In This Update:
Senate Approves Bill to Provide Certification to Temporary Nurse Aides
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania authorized individuals to be hired as nurse aides on a temporary basis to meet the new and unprecedented needs in the health care industry during the public health emergency. Unfortunately, under current law these individuals will no longer be able to work as nurse aides once these temporary provisions expire.
The Senate approved a bill this week I sponsored to correct this problem by amending the law to deem temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 emergency declaration to have satisfied the necessary training and testing requirements to be certified to work as a nurse aide on a permanent basis. The bill would offer a path to full-time employment for those who have served admirably and compassionately caring for our most vulnerable citizens during these challenging times.
More information about my bill is available here.
Committee Examines Bill to Give Students New Resources to Succeed
As Pennsylvania continues to navigate the challenges posed by COVID-19, it has never been more important for students and families to have flexible education options for at-home learning. The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing this week to take a closer look at legislation I am sponsoring that would ensure children in Pennsylvania will have access to the educational resources they need to succeed.
The committee heard testimony from education experts and advocates throughout Pennsylvania about a proposal I introduced with Representative Clint Owlett to create Back on Track Education Scholarship Accounts to empower parents by providing funding to offset educational costs for their school-age children in grades K-12. The special accounts would help families pay for educational needs such as tutoring, online classes, curriculum, tuition, counseling, and services for students with special needs.
Legislation Would Protect Pennsylvania Monuments
The desecration of historical monuments diminishes our heritage and threatens our ability to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. I was pleased to join Senator Doug Mastriano this week for a news conference in support of legislation we have introduced to protect public monuments, memorials and statues from destruction or vandalism.
You can watch the full news conference here.
Update on Audit Details Glaring Inconsistencies in Governor’s Business Waiver System
At the request of state lawmakers and business owners throughout the state, the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General is taking a closer look at Governor Wolf’s deeply flawed waiver system that determined which businesses were forced to remain shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the audit is still ongoing, a status update that was released by the Auditor General this week detailed glaring inconsistencies in the way the waiver system was handled.
According to the Auditor General, “The waiver program appeared to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
The update also noted that the waiver system was “remarkably subjective,” and in many cases the approval or denial of applications depended heavily on the individual reviewing the application. Approximately 500 businesses received responses that were later reversed by the Department of Community and Economic Development, including 171 waiver applicants that were initially denied and forced to remain closed longer than necessary before finally receiving approval to reopen.
I will provide further updates on this issue when the audit is completed.
Expanded Indoor and Outdoor Gathering Limits Announced
A federal judge ruled last month that the Wolf Administration’s limits on gatherings were unconstitutional. However, a federal court ruled last week that the limitations should remain in place while the governor pursues an appeal.
While these issues are resolved in court, the Wolf Administration updated its guidance on gatherings this week to allow for greater attendance at events that are held at larger venues. The new gathering limits are based on the occupancy limits of the venue.
The Wolf Administration’s new guidance still requires attendees to wear a mask and practice social distancing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance to help event planners take the proper precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Senate leaders repeated concerns about Governor Wolf’s go-it-alone approach to most aspects of the state’s response to the pandemic and called for greater clarity and local decision-making power for schools and communities who are best positioned to protect their students and neighbors.
Legislation to Crack Down on Child Pornography Earns Senate Approval
Legislation was approved in the Senate this week to strengthen penalties for the heinous crime of child pornography and create a new task force to help prevent children from being victimized in the future. The legislation would boost penalties in all cases of child pornography in which the child is under the age of 10 or prepubescent.
In addition, the bill would create a special Task Force on Child Pornography to review all laws pertaining to child pornography and make recommendations to improve the investigation and prosecution of offenders to ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable for the tremendous damages they cause.
Senate Passes Comprehensive Information Technology Overhaul
Information technology (IT) plays a critical role in the operations of all state agencies, and inadequate IT systems in state government can impact citizens in a variety of ways. The Senate approved legislation this week that would strengthen, secure and consolidate state government IT systems while saving taxpayer dollars.
The legislation would seek to correct issues like the 1950s computer programming language still utilized by the Department of Labor and Industry, the vulnerability of state IT systems to cyberattacks and data breaches, and the lack of a strategic plan for future updates to keep pace with the demands of Pennsylvanians. The bill is estimated to save taxpayers as much as $32 million annually.