August 17, 2019
Wolf Pack: Local pols back guv’s moves on gun control
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf directed state police and other agencies under his control Friday to focus greater efforts on addressing gun violence, two days after a gunman shot six Philadelphia police officers.
Wolf said set up a new Special Council on Gun Violence and gave it six months to recommend how to reduce mass shootings, domestic violence, suicides and accidental shootings.
He also established the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and delinquency and a violence prevention division within the Health Department.
“I applaud him,” said state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown. “The governor worked closely with me last session. He was very helpful in getting the domestic abuse bill across the finish line and I think what he’s doing is a great thing.”
The announcement had been planned for Thursday but was rescheduled after the nearly eight-hour standoff in Philadelphia that left the officers with injuries not considered life-threatening. A suspect who fired at police from inside a building before finally surrendering has been arrested but not yet charged.
Wolf said state police will expand and support gun buy-back programs and increase monitoring of hate groups and white nationalists. His state police commissioner, Col. Robert Evanchick, said he will set up a task force to consider what steps to take regarding gun buy-back efforts.
The Office of Gun Violence Prevention will work to deter shootings in areas that have high rates of violence and coordinate the reporting of lost and stolen guns to police.
The governor’s office says more than 1,600 people died of gunshot wounds in Pennsylvania in 2017.
House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, who represents a Philadelphia district, recounted 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.
Wolf, a Democrat, also urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to enact standards for safe gun storage, pass a “red flag” high-risk protection order bill and require state-level universal background checks for gun buyers.
Killion is the author of the Senate version of the “red flag” bill and said it could act as a tool to remove guns from individuals exhibiting dangerous behavior before they execute a mass shooting. He added it is “loaded with due process” and does not criminally prosecute those who have their weapons temporarily removed. The bill does include a provision to prosecute those who might abuse the law with false allegations, he said.
Killion noted similar laws are already on the books in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and their popularity may have just gotten a boost with a mention from President Donald Trump.
State Sen. Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore, is a co-sponsor on Killion’s bill and agreed it is generally regarded as low-hanging fruit. What Wolf is proposing, he said, is a little more aggressive and aims at reaching a consensus through hearing the issues on Pennsylvanians’ minds and reacting to them.
“We see things like the shooting in Philadelphia where six police officers are shot and, number one, how did he get a gun, and number two, how did he get an AR-15?” Kearney said. “We keep hearing there’s laws that don’t work, but we have laws with giant loopholes in them and ways for people to get around them.”
State Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-161 of Swarthmore, a member of the Policy Committee, said no equivalent hearings are currently scheduled in the state House, but she believes joint hearings would be appropriate and supports the bills Wolf has called on the Legislature to pass.
“My very first policy hearing four years ago was on the topic of universal background checks and four years later we still haven’t been able to get that bill out of committee,” said Krueger.
Krueger said she believes the delay can be attributed to the outsized power special interest groups like the National Rifle Association and Firearms Owners Against Crime can bring to bear on her colleagues.
“There are over 2 dozen bills that have been introduced to address the issue of gun violence in Pennsylvania and not even one of them have gotten so much as a hearing this session,” she said. “If we could get these bills to the floor for a vote, many of them would likely pass, but the Speaker refuses to allow us to bring them up.”
Wolf signed an executive order flanked by activists and Democratic state lawmakers but was not joined by any Republican senators or representatives, a reflection of the polarized nature of gun issues in the politically divided General Assembly.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.”
State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-165 of Springfield, said she was relieved to see the governor is approaching the issue from a more comprehensive stance that includes all types of gun violence, not just mass shootings.
O’Mara’s father, a career firefighter in Philadelphia, took his own life in 2003 when she was just 13 years old, so she said the issue of gun violence and the conversation about mental health have been both played large roles in her life.
“We’ve had a big conversation about gun violence in terms of mass shootings, but I think what we’re seeing in our area more is gun suicide,” she said. “Mass shootings are one thing that we have to deal with, but we also have to address other types of gun violence.”
O’Mara said she recently held a town hall in Springfield where attendees were asked to fill out a survey. They overwhelmingly checked “yes” on the need for universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, she said, two things the governor mentioned specifically in his press release Friday.
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.”
Kearney is hosting a bipartisan event at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit at 7 p.m. Tuesday, where he said community members, local elected officials and anti-violence groups will be able to engage in a free-flowing exchange of ideas.
“It’s a hard thing, people get very emotional about it,” Kearney said. “But a lot of these things are not really partisan. When people actually talk about them and people actually think about them, I think we can get something done.”
June 25, 2019
Senate moves to give independent voters a voice in Pa. primary elections
The days of independent voters sitting on the sideline during Pennsylvania’s primary elections could be coming to an end.
The Senate voted 42-8 to open primaries to allow the 785,000 unaffiliated voters to cast votes on either the Republican or Democratic ballots, starting with next year’s primary.
This is the first time this landmark bill that would move away from closed primaries ever got this far in the legislative process.
The measure, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, now goes to the House for consideration. But it could get folded into a broader election reform bill that includes a number of voting-related measures that are still being negotiated between the House, Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf as part of the overall budget package.
Wolf has signaled his interest in supporting open primaries.
“We’re thrilled to see the tremendous progress made on primary reform” said David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan better government advocate. “Our closed primaries were never fair to the voters who were shut out of these important elections, and the consequences of partisan bases gaining a disproportionate impact on who enters public office and their agendas has also been harmful to the effectiveness of government as a whole.”
Pennsylvania would join 16 other states that open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester County, noted that the number of independent voters is the fastest growing segment of Pennsylvania’s voters.
“We need to respect those voters,” he said. “This is the great middle in both parties including the independents feel they’ve been left out of the political process and that the extremes have taken over. This bill gives a voice to that great middle.”
Right now, independent voters can only vote on ballot questions in primaries and so many don’t turn out to the polls.
Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh County, said she has been calling for this change for over 20 years.
“Frankly, our democracy doesn’t work if our citizens can’t participate,” she said. “We need to do all we can to encourage voting. Our election law often does the opposite.”
Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery County, failed in her attempt to allow third-party voters to cast votes in primaries as well. Scarnati said those voters have made a choice as to which party they want to be affiliated with and have a voice in picking their party’s nominee.
Among those voting against the move to open primaries were five Republicans and three Democrats. Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County, said she opposed it because her constituents told her it made them uncomfortable. Sens. Pat Stefano, R-Westmoreland County, said it would make primary elections more costly for candidates because they would have to reach out to a broader audience to ask for their vote.
In a separate measure, the Senate voted 30-20 on a bill Boscola sponsored to eliminate straight party voting. She said over the last decades, nine states have removed this option from their ballot and now Pennsylvania is one of only eight states to still allow straight-ticket voting.
“Straight ticket voting promotes the election of a party not the election of a candidate,” Boscola said. “Straight ticket voting makes it more difficult for independent and minor party candidates to complete against the two major parties and I think that’s bad for our democracy.”
Several of her Democratic colleagues, however, opposed the bill, including some that supported it when the Senate State Government Committee considered the legislation. Senate Democratic spokeswoman Brittany Crampsie said her caucus is committed to modernizing elections but “election reform is a broad umbrella; open primaries and ending straight party voting are just two issues where our members aren’t all in the same place philosophically.”
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the governor is still evaluating the elimination of a straight-party voting option.
The chamber also voted to approve a bill to reduce the number of ballots that have to be printed to at least 10 percent of the highest number of ballots cast in any of the three previous like election. Source
March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations
WEST CHESTER — Pennsylvania lawmakers representing 11 House and three Senatorial districts across Chester and Delaware counties have signed a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to impose a moratorium on the transmission of natural gas liquids products through the Mariner East pipeline system until the mandated protocols are in place for local responders to properly manage a pipeline emergency.
Chester County Emergency Services and local school districts along the pipeline, including Downingtown Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District and West Chester Area School District have requested Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary SPLP to provide its Emergency Response Plan for the Mariner East project, which the responders and school districts need to complete their comprehensive All Hazards Emergency Response Plans and fulfill their statutory requirements under Title 35 of state law.
The letter urges Wolf to preserve the health, welfare and safety of constituents who live, work and raise their families in the high-consequence areas of Chester and Delaware counties within the impact radius of Mariner East. The pipeline also runs through Berks County.
“We have pipelines currently transporting highly volatile products through our communities, and our local first responders are not able to adequately plan their emergency response or mitigate our risk because the operator has failed to cooperate with repeated requests for their Emergency Response Plan,” said state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester County. “Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are risking a catastrophe, which is a criminal offense.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for their collaboration on this request. The bipartisan support for this moratorium underscores how important it is to take every possible step to ensure the safety of our communities and our first responders.”
The letter was signed by the following state representatives Rep. Steve Barrar, R-60 of Concord; Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester; Friel Otten, D-155 of West Whiteland; Rep. Kristine Howard, D-167; Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26; Rep. John Lawrence, R-13; Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown; Christina Sappey, D-158; Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157; Rep. Dan Williams, D-74; and Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, as well as state Sens. Andy Dinniman, D-19; Katie Muth, D-44; and Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore.
Mariner East spokesmen did not return a call for comment as yet.
The company is building and operating the controversial Mariner East project, transporting volatile liquid gases across the full width of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook.
Residents have opposed the project for years, saying the pipeline never should have been routed through densely populated neighborhoods, in close proximity to schools and senior centers.
Mariner East 1, which is a decades old smaller pipe that has been retrofitted to carry the new materials, has been shut down for weeks since a sinkhole formed in a Chester County neighborhood for the second time.
Mariner East 2 came online the last week of December, albeit not in the form Energy Transfer originally proposed. Mariner East 2 was proposed as a 20-inch pipe, but because of constant delays and other problems, Energy Transfer plugged in a hybrid version of several smaller pipes to fill in the gaps. Completion of the full Mariner East 2 pipeline now likely will not take place until 2020.
Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
In February the state Department of Environmental Protection halted all permits for the Mariner East 2 project, saying Energy Transfer had failed to take proper actions after an accident that caused an explosion in western Pennsylvania.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last month announced he was launching a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East 2, noting his belief that state officials had not adequately protected citizens rights and safety. He now is impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear testimony from witnesses and review documents.
October 12, 2018
McGarrigle, Kearney duke it out for state Senate
The incumbent state senator in the 26th District and the mayor of Swarthmore are engaged in a political battle to see who will capture the seat.
State Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield, has held the office since 2015. In that capacity, he serves as chairman of the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee and serves on the Banking and Insurance; the Community, Economic and Recreational Development, the Local Government; and the Rules and Executive Nominations committees.
Prior to his job in the Senate, McGarrigle served on Delaware County Council and as a Springfield Township commissioner. Owner of an automotive business, he and his wife of 30 years have three sons.
Kearney, a Democrat, is serving his second term as mayor of Swarthmore and previously served on the borough’s zoning hearing board and planning commission.
He and his wife are partners in their architectural firm that has provided expertise for Cheyney and Widener universities. They also have two adult children and have lived in Swarthmore for 23 years.
The candidates outlined what they garnered from district residents while out on the campaign trailer.
“When I’m out talking to voters, I’m talking with them about my accomplishments on issues like education, combating the opioid epidemic and common-sense gun-control reforms,” McGarrigle said.
He highlighted passing a no-tax-increase budget this year, increasing education programs by more than $250 million and including a grant program for investments in school safety.
The senator also spoke of three pieces of legislation he introduced that were passed this year. One, increased protections for victims of domestic violence by requiring abusers to surrender their firearms within 24 hours after a permanent Protection From Abuse order has been issued. Another provided students with alternative pathways to graduation besides the Keystone Exams, a measure he said was supported by the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Pennsylvania School Board Association.
Finally, he said a bill he championed addressed drug recovery houses that were being operated by inappropriate individuals “more like drug dens,” and not giving the people the help they need for recovery.
Kearney also shared his campaign philosophy.
“This campaign is about putting the people of Delaware and Chester counties back in control of their state government,” he said. “The Republican super majority in the Legislature has broken Harrisburg and, unfortunately, our opponent has done nothing to fix it except for a few election year gimmicks.
“The people of our communities want a state government that leads on issues of equality, economic development and investing in our future,” he continued.
Kearney noted the disparity in education funding, pointing out classes in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District have an average 17 students while in the Upper Darby School District, the average is almost 30 students per class although the property taxes in Upper Darby are higher than in Swarthmore.
“In every budget he has proposed, Gov. (Tom) Wolf has asked the Legislature to pass a tax on the oil and gas that companies take out of our ground – we’re the only state without one – a measure that has vast bipartisan support,” Kearney said. “But, GOP leaders and oil and gas lobbyists have killed it every chance they’ve gotten, leaving Pennsylvania as the only major gas-producing state that doesn’t tax gas extraction.”
Both candidates have sent mailers to district constituents, pointing fingers at their opponent.
“College Professor Tim Kearney IS OUT OF TOUCH,” one of McGarrigle’s mailers, paid for by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, read. “Elitist Liberal Professor Tim Kearney wants to raise taxes on hard-working families. Kearney is bragging about his plans to raise taxes on job creates and business owners. Worse yet, Kearney wants a government takeover of health care that will double the taxes you pay.”
Featuring a picture of Kearney next to a $100 bill on fire, another mailer reads: “Radical Liberal Professor Tim Kearney thinks taxpayers have money to burn. Swarthmore resident, Professor Tim Kearney wants to raise taxes on just about everybody!
“If Radical Liberal Tim Kearney had his way,” the back of it reads, “our taxes would be higher … We can’t afford Tim Kearney in the state Senate.”
This also was paid for by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
Kearney had his material as well.
In one paid for by Friends of Tim Kearney, it contends, “Tim Kearney. Small Business Owner. Mayor. Father. Ready to take on the Harrisburg Republican bosses.”
The candidate is quoted on it saying, “Harrisburg political bosses and State Sen. Tom McGarrigle have put corporations ahead of middle-class families, oil and gas interests ahead of our environment, and tax cuts for millionaires ahead of our public schools. Join me in fighting back.”
In it, he also lists what he plans to do such as: “Provide fair funding for our public schools; impose an extraction tax on gas drillers; ensure fair pay for women in the workplace; protect a women’s right to choose; champion small businesses by providing tax incentives that encourage job growth within our communities; (and) pass common sense gun legislation.”
The candidates also shared how their backgrounds have shaped who they are.
Growing up without a dad and under the care of his single mother, McGarrigle said he started working at a young age after going to a trade school for auto mechanics before opening his own shop.
“I learned the value of hard work, honesty and always keeping one’s word,” he said, adding that even now when the Senate isn’t in session, he’s up at his automotive shop at 6:30 a.m. each day.
He said one of the most frustrating things he’s had to confront in Harrisburg is state programs and policies that aren’t working or that are fundamentally flaws.
“Far too often when I ask why things in state government are done inefficiently or are not working as intended, the response I get from government bureaucrats is, ‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,'” McGarrigle said. “That mindset does not go over well with me. So … I try to fix them.”
After spending time conversing with people in both Delaware and Chester counties, Kearney said he’d use the same approach in public office that had proven successful in his professional and personal life.
“People just want to be able to provide for their families and get ahead – and stay ahead – on their monthly bills,” he said.
His method of governing would be maintaining a “view toward the big picture and a keen eye on the details. Whether it’s designing a building, overseeing a police force or balancing our firm’s books, we need to sweat the small stuff, but never lose sight of the big picture.”
Voters will make their choices when they go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The 26th state Senate district comprises of Aldan, Clifton Heights, East Lansdowne, Glenolden, Marple, Media, Millbourne, Morton, Newtown, Prospect Park, Ridley Park, Ridley Township, Rutledge, Springfield, Swarthmore, Tinicum, Upper Darby and Upper Providence in Delaware County and Easttown and Willistown in Chester County. Source
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