In this Update:
Veterans Appreciation Dessert Social
Senate Approves Bill to Add More Fire Instructors
The PA Senate approved a bill I introduced, Senate Bill 423, that would enable the state to hire more part-time fire instructors by removing a hurdle standing in the way.
I’m excited that the Senate was able to pass my bill to remove an obstacle that prevents qualified fire instructors from returning to perform part-time work. Many of these fire instructors have years of experience they could share with the firefighters they would teach, but the current pension rules prevent them from teaching after a certain point and fully utilizing that experience.
State workers who retire and begin collecting a pension through the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) cannot return to work for the state, including as a fire instructor, without halting their pension payments.
Fire companies across the state are struggling with workforce shortages and are having trouble finding qualified fire fighters. This legislation would help to put more highly trained firefighters in the communities that desperately need them.
Senate Bill 423 would enable retired state employees to serve as part-time, state-certified fire instructors while continuing to collect their SERS pensions.
The retirees’ part-time service as fire instructors would not enhance their pension benefits.
This bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. Last session the legislation was able to receive passage in both chambers, but the session ended before it could be considered for a concurrence vote.
Many times, good governing and fiscal responsibility require balancing a multitude of interests and priorities. When the Senate voted on House Bill 1300, our proposal for this current budget’s Fiscal Code, I believed that bill did that prudently and responsibly. As the debate continues on how to best allocate all of the state’s resources, I will continue to prioritize programs to ensure the solvency of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the success of outdoor recreation and sportsmen activities.
Like all budgets and the corresponding code legislation, legislators vote on the entire piece of legislation, not individual provisions. While there are individual provisions in budgets or code bills that may not receive passage on their own, those provisions are part of a larger package, that when taken together, represent a product that can gather the needed bipartisan support from both chambers and the Governor, is financially responsible in the short and long term, and moves Pennsylvania forward.
When House Bill 1300 came up for a vote in the Senate, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) was sitting on a fund balance of over $525 million dollars. For context, from 2015 through the end of 2021, they operated with a fund balance ranging from $40 million to $150 million depending on the year. Even with the transfer, they would still have had hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve, well above their average in the years leading up to 2022. With a 350% fund balance based off their highest expenditures in recent years, using some of that money to help meet a federal mandate rather than raise taxes or take money from less solvent funds seemed like the reasonable thing to do.
The transfer would not necessarily cause a loss of federal Pittman-Robertson funds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has discretion as to whether to remove funding for “violations” of the Act; it’s not mandatory. Again, it seemed reasonable to think the use of these PGC funds towards environmental preservation and clean streams could fit within the requirements to receive those federal dollars and the overall mission of the PGC.
When I voted on House Bill 1300, it contained a variety of provisions needed to fully enact this year’s budget. Without the passage of that legislation, many programs and services could have to go unfunded. To not pass this legislation and leave countless programs unfunded solely because of a seemingly harmless one-time fund transfer from a fund that has more than it needs to operate seemed irresponsible.
Recently, House Bill 1300 has passed the House and has been returned to the Senate for concurrence. While in the House several changes were made to the bill, one of those being the elimination of the PGC fund transfer. House Bill 1300 is still being negotiated by the House Democrats and the Senate Republican leadership, and we will continue to work on that legislation in a way that ensures PGC money is used and managed responsibly and wisely.
Senate Committee Approves Bill to Expand Wine and Spirit Options for Customers
My bill would ensure customers have access to a wider selection of wines and spirits when they eat at restaurants and taverns. This is a commonsense approach to ensure that products in high demand are available to consumers and to prevent suppliers from being penalized for being too successful.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) may restrict the sale of any product directly from suppliers to liquor licensees through the special-order wine and spirit sales system. Under the current regulatory scheme, the PLCB can change the threshold at any time.
Businesses need certainty, and this legislation provides concrete guidelines for restaurants and taverns when it comes to the special-order system. This will prevent arbitrary changes by the Liquor Control Board to the special-order limit from removing staple products that restaurants and taverns depend on to provide the service their customers expect.
Senate Bill 882 would enable suppliers to sell 72,000 bottles through the special order channel before the PLCB could prohibit additional orders. The bill also sets the timetable for measuring those sales for the calendar year.
This bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
March for Life Rally
The 2023 Pennsylvania March for Life is in the books, and it was an amazing event. I was blessed to be able to kick off the day by leading everyone in the pledge of allegiance. I loved seeing so many other people gathered to support life, and I’m already looking forward to next year.
Senate Backs Israel, Condemns Hamas
Following the murderous attacks of innocent people by the terrorist group Hamas, the Senate approved a resolution condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 carnage.
Senate Resolution 185 shows Pennsylvania’s support of the Jewish people as they defend against this terrorist threat. It says that we stand “firmly with the people of Israel and their right to defend themselves.” It labels the attacks by Hamas as “shocking, barbaric and evil,” further adding they “amount to war crimes of the worst kind.”
The resolution further stipulates, “Israel has every right to defend itself with all due force” and noted Pennsylvania’s “special relationship” with Israel since the country declared independence in 1948.
Senate Advances Critical Support for EMS, Hospitals and Nursing Homes
This week, the Senate approved legislation advancing critical public health components of the budget process.
Passage of House Bill 1351 addresses the crucial public health needs for emergency medical services, hospitals and nursing homes and ensures Pennsylvanians continue to receive access to needed health care services.
Empowering Parents to Control Sexually Explicit Content for Their Children
The Senate Education Committee advanced a bill to provide parental control of student exposure to sexually explicit content, which Pennsylvanians over the age of 18 can view examples of here, in schools. Prior to the vote, the committee held a public hearing on the measure.
Senate Bill 7 would require schools to:
Importantly, Senate Bill 7 would not ban any books from any Pennsylvania school curriculum or library, but rather empower parents to control only what their own children have access to in school. Empowering parents and families is a priority of the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.
Bill Enhancing School Bus Safety Receives Senate Support
The Senate passed a bill to improve school bus safety by increasing penalties for those refusing to follow the law.
Senate Bill 897 would give judges the discretion to increase fines above the current $250 for refusing to stop for a school bus when red lights are flashing or a stop arm is extended. It would also require repeat offenders to complete a PennDOT Driving Improvement School. Additionally, it would establish a new penalty for individuals who fail to proceed with caution past a school bus with flashing amber lights.
According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, approximately 1,000 drivers annually are convicted of passing a stopped school bus with signals flashing. Many more citations are issued without resulting in a conviction.
Last Chance to Register to Vote in the Nov. 7 Election
If you wish to vote on Election Day on Nov. 7, you must be registered to vote by Monday, Oct. 23.
There are four ways to register to vote: online, by mail, in person at your county voter registration office and at PennDOT and some other government agencies.
Find the details about each of these methods here.
Recognizing National Cybersecurity Awareness Month
In October, we focus on staying safe online by taking steps to protect personal data. Simple steps you can take include using strong passwords, using multifactor authentication, recognizing and reporting phishing, and updating software.
My colleagues and I are also working to put measures in place that will better shield you from online threats. Senate Bill 565 would protect students’ personal data from unauthorized or inappropriate disclosure.
Other legislative measures would safeguard the state’s online assets. Senate Bill 563 would establish that commonwealth agencies have strong capabilities in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks. Senate Bill 284 would establish a standalone Office of Information Technology (OIT) under the Office of Administration. The OIT would create a strategic plan for future IT projects across state government, as well as manage and maintain all future IT procurement within state agencies.
Out and About in the 30th
I am grateful for Crossroads Pregnancy Centers, who offer valuable resources and services to pregnant women and new mothers. Under the direction of Cindy Mansberger, the centers span over several counties in Pennsylvania. Services are available in Altoona, Lewistown, Mount Union, Huntingdon, and Mifflintown. Several hundred people attended their fundraising banquet this week in support of these centers.
Congratulations to Virginia “Ginny” Helsel on being the 2023 Citizen of the Year awarded by the Borough of Hollidaysburg! Borough Mayor, Joe Dodson, presented Ginny with a plaque and I was delighted to present Ginny with a Senate citation. Ginny’s contributions to our community are immeasurable.
I had a nice visit with Lee Vickroy from McConnellsburg (Fulton County).
This week my office hosted a Small Games of Chance workshop at the Tyrone Elks Lodge #212. Trooper Mirabella and Trooper Hochrein had a great presentation on identifying fake IDs, Small Games of Chance applications, and how to stay in compliance. Thank you to everyone who participated in this great event.
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