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

Senate Committee Passes Langerholc’s Legislation To Return Johnstown Flood Tax Dollars to Area

A Senate committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) that would increase funding for grants and loans for distressed municipalities through an existing state funding source.

Senate Bill 570 was passed by the Senate Community, Economic and Recreation Development Committee.  It would dedicate a portion of the existing “Johnstown Flood Tax” to help municipalities designated as “financially distressed” under Act 47, the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act of 1987.

The tax to help the city recover from the devastating St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 was initially intended to be temporary and was levied on alcoholic beverages at 10 percent.  That tax was increased to 15 percent in 1963 and again to 18 percent in 1968.  It remains in effect today, with proceeds deposited in the state’s General Fund budget.

“Make no mistake – this is not a new tax.  It is restoring the original intent of the Johnstown Flood Tax and bringing that money back to Act 47 distressed municipalities.  It would dedicate 5.6 percent of the proceeds to be distributed to municipalities experiencing severe financial difficulties,” Langerholc said. “The money returned to Johnstown would aid in the economic recovery of our city and provide much-needed assistance towards those efforts.”

The legislation would require the Department of Treasury to direct approximately $20.6 million annually, to be distributed to the Commonwealth Financing Authority to award grants to municipalities under Act 47.  This year’s budget allocated about $1.6 million to those programs.##

CONTACT:

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

Senate Unanimously Supports Martin Bill to Reauthorize PA Health Care Cost Containment Council

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a bill today sponsored by Senator Scott Martin (R-13) that would reauthorize a key agency that supports affordable and accessible health care for all Pennsylvanians.

Senate Bill 841 would reauthorize the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), which is responsible for collecting and analyzing data about the cost and quality of health care in the state, as well as studying issues that affect access to care. All of the information gathered by the agency is made available to the public, and recommendations are also provided to reduce costs to consumers.

“Rising health care costs are one of the biggest concerns not only in Lancaster County, but also throughout Pennsylvania,” Martin said. “This agency plays a critical role in helping lawmakers, health care providers, insurers and the general public understand the scope of the problem and identify specific issues we can address to promote a better and more efficient health care system.”

Most recently, PHC4 completed work on a financial analysis of ambulatory surgery centers, research on hospital stays for mental disorders, an issue brief on cancer hospitalizations for Pennsylvania children, and a three-year review of admissions for opioid overdoses.

Created in 1986, PHC4 has been reenacted and amended numerous times. The most recent authorization was enacted by Executive Order by Governor Tom Corbett in 2014.

The legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Corman: Senate Approves Comprehensive Modernizations to State Election Laws

 

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The State Senate today approved legislation that will bring the most comprehensive changes to Pennsylvania’s election laws in more than eight decades, according to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34), who said the modernizations will make it easier for all residents to take part in elections. 

Senate Bill 421 will also provide $90 million in much-needed funding to replace county voting machines, boosting election security and ensuring that local taxpayers did not have to pick up the tab for the required upgrades.

“While the election code has been updated periodically over the years, this is the biggest and most historic change in how Pennsylvanians cast votes since the election code was enacted in 1937,” Corman said.  “In advancing a package of election modernizations, we will preserve the integrity of the ballot box, while at the same time making it easier for voters to choose the people who represent them at all levels of government.”

Among its provisions, the bill would:

  • Extend the deadline for voters to submit an absentee ballot, from the Friday before Election Day until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
  • Push back the voter registration deadline from 30 days before an election to 15 days.
  • Allow voters to request and submit an absentee ballot by mail without providing a reason.
  • Create a permanent mail-in voter list.

Corman said these changes will promote a stronger system in which every voter can be certain that their vote counts, without creating any unnecessary delays for state residents to exercise their right to vote. 

The bill also eliminates antiquated straight-party voting, something that 40 states have already done.

“Straight-party voting discourages voters from considering individual races and candidates, suppresses independent and third-party candidates, and leads to increased polarization of political parties,” Corman said.  “Eliminating this antiquated part of state law will push voters to think more critically about who they are voting for and ensure candidates for elected office are decided on a case-by-case basis – and is filled by the best candidate.”

CONTACT: Jenn Kocher (717) 787-1377

Senate Votes to Expand PLCB Permits to Local Charitable Groups

HARRISBURG – Local organizations dedicated to helping community residents with cancer and disabilities   could benefit from new fundraising opportunities under a bill approved by the Senate today.

Under current law, many community-based organizations and non-profits are eligible to apply to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) for a wine and spirits auction permit for special events of up to four days with a payment of $30 per day.

Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Senator Judy Ward (R-30), would expand the list of eligible organizations to any non-profit organizations that has been in existence for at least five years, is registered with the PA Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations, and is also recognized as a community-based voluntary organization committed to fighting cancer; this would include a Blair County organization.

The bill would also enable The Arc of Blair County, which has provided vital services and programs in the community for individuals with disabilities and their families since 1954, to qualify for a special occasion permit and give additional fundraising opportunities to help them operate and continue to provide critical services.

“Our area is fortunate to have a number of amazing individuals and organizations who are dedicated to making life better for community residents who face extraordinary health challenges,” Ward said. “These groups and the people they serve deserve our support, and I am thankful that we are one step closer to giving them a new option to raise money.”

A number of types of organizations are already covered by the law, including groups that provide hospice care, service dogs for individuals with disabilities, emergency response, museum support, higher education, non-profit hospital services and many other volunteer and non-profit community groups.

Senate Bill 61 is on its way to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

CONTACT:  Cheryl Schriner (717) 787-5490

Martin’s Ballot Modernization Bill Earns Senate Approval

HARRISBURG – As lawmakers weigh potential changes intended to strengthen Pennsylvania’s election system, the Senate approved a measure today that would remove an antiquated ballot requirement that increases costs to local taxpayers.

Existing state law requires a separate ballot or a separate column on voting machines when voting for the retention of justices, judges, and justices of the peace.

Senate Bill 413, sponsored by Senator Scott Martin (R-13), would eliminate this outdated mandate.

“The current requirement only places a higher cost on counties and creates confusion among voters, many of whom skip those questions entirely,” Martin said. “Cleaning up issues like this are a big part of ensuring a strong, efficient system of elections, while at the same time not saddling county taxpayers with unnecessary mandates.”

The measure would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Amendments must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions before being decided by voters via referendum.

Senate Bill 413 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Senate Approves Bill to Strengthen Oversight of Proposed Government Regulations

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a bill today to strengthen the review process for government regulations and provide for better oversight by lawmakers, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Gordner (R-27).

Senate Bill 398 would ensure state agencies deliver proposed regulations to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and to lawmakers in a timely manner to ensure a thorough review. The bill would also extend the time period for review to coincide with days the General Assembly is in session.

In current practice, state agencies could submit proposed regulations at a time when the General Assembly is in recess, preventing lawmakers from undertaking a comprehensive review and scheduling hearings to air concerns about how those regulations could affect Pennsylvania families and businesses.

The legislation would also ensure Statements of Purpose submitted by state agencies are not published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. This provision will remove confusion in the courts regarding the intent of the General Assembly.

“Essentially, this bill would ensure state agencies are implementing the law and not trying to make the laws themselves,” Gordner said. “Government regulations can have an enormous impact on industries, employees and families if they are not implemented properly. Improving the process for reviewing these regulations will help make Pennsylvania more competitive and eliminate some of the red tape that plagues our government and hurts its citizens.”

Similar legislation was approved during the 2015-16 Legislative Session, but was vetoed by the Governor. Senate Bill 398 was changed to address a number of the concerns raised in the Governor’s veto message.

The legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Scarnati Legislation to Repurpose PA’s Lieutenant Governor’s Residence for Veterans & Active Military Passes Committee

(HARRISBURG) – Today the Senate State Government Committee unanimously passed legislation to require that the Lt. Governor’s residence be used to support veterans and active military, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25).

Scarnati explained that Senate Bill 750 was originally introduced to sell the Lt. Governor’s residence.  However due to potential restrictions preventing civilians from accessing the property, SB 750 was amended in Committee.

As amended, Senate Bill 750 now requires the Department of General Services to transfer the authority over the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, to be used for the purposes of supporting Pennsylvania’s veterans programs and supporting the National Guard, including current and survivor families.

“As public servants, it is our duty to continually look for ways that government can operate more effectively and efficiently,” Scarnati said.  “Given that Pennsylvania’s current Lieutenant Governor does not reside at the Lieutenant Governor’s residence, now is the time to transfer this property to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs so it can be used to maximize the beneficial use of supporting our Pennsylvania veterans and active military.  Taxpayer dollars should not be used to simply maintain a building that no one lives in.”

Scarnati explained that the Lieutenant Governor’s residence is a three story, 2,400 square foot house located at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County. Scarnati also noted that across the country, Pennsylvania is the only state that provides a residence to its Lieutenant Governor.

Senate Bill 750 now advances to the full Senate for consideration.           

CONTACT:   Kate Flessner – (717) 787-7084

Martin and Argall Introduce Bill Creating Work Requirements for Able-Bodied Medicaid Recipients

HARRISBURG – Senators Scott Martin (R-13) and David G. Argall (R-29) have introduced a bill that would require able-bodied, non-elderly Medicaid recipients to seek employment or volunteer in the community as a condition of receiving benefits.

Senate Bill 847 would require Medicaid recipients to either work, seek employment, participate in job training programs, or volunteer in their community in order to continue to receive benefits. The approach is similar to requirements already in place for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The bill only applies to able-bodied Medicaid recipients who are capable of working. Exceptions are included for individuals who are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65, disabled, pregnant, receiving mental health or addiction treatment, or the primary caregiver for someone who is under the age of 6, permanently disabled or receiving hospice care.

“The premise of the bill is simple – if a person on Medicaid is perfectly capable of holding down a job or contributing to their community, then they should earn their benefits from taxpayers,” Martin said. “Medicaid is a huge expense for taxpayers that grows larger every year. We need to explore ways to reduce the cost of welfare programs to ensure they are viable for future generations. We cannot achieve that goal if the recipients who are most able to work remain on the welfare rolls indefinitely.”

Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the nation in terms of total Medicaid spending, with more than $28 billion devoted to the program each year. According to the Department of Human Services, there are nearly half a million non-disabled state residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who report no income.

“Like most welfare programs, Medicaid was created to serve as a hand up, not a hand out. These programs are supposed to serve as a bridge to better things,” Argall said. “Contrary to what some people would lead you to believe, we are not kicking crutches out from under individuals with disabilities or denying care to at-risk families. We are only setting a better and fairer standard for individuals who are healthy and have the potential to work their way out of poverty and earn a better standard of living.”

Similar legislation was approved by the General Assembly in 2017 and 2018, but Governor Wolf vetoed both bills. The Senators noted that the new version of the bill expands the number of exceptions to work requirements in order to reach a compromise that they hope can earn bipartisan support.

To date, 16 states have sought permission from the federal government to enact Work and Community Engagement Requirements, and nine have been approve.

The bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for consideration.

 

CONTACT:  Terry Trego (717) 787-6535 (Senator Martin)

                        Josh Paul (717) 787-2637 (Senator Argall)

Senate Republican Leaders Slam Gov. Wolf’s Veto of Bipartisan Election Code Bill

Harrisburg – Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34) issued the following statement today:

“Today Governor Wolf slammed the door on a bipartisan, compromise Election Code bill that would result in more opportunities for independent and minority-party candidates to compete. Forty-three other states have recognized that straight-party voting is bad for democracy, but Governor Wolf has decided to allow this arcane practice to remain.  With a stroke of his pen, he also rejected an improved procedure that would benefit all Pennsylvanians by expanding the use of absentee ballots. 

“Further, Governor Wolf rejected a $90 million, fiscally responsible lifeline to counties in order to pay for the Governor’s cry for new election machines.  He now fully owns this unfunded mandate on counties which will result in higher property taxes across the Commonwealth. 

‘“Let us be very clear: we have heard from several rural Republicans who believe eliminating straight-party voting may have an adverse effect on their legislative races.  Nevertheless, we pursued this measure because we believe all races should be decided by individual choices, rather than group voting.  Most other states, including liberal-leaning states, agree with the elimination of straight-party voting.

“Governor Wolf’s veto makes no sense for voters, local governments or taxpayers. The repercussions of his arbitrary and partisan decision will be felt on Election Days to come and in the taxpayers’ wallets.  The General Assembly delivered a compromise bill with three positive election improvements, however, all indications are the Governor bowed to political pressures from his team in Washington, D.C.  Governor Wolf’s veto will allow the status quo to remain in order to attempt to retain an election advantage for Democrats.” 

Contact: Jenn Kocher jkocher@pasen.gov (717) 787-1377