Senate Unanimously Approves Sen. Brooks’ Bill to Expand Safe Haven Law for Newborns

HARRISBURG (June 22, 2021) Sen. Michele Brooks’ legislation to add urgent care centers to the list of locations where a parent in distress can safely surrender their newborn has passed the Senate by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 305 expands current law, which in 2017, added emergency medical responders to the list of caregivers who are authorized to accept newborns relinquished by a parent in distress. Many surrounding states also allow unharmed babies to be handed over safely and without fear of prosecution to any health care facility, and this bill mirrors that trend, Brooks noted.  

“We have all heard tragic stories about mothers who were alone and afraid when they gave birth, and who then made the decision to abandon their baby or deposit their newborn in a public trash can or other tragic place,” Brooks said.  “This legislation aims to ultimately save our smallest and most innocent lives.  More than 7,000 urgent care centers now operate nationwide, and most can be found within a ten-mile radius of nearly every town in Pennsylvania.”

Staffed by trained medical personnel, urgent care centers would be another safe place that could accept newborns, broadening the list of currently designated caregivers, which already includes hospitals, police stations and emergency medical technicians.

Safe Haven Laws, or “Baby Moses” Laws, have been passed in numerous states since the 1990s after a string of infanticide cases in the Midwest.  This bill and similar laws are designed to decriminalize the leaving of an unharmed infant with a responsible caregiver, protecting infants from harm by providing a warm, secure haven for them when a parent cannot care for a child.

According to USA TODAY, from 1999 to October 2013, 2,138 children have been relinquished nationwide under the Baby Safe Haven laws. (Oct. 12, 2013).

Brooks’ bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for their consideration.

 

Contact:    Diane McNaughton          (717) 787-1322          dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov

Senate Approves Laughlin Bill to Improve Day Care Safety

The Senate today (June 15) approved a bill introduced by Senator Dan Laughlin (R-49) to improve safety in state-regulated daycare facilities, a measure he introduced in response to a tragic fire that claimed the lives of five young children in Erie on August 11, 2019.

Senate Bill 563, which amends the state Fire and Panic Act regarding smoke detectors, now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“I appreciate the support of my colleagues to advance this bill,” Senator Laughlin said. “I joined with the Erie community in mourning for the children whose lives were cut short. What made it even more tragic was the fact that they may have been saved if the home had been properly equipped with smoke detectors. Only one smoke detector was found in the home and it was in the attic. It is government’s responsibility to learn from these tragic cases and to act to prevent them in the future.”

Senator Laughlin’s legislation designates the locations where smoke detectors must be installed and requires that they are interconnected so that if one is triggered, they all go off.

Contact:           Matt Azeles                 mazeles@pasen.gov                          

DiSanto Introduces Legislation to Better Protect Newborns

HARRISBURG—Senator John DiSanto (Dauphin/Perry) announced today his Senate Bill 983 which seeks to strengthen the Commonwealth’s newborn screening program to better protect infants from rare diseases. Newborn screening performs a critical role in the early recognition and treatment of genetic diseases and disorders which, without intervention, may result in permanent disability or the death of a child.

Under current law, the Department of Health maintains a short list of mandatory screenings and a longer list of optional ones whereby some hospitals choose to screen for the full panel while many others do not. This has created a system in which the health of newborns is dependent on where they are born or whether their parents have knowledge of these diseases.

Doctor Jerry Vockley, chief of Medical Genetics and Director of the Center for Rare Disease Therapy at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said “the current newborn screening program suffers from inadequate funding from Department of Health budget restrictions. Senator DiSanto’s legislation creates a newborn screening fee to bring financial stability to the program as is the practice in 47 other states.”

Dr. Vockley continued, “The legislation also addresses the problematic structure of the mandated and optional screenings as it calls for a single panel of tests based on the best scientific evidence available. Newborn screenings—a simple and inexpensive test given at birth—saves lives and all babies should share in that benefit.”

Senator DiSanto decided to offer SB 983 after meeting constituents who tragically lost their young daughter, Tori, before the age of two. The Krabbe Disease that claimed Tori’s life was treatable had it been detected early; however, it was not because of Pennsylvania’s deficient newborn screening program.

Senator DiSanto said, “I greatly admire the Brackbill family’s resiliency to turn the tragedy of losing a child into passionate advocacy. We must ensure every newborn in Pennsylvania is screened equally and for every federally recommended disorder so that every child is able to receive the necessary life-saving treatments.”

Tori’s mother, Lesa Brackbill, said “we are grateful Senator DiSanto has taken this issue seriously and put actions to his support by introducing this legislation. No parent should have to lose a child to a treatable rare disease—like we did—and that is why we fight for equal and improved newborn screening in Pennsylvania. We can do better.”

CONTACT: Chuck Erdman cerdman@pasen.gov (717) 787-6801

Scavello Bill Raising Age for Tobacco Purchases from 18 to 21 Set for Enactment

Harrisburg — Legislation sponsored by Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) that would increase the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from age 18 to 21 received final Senate approval today and is set to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 473 would make it a summary offense for anyone under 21 to purchase any tobacco product, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipe tobacco.  If it becomes law, Pennsylvania will join 21 states that have a tobacco and e-cigarette sales age of 21.

In Pennsylvania, cigarette smoking causes 22,000 deaths each year. Annual health care costs of $6.38 billion are directly caused by smoking, along with another $5.73 billion in lost productivity, Scavello said.

“As the availability and appeal of e-cigarettes has increased in particular, the rates of high-school age children vaping has increased 40 percent in just one year. Twenty-four percent of Pennsylvania high school teens use e-cigarettes, driving up overall youth smoking rates to over 32 percent,” Scavello said. “It’s clear that we have to act.”

Nearly 90 percent of smokers try their first cigarette before age 18, Scavello noted. An increasing number of teens under 18 get tobacco products from their 18-year-old high school peers – who can legally purchase tobacco products. Increasing the minimum legal sales age to 21 would reduce underage access to tobacco through these legal-age peers.

Recent studies have found that “Tobacco-21” laws have been successful in reducing the amount of people aged 18-20 who smoke and could save more than 223,000 lives from deaths related to smoking.  More than two-thirds of Pennsylvanians surveyed favor raising the legal age for tobacco sales to 21. 

“This change will save lives and reduce health care costs,” Scavello said. “I speak as the son of a life-long smoker who lost his father to lung cancer, so this legislation hits particularly close to home.”

You can follow Senator Scavello on Twitter and Facebook.

 

CONTACT: Christine Zubeck czubeck@pasen.gov (717) 787-6123 

Langerholc Supports New Protections for Sexual Abuse Survivors Including Statute of Limitations Reforms

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bills today to support survivors of sexual abuse, including legislation to reform the statute of limitations to give survivors a retroactive two- year civil window to file claims, according to Senator Wayne Langerholc Jr, (R-35) who strongly supported the bills.

During remarks on the Senate floor, Langerholc said his district was “ground zero for clergy sex abuse” and urged his colleagues “to act on truly historic reforms for victims that will reflect all four of the recommendations of a grand jury report released to the public last year,” opining that this legislation was clearly constitutional.

“We are here to do the right thing for the victims,” Langerholc said.  “Nothing will bring immediate justice, but we can build a solid foundation of action to enable every Pennsylvanian to vote on this legislation and ensure that it meets constitutional standards.”

The bills are designed to ensure victims are supported and all perpetrators of sexual crimes against children are held responsible for their heinous actions, Langerholc said.

The bills include:

  • House Bill 962, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking. The bill also extends the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 55.
  • House Bill 963, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to create a two-year window of time for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired.
  • House Bill 1051, which clarifies mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse and increases penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse.
  • House Bill 1171, which ensures survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.

The bills are a culmination of years of effort to create effective and permanent laws to ensure perpetrators of sexual offenses against young people are held accountable by the legal system.

 

CONTACT:

Gwenn Dando
(717) 787-5400
gdando@pasen.gov 

Senate Passes Statute of Limitations Child Sexual Abuse Reform Package

(HARRISBURG) – Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) issued the following statement on Senate passage of the Statute of Limitations Child Sexual Abuse Reform Package. Today, the Senate approved four bills that will address the four recommendations of the 40th grand jury report. These bills include House Bill 962 (Rozzi), House Bill 963 (Gregory), House Bill 1051 (Stephens) and House Bill 1171 (Toohil)

This package of bills will address all four recommendations of the grand jury:

  • Eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.
  • Creates a two-year “civil window” for child sex abuse victims who couldn’t file lawsuits before.
  • Clarifies the penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse.
  • Prohibits “non-disclosure” agreements regarding cooperation with law enforcement.

“Today is unquestionably an historic day in Pennsylvania. The brave men and women who have come forward to shed light on child sexual abuse are no doubt courageous survivors who deserve our support.  It is also crucial that we do all we can to prevent abuse from happening in the future.

“The package of bills passed today protects any future victims and would allow for a constitutionally sound civil window for past victims.  By eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, we are addressing the severity of this crime and elevating child sexual abuse to the same prosecution level as murder.

“Throughout this long debate I have always said that any changes we make must be constitutional. I am grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for working together to pass this important package and especially to Senator Lisa Baker for working to strengthen the package by increasing counseling support for victims and further protecting college students from abuse. I also thank Representative Mark Rozzi and Representative Jim Gregory for coming to the table to develop strong legislation that helps victims and upholds the Constitution.”

Senate Approves Down Syndrome Protection Act

 

HARRISBURG – A bill that would prohibit the practice of selectively aborting babies based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome earned Senate approval today, according to Senator Scott Martin (R-13), who supported the bill.

House Bill 321 would prohibit an abortion based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Similar protections already exist to prevent babies from being aborted based solely on their gender.

Nothing in the bill would interfere with the existing ability of a woman to obtain an abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother. The bill is targeted only at protecting babies who would be aborted solely because of the possible presence of Down syndrome.

Martin introduced companion legislation to House Bill 321 in the Senate.

“Individuals with Down syndrome have gone on to enjoy extremely happy and fulfilling lives. There are a number of resources available to help families who face this diagnosis,” Martin said. “Individuals who have this condition should not be denied the right to exist solely because they have an extra chromosome.”

Senator Martin participated in a news conference in March in recognition of Down Syndrome Awareness Day that featured numerous individuals with Down syndrome who have distinguished themselves in academics and athletics. 

In current practice, some physicians and counselors encourage mothers to consider aborting babies who may have Down syndrome. An estimated 67 percent of fetuses prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in the United States. One study suggested the number could be as high as 90 percent in other developed countries.

“This bill aims to prevent an entire class of people from being erased on the sole basis of a disability,” Martin said. “I have been blessed to meet many people who have Down syndrome who deeply enrich the lives of their family and friends, as well as the communities where they live. This bill is an affirmation that their lives are worth living.”

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Senate Approves Martin’s Bill Providing New Resources to Fight Pediatric Cancer

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a bill today that could generate up to $100 million in private donations over the next decade to support childhood cancer research, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Scott Martin (R-13).

Senate Bill 74 would create a tax credit program for qualifying donations to a Pennsylvania pediatric cancer research hospital. The credit would apply to donations made to:

  • The Center for Childhood Research, Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.
  • Penn State Hershey Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.
  • Abramson Cancer Center, Penn Medicine.
  • The UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

According to the American Cancer Society, more children die from cancer than any other disease. However, the National Cancer Institute spends just 4 percent of its research dollars on pediatric cancer.

“Treating pediatric cancer can be extremely challenging for doctors because many treatments designed for adults may not be suitable for children,” Martin said. “The children and families who face the devastating diagnosis of childhood cancer need all the support and encouragement they can get. This bill will provide the resources that pediatric cancer research hospitals need to expand treatment options and provide a brighter prognosis for patients.”

Recent news regarding a shortage of the pediatric cancer drug vincristine and the potential need to ration the medication underscore the need to explore additional treatments, Martin added.

Martin has led efforts in the General Assembly to support families facing pediatric cancer. Last year, he authored a new law that allows Pennsylvanians to donate $5 to the Pediatric Cancer Research Fund when electronically renewing a driver’s license, photo identification card or vehicle registration. He also spearheaded the creation of a new law last year to provide new telepresence resources to students who face extended absences from school, including young people who are fighting cancer.

Martin also held a news conference in January with advocates, experts and families affected by pediatric cancer.

“Passage of this bill would not have been possible without the passionate advocacy of the young cancer warriors and their families who are not only fighting their own disease, but also fighting for a better prognosis for all of the patients and families who come after them,” Martin said. “They are the inspiration and the driving force behind this bill, and I am proud to stand and fight with them in our efforts to improve treatments and work toward better outcomes for young patients.”

Senate Bill 74 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Listen

 

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Leaders Join Together to Accomplish Statute of Limitations Child Sexual Abuse Reform Package

(HARRISBURG) – Today Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25), Representative Mark Rozzi (D-126) and Representative Jim Gregory (R-80) announced their agreement to work together to ensure child sexual abuse reform legislation reaches the Governor’s desk.

There are currently four bills in the Senate that will address the four recommendations of the 40th grand jury report. These bills include House Bill 962 (Rozzi), House Bill 963 (Gregory), House Bill 1051 (Stephens) and House Bill 1171 (Toohil).  The legislators emphasized the importance of passing these four measures as they are currently written.

This package of bills will address all four recommendations of the grand jury:

  • Eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.
  • Creates a two-year “civil window” for child sex abuse victims who couldn’t file lawsuits before.
  • Clarifies the penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse.
  • Prohibits “non-disclosure” agreements regarding cooperation with law enforcement.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25): “Victims’ compensation funds that have been set up by the dioceses in Pennsylvania have helped many victims as they attempt to move forward, however it is clear that these funds cannot help everyone and more work must be done. I have expressed my commitment to working with my colleagues to address the House bills currently in the Senate pertaining to child sexual abuse. I thank Senator Lisa Baker and Senator John DiSanto for advancing these measures out of their committees today.  The full Senate will be voting on these important bills later this week. I am grateful for the willingness of all parties to come to the table to ensure this important package of constitutionally sound bills reaches the Governor’s desk.” 

Representative Mark Rozzi (D-126): “From day one I’ve fought relentlessly to provide victims of child sex abuse with the justice they deserve. The path to statutes of limitation reform has been challenging and ongoing for over 15 years.  I was the first legislator to get a comprehensive reform bill passed in the House in 2016 and again in 2018. With the bipartisan and bicameral commitment between myself, Sen. Scarnati and Rep. Gregory to pass my prospective SOL HB 962 and Rep. Gregory’s HB 963 by the end of the year, I am optimistic that a historic moment for all victims of childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania…past, present and future…is imminent.”

Representative Jim Gregory (R-80): “Victims often spend far too much time living with shame and guilt. As elected leaders, I believe we must do everything we can to give victims a voice against their abusers. I speak for myself, and victims everywhere when I express my gratitude to Senate Leadership and Senator Lisa Baker for moving the constitutional amendment plan forward and wanting to give the voters of Pennsylvania the ability to speak up on behalf of victims.” 

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Senator Scarnati – Kate Flessner kflessner@pasen.gov 717-787-7084

Representative Gregory – Mike Straub mstraub@pahousegop.com 717-260-6397

Representative Rozzi – Pam Oddo poddo@pahouse.net 717-783-3290

Mastriano: PA Senate GOP Action Leads to Roll-back of Federal Regulations Limiting Foster Care & Adoption Opportunities

 

HARRISBURG – A letter penned by a dozen Pennsylvania Senate Republicans to the White House resulted in President Trump mandating a roll-back of regulations limiting foster care and adoption opportunities in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

The effort was encouraged by State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33), who learned that federal regulations put in place by President Obama were being used by Governor Tom Wolf and his administration to limit opportunities for faith-based agencies to participate in adoption and foster care services.

President Trump’s administration proposed a rule today that would reverse the Obama-era regulations, so that faith-based organizations are no longer restricted and are permitted to serve their communities, consistent with their religious beliefs.

“The Trump Administration is putting families first, and making sure children have loving homes,” said Mastriano. “Today’s announcement helps safeguard our religious liberties and protects the faith-based organizations that provide such critical services in our Commonwealth.”

The letter was signed by 12 state senators, including Mastriano, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Ryan Aument, David Argall, Michele Brooks, John DiSanto, John Gordner, Scott Hutchinson, Scott Martin, Kristin Phillips-Hill, Joe Pittman and Judy Ward.

Mastriano noted that for over a century, faith-based organizations played a pivotal role in ensuring children and families had access to a range of services that best suited their personal needs in Pennsylvania. However, the state’s religious-affiliated adoption providers were subject to recent punitive policies that limited opportunities for children to find permanency and for families to provide the stability and support they needed.

“I am ecstatic that these discriminatory policies are finally ending,” said Mastriano. “I urge the Wolf Administration to do what’s right, and move swiftly to help our children receive the services they deserve.”

CONTACT: Scot Pitzer (717) 787-4651; spitzer@pasen.gov