Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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In This Update:

  • My Legislation to Boost Community-Based Health Care Heads to the Governor’s Desk
  • Lawmakers and Education Advocates Voice Support for Back on Track Scholarships
  • Legislation Offers Relief for Rural Pharmacies
  • State Funding Supports Local Water, Energy Efficiency Projects
  • Senate Votes to Boost Fire and EMS Services Throughout PA
  • Legislation Moves Forward to Ensure Safe Visitation of Nursing Home Residents
  • Bill to Improve COVID-19 Reporting Move to Governor’s Desk
  • Senate Advances Measures to Boost Availability of Broadband
  • Bill Could Help More Pennsylvanians Benefit from Clean Slate
  • Frankstown Road Improvement Project

My Legislation to Boost Community-Based Health Care Heads to the Governor’s Desk

Community-based health centers meet the needs of many patients in underserved areas, and in some regions, they are the only providers capable of meeting the demand for services. A bill I authored to improve the Community-Based Health Care Program was sent to the governor this week to be signed into law.

Under current law, funding for federally qualified health centers and similar facilities is capped at 25 percent of the total amount of funding distributed by the program. My bill would remove this cap and ensure all applications can be considered in a competitive review process. This approach would ensure the facilities in the best position to serve patients would receive funding, regardless of the type of provider.

More details about my bill are available here.

Lawmakers and Education Advocates Voice Support for Back on Track Scholarships

I was pleased to join my fellow lawmakers,  education advocates and parents for a news conference at the Capitol this week in support of Senate Bill 1230 and House Bill 2696, legislation I introduced with Representative Clint Owlett to ensure Pennsylvania students have the resources they need to succeed.

Our legislation would create Back on Track education scholarship accounts (ESAs) for the families who are in need of additional learning support during these difficult times. These scholarships would provide a lifeline to students.  For those in public school, parents can use these ESA’s to get their kids the individualized help they need to succeed through tutoring or curriculum support.

For those in private schools who will have trouble staying there due to reduced family incomes. Back on Track ESAs can help them remain in their current school.

Under the legislation, parents would receive $1,000 per child in the scholarship account, which would come from a portion of the Commonwealth’s federal CARES Act funds. Priority would be given to students from low-income families who are at the greatest risk of falling behind in their studies without these resources.  We can better support educators and parents by providing extra targeted financial support to enhance our students’ learning experiences.

More information about our legislation is available here.

Legislation Offers Relief for Rural Pharmacies

In recent years, I have heard from many rural community pharmacies enduring cuts to reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers. Last month, I requested a Senate Majority Policy Committee workshop discussion in Blair County to take a closer look at this issue to ensure these pharmacies do not go out of business.

During the discussion, testifiers pointed out that the reimbursement rates they received were lower than the cost of the drug in some cases, forcing pharmacies to operate in the red.

The Senate approved legislation this week that I have advocated for that would support struggling rural pharmacies by improving pricing transparency for prescription drugs in the Medicaid program. The bill also calls for a legislative study to be conducted that will examine the reimbursement mechanisms  concerning the full cost of prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

The bill builds on recent progress to protect prescription drug consumers. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved the Consumer Prescription Drug Pricing and Freedom Disclosure Act to allow a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide information about the cost of a prescription drug to consumers, including the individual’s share of costs.

State Funding Supports Local Water, Energy Efficiency Projects

Three grants and/or loans were awarded this week to support water and energy efficiency projects in communities throughout the region. The funding was awarded by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST), which was created by lawmakers in 1988 to provide financial assistance to support community sewer, storm water and drinking water projects.

The projects include:

 It was an honor to accept the “Senate Legislator of the Year” Award from the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) for getting my Act 19 of 2019 signed into law.  This law expands Pennsylvanians’ access to psychology services especially in rural areas.

Senate Votes to Boost Fire and EMS Services Throughout PA

Our communities are fortunate to have many brave men and women who dedicate their time and efforts as first responders to protect our lives and property. The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms this week to support our first responders and improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state.

The bill contains key improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

Legislation was also approved this week to increase funding to the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund by approximately $11 million.

The reforms were based on recommendations included in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report that was created to explore ways to better support fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania.

Legislation Moves Forward to Ensure Safe Visitation of Nursing Home Residents

Many Pennsylvania families faced COVID-19 restrictions that prevented them from visiting loved ones for months – even when all state and federal safety protocols could have been followed. The Senate approved legislation this week to ensure safe visitation and enhanced care for residents of long-term care facilities.

The bill would require facilities to designate at least one essential family caregiver per resident that would be permitted to visit and care for a loved one during a disaster emergency. Under the bill, caregivers would be able to remain in contact with family members and provide companionship and assist with activities requiring one-on-one direction.

Bill to Improve COVID-19 Reporting Move to Governor’s Desk

Under the legislation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local health agencies would be required to notify 911 centers of the address of any known positive case of a communicable, aerosolized and transmissible disease. The legislation would ensure the information is provided to law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical services personnel, medical examiners and coroners when they are called to carry out an essential job function at the address.

Senate Advances Measures to Boost Availability of Broadband

The Senate approved two bills this week to boost the state’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband internet coverage to more unserved and underserved areas in rural Pennsylvania. The bills are designed to reduce regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and make better use of existing infrastructure to expand coverage to a broader number of communities.

One of the bills would reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment by modernizing the Public Utility Code and requiring the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review and waive regulations that are no longer necessary or in the public interest.

Another bill would make broader use of existing infrastructure to further deploy broadband in areas that lack coverage. The legislation would allow electric cooperatives to utilize existing utility poles to place fiber-optic lines if the placement does not adversely affect the value or use of the property.

Bill Could Help More Pennsylvanians Benefit from Clean Slate

The Senate approved a key criminal justice reform bill this week that would allow more Pennsylvanians to have criminal records expunged if they receive a pardon or are not convicted of a crime. The measure would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records if all court-ordered restitution is paid.

Under current law, an individual who receives a pardon or is not convicted of a crime still must pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees to file for expungement. This bill would remove a serious barrier to employment, housing, education and other critical services for individuals who are otherwise unable to complete the process of criminal record expungement.

It was such a pleasure to be part of and provide a legislative update at the Franklin County Government Affairs Breakfast.

Frankstown Road Improvement Project

PennDOT District 9-0 is currently asking members of the public to share their experiences regarding safety and mobility along Frankstown Road between State Route 36 and Amelia Avenue in Altoona, PA. In order to help shape local transportation improvements that will improve safety while fostering community growth and development, the public is urged to provide input through the survey at:

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