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Budget Balancing Revenue Package Approved
After a lot of discussion with constituents and local groups, and assessing the challenges facing Pennsylvania, I reluctantly cast a “yes” vote on the revenue package. It is now several months past the deadline. We needed to end the uncertainty for service providers and those who depend on state services over the prospect for severe funding cuts in the weeks ahead, if action did not occur soon.
The chief advantage of this package is that it eliminates the immediate worry about funding cuts or funding elimination, a particular concern for the state-related universities and the many Pennsylvania students attending them.
The inescapable reality is this was the only bill that could get a majority vote in the House. Many revenue ideas have been raised and discarded since summer. Based on this track record, it did not appear there was a more viable alternative forthcoming.
Another consideration was that the continuing budget deadlock was diverting time and energy from other important issues that are public priorities and warrant greater legislative attention.
Just to be clear, the concerns I have repeatedly expressed about the negative consequences of heavy borrowing and gambling expansion are still valid. This was the available way, not a preferable way, to close the substantial gap between approved spending and anticipated revenue.
This package will, if all its parts are realized, put the state budget into balance this year. It will not reverse the drop in the state’s credit rating that will bring additional costs in years to come. And it seems nearly certain that the problems and arguments will recur in next year’s budget.
“No” Vote On Massive Expansion Of Gambling
I have serious misgivings about another major expansion of gambling, from both fiscal and societal standpoints. Therefore, I voted “no” on the gambling bill approved as part of an effort to finally balance the current state budget.
On several occasions in recent years, small gambling measures were approved to help fill revenue holes in the state budget. The revenue realized did not come anywhere close to projections, contributing to the structural deficit that has complicated budgeting. There is no reason to believe the current package, much larger by several degrees, is any more carefully crafted.
Easier access to more gambling outlets will necessarily aggravate the social problems that attend to gambling. Whether additional gambling attracts new players or compels existing players to engage more heavily, additional problems for individuals and families will result, adding challenges for law enforcement and social service agencies.
Department of Homeland Security Extends REAL ID Enforcement Grace Period for Pennsylvania
The Department of Homeland Security has granted a REAL ID enforcement grace period until October 10, 2018, which means that Pennsylvania residents can continue to use their driver’s license to board airplanes or enter federal facilities, through at least that date.
The extension was granted by the US Department of Homeland Security while PennDOT continues working on the implementation of REAL ID. PennDOT estimates REAL ID-compliant driver licenses and identification cards will be available as an option in March 2019. Customers are encouraged to begin gathering the required paperwork as soon as possible, giving them ample time to prepare. More information about what documents will be required is available on PennDOT's Driver and Vehicle Services website.
Learn more about REAL ID by clicking here.
One Call Expansion Protects Communities and Workers
After several years of effort, Pennsylvania’s One Call law will be extended and expanded, substantially improving prevention and protection, and building upon a solid and proven system to further provide community and worker protection.
Also known as 811, PA One Call is a communications system that helps prevent damage to underground utilities and avoid tragedies by requiring companies and people to “Call Before You Dig.” That information is then used to determine if there are any lines at-risk in the area, so they can be marked prior to excavation.
The new provisions include consolidating enforcement through the PUC, adding coverage of pipelines in Class 1 rural areas, making damage reporting mandatory, broadening mapping requirements to better locate new and existing lines, and establishing a Damage Prevention Committee to help provide oversight and promote best practices.
By implementing some common sense safety measures, we are improving the system and acting to help prevent catastrophes.
It is estimated there are more than 6,000 “hits” each year, approximately half involving natural gas lines. These incidents jeopardize the public, place workers at risk, and compromise infrastructure. Preventing pipeline damage increases safety and reduces costs.
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Senate Committees Push For More Aggressive Tick-Borne Illness Diagnosis And Treatment
A joint Senate committee hearing held October 24 took a closer look at ongoing state efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease. The Health and Human Services Committee that I chair, along with the Aging and Youth Committee, wanted to get a handle on the efforts that have been done and what still needs to be done.
The trend lines on Lyme disease and tick borne illnesses are causing concern in a lot of places. Local officials and community leaders have done far more than lament the problem. It is time the state shows the same sense of urgency.
Legislators heard testimony from the Acting Secretary of Health, physicians, university professors, members of various tick task forces and Lyme disease associations, and others. A number of those testifying shared their personal experiences as individuals treated for, or living with, tick-borne illnesses. Among those who testified were Jennifer Intelicato-Young, a lecturer with Penn State’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology who lives in Dorrance Township, John Klemeyer, a Milford attorney who serves on the Pike County Tick Borne Disease Task Force, and Nicole Chinnici, director of East Stroudsburg University’s Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory, the largest tick testing research facility in Pennsylvania.
Various groups have spent a great deal of time studying this issue, a fair amount of research has been conducted, and numerous well-considered recommendations for public action have emerged. Despite this activity, the impression among officials and citizens alike is that Pennsylvania is lagging in coordinated and effective action.
Lyme disease isn’t a partisan issue and those afflicted with the illness deserve to know that their government is doing all it can to address the matter.
Because of the susceptibility of kids, because of the potential of severity if undiagnosed, because of the lifelong debilities that can result, it is indefensible to offer standard excuses about not enough money to do much or too few individuals requiring aggressive treatment. The purpose of this hearing is to find out what directed actions are being taken on the part of state government to implement recommendations, and to find out what notable gaps in response exist.
In 2014, the legislature created a task force — made up of community members, researchers, and clinicians, among others — to investigate ways to educate the public about Lyme disease and establish a statewide tick surveillance program. That panel issued multiple recommendations. Senators are trying to determine how many of those recommendations have been accomplished, the current extent of the problem across the state, and what steps need to be taken to address it moving forward.
Honored By Human Services and Health Providers
I greatly appreciate the kind recognition the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association offered at its 2017Annual Conference. For me, the willingness to listen to people, to take up the causes that are important to families, this is what public service should be about.
Pictured, left to right, Richard Edley, President and CEO of Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA); Dennis Nebel, President of RCPA Board of Directors; Mike Cortez, Director of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee; Pat Brier, Principal of Brier Dlugolecki Strategies in Harrisburg; Sen. Lisa Baker; Jack Phillips, Director of Government Affairs for RCPA; Jim Bobeck, President/CEO Step by Step, Inc., which has a regional office in Wilkes-Barre; and Mike Hopkins, president and CEO of Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre joined me for the legislative leadership awards ceremony.