continue to fight to uphold Pennsylvania law as it was written, not as it was interpreted by a hyper-partisan Department of State or state Supreme Court.

As a member of the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee, I am eager to move forward with this review and get the answers you deserve. As I have stated previously, I continue to support a forensic investigation which Senator Mastriano brought forth and the use of subpoenas where needed.  I assure you that I am doing my best to see this process through to restore election integrity for my constituents and all residents of the Commonwealth.

Standing Firm on Patent Decision Making on Masking in Schools

Huntingdon and Fulton counties are very different from Philadelphia County just as Blair, Cumberland and Franklin counties are very different from Erie County. The circumstances and issues in each of those local communities should drive the decisions there.

I take issue with the Governor calling on the General Assembly to take action. The solution to every issue does not require passing a state law or enacting a statewide mandate and I am grateful that House and Senate leadership have rejected his request.

Masking should be a decision handled by local school boards with parents having a say. Parents are in the best position to weigh the risk of contracting COVID-19 against the impacts of masking including any adverse health effects, inhibited breathing, student psychological development, decreased communication skills with other students and learning impairment.

That is why I am sponsoring a plan to allow parents and legal guardians to “opt out” their children from having to comply with mask mandates because parents have the fundamental right to make health and educational decisions that are best suited for their children.

Legislative Review: Combatting Human Trafficking

The General Assembly enacted several measures in recent years to combat human trafficking. That effort has continued in 2021 with the passage of measures to prevent this hideous practice and help victims.

Act 32 of 2021 prohibits defendants from introducing evidence of a human trafficking victim’s past sexual victimization in any human trafficking prosecution.

Act 38 of 2021 requires that a court consider whether a party or member of that party’s household has been convicted of human trafficking prior to awarding child custody.

Act 45 of 2021 requires any offender that subjected a minor to sexual servitude (human trafficking) to undergo treatment while in prison, helping to reduce recidivism.

Act 52 of 2021 permits expert witnesses in cases of domestic violence and human trafficking.

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

Preserving Services for Seniors & Adults with Disabilities

The Senate Aging & Youth Committee and the Senate Health & Human Services Committee held a joint public hearing with the House Human Services Committee and House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee this week on an issue affecting Pennsylvania seniors and adults with disabilities.

The hearing focused on the intent of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to contract with the firm Maximus US Services as its independent enrollment broker as part of the commonwealth’s Medicaid enrollment process. Members discussed the impact it will have on seniors and adults with disabilities. DHS was unable to testify due to ongoing litigation.

The panels heard about the problems caused by shifting the process from local contacts to an out-of-state vendor. You can view hearing video and testimony here.

Senior Advocacy Award

I am honored to have received the 2021 advocacy award in recognition of my support for the quality of life and care of older Pennsylvanians from Leading Age PA, which serves as the preeminent advocate for facilitating change and inspiring its members to positively impact the field of aging services in Pennsylvania.

Reducing the Impact of Invasive Species

Reducing the impact of invasive species on Pennsylvania’s economy, agriculture and natural resources was the topic of a hearing by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania this week.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan legislative agency made up of Senate and House members, and others, that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

In 2019, the negative economic impact of the spotted lanternfly was estimated to be $13.1 million. Other invasive species include the gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, hydrilla and reed canarygrass.

The panel heard from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center and other experts. You can watch the hearing here.

Hearings Begin on Department of State Controversies

The Senate State Government Committee held the first in a series of hearings reviewing controversial actions recently undertaken by the Department of State. 

The first hearing discussed post-election audits undertaken by the Department of State after the 2020 election with Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid. The panel heard from the acting secretary, Deputy Secretary of Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks and members of the department’s Risk Limiting Audit Work Group.

The State Government Committee will hold five additional hearings prior to the confirmation hearings for Acting Secretary Degraffenreid, covering the following:

  • The failure to advertise a constitutional amendment protecting victims of childhood sexual abuse,
  • the department’s last minute, confusing guidance to counties before the 2020 election,
  • the 2021 Primary ballot questions that were widely criticized as biased,
  • the difficulties experienced by counties during the 2021 Primary,
  • and the lackluster performance of the Pennsylvania Licensing System for doctors and other professionals.  

School Buses are Back on the Roads

Children are returning to school, which means school buses are back on the roads.

Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from school buses that have their red lights flashing and stop arm extended. PennDOT has a breakdown of the state School Bus Stopping Law, as well as tips for parents and students for getting to and from school safely.

162 Years Ago This Week Pennsylvania Strikes Oil

On August 27, 1859, the world’s first commercially successful oil well produced black gold near Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Edwin Drake, a former railroad conductor, encountered so many problems before he succeeded that his well was nicknamed “Drake’s Folly.” His financial backers had quit on him and he took out a loan to keep the project going to completion.

The legacy of the Drake Well was creating unprecedented interest and investment in oil drilling, refining and marketing. Pennsylvania would go on to be a key producer of coal and natural gas, and today includes wind and solar power in its energy portfolio.

Out and About in the 30th 

Congratulations to the Cook Family on the purchase and re-opening of Lajo’s Italian Sausage in downtown Altoona!

I recently learned about the business of making cheese on a tour at the Clover Creek Cheese Cellar in Williamsburg. Thank you to the Blair County Farm Bureau for arranging this experience.

VA Hailed as the Best for Patient Experience

The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center was awarded the Department of Veterans Affairs 2021 Best in Patient Experience Award. The award recognized the facility’s dedication to exceptional Veteran experience. The facility scored the highest in the nation for patient experience, trust, best place to work, with a top overall combined experience score.

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