Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Senate Bill 846 Masking Opt-Out Legislation voted out of Education Committee
  • Senate Education Committee Approves My Bill to Allow Certain Nurse-Aide Training to be Completed Online
  • Senate Committee Approves My Bill to Cut Red Tape, Expand Options for Ambulatory Surgical Centers
  • Legislature Approves Extension of Pandemic Waivers of Government Regulations
  • Senate Acts to Prevent Repeat of Botched Constitutional Amendment Process
  • Program to Battle Opioid Abuse Extended by Senate
  • Senate Passes Measures to Help Pennsylvania Farmers Move Goods
  • Domestic Violence: Identifying the Signs and Getting Help
  • Flu Shots Available in Blair County
  • Out and About in the 30th

Senate Bill 846 Masking Opt-Out Legislation Voted Out of Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee approved SB 846, which I co-authored, that provides parental control over masking decisions in schools. Parents throughout our districts have echoed their concerns about the negative impacts of mask-wearing on their children. My office has been overwhelmed with calls and emails from parents so upset with the masking mandate from the Wolf administration and their school districts. Passage of this bill will give rights back to the parents and legal guardians to do what they know is best for their children

Click here to view My remarks.

Senate Education Committee Approves My Bill to Allow Certain Nurse-Aide Training to be Completed Online

While learning has traditionally taken place in a bricks-and-mortar classroom, times have changed. We’ve all seen the increased role that online education plays in learning. We need to update the current program requirements for nurse aide training to give individuals the ability to take courses online in satisfying the theory and lab portions of their instruction.

Senate Bill 729 would authorize online delivery for the classroom and theory components of the state-approved certified nurse-aide (CNA) training program and blended delivery for the lab or clinical component of the training. The state-approved nurse-aide training program is currently comprised of at least 120 hours of in-class and clinical training.

This revision allows more individuals who have an interest in being a CNA to consider it by taking classes online and help address a long-standing labor shortage issue that the nursing home industry has been facing.  Online instruction offers individuals the flexibility of taking classes on their own schedule and the convenience of completing assignments from home.

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

WATCH: My remarks on Senate Bill 729 

Senate Committee Approves My Bill to Cut Red Tape, Expand Options for Ambulatory Surgical Centers

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved my bill to cut red tape and expand options for ambulatory surgical centers (ASC).

Pennsylvania’s regulations covering ASCs have not been updated since the 1990s, despite considerable advances in technology and health care delivery since then. My bill allows ASCs to perform procedures permitted by the federal government without subjecting the centers to the time-consuming and burdensome exception process. By making these important revisions, we will not only improve access to care throughout the Commonwealth, but also lower the cost of that care.

ASCs are health care facilities focused on providing same-day surgical care, including diagnostic and preventive procedures. Senate Bill 818 updates the regulations to include procedures on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) procedures list. If the procedure is not on the CMS list, the center may then seek a waiver or exception from the state Department of Health. Other neighboring states treat ACSs in this manner.

These procedures can be safely performed in an ASC at a lower cost than in a conventional hospital setting. In some cases, the cost of the procedure is 40 percent less in an ASC than in a hospital – a significant savings.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Legislature Approves Extension of Pandemic Waivers of Government Regulations

The Senate voted to extend waivers of an array of regulatory statutes, rules and regulations to aid in Pennsylvania’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law.

The waivers affecting health and human services, as well as consumers and employees, were due to expire Thursday. Enactment of the legislation would extend the waivers until March 31, 2022.

In May, voters stripped Gov. Tom Wolf of the authority he claimed to extend emergency declarations without approval of the General Assembly. Delivering on a promise to the people that we work better together, the General Assembly initially extended these waivers as part of the budget in June.

Approval of the following waivers is critical to providing flexibility in managing the pandemic during a workforce shortage crisis:

Waivers Benefiting Consumers and Employees

  • Suspending the requirements for initial patient evaluations for buprenorphine narcotics treatment to be completed via telehealth.
  • Allowing up to 28 days of take-home medications for patients on stable dosages if deemed appropriate by their physician.
  • Quicker access to home health care and home care services by allowing nurse practitioners to sign eligibility forms.
  • Telehealth access for individuals seeking behavioral and mental health services.
  • Flexibilities for visitation in foster care and group home settings for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Temporary removal of barriers to employment by waiving in-person meetings and allowing electronic signature requirements.
  • Flexibility in scheduling and notice for unemployment compensation hearings.
  • Allowing for telephonic testimony and use of documents in unemployment compensation referee hearings. 

Waivers Aiding the Work of Health Care Facilities and Services

  • The ability for acute care hospitals to use alternative locations for overflow, quarantining, and surveillance efforts to help manage the influx of patients in their emergency departments.
  • Flexibilities in staffing health care facilities.
  • The ability for pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Reimbursement for those providing telehealth through the Medical Assistance program.
  • The ability to maintain COVID-19 surveillance efforts within child care and congregate settings to reduce spread and respond to outbreaks.

Senate Acts to Prevent Repeat of Botched Constitutional Amendment Process

The Senate approved two measures aimed at preventing a repeat of the Pennsylvania Department of State’s devastating failure to carry out a proposed constitutional amendment to help victims of sexual abuse.

In the 2019-20 session, the General Assembly approved a proposed constitutional amendment, which would have given voters the opportunity to decide if a two-year window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file litigation against their abusers should be created. The Department of State admitted earlier this year that it failed to properly advertise the proposed constitutional amendment, preventing the issue from going before voters and forcing the entire effort to be restarted.

One measure would require the Department of State to create a publicly accessible website to provide Pennsylvanians a transparent way to track every step of the constitutional amendment process, including:

  • A copy of the notice and constitutionally required deadline.
  • A listing of every newspaper in which the constitutional amendment notice was published and the date of said publication.
  • The earliest possible Election Day it may be considered by voters.

A second bill would require formal training for the Department’s employees regarding their legislative responsibilities and the constitutional amendment process.

A 68-page Inspector General report on the botched handling of the constitutional amendment showed that some Department of State staff lack the formal training needed to properly handle their responsibilities with legislation.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Program to Battle Opioid Abuse Extended by Senate

The Senate approved a bill that continues a program designed to help doctors and pharmacists battle opioid abuse. The program, set to expire on June 30, 2022, would be extended until Dec. 31, 2028. The bill now goes to the governor for enactment.

The measure extends the successful Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions (ABC-MAP) program that allows access to a patient’s prescription medication history through an electronic system to those who prescribe medications and those who dispense medication.

Electronic access to a patient’s prescription medication history allows doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals to better treat patients. ABC-MAP enables opioid prescribers and dispensers to identify warning signs of abuse including “doctor shopping” and “pharmacy shopping” that occurs when patients attempt to obtain opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors or pharmacies.

Senate Passes Measures to Help Pennsylvania Farmers Move Goods

The Senate passed two measures to help Pennsylvania farmers make home deliveries and meet other transportation needs. The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

One bill would enable a farmer to register a farm vehicle for the delivery of milk and other agricultural products to both businesses and homes. Under current law, a farmer is required to purchase, register and maintain a separate commercial vehicle for home deliveries while also maintaining a farm vehicle to deliver products to businesses.

Another measure would allow farmers to use a Class A, B or C driver’s license when operating farm vehicles with a combined weight of more than 26,000 pounds on roadways.

Act 170 of 2014 clarified that farmers did not need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when operating farm trucks, or farm trucks hauling trailers, with a combined weight of more than 26,000 pounds. However, it was unclear as to whether a farmer could use a Class B, Class C or Class A driver’s license when operating those vehicles. A Class A driver’s license is a graduated license above the common Class C license and requires an additional road test and fee. 

Domestic Violence: Identifying the Signs and Getting Help

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Help is available if you’re experiencing abuse or concerned about a friend or family member:

Call: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

Text: START to 88788

Chat: At National Domestic Violence Hotline

You can find out how to identify abuse, plan for your safety or help others. You don’t have to take it, and you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Flu Shots Available in Blair County

Primary Health Network will be offering free drive-thru COVID testing and Flu Shots the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month from 1:30pm – 2:30 pm at Blair County Community Action.

The office is located at 2301 Beale Avenue, Altoona, PA 16601. If you are interested in a flu shot, please bring a copy of your insurance and driver’s license or identification.

Out and About in the 30th

Each year I sponsor the A.B. Ross Leadership Program, which provides 4-H students in my district a day of education on a topic facing the agricultural industry . This year’s topic was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — the Insects of Agriculture. Penn State Extension, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and 4-H program leaders led the students in several learning stations outdoors at Raystown Lake. I am thankful for the partnership with these groups that helped make this year’s event an enjoyable experience for the students.  

The March for Life Rally at the Capitol this week was an amazing event. What an incredible turnout and it was wonderful to visit with my friends from Blair County!  Thank you for supporting life.

The Blair County Chamber of Commerce held their annual Down on the Farm event last evening at the Kulp Family Dairy Farm in Martinsburg. I presented a citation to the Kulp family in memory of Larry Kulp, who passed away in December. Larry operated the farm for over two decades. He was admired and respected for his legacy of success and contribution to the agricultural community. All who knew him will remember him as a kind and caring person.


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