Senate Approves New Protections for Domestic Violence Victims

 

Listen

HARRISBURG – Victims of domestic violence would be better protected against retribution from their abusers under a bill approved by the Senate today, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).

Senate Bill 449, also known as Tierne’s Law, clarifies existing law that allows judges to use risk assessment tools when setting bail in domestic violence cases. These tools have proven to be effective in predicting an abuser’s odds of re-offending and creating a dangerous circumstance for victims, Bartolotta said.

The bill was named in honor of Tierne Ewing, a Washington County resident who was kidnapped and later murdered by her estranged husband in August 2016. The killer had been arrested a few weeks prior to the kidnapping for domestic violence and other offenses, but was granted bail in spite of the prosecutor’s request for bail to be raised or revoked.

“Far too often, judges have no way of knowing which offenders pose a significant risk to victims when they set bail. Without the use of risk assessment tools, we run the risk of dangerous abusers being released to continue to terrorize their victims,” Bartolotta said. “Expanding the use of risk assessment tools will ultimately lead to fewer senseless tragedies involving domestic violence.”

Last year, Pennsylvania assisted more than 89,000 victims of domestic violence. Ewing was one of 102 domestic violence homicide victims in 2016. Eight of those victims lived in the counties Bartolotta represents.

Bartolotta’s bill was developed with input from district attorneys, domestic violence experts and others who have an interest in improving the judicial system’s ability to protect victims. The legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463

 

Legislators Propose Comprehensive State Government IT and Cybersecurity Overhaul

(HARRISBURG) – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and Reps. Seth Grove (R-Dover), Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York Township) and Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny) announced today they intend to introduce legislation to increase cybersecurity and to comprehensively overhaul Pennsylvania state government’s information technology (IT) systems.

“It is well past time state government modernize how it manages all facets of information technology,” said Aument, who chairs the Senate Communications and Technology Committee. “From identifying needs, developing solutions, procuring technologies and applications, to how we are prepared to respond to cyber-attacks, we must move Pennsylvania’s aging, inadequate and costly IT infrastructure into a 21st century model.”

Legislation authored by Aument, Grove, Ortitay and Phillips-Hill would codify the Office of Information created by Gov. Tom Wolf through a 2016 executive order and includes additional components to improve how state government would meet important IT goals.  The bill would consolidate all IT functions, powers, duties, infrastructure and support services in the executive agencies into one office – the Office of Information Technology (OIT) – which would centrally manage those functions.

The legislation also addresses the increased threats of cyber-attacks against IT systems.  Private industry, personal computers, and all levels of government have been victims of attacks. 

“State government IT systems are home to extremely sensitive, important information which we are entrusted to keep safe,” Grove said.  “Every day we read about another catastrophic attack crippling systems and exposing confidential information. We have a duty to protect against these threats, and by working together using best practices, we stand a much better chance of success.”

Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who has been a leading advocate in addressing cyber-security issues and threats, echoed Grove’s comments.  “We must guard against and close potential points of entry for cyber attackers.  Their disruptive actions shut down the progress of government, waste taxpayer time and money, and imperil the safety and security of every Pennsylvanian,” she said.

To promote best cybersecurity practices, the bill would require all state agencies to adopt new security standards created by the OIT director, mandates the director develop a two-year schedule to test cybersecurity capabilities, and creates a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity committee to include representation from all branches of government, who would issue an annual report regarding cybersecurity preparedness.

“Too many times government is the last to respond to the rapidly changing world around us,” said Ortitay, who believes the comprehensive IT overhaul is long overdue.  “Nowhere has this been proven truer than in how we have fallen woefully behind in IT management, which has resulted in costing taxpayers billions.  By centralizing management of IT systems, we can ensure state government agencies are working toward common standards, compatible systems and applications, and interchangeable infrastructure,” he said.

The lawmakers specifically cited the recent audit of Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation call centers, which revealed the state mismanaged hundreds of millions of dollars in IT upgrades, which are yet to be completed.

Since 2003, Pennsylvania state government has spent over $2.55 billion on IT projects from the General Fund alone.  Given the significant costs and the importance of IT to manage state government and the services provided to the people of the Commonwealth, additional oversight is necessary to ensure projects are timely delivered within the budgeted allocations.

The director of the OIT would be tasked with developing schedules for the replacement or modification of IT systems, reviewing IT reports from each state agency, establishing standards for projects, developing a biennial strategic plan for handling state government IT needs and overseeing each agency’s IT disaster recovery plans.

Also under the proposal, the OIT director would be able to approve IT contracts based on money available for projects and an agency’s current IT capabilities.  The director could suspend any project which does not meet standards for quality or has exceeded its estimated cost.

“I am hopeful we can work in a thoughtful, bi-partisan way to advance significant changes in one of the most important aspects of how state government manages from day to day,” said Aument.

“This legislation is what people expect their lawmakers to promote – meaningful reform in how we manage government systems, accountability in how we spend scarce taxpayer money, and proactive protection of sensitive information held by the state.”

CONTACT:

Senator Aument – Jake Smeltz (717-787-4420)
Rep.Grove – Greg Gross (717-260-6374)

Senate Approves Baker Bill To Increase Public Safety By Expanding PA One Call

 

Listen

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20th District) that would ensure greater public safety by extending and expanding provisions of the PA One Call Law.

Also known as 811, the communications system 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.

In floor remarks, Baker noted, “bipartisan support has kept this issue on the agenda and put us in position to finally succeed in improving community safety through better compliance and better enforcement of pipeline safety.”

Chief among the changes proposed in SB 242 is assigning enforcement powers to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), a shift Baker believes makes sense because the agency already regulates the utilities participating in PA One Call. Currently the Department of Labor and Industry is responsible for enforcement. An important companion to the oversight structure is the creation of a Damage Prevention Committee that will work in conjunction with the PUC to promote industry best practices and collect accident data in order to achieve a stronger safety record with our underground utility lines.

All Class 1 pipelines, located in more rural areas that carry unconventional oil or natural gas, will now be included in PA One Call, as will conventional oil or natural gas pipelines with a diameter greater than 8 inches. Other implementations in the bill include new mapping enhancements to better locate existing underground lines plus those of new construction. 

“This bill is a substantial improvement. It is building upon a solid law that we have and it will provide responsible and reasonable action,” Baker said.

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.

“The intent of this bill is to reduce the number of problems encountered,” Baker said. “By implementing some common sense safety measures, we are acting to help prevent catastrophes.”

The legislature granted a one-year extension of the program last year, but Baker insists a long-term fix is warranted. 

FACT SHEET

After Action Assessment of the Eric Frein Manhunt

Senate Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Committee

After Action Assessment of the Eric Frein Manhunt

June 15, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.

Pike County Public Training Building

 

Call to Order & Pledge of Allegiance by Chairman Vulakovich

Welcome & Introductions
*Senator Randy Vulakovich, Chair
Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee

*Senator Lisa Baker

III.  Hearing on the Statewide Radio System

10:30 a.m.                    Law Enforcement – State

Major George L. Bivens, Director Bureau of Gaming Enforcement, PA State Police – Combined Testimony
Major James E. Degnan, Commander, Area III, PA State Police – Combined Testimony
Captain Christopher L. Paris, Commanding Officer, Troop R- Dunmore, PA State Police – Combined Testimony

11:15 a.m.                   Law Enforcement – Local
Raymond Tonkin, District Attorney (Invited), Pike County
Phil Bueki, Sheriff (Invited), Pike County

11:45 a.m.                   Emergency Management                               

Anthony Camillocci, Eastern Area Director, PA Emergency Management Agency
Matthew Osterberg, Chairman, Pike County Board of Commissioners
Timothy Knapp, Director, Pike County Emergency Management
Craig Lowe, Warden, Pike County Correctional Facility

12:15 p.m.                  Business Community

Debbie Gillette, Executive Director, Chamber of the Northern Poconos
Jody Welsh, President (Invited), Pike County Chamber of Commerce
Chris Barrett, Executive Director (Invited), Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau

12:45 p.m.                  Education Community

William Riker, Superintendent (Invited), East Stroudburg Area School District
Michael Silsby, Superintendent (Invited), Wallenpaupack Area School District

Adjournment

Written Testimony:

Bruce Henry, Director of Emergency Management, Monroe County
Monroe County Control Center

Joint Hearing on the Statewide Radio System

JOINT HEARING

Senate Communications & Technology Committee

Senate Law & Justice Committee

Senate Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Committee

Joint Hearing on the Statewide Radio System

June 7, 2017 at 9 am

Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

 

Call to Order & Pledge of Allegiance by Chairman Vulakovich

Welcome & Introductions 

Senator Randy Vulakovich, Chair
Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee

Senator Jay Costa, Democrat Chair
Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee

Senator Ryan Aument, Chair
Senate Communications & Technology Committee

Senator Art Haywood, Democrat Chair
Senate Communications & Technology Committee

Senator Charles McIlhinney, Jr., Chair
Senate Law & Justice Committee

Senator James Brewster, Democrat Chair
Senate Law & Justice Committee

Hearing on the Statewide Radio System 

9:10 a.m.

Major Diane Stackhouse, Bureau of Communications & Information Services
PA State Police

10:00 a.m.

Ben Kafferlin, Commissioner
Warren County

Todd Lake
Public Safety Director

Testimony

Adjournment

 

Senate Passes Reschenthaler Bill To Strengthen Penalties For Threatening Law Enforcement Officers and Families

Listen

The State Senate this week approved legislation sponsored by Senator Guy Reschenthaler (R-37) that would help us protect members of law enforcement by adding a penalty for threatening law enforcement officers, sheriffs or members of their family.

“Members of the law enforcement community protect our communities and residents, but they face threats and dangers every day,” Reschenthaler said.  “This legislation is intended to crack down on those who do not respect these dedicated public servants and make their jobs even more difficult through threats and intimidation.”

Under Senate Bill 510, a person who threatens death or serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer, a sheriff or deputy sheriff, or a member of their family or household would commit a felony of the third degree. A second or subsequent offense would constitute a felony of the second degree.

 “I am very encouraged by the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 510 in the Senate. As a former magisterial district judge, I worked closely with members of the law enforcement community, and I experienced firsthand how indispensable their efforts are to the protecting our community,” Reschenthaler said. “Our law enforcement officers and their family members make daily sacrifices. SB510 provides an effective tool to better protect those officers and their families from harm so they can continue serving our communities.”

CONTACT: Elise Argall, 717-787-5839

Senate Unanimously Approves Senator Mensch’s Resolution to Review How PA Accounts For And Analyzes Forensic Evidence Kits (Rape Kits)

Harrisburg –The Senate unanimously approved Senator Bob Mensch’s (R-24) Senate Resolution 75, which directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review how Pennsylvania accounts for and analyzes forensic evidence kits (rape kits).

Senator Mensch was informed by the “Rape Kit Action Project” that there is a backlog of unanalyzed forensic kits across the nation and in Pennsylvania.  Senator Mensch stated that this resolution will help take the steps necessary to ensure that all rape kits are tested in a timely manner.  “This is the first step in ensuring that all rape victims for whom a rape kit was collected will have a better opportunity for justice,” said Mensch.

According to a study that the Rape Kit Action Project has done, there are at least 100,000 forensic evidence kits that are sitting untested or unaccounted for across the United States. “I believe this is inexcusable,” said Mensch. “I will not have Pennsylvania be part of that statistic.”

Senator Mensch hopes this study will measure the depth of this problem in the Commonwealth and outline the steps necessary to address the matter accordingly. Senator Mensch plans to introduce further legislation if the results indicate that there is a backlog and kits are not being tested in a timely matter.

For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com.  State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatormensch, or Twitter @SenatorMensch.

CONTACT: Sarah Rasmussen srasmussen@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388

Senate Panel Approves Stefano Measure To Provide Financial Assistance To Volunteer Firefighters, EMTs

 

Listen

The Senate Finance Committee today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator Pat Stefano (R-32) that would provide financial assistance to volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

Senate Bill 594  would exempt firefighters from paying the sales and use tax when purchasing protective equipment and accessory communications equipment using their own personal funds.

He said the cost of a firefighter’s protective equipment alone can cost them up to $2,500 out of pocket.  And according to recent statistics, more than 51,000 Pennsylvania firefighters – approximately 86 percent — spend personal funds on equipment they use to protect communities.         

“Firefighters who put their lives on the line as volunteers and pay for their own supplies, deserve this exemption on supplies that they need to do their jobs safely and effectively,” Stefano said. “It is no wonder that retention rates are going down because volunteers have to spend so much money out of pocket. This bill will help to ease the financial burden they face.”

Stefano said the legislation is one of several measure that he is sponsoring to provide incentives to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and EMTs.   He said the number of volunteers has dropped from 300,000 to roughly 60,000 in the last 30 years. 

“In recent years, Pennsylvania has seen a steady decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters because of the high costs and the time involved in fund-raising activities,” Stefano said. “This bill provide them with assistance in paying for supplies and equipment, so they can focus on protecting our communities and spend less time on fundraising.”

CONTACT: Ben Wren (717) 787-7175

Rafferty, Sabatina Hold News Conference To Focus Attention On Efforts to Combat Distracted Driving

 

Senator John C. Rafferty, Jr., (R-44), Senator John Sabatina (D-5), AT&T, state officials, law enforcement, families of distracted driving victims, students and other advocacy groups held a capitol news conference on Tuesday to focus public attention on distracted driving legislation and awareness. 

The news conference was held in conjuction with AT&T’s “It Can Wait” tour, which is making stops across Pennsylvania, including the State Capitol, to remind drivers of all ages to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones.  Participants can engage in AT&T’s simulator – a virtual reality driving experience that seeks to warn against the dangers of distracted driving.

“Distracted driving is proven to lead to accidents and death on our roadways,” stated Senator Rafferty, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. 

“As drivers, we have a responsibility to keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel at all times. When we drive distracted, we jeopardize the safety of ourselves, our passengers, other motorists, pedestrians, and road maintenance workers,” Senator Sabatina said.

In 2015, there were 14,810 crashes in Pennsylvania involving a distracted driver.  Additionally, from 2011-2015, there were approximately 280 distracted driving fatal crashes or an average of 57 fatal crashes per year – a statistic that has remained stagnant in this period.

Listen

Contact:  Nolan Ritchie, Senator Rafferty’s Office, 717-787-1398