August 16, 2019
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Issues Executive Order to Reduce Gun Violence
Coming on the heels of a violent standoff that left six officers injured in North Philadelphia and a mass shooting that wounded five residents one day later, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order calling to reduce gun violence throughout the state.
“Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence. We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens,” Wolf said in a statement. “The action I am announcing today includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”
Wolf initially planned to announce his reforms on Thursday, but postponed it as a result of Wendesday’s shootout. Instead, he visited Philadelphia and stood by Mayor Jim Kenney and nearly a dozen other lawmakers all who called for stricter gun laws.
The executive order names former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey head of a new Special Council on Gun Violence that will meet within the next 60 days to start developing a plan to combat shootings.
“I am honored to be asked by Governor Wolf to chair the Special Council on Gun Violence and serve as his senior adviser,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey spent 30 years on Chicago’s police force before leading law enforcement departments in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. He retired in early 2016 after serving as Philadelphia’s police chief for eight years under former Mayor Michael Nutter. He also served as co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Wolf’s order also creates a Division of Violence Prevention within the state’s Department of Health to accomplish the following:
- Establish new oversight and data sharing across law enforcement agencies and the Department of Health
- Expand the state’s gun buyback program, partner with the court system and focus more on juvenile diversion program to curb community-based violence
- Combat mass shootings through increased surveillance of hate groups, better coordination with first responders and launching ad campaigns on planning and preparedness
- Decrease both gun-related suicides and domestic violence through mental health campaigns and data collection
More than 1,600 Pennsylvanians died from gunshot wounds in 2017, according to the governor’s office.
House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, who represents a Philadelphia district, recounted during Friday’s announcement how this year in his city there have been eight cases in which at least four people were shot — with victims who were walking down the street, waiting for takeout food, attending a graduation party and gathering to shoot a music video.
“I have to go home to a place where my life is not safe, and there’s far too many Pennsylvanians doing that on a daily basis,” Harris said, wiping back tears at Wolf’s Capitol news conference.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat to represents portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, praised Wolf’s executive order, saying that “excellent policing” led to a peaceful resolution to Wednesday’s tense shootout.
“How many more incidents do we need before the message is received that common sense gun laws, which are widely supported in overwhelming numbers by all political sides, are fundamentally necessary in this state and across this nation?” he said in a statement.
Hughes plans to introduce legislation in the fall to ban weapons in public places. Earlier this year he co-sponsored legislation to ban people from keeping loaded firearms in their cars.
Sen. Lisa Baker, a Luzerne County Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 24-25 on behavioral health, Second Amendment gun rights and related issues.
Baker said in a news release last week that all government officials should be looking for ways to end the plague of mass shootings.
“Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives,” Baker wrote. “Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding.”
House Republican spokesman Mike Straub said violent firearms offenses have fallen by nearly 40% in the state in the past 13 years.
He said the Pennsylvania firearm purchase background checks already exceed what is required by the federal government and argued the Philadelphia police shooting “proves once again that criminals will not follow changes we make to existing firearm laws.” Source
August 16, 2019
Wolf Announces Plan to Update Charter School Law
Gov. Tom Wolf on Aug. 13 unveiled his plan to update what he said was Pennsylvania’s “flawed and outdated charter school law” by promulgating new regulations and proposing legislation to “strengthen charter school quality, accountability and transparency to control costs and improve outcomes for students.”
A Wolf administration statement said brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter schools, and for-profit companies that manage many of them, are not held to the same ethical and transparency standards of traditional public schools. Despite the rising costs of charter schools to school districts and property taxpayers, school districts and the state government have limited authority to hold charter schools accountable.
“Pennsylvania’s charter school law is unfair for students, parents, school districts, and taxpayers,” Wolf said in a visit to the Allentown School District. “While many charter schools are succeeding, others, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming and we are not doing enough to hold them accountable to the taxpaying public and the children they serve.”
Among the executive actions announced Aug. 13 were the following directives to the state Department of Education:
- Allow school districts to limit student enrollment at charters that do not provide a high-quality, equitable education to students.
- Hold charter schools and their operators to the same transparency standards as school districts because they are public schools and receive more than $1.8 billion in state and property tax dollars annually.
- Establish a clear process that requires charters to accurately document their costs.
- Initiate a fee-for-service model to cover the department’s costs associated with implementing the charter school law.
Wolf also called for new legislation that would make sure local districts do not suffer financially because of funding directed to charter schools, and establishes a commission to make further recommendations for funding reforms.
“We have some high-quality charter schools in our commonwealth and my proposal holds charters accountable to the same standards we set for traditional public schools,” Wolf said.
“Through hard work and bipartisan compromise in Harrisburg, we have achieved pension reform and liquor reform. It’s time to reform the charter school law.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said Wolf should call a special session on charter school reform.
“The charter school funding formula was established 22 years ago and was the best available platform at that time,” Browne said. “However, now it has created an irreconcilable financial conflict between charter and traditional schools which mandates both in-depth review and responsible legislative and executive action to address.” Source
Aug 7, 2019
Wolf declines calls for special session on gun laws unless consensus on bills emerges
HARRISBURG — Fellow Democrats this week implored Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special session of the legislature to address gun bills, citing the deadly mass shootings last weekend in Ohio and Texas.
Mr. Wolf, though, has declined to do so — even as he touts the need for further gun control measures, such as universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.
“The governor is open to calling a special session if there are commitments to allow votes on critical reforms that will save lives,” spokesman J.J. Abbott said in a statement. “Without such an agreement, there is no guarantee of action.”
Republicans, who frequently oppose gun control measures, control the Legislature.
While they stopped short of criticizing him directly, some progressive members of the governor’s party on Wednesday called for more robust action, urging Mr. Wolf to bring the legislature back before its currently scheduled return in mid-September.
“Well-tailored press statements, thoughts, prayers are no longer enough,” freshman Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, a Democrat from Chester County, said at a Wednesday news conference. “Inaction is nothing short of an endorsement of a culture of gunning people down in our streets, schools, churches, concert halls, movie theaters, and grocery stores. We need policy and change, and we need leadership.”
Others in the Capitol, including some in Republican circles, have hinted that the governor’s approach might be a pragmatic one, absent any current consensus on gun measures.
Special sessions are rare and often mired in politics. The last one happened in 2010, when Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell convened lawmakers to hash out plans for funding long-term transportation and infrastructure projects. The effort was a bust.
The Pennsylvania Constitution gives the governor the authority to convene a special session if “in his opinion the public interest requires” or if a majority of lawmakers send him a petition requesting one. There don’t appear to be any credible efforts to put together such a petition.
When a special session opens, the governor addresses lawmakers, committees are formed, and then the normal rules apply. That means Republicans, who have the majority in both legislative chambers, would still control which bills come up for a vote — and which ones don’t.
And some GOP leaders have hinted that a special session might be unnecessary or premature, given that lawmakers don’t yet appear to have a consensus on some of the major gun bills.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee through which most gun bills flow, promised this week to hold a series of public meetings.
“Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives,” she said in a statement. “Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding.”
On the House side, Republicans are trying to find compromises that balance the rights of legal, responsible gun owners while also tamping down on crime, according to spokesman Mike Straub.
Conversations in that chamber are expected to revolve around a bill that would create so-called extreme risk protection orders, or which would allow people to petition the courts to temporarily confiscate someone’s guns if they present a danger to themselves or others.
The calls for action on that and other gun control measures are not new. Many of them gained a renewed urgency last year, after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania lawmakers have not passed any major gun bills since that shooting.
Similar calls arose in Virginia, after a gunman killed 12 people in a shooting earlier this year.
The political dynamics in Virginia are similar to the ones in Pennsylvania. In both states, a Democrat holds the governor’s office, and Republicans control the legislature.
After the Virginia Beach shooting, Gov. Ralph Northam convened a special session to address gun bills. The Legislature left after fewer than two hours.
While Mr. Northam described lawmakers’ quick departure as “shameful and disappointing,” some Republicans accused him of trying to advance a political agenda.
Now, as they head into the fall, the fate of those gun bills remains unsettled. Republican lawmakers there are waiting for a crime commission’s recommendations — which are due after the November election. Source
July 2, 2019
Gov. Wolf Signs Historic Health Insurance Reform Legislation Creating State-Based Exchange
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today signed into law House Bill 3, a historic reform to health insurance that creates an online exchange operated by the state in lieu of the federal government. The legislation provides for lower premiums and increased access to health insurance by developing a state-based health insurance exchange and a new reinsurance program. The state-based exchange is expected to save money for those purchasing plans on the exchange.
“This bill is a huge step toward making health insurance affordable and effective for all Pennsylvanians,” Gov. Wolf said. “It’s pretty rare for a program to come along where everyone pays less, but that’s exactly what this does. And I’m so proud of my colleagues for recognizing this as a priority and moving it along quickly. I want Pennsylvania to be a leader on health care reform, and I want no Pennsylvanian worrying about affording the care they or their loved ones need.”
Pennsylvania has relied on the federal health insurance exchange since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. To cover costs, the federal government charges insurers a 3.5 percent fee on premiums paid by ACA enrollees each month, a projected $98 million for Pennsylvania insurers in 2019. This user fee is expected to be cut to 3 percent beginning in 2020, which would equate to approximately $88 million dollars from Pennsylvania insurers.
Advancements in technology since 2010 now allow states to operate their own exchanges more efficiently. Similar programs implemented in about a dozen other states could cost as little as $30 million per year to operate in Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania takes steps towards operating its own exchange in 2020, the user fee remitted to the federal government will be collected by the state – incrementally for the first year and then in full in 2021.
Through a federal waiver, the state will create a reinsurance fund that will directly pay some of the health care costs for high-cost individuals, which will lower premiums for other insured Pennsylvanians on the individual market as well as reduce the approximately $2 billion cost for health care premium subsidies to assist low-income individuals. Savings from the decreased operational costs of the new exchange and these federal savings will be used to create this reinsurance fund.
The combined savings and anticipated federal government reinsurance contribution will save Pennsylvanian consumers up to $250 million in annual health insurance premiums.
The state-based exchange is expected to be operational as early as Jan. 1, 2021. Source
July 13, 2019
Governor Wolf Joins Front Lines in Battle Against Spotted Lanternfly
(WBRE/WYOU-TV) Governor Tom Wolf and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding were in Harrisburg to view the treatment being conducted across the Commonwealth concerning Spotted Lanternflies.
They were joined by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), Penn State University, and USDA at a Harrisburg site populated with Spotted Lanternflies.
“Although Pennsylvania had the unlucky fate of being the first state in the nation to be visited by the Spotted Lanternfly, we faced that challenge head-on and have made incredible strides in containment and control,” said Gov. Wolf in a prepared release. “This is a team effort and all hands are on deck, committed to protecting Pennsylvania’s agricultural products, preserving our quality of life, and keeping commerce flowing here in the commonwealth.”
Under the governor’s PA Farm Bill – a package of legislation designed to expand and protect agriculture infrastructure – the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account will provide $3 million toward the containment of the Spotted Lanternfly. This is the second year in a row the governor has allocated funding in the state budget to increase spotted lanternfly detection, control, and eradication efforts. Over the past few years the administration has allocated more than $10 million to protect Pennsylvania business and agriculture. Additionally, USDA recently dedicated more than $6.2 million in new funding to Pennsylvania’s efforts.
This May, PDA introduced the Spotted Lanternfly permit system to train businesses and employees on recognizing the life stages of the Spotted Lanternfly. Since then, the department has issued more than 900,000 permits to businesses that travel in and out of the quarantine area. Additionally, PDA and USDA teams continue to assess and treat high-risk properties, with survey teams scouting for insects across the state after receiving reports of sightings outside of the quarantine area. Penn State has taken the lead on conducting outreach and research.
“Pennsylvania’s progress in controlling the Spotted Lanternfly is due in part to the historic partnership we’ve made with USDA and Penn State and the critical funding we received through the state and federal budgets,” said Sec. Redding. “However, it’s important that Pennsylvanians remember that they play a significant role in this fight. They can treat their property with approved sprays, band their trees, or even use something as simple as a fly swatter to help control populations right in their own backyard.”
Businesses can obtain a Spotted Lanternfly permit at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-permit-training. Homeowners with questions about treatment, including approved sprays, can learn more through Penn State Extension at http://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.
For more information on the Spotted Lanternfly, visit https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/spottedlanternfly.
(Information from PINS and Governor’s Office) Source
July 9, 2019
After Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf announces $90 million to upgrade voting machines, GOP pushes back
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $90 million bond issue Tuesday to fund a statewide voting machine upgrade effort that he ordered more than a year ago to ensure that every vote cast creates a paper trail that can be checked by voters and audited.
Republicans who control the state legislature pushed back immediately, questioning the legality of Wolf’s maneuver.
The new money would cover around 60 percent of the estimated $150 million cost for the state’s 67 counties, and answer to months of uncertainty over funding.
“Everybody in this building recognizes that we’ve got to support the counties,” Wolf said. “This cannot be an unfunded mandate.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (R., York), however, called it an “executive overreach.”
“So far, the governor has not stated his legal authority to bond $90 million without legislative approval,” he said in a statement.
The move comes days after Wolf vetoed a controversial Republican bill that would have provided the $90 million but also ended straight-party voting at the polls, a change that leaders of Wolf’s Democratic Party have opposed. That legislation also would have limited the governor’s ability to order counties to update their voting machines.
“I was trying to get the legislature to work with me in partnership to do this, and I think we could do that one way or another,” Wolf said.
Wolf had previously proposed $15 million for voting machine upgrades in the state budget — which several county officials criticized as too little — and no guarantee of future money. That money was ultimately taken out of the budget, and Republican lawmakers attached funding to the bill Wolf vetoed.
The new state funding, which Wolf said will likely come through bonds issued by the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA), will be distributed as grants from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Until now, the only money available to counties was $14.1 million in federal and state dollars toward voting machine upgrades.
Republicans said state law prohibits PEDFA from issuing the bond because it does not have the funding to repay it. Though it is the same amount of money Republicans offered Wolf in their bill, Wolf cannot simply issue it through executive power, they said.
“The governor does not have the authority to unilaterally decertify and require replacement of all voting machines, much less the authority to simply use his pen to borrow $90 million to pay for the machines without an appropriation or legislation from the General Assembly,” Rep. Garth Everett (R., Lycoming) said in a statement.
The GOP legislators said they are reviewing the proposal but stopped short of saying they would ask a court to intervene.
Republicans had said Friday that Wolf “fully owns” the impact of vetoing their election bill. While House Republicans indicated they would “continue to be engaged” on the issue, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans said they would not discuss further funding.
Wolf said Tuesday he is still open to negotiation.
“I’m trying to come up with an alternative — if someone doesn’t like that, let’s come up with something else, but in any case, let’s do this,” he said.
Wolf also announced that a small number of counties using older models of hand-marked paper ballot systems will be able to request an extension for replacing their voting machines until June 2021, instead of the April 2020 primary election. But counties receiving an extension will see 57 percent of their costs reimbursed, instead of 60 percent, according to Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott.
The statewide voting machine upgrade requires all counties to use new systems with paper trails that voters can verify in plain text before casting their votes, allowing for audits and manual recounts. While some counties have used paper-based systems for years, most Pennsylvania voters have used insecure systems that store votes electronically. State and federal officials have joined security experts in calling for paper-based systems; in January, an independent commission studying the state’s election security made replacing voting machines its first recommendation.
Its second: “The Pennsylvania General Assembly and the federal government should help counties purchase secure voting systems.”
Elections are run at the county level, and officials in many counties had worried they wouldn’t be able to comply with Wolf’s order — at least not without increasing taxes. On Tuesday, several said they welcomed the state funding.
Douglas E. Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, noted that the new state funding “will significantly reduce the need for use of local property tax dollars.”
While some counties have been able to move relatively quickly — nine have already replaced their systems — they generally were already preparing to upgrade when Wolf’s order came down.
Montgomery County had planned for several years to buy machines around this time. It used its new system, primarily hand-marked paper ballots that voters fill out and then scan, for the first time in the May primary election. In response to some issues that arose, and in anticipation of high turnout in 2020, the county will purchase more equipment, said Lee Soltysiak, the county’s chief operating officer.
The state funding will help offset the cost of that equipment. State reimbursement could also free up some county dollars to go toward other areas.
July 5, 2019
Pennsylvania Voting Machines Bill Vetoed in Fight Over Election Changes
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has warned lawmakers that failing to replace its roughly 25,000 voting machines by next year’s election could leave Pennsylvania as the only state without voter-verifiable paper systems
WHAT TO KNOW
Pa.’s governor vetoed legislation Friday that carried $90 million to help counties in the state buy new voting machines before the election.
Gov. Tom Wolf and other Democrats disapproved of the bill’s provision of eliminating the straight-party ticket voting option on ballots.
Another provision weakens the ability of the state and counties to quickly replace voting machines.
Pennsylvania’s governor vetoed legislation Friday that carried $90 million to help counties in the state buy new voting machines before the 2020 presidential election, but the bill also ordered changes to election laws that the Democrat said wouldn’t help improve voting security or access.
In statement, Gov. Tom Wolf said he remained committed to helping counties pay for voting machines, but he did not say how he might come up with the money without approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Wolf began pressing counties last year to replace their voting machines after federal authorities warned Pennsylvania and at least 20 other states that Russian hackers targeted them during 2016’s presidential election.
More than half of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have moved to replace their voting systems to the kind that Wolf wanted: systems that include voter-verifiable paper backups that are widely embraced by election integrity advocates and computer scientists.
Wolf’s administration has warned lawmakers that failing to replace its roughly 25,000 voting machines by next year’s election could leave Pennsylvania as the only state without voter-verifiable paper systems, and certainly the only presidential swing state in that position.
“National security and cybersecurity experts, including the Trump administration, are urging Pennsylvania and other states to have new voting systems with advanced security and a paper trail,” Wolf said in the statement.
The bill authorized Wolf’s administration to borrow up to $90 million to help counties underwrite a tab expected to exceed $100 million. It passed the Legislature last week, barely hours after Republicans unveiled the borrowing provision and combined it into one bill carrying several changes to election laws.
It passed without veto-proof majorities, and just seven Democrats voted for it.
One of the bill’s provisions eliminates the straight-party ticket voting option on ballots. Wolf said eliminating it could lead to voter confusion and longer lines at polls, while Democrats had argued that it is designed to benefit down-ballot Republican candidates.
The provision emerged as Republicans worry that waves of moderate suburban voters inflamed by President Donald Trump could punish down-ballot Republican candidates in the 2020 election.
Republicans acknowledge that Democratic anger in moderate suburban districts is a concern. But they insisted it did not motivate the legislation, and characterized the change as a bipartisan effort to encourage voters to vote for candidates, not parties.
Wolf criticized another provision in the bill as weakening the ability of the state and counties to quickly mount a large-scale replacement of voting machines by requiring it to be studied by a commission for 180 days.
Until last week, Republicans had not promised financial support for the voting machines.
Instead, they had criticized the move as coming at considerable taxpayer expense when there are logistical hurdles and no legitimate example of an election irregularity in the state.
In separate statements Friday, Republicans made no promises about supporting money for voting machines, free of other changes to election laws that Democrats oppose. Instead, they accused Wolf of blocking money for counties and insisted that eliminating straight-party ticket voting is good policy.
“Governor Wolf’s veto will allow the status quo to remain in order to attempt to retain an election advantage for Democrats,” Senate Republican leaders said.
Eight other states allow straight-party ticket voting, although one, Texas, is eliminating it after this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About a dozen states have eliminated it over the past quarter-century, according to the NCSL, although voters in one state, Michigan, restored it by ballot referendum last year after the Republican-controlled state government enacted a law in 2016 to eliminate it.
In testimony cited in a federal court decision last year, Michigan’s former Republican Party chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel, said she had advocated for eliminating straight-party ticket voting in the state because she believed it would help Republicans win elections.
McDaniel is now chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Source
June 30, 2019
‘Nobody is going to go to heaven.’ Pa. budget deal divides Democrats
HARRISBURG — When the state budget wrapped up late last week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could boast that he navigated yet another budget season without any major clashes with the Republican-controlled legislature.
Instead, it was the progressives within the governor’s own party who left the state Capitol this year feeling shortchanged.
The nearly $34 billion budget bill, which Wolf has signed, contained few of their legislative priorities. Though it boosts money for public education — long one of Wolf’s priorities — it siphons money from environmental protection efforts, lacks an increase to the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, and strips funding for a cash assistance program that helps Pennsylvania’s poorest residents.
Democratic lawmakers, including some newly elected in a progressive wave last year, balked at some of the missing items. Though they stopped short of publicly directly criticizing Wolf and their leadership, they expressed frustration that they did not have greater input in the process, which produced a plan they believe abandons their ideals.
“I’m frustrated,” Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Philadelphia) said of Wolf’s decision to sign the budget deal. “We are hungry for debate. We are hungry to fight for the issues that we believe in and that he believes in. And I saw an opportunity to do that this year. I saw a group of Democrats both in the House and Senate who were willing to fight with him, and by him — and have his back.”
Farnese, who during the budget debate last week pleaded with Wolf to veto the deal, said the results of last year’s election showed voters in Pennsylvania endorsed the progressive platform that Wolf and other Democrats have championed. Wolf handily won a second term, as Democrats narrowed GOP majorities in the state legislature and in Congress.
“To me, he had a mandate to fight for progressive causes,” Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Philadelphia) said of Wolf. “I think it was a missed opportunity.”
Wolf did score some wins this year. He got legislative buy-in for changing the mandatory age for school attendance to six years of age from 8, strengthening campus rape-reporting procedures, and creating a marketplace to make it cheaper for Pennsylvanians to buy some forms of health insurance. The governor also got approval for a measure that provides post-secondary educational credits for families of Pennsylvania Guard members.
When the budget came up for a vote last week, more than half the Democrats in the House voted against the plan. In the Senate, roughly a third of the Democratic senators rejected it. For some, it was their first taste of how deals are brokered in Harrisburg.
Democratic leaders acknowledge that the budget contains concessions. But House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) defended his decision to agree to it, noting the budget is a “complicated issue,” and that “nobody is going to go to heaven.”
“When you have a budget bill like this, it’s hard to deal with it,” he said. “We have a Republican majority we have to deal with and we have issues that we care about deeply, … and you try to accommodate everybody, [but] you can’t.”
Wolf, who kept a low profile during negotiations, has said he hopes to rekindle conversations on some of his priorities not included in the deal, such as boosting the minimum wage and additional anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
“We’ve gotten a lot of things done, but it doesn’t .. . take away from the idea that we still have a lot of work to do,” Wolf said Friday, shortly before he signed the bulk of the budget-related bills. “Minimum wage is one of those things. Making sure that we are addressing the needs of our most vulnerable fellow citizens is another.”
While Wolf and Democratic leaders promise to continue fighting, they acknowledge Republicans have given no assurances that they will take up those issues in the fall or next year.
Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) said he believes Democrats won’t have another chance to advance legislative priorities until next summer’s budget talks — traditionally a time of horse-trading on big policy issues.
“This is a matter of math at this point,” he said. “And the math is not in the Democrats’ favor.”
Wolf is no stranger to budget fights. In his first year in office, he went to war with Republicans over fiscal matters — a battle of wills that led to a historic, nine-month impasse that stressed out school districts, social service providers, and others reliant on state aid.
But the governor in recent years has employed a different negotiating strategy, working largely behind the scenes and avoiding public spats with GOP leaders.
Some want him to return to the Wolf of 2015.
Democratic leaders caution that fighting this year could have led to a late budget and the consequences that come with it.
But for others, a prolonged argument would bring potential rewards. Keystone Progress, a progressive activist group, released a statement on Tuesday morning that attacked lawmakers for prioritizing “timeliness” over “their core values.”
One freshman legislator echoed the group’s sentiments.
“An impasse is not the worst thing that can happen for my community,” said state Rep. Summer Lee, a Democrat from Allegheny County. “An impasse is not the worst thing that can happen for communities across this commonwealth. The worst thing that can happen is for you to tell us that there is nothing that we can do — that there is nothing more that we can do for those who are the least among us.”
Other first-term Democrats also railed against the budget plan. State Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten (D., Chester), called it a “sweetheart deal for special interests,” and Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Philadelphia) called it “galling” in a year when money wasn’t tight.
Pollster G. Terry Madonna, who has followed state politics for decades, said Wolf faces no real consequences for ignoring the progressive minority within his party. He said the governor can push for legislation, such as raising the minimum wage, in the fall.
Nevertheless, some are hoping that the division within the party will spark discussion on how budget deals are negotiated, and set the tone for future talks.
Said Fiedler: “Going forward, I’m hopeful that we are going to have more open conversation and communication on the budget in general and on spending priorities within the commonwealth.”
May 20, 2019
Pennsylvania urged to spend $1 per person on getting accurate census
A commission tapped by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to study how to ensure an accurate census in Pennsylvania is making a funding request of $1 per person to aid the outreach, or close to $13 million.
Wolf’s office said he supports Monday’s request by the 2020 Complete Count Committee. A number of states are undertaking a similar analysis and, in some cases, devoting money to the cause.
The government takes a headcount every 10 years. An undercount could have real-world consequences, since seats in Congress and billions in federal dollars for such things as transportation projects and education are allocated according to population.
Wolf’s office says Pennsylvania would lose almost $2,100 a year for each person who isn’t counted. The Republican-controlled Legislature has the final say on whether to approve the money.
Lehigh County is taking part in a campaign to increase census participation. According to a news release, the county is partnering with Allentown high schools to help it develop a fresh and modern logo as part of that effort.
The release notes that Allentown has dealt with significant undercounting in the past.
As part of its campaign to drive greater community engagement, Allentown is looking to students in Building 21, William Allen and Dieruff to design a logo that will help convey the importance of completing the census.
The contest winner will receive $100 and their logo will be revealed at the June 12 commissioners meeting.
“Our school system, especially in Allentown represents an effective way of breaking down traditional census barriers and ensuring we clear up fears and misconceptions about the census. The Allentown School District is a valuable partner in getting to a complete count, and tapping into the creativity of a diverse body of students represents one way of to help put forth a positive public awareness campaign for the census,” said County Executive Phillips Armstrong. Source
April 10, 2019
Legalization of Recreational Marijuana
Submit your feedback here
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is conducting a listening tour. He’ll visit all 67 Pennsylvania counties to hear from citizens in person.
6 to 7 :30 p.m. Monday, April 15
Downington High School West
455 Manor Ave., Downington, PA, 19335
February 27, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to offer first-of-its-kind college tuition benefit to Pa. National Guard member families
First Sgt. Bruce Facer and his wife Sandy welcome the proposed first-of-its-kind Military Family Education Program outlined at a news conference on Wednesday. (Jan Murphy | email@example.com)
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to break new ground with a new incentive program to entice members of the Pennsylvania National Guard to re-enlist for six years by offering them a tuition assistance plan for their spouses or children.
The Pennsylvania National Guard Military Family Education Program, or Pennsylvania GI Bill of Rights as Wolf refers to it, would provide up to 10 semesters of tuition-free education for the service member’s spouse or family to attend most of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions.
The amount of assistance paid would be capped at Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education base tuition rate, which this year is $3,858 per semester. The grant could be used to pay for an education leading to an industrial certificate up to and including a graduate degree.
Further, the benefit can be used by service member’s spouse or their children up through age 26 immediately while the soldier or airman is serving in the Guard or any time after they leave the service.
Only Minnesota offers a similar educational benefit to its Guard members but that program is limited to the service member’s spouse, Wolf said in outlining the program to a room filled with soldiers and airmen and surrounded by military equipment at Fort Indiantown Gap on Wednesday.
Early estimates of the proposed program price it out to about $2.5 million a year and money was built into the governor’s $34.1 billion budget proposal for it.
The program expands on the Education Assistance Program benefits available to service members upon entering into a six-year enlistment in the Pennsylvania National Guard but those benefits are not transferrable to family members.
“Helping our service members and their families obtain post-secondary education without the financial burden that usually goes along with that can also go a long way to help military families get the education that they need for the good jobs and fulfilling careers that we need them to have right here in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.
First Sgt. Bruce Facer, who has accrued 28 years of service in the U.S. Navy and Pennsylvania National Guard, said his family played a big part in his decision to remain in the military as long as he has.
“If my family wasn’t involved or on board with what I do, I would have been gone a long time ago because what I do affects them,” he said. “Families are a big part of what we do. Because without their support we cannot do what we do.”
He and his wife Sandy have a 20-year-old son who dropped out of college to make some money for when he decides to go back to school. “Should this program come to fruition it will be a great relief for our family to know that our son’s educational future will be secure,” Sandy Facer said.
Beyond what it would mean to her own family, Facer added she knows it will be a help to other Guard families from her work with a military family support group.
“I see so many National Guard soldiers and their families with young children. Many of them working hard just to live day by day and they are struggling. Affording a college education for their children seems to be but just a dream,” she said. “But with this Military Family Education Program, every qualified National Guard family in Pennsylvania can see their way forward to a good education for their children without that impossible debt.”
Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli, the state’s adjutant general, called the program not only a re-enlistment tool but a retention tool for the nearly 20,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members who are called upon often on a moment’s notice to respond to natural disasters in and outside of Pennsylvania, not to mention being deployed overseas.
From digging cars out on the highway, rescuing people on rooftops in flooded areas or being mobilized for about a year, he said, “We’re here for the safety and security of our communities at the sacrifice of our own family. This [program] is for those families that sacrifice.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate were on hand at the event to voice their support for this initiative.
Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland County, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee who is championing the proposed bill in his chamber, acknowledged the important role families play in re-enlistment decisions. He said this proposal could help boost the lagging number of the Guardsmen who re-enlist.
Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, who intends to be an advocate for the bill in the House as the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, said he sees this as a win-win for the service members and their families as well as the commonwealth.
“We keep the children in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We keep you men and women in the Guard because you are trained. You’re the best at what you do. You’ve done it for a long time. Keeping you there is cost efficient for the state.”
The way the proposed legislation is drafted, a Wolf Administration official said families would immediately be eligible for the program, but the first grants would not go out until the start of the fall semester in 2020. Source
February 20, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf’s voting machine replacement order to counties draws scrutiny from senators
This is a paper ballot used by Dominion Voting Systems, one of the new type of voting systems that Pennsylvania is going to have in place by the presidential primary in 2020. (File photo/Dan Gleiter | firstname.lastname@example.org) (Dan Gleiter | email@example.com)
Gov. Tom Wolf has requested $75 million in state funding over the next five years to help counties comply with his directive to replace voting machines, but it is the mandate itself that continues to trouble some state lawmakers.
In April, Wolf ordered counties to replace their voting machines with ones that produce a paper record for the voter to verify their vote is recorded correctly before casting their ballot. Counties were given until 2020 to comply.
Why the need? Why the rush? How to pay for them? Those were among the questions lawmakers posed to Acting Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar at a Senate budget hearing for the Department of State on Wednesday.
She said her conversations she has had with county officials indicate that they are pleased the governor is proposing to help pick up the tab for part of this mandate, although they wish he would agree to pay a larger share. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania estimates the voter machine replacement cost to be about $150 million statewide, although some estimate the cost to be lower. The federal government has agreed to kick in more than $14.1 million.
The state-approved vendors are offering financing options to counties allowing them to pay for their voting systems over three to eight years although local banks sometimes offer lower interest rates, she said, responding to questions from Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County.
In a hard line of questioning, Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery County, asked if there had been any machines hacked in Pennsylvania.
Boockvar testified not to her knowledge.
Yet, he said, “We have a rush to 2020. We have a huge expense to our taxpayers. We have vendors who are using excessively high interest rate proposals. We have governments that don’t have a way to pay for these. And we have no example, none, of a real legitimate issue. Why 2020? Why the rush?“
Boockvar responded that Pennsylvania was one of 21 states known to have experienced some hacking attempts of their election systems in the 2016 presidential election.
“Almost all, if not every single one of those 13 states will be upgrading by 2020,” she said. “So if we don’t, we will certainly be the only swing state, if not the only state, left in the country without a voter verified paper trailer. It’s not a position that I think any of us at the county, state or federal level want to be in.”
What’s more, she said homeland security and other experts all agree that states should upgrade to a voter verified paper trail voting system by the next presidential election. She said counties were given more than two years’ notice to make arrangements to replace their voting machines.
Still, Mensch said, “We can do this in a more practical, logical, programmed way, business way, and not creating these pressures on the 67 counties.”
Also driving the need to move swiftly to replace the machines is a settlement of a federal vote-counting lawsuit that 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed against the state. To end the lawsuit, the state committed to transitioning to voter verified machines before the 2020 presidential primary.
Boockvar said 13 of the state’s 67 counties are moving forward with plans to upgrade their voting systems by this May’s primary and the majority are expected to follow by the November general election. Source
February 19, 2019
Wolf creates new economic development, workforce ‘command center’
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed an executive order that created a new partnership between state government and the private sector that will address worker shortages.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed an executive order that created a new partnership between state government and the private sector that will address worker shortages.
Called the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, the new entity brings together politicians, labor leaders and business people from across Pennsylvania to address skills gaps and worker shortages in key industries.
At its core, the organization will offer recommendations on ways to better coordinate workforce and economic development programs and identify barriers that prevent businesses from hiring skilled workers.
During a press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Wolf made it clear why he signed the executive order. He said Pennsylvania’s economy is transforming, “and it’s a race to keep up.”
“We either strengthen workforce development, or we risk falling behind,” Wolf said. “We must be bold and ambitious and break from the status quo.”
From the governor’s perspective, there are issues in Pennsylvania that need to be corrected. More people are looking for work than ever before, he said, but many are “stuck” in low-wage jobs without the proper training to advance their careers.
Along those same lines, businesses are growing across the state and can’t find trained workers to fill open jobs. That’s why this new agency is necessary, Wolf said, and it has its work cut out for it.
In creating the new agency, Wolf also announced its new leadership. Three state politicians — including the acting Secretary of State, the Secretary of the state Department of Labor and Industry, and the Secretary of Department of Community and Economic Development — will join three business leaders in overseeing the new agency.
Those three business leaders include: Gene Barr, the president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; and Tony Bartolomeo, the co-chair of Team Pennsylvania.
In a news release, Bloomingdale mentioned workforce development programs are essential to moving Pennsylvania forward. Where this program is different, he said, is that it focuses on both workers and employers.
“Workforce development programs that train and support workers in their careers, and not just meet the needs of employers, move Pennsylvania forward in attracting the jobs of the future,” he said.
In addition, Barr said he was pleased to partner with Wolf and “lawmakers from both sides of the aisle … to address this issue in order to ensure that Pennsylvania’s workforce is prepared to meet the needs of the evolving jobs market.”
February 18, 2019
The Daily Item
State listening, speak out on marijuana
As Lt. Gov. John Fetterman continues his 67-county listening tour, it will be important for those concerned about the potential legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania to express and document their views.
A clear majority of those who have attended the first two sessions in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg indicated that they favor legalization.
The listening tour, slated to continue with 65 additional public sessions across the state through June, will accomplish little if it becomes nothing more than a pep rally for legalization.
Many people agree that the criminal penalties associated with the possession, use and distribution of marijuana should be reduced or eliminated, but physicians and medical researchers have expressed concerns about human tolls, such as addiction and the effects of marijuana on the development of the brain, especially for those under age 30.
These and other concerns should be aired and documented during the listening tour, which continues with stops in Greene County on Tuesday, Perry County on Wednesday, Clearfield County on Thursday, Juniata County on Feb. 24, Cambria County, Feb. 26, and Crawford County, Feb. 27.
Dates for the listening stops in Union, Snyder, Montour, Northumberland and other regional counties have not yet been scheduled.
When Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Fetterman would be embarking on the tour, he said he wanted to ensure that the voices of all Pennsylvanians have a chance to be heard.
“More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, especially those surrounding Pennsylvania, and we should learn from their efforts and better understand the potential fiscal impacts of this reality before taking any collective action,” Wolf said on Jan. 24 as he announced the tour.
Pennsylvania is one of 33 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical reasons. Ten states have legalized recreational use of the drug. They include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Pennsylvania will benefit from a well-rounded discussion that includes all points of view on potential legalization. Last week, the governor’s office posted an online form for citizens to enter their comments. More than 12,000 people submitted online comments during the first week.
The form is available online at: https://www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback
There are clearly many angles to explore during the listening tour, and we encourage all residents, especially those with specific experience and expertise, to speak out. Source
February 10, 2019
How Gov. Wolf’s $45,000 teacher salary floor would be split across Pennsylvania
State would provide nearly $14 million to 180 school districts to cover costs of getting 3,200 teachers’ salaries to the limit.
HARRISBURG, PA —
When Gov. Tom Wolf stood in front of the state Legislature Tuesday morning, he told them that he wanted to invest in education.
His budget address, in which Wolf laid out his proposed spending plan for 2019-20, was heavy on topics of education. There were plans to decrease the compulsory education age, increase the minimum dropout age and send millions more dollars to local school districts.
It’s safe to say, education is a winner in his budget. And in particular, one specific group in the education community.
Wolf announced he plans to raise the salary floor for public school teachers across the state. Set in 1989, the state has a lower salary limit for teachers of $18,500.
Wolf said he’s going to change it to $45,000. And, he added, the state will pay for it.
“This is a fully-funded mandate,” he said during his address.
So where is that money coming from? Wolf made a big deal in his address to stress that his budget doesn’t include a cent of new taxes.
According to officials from the governor’s office, new taxes aren’t needed to fund the teacher salary floor plan. The just over $13.8 million it will cost will come from non-tax revenue pieces and some savings initiatives within the budget.
The two main sources of revenue that will be used to cover the plan are added state money created by increasing the minimum wage and Pennsylvania State Police fees, officials said. Money will also be available through savings initiatives in human services and refinancing school construction debt.
The governor’s office estimates about 3,200 teachers would be impacted by the salary floor plan. Local districts will receive state funding to increase salaries to the new floor through their basic education subsidies.
Officials from the governor’s office said salary data collected by the state Department of Education will be used to determine how much a district gets, and assumptions will be made about starting salaries for the 2019-20 school year.
Based on that methodology, 180 districts in 49 counties across Pennsylvania, along with a handful of intermediate units and career and technology centers, would get at least some money as a result of the salary floor change. Some will get only a tiny amount, while others will get hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In Berks County, four schools would get money.
The Reading School District would receive the bulk of the funding with $262,595.
According to the district’s contract with the Reading Education Association, the least a teacher can make for the current school year is $41,000. The contract’s salary schedule, which dictates teacher pay based on experience and education level, shows a total of seven slots out of 135 that fall below $45,000.
District spokeswoman Kristin Boyd said Reading has 180 teachers making less than $45,000.
Elsewhere in Berks, Antietam would get $11,335, Muhlenberg would get $4,035 and Gov. Mifflin would get $852.
Most of the money would be dispersed to districts in the southwestern part of the state and the coal region.
Districts in Cambria County would get the most, with nearly $1.9 million. Somerset County would be second at $1.7 million, and Washington County would be third with $1.2 million.
Schuylkill County would get the fourth most at just over $987,000. All 12 districts in the county would receive funding.
The $278,818 that Berks districts would receive ranks it 15th.
As for individual districts, Conemaugh Valley School District in Cambria County would see the largest funding boost, receiving just over $693,000. North Star School District in Somerset County would be second with more than $563,000, and Albert Gallatin School District in Fayette County would be third with just over $534,000. Source
January 23, 2019
Gov. Wolf outlines efforts to minimize impact of federal government shutdown
HARRISBURG, Pa. – With the federal government shutdown entering a second month, Governor Tom Wolf provided an update on how his administration is working to minimize the impact on Pennsylvanians Wednesday.
“My administration is doing everything that it can to help those impacted by this situation,” Governor Wolf said in a news release.
“Agencies across state government are working with local officials and organizations that rely on federal funding. We are temporarily using state funds to fill the gaps where we can. We are working to assist affected workers however we can.”
The Wolf administration is taking the following steps to address the federal government shutdown:
Department of Human Services
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments will continue through at least mid-April by using prior-year federal funds. The commonwealth has provided $4.2 million for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program that funds 100,500 child care slots for low-income families.
The 1.8 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in Pennsylvania received their February benefits on January 18. These benefits must stretch through February, after which the fate of the program is unknown. The department notified SNAP recipients of the change.
Department of Health
The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program has enough federal funding to continue through February. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recovered additional unspent grant from states and will redistribute the funds.
Department of Labor and Industry
The Rapid Response Coordination Services is helping affected federal workers to access resources available to them. Resource fairs were held in Pittsburgh last week and in Philadelphia Wednesday. The resource fairs are in partnership with local organizations.
Pennsylvania is joining many other U.S. states in waiving the work registration and work search requirements for furloughed federal employees who meet Unemployment Compensation eligibility requirements to help affected workers to maintain their benefits.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
Training and exercises for first responders and emergency management practitioners that involve federal agencies have been canceled. Activities related to the disaster declaration from flooding last summer are continuing.
Department of Transportation
To assist rural and urban public transportation, the commonwealth has provided $7.1 million in unreimbursed federal expenses for operating and capital costs.
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Preparation for an elevation mapping project that includes federal funds is on hold. The high-resolution, elevation data will be used for flood management, natural resource management and conservation, land use planning, geologic mapping and hazard reduction, and infrastructure development.
Department of Community and Economic Development
The Pennsylvania Business One-Stop Shop is assisting small businesses waiting for approvals of federal Small Business Administration loans. The department is also exploring options for other business owners.
Department of Environmental Protection
Final approvals on grant funding and permitting functions have begun to be affected by the shutdown, including pass-through funds depended on by local governments. The department is reviewing and processing what they can, but final action is needed at the federal level.
Additionally, DEP is still waiting on guidance from the federal government on how to manage PFAS contamination in drinking water, a report on which has been delayed by the shutdown. DEP and the PFAS Action team continue to work to address this issue, calling on leadership at the federal level to take up this critical issue. Source
January 15, 2019
Gov. Wolf Touts Bipartisan Accomplishments During Inauguration Speech
Wolf: ‘We’re not like Washington. We can work together here in Harrisburg’
HARRISBURG (KDKA) — It had all the tradition of a gubernatorial inauguration at the state capitol – music, the presentation of the colors, the National Anthem by Philadelphia singer Bobby Hill, and an invocation by Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers.
“May the overwhelming love and unity demonstrated by the good people of Pittsburgh become a model for the type of community that is possible throughout this state,” the rabbi prayed.
Using a family Bible from the 1800’s held by his wife Frances, the governor took the oath of office from Chief Justice Tom Saylor.
“I, Tom Wolf, do solemnly swear….”
Once sworn in, Wolf quickly pointed to his new Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, known for his preference for t-shirts, jeans, and shorts, who appeared at the Inaugural in a coat and tie.
“Don’t you think the necktie looks pretty good on John?” Wolf asked.
The governor’s inaugural remarks were short on specifics but long on bipartisan accomplishments in partnership with the Republicans who control the legislature.
“Pennsylvania has created over 200,000 new jobs — good jobs that support families. We’ve improved more than 20,000 miles of roadways, restored 1,900 bridges,” noted the governor.
The litany included a billion dollars for public schools and turning a budget deficit into a surplus.
But he got his biggest cheers for health care.
“We’ve expanded Medicaid to cover 720,000 Pennsylvanians.”
And he drew a clear distinction with gridlock in Washington.
“We’re not like Washington. We can work together here in Harrisburg. We can get things done.”
Now, the Democratic governor’s salute to his Republican colleagues was reciprocated by a tweet from Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, promising to work with the governor to find common ground.
Speaker Mike Turzai
Congratulations to @GovernorTomWolf on the swearing in of your second term. As Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, we all look forward to working with you, finding common ground for a more prosperous Pennsylvania.
The governor will present his budget in February where specifics will be detailed and differences arise.
In the meantime, on Tuesday night the governor hosted a big party at the Farm Show Complex with food and drink from all over the state and appearances by the Pirate Parrot and the Penguins’ Iceburgh.
The total cost of the event is, at last count, over $1.7 million, donated by contributors, not paid by taxpayers. Source
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