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In this email update:
Moratorium on the death penalty likely to stay in place?
There is currently a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, which was put into place by Governor Wolf on February 13, 2015. Governor Wolf declared this halt on the death penalty because he believed the system was flawed, costly, ineffective and unjust.
The last execution that took place in Pennsylvania was in 1999, and our state has only executed three people since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.
With this moratorium in place, many people are wondering what will happen moving forward, particularly with the recent death sentence for Eric Frein.
On September 12, 2014, Eric Frein murdered State Police trooper Cpl. Bryon Dickson, II and permanently disabled Trooper Alex Douglass when he shot both of them at the Blooming Grove barracks in the Pocono Mountains.
As a result of Frein’s formal sentencing, Capitolwire, an online news service covering Pennsylvania politics and government, asked the Wolf Administration if the governor would lift the ban on executions, specifically for Frein. They did not receive an answer. The Associated Press, however, received a response from a spokesperson for the governor saying that the governor’s decision to issue temporary reprieves while a PA Senate task force examines the death penalty in the state does not mean that there is sympathy for guilty individuals who are on death row.
The PA Senate task force referenced by the governor’s spokesperson was created as a result of PA Senate Resolution 6 during the 2011-12 legislative session. Senate Resolution 6 established a bipartisan task force and an advisory committee tasked with the responsibility of studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania and to report their findings and recommendations regarding the impact of the death sentence on deterring criminal behavior and protecting the public. Read more about the resolution here.
Update: School property tax elimination
On Thursday, I met with Senator Mike Folmer, Representative Jim Cox and several key grassroots advocates who drafted and support Senate Bill 76, the Property Tax Independence Act. We discussed how we can garner enough support in the Senate and the House, as well as the support of the governor.
Earlier this week, I also spoke with Governor Wolf on the phone, and while we still do not have agreement on the details, we do have agreement that we need to eliminate school property taxes.
I'm encouraged by the enthusiasm behind the proposal but am not under any illusion that this will be an easy goal. One of the key discussions during our Thursday meeting was how to best handle the aggressive opposition fighting us every step of the way.
Bill to establish Charter School Advisory Commission
I recently signed on as a co-sponsor to Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) and Senator Randy Vulakovich’s (R-Allegheny) legislation that would create a Charter School Advisory Commission. This commission would be tasked with the duties of examining and making recommendations on charter and cyber charter school funding.
This type of legislation is important in order to find ways to improve our current Charter School law, as well as identify cost-savings for our school districts and taxpayers.
Legislation to create a DHHS Legislative Oversight Commission
I am co-sponsoring Senator Michele Brooks’ (R-Crawford/Erie/Mercer/Warren) legislation which would create a Department of Health and Human Services Legislative Oversight Commission.
With discussions about the potential consolidation between the Pennsylvania Departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs, the commission will be responsible for overseeing this process. The commission will meet regularly to examine testimony from stakeholders, review what other states have done with regards to consolidation and offer recommendations to the General Assembly.
The goal of establishing a commission to oversee this potential merger is to help foster transparency and accountability throughout the process.
The Pennsylvania Economy League breakfast on school property tax reform
Thursday morning, I attended the Pennsylvania Economy League’s Berks County breakfast to discuss the Property Tax Independence Act.
During this event, I outlined the bill which seeks to completely eliminate the burdensome school property tax that so many residents here in Berks and Schuylkill counties and across the state would like to see gone for good. I also clarified any myths or misunderstandings that people have about the initiative.
In November 2015, the Lt. Governor cast the critical 24-24 tiebreaking vote in the Senate against the measure that would eliminate the burdensome school property tax that so many of you want to see gone.
GRCEDC Workforce Development & Education Summit
On Thursday, May 11, the Greater Reading Chamber & Economic Development Corporation (GRCEDC) will be presenting the 2017 State of the Community: Workforce Development & Education Summit in Reading.
The summit will provide attendees with the opportunity to hear from several professionals in a variety of industries about workforce development, employment, job skills and resources.
The event will be held at The Inn at Reading from 7:30 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.
For more information about the summit, please click here.
Strausstown Borough and Upper Tulpehocken Township recognized for merger
The local governments from Strausstown Borough and Upper Tulephocken were awarded with the 2017 Richard C. Trostle Intergovernmental Cooperation Award for their work in facilitating the merging process of the two municipalities and answering concerns and questions addressed by residents.
The proposal to merge both municipalities came about in 2014 when Strausstown was experiencing skyrocketing property taxes and fees to pay for the community’s necessities such as sewage plant treatment, trash collection and streetlights.
The proposal was placed on a ballot referendum during the 2016 primary election, where 75 percent of Upper Tulpehocken Township residents voted in favor of the merger, as did 95 percent of residents in Strausstown.
Given the overwhelming amount of support from local residents for this merger, the local governments from both areas joined together to make this merger a reality.
The merging of these two municipalities was the fourth merger to take place in Berks County. Previous mergers included: Wyomissing Hills with Wyomissing Borough; Temple Township with Muhlenberg Township; and West Lawn Township with Spring Township.
Read more about this effort from The Reading Eagle here.
Blue Mountain High School Academic Team visits state Capitol
Last Friday, the Blue Mountain High School Academic Team visited the state Capitol to compete in the Pennsylvania State Academic Competition.
Since its establishment in 1992 under the sponsorship of Representative Joe Pitts (R-Chester), the competition has provided high school academic teams in each of the state’s 29 intermediate units with the opportunity to win a scholarship and funds for their high school via this quiz bowl tournament.
Last year, the Blue Mountain High School Academic Team finished third overall in the state! The students on this year’s team are: Travis Barrow, Andrew Chawluk, Joe Medica, Adam Moyer, Mark Schropp III and Chase Weizer. The team’s social studies teacher, Steve Zimmerman, coached the team, as well as Richard Tomko, who was a former government teacher at Blue Mountain.
Town Hall meetings in Berks
On Wednesday and Thursday, I held two community meetings in Berks County.
Wednesday’s meeting was with Representative Jozwiak at the Ontelaunee Township Municipal Building; on Thursday the meeting was with Representative Cox at the Spring Township Municipal Building.
At these meetings, we answered residents’ questions and concerns regarding state and local issues, as well as discussed school property tax reform, the state budget and pensions.
Delano Township receives new trucks
With the assistance of my staff, Delano Township recently received a new dump truck and a new pickup truck for the community via the USDA Community Facilities Grant.
These new trucks will replace vehicles over ten years old that have deteriorated to the point that the safety of the operators and the public is jeopardized. Both pieces of equipment will allow the township to continue to provide its core services to the community.
Congratulations, Devin Davis!
This past weekend, I presented a congratulatory citation from the Senate to Devin Davis for earning the rank of Eagle Scout at the Shenandoah American Legion. As an Eagle and an “Eagle Dad,” I always enjoy recognizing young men who have completed this program.
Devin is the first Eagle Scout in several years in Shenandoah, where he earned his Eagle Scout designation by completing his project to refurbish the weight room at Shenandoah Valley High School where he attends.
Building renovations in Tamaqua
Interior demolition and a roof replacement have begun on the former Tire Pros building located in Tamaqua. The Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, which owns the building, plans on bringing new life to this historic building which was also once the Fred J. Scheid Department Store.
The Tamaqua Area Community Partnership is committed to improving the Tamaqua area by revitalizing our buildings and sites, which in turn helps to attract businesses and create jobs for many residents.
Read more about the renovation from the Times News here.
Concealed carry program events
This past Wednesday and Thursday, I held two concealed carry program events in Berks County.
Wednesday’s program was in Bernville at the Tulpehocken Area High School and Thursday’s program was in Hamburg at Hamburg Area High School.
These concealed carry program events provide law-abiding gun owners with the opportunity to refresh and further understand the mechanisms and operations of carrying a concealed firearm. This event is educational and helps to decrease the likelihood of dangerous situations arising if a firearm goes off unexpectedly.
More than 400 attended these programs. Our next program is scheduled for June 7 at Minersville Area High School.
Tour of Teen Challenge Training Center, Inc.
On Thursday afternoon, I visited the Teen Challenge Training Center in Rehrersburg.
Since its establishment, the Teen Challenge Training Center has been committed to providing men and women with the resources and support to fight drug addiction. This faith-based rehabilitation program operates on the core values of faith, compassion, dignity and excellence.
I thank all of the center’s staff for their dedication to helping their fellow citizens improve their health and well-being!
My latest television program highlights the good work of this organization. Watch it here.
Read more about the center here.
The Senate is scheduled to convene on Monday, May 8 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and view the voting calendar on my website.