April 21, 2019
As suburbs roar, state Dems pick top 2020 target
HARRISBURG — To understand Pennsylvania’s fast-changing political geography, look no further than Tom Killion.
After Democrats recently flipped six state Senate seats in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Killion is one of the chamber’s last Republicans standing in those areas — and target No. 1 for Democrats in 2020.
That’s when Pennsylvania will be a closely watched battleground in the presidential contest.
Killion’s Delaware County-based seat has been held by Republicans going back to the 1800s, but President Donald Trump may complicate things for him next year.
“Have you been watching the elections?” Killion responded in an interview, when asked if his district was getting tougher to win.
For now, Killion is a chief sponsor of legislation that sounds like a progressive Democrat’s wish list: reducing gun violence, reaching 100% renewable energy by 2050 and imposing a tax on natural gas production to underwrite a multibillion-dollar infrastructure package. That last policy point is atop Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s agenda.
Located in Pennsylvania’s southeastern corner, Killion’s district is part of the heavily populated and politically moderate suburbs of Philadelphia. Once a bastion of Republican power, voter registration has shifted to favor Democrats over the past couple of decades, and Trump’s election seemed to accelerate Republican losses and bolster Democrats’ political activism there.
Killion has served in the Legislature since 2003 and has stood with Republicans on some of Harrisburg’s most partisan bills. He has attained a 69% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, in line with other suburban Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Senate.
Still, he said he has not shifted his legislative strategy to appear more liberal ahead of the 2020 election; he’s always believed in working across party lines.
He is also used to winning with ticket-splitting voters. But he acknowledged that Trump has changed voter views in Philadelphia’s suburbs since 2016.
“They’re so angry at Trump that they’re just pulling the straight D lever in the general election,” Killion said.
In 2017, Republicans hemorrhaged local government seats in Philadelphia’s suburbs.
Last year, the suburbs roared again , flipping three congressional seats outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to Democrats. Victories in state legislative races exceeded the expectations of Democratic strategists, and gave the party a majority of suburban Philadelphia’s seats for the first time in modern history.
In Pittsburgh’s suburbs, Democrats picked up another state Senate seat in a special election two weeks ago , helping shrink last year’s 34-16 Republican advantage in the Senate to 28-22.
Those successes are raising Democrats’ 2020 hopes of capturing the majority in a Senate controlled by Republicans for almost three decades. Pennsylvania’s Senate and House are the last Republican-controlled legislative chambers in the northeastern United States.
Killion is, perhaps, the most vulnerable.
Last November, more than 60% of voters in his Republican-majority district backed Wolf and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in their reelection bids .
In 2016, 55% of voters there backed Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump. Still, Killion won his election that year, despite Trump’s poor showing in Philadelphia’s suburbs on his way to winning the state.
The state Senate’s top Republican, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, dismisses Democrats’ talk of winning a majority as just a fundraising strategy.
The suburbs, he said, are not lost to Republicans. They have seen swings in momentum before, he said, and will swing back — possibly in 2020 when Democrats must defend three suburban seats with Trump on the ballot.
“It’s been real easy to beat up and criticize Donald Trump for a lot of reasons, because right now, Donald Trump has been running against himself,” Scarnati said. “In 2020, there’s going to be a Democratic candidate running against him and the people will have to decide: Do they want the extremism on the left or do they want Donald Trump back?”
Democratic Party leaders in Delaware County said they won’t take anything for granted in challenging Killion. But Democrats also say voters aren’t simply angry — they are sophisticated and know Killion is a vote for Senate Republican leaders who will block a progressive agenda.
“His first vote is for the Republican agenda and every vote after that is just for show,” said David Marshall, executive director of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm.
For Killion, his election strategy will, to some extent, be the same: rely on people who know him and what he’s done for the area going back to his days on county council in the 1990s.
But Killion suspects 2020 will also be different because of Trump.
“I don’t know if it’ll affect me because I’ve been doing this for so long, people know me,” Killion said. “But you’ve got to worry.” 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.
March 4, 2019
Consumers’ Digital Libraries Protected in Killion Bill
HARRISBURG, PA — Senator Tom Killion has introduced legislation that would protect Pennsylvanians’ digital property for generations.
Killion’s bill would allow music, books, videos, photos and documents stored by tech giants such as Apple and Google to be transferred to beneficiaries once an individual dies. This would be done the same way tangible property is transferred: by providing instructions in a will, trust or power of attorney.
“In today’s world, people invest a substantial amount of time and money building their digital libraries,” said Killion. “Whether purchasing music online over many years or having a lifetime of photos stored digitally, these items are of great financial and personal value. We need to have a law in place that allows this property to be transferred to loved ones after death,” he added.
Killion’s legislation, introduced as Senate Bill 320, is called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 46 states have passed laws related to digital assets.
Several stakeholder groups worked with Killion to draft the legislation, including Amazon, Apple, Google, the Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Under the bill, if individuals fail to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets before they die, the same court-appointed fiduciary that would traditionally manage tangible property would also now manage digital assets.
The legislation would allow a fiduciary to access digital property from cloud storage companies by sending a certified document proving their authority to manage these electronic assets.
Praising the legislation, Duncan Campbell, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association said, “Senate Bill 320 strikes the right balance between protecting the privacy of a decedent’s digital communications while also allowing their personal representative to access a catalogue of their digital assets that might be subject to probate. As part of personal planning for end-of-life decisions or an incapacitating medical situation, we encourage all Pennsylvanians to make clear their wishes for their data files, particularly those that involve relationships with banking institutions.”
PA Bar President Charles Eppolito III commented, “The Pennsylvania Bar Association supports Senate Bill 320 as it would provide much needed access by agents and other fiduciaries to the digital assets of decedents or incapacitated individuals. We are thankful to Senator Killion for his willingness to listen to all affected stakeholders in the drafting of this legislation.”
Killion said his legislation on digital assets is both needed and timely due to the enormous popularity of online transactions. Read more
February 20, 2019
Senators propose bill to substantially extend family medical leave
WEST CHESTER — Senators Tom Killion, R-9, and Andy Dinniman, D-19, have introduced a bill to substantially extend family medical leave provisions in Pennsylvania.
The bipartisan legislation would expand family medical leave rights to siblings, grandparents and grandchildren for the first time ever in the state.
Under the bill, up to six weeks of protected, unpaid leave would be provided to an employee in order to care for a terminally ill sibling, grandparent or grandchild. This would only apply if the ill relative does not have a living spouse, child over the age of 17 or parent under the age of 65 to care for them.
“Terminally ill individuals need all of the family support they can get,” said Killion. “We must ensure that siblings, grandparents and grandchildren can take time to care for loved ones if no one else is able to do so. This kind of family care is the hallmark of any compassionate society and is long overdue in our state,” he added.
Dinniman said, “Pennsylvanians shouldn’t be forced to choose between their jobs and their families when it comes to caring for a terminally ill sibling, grandparent, or grandchild. We should be supporting those relationships and responsibilities – not making an already difficult time more challenging. We’ve worked diligently and carefully to make this legislation as specific and as business-friendly as possible. And it’s high time that it becomes law.”
The family medical leave reform legislation has local roots in Chester County, resulting from the experiences of West Goshen resident Anne Marie Pearson.
In 2009, Pearson’s sister, Joanne, was diagnosed with late stage gynecologic cancer and needed around-the-clock care. Joanne Pearson was unmarried, did not have children, her father was deceased and her mother was elderly.
Anne Pearson applied for family medical leave to care for her sister, but was denied because she was a sibling, which does not fit the strict definition of “family” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Her only option to care for her sister until she passed away was to leave her job of 17 years, which she did.
“I often thought who would have taken care of Joanne if I didn’t sacrifice my job and my livelihood? No one should have to ever choose between keeping their job or taking care of a sick family member,” said Pearson.
Pearson added, “Decisions like these can be devastating to Pennsylvania families. The traditional family unit of ‘mother-father-child’ doesn’t always exist in today’s world and no one single law can specify who is considered family. It’s time we have some real legislation and policies that reflect our communities. Expanding the family medical leave law is good for both businesses and families.”
The family medical leave legislation authored by Killion and Dinniman has officially been introduced as Senate Bill 140. Source
February 9, 2019
Killion supports Wolf Administration pipeline actions
WEST CHESTER—State Sen. Tom Killion applauded the actions taken this week on pipeline safety by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
On Friday, DEP halted its permit review process for pipelines owned by Energy Transfer, parent company of Sunoco Pipeline. DEP said this action resulted from the company’s noncompliance of a DEP order related to an explosion in Beaver County last September.
The order effects 27 Mariner East 2 Pipeline permits needed for work on this project.
“DEP has done the right thing by suspending permit reviews of Energy Transfer pipelines,” said Killion, R-9. “This agency should continue to demand that the pipeline company takes all corrective environmental measures outlined in their original order and that operations not resume until full compliance is strictly followed,” he added.
Killion was most pleased by Wolf’s call for pipeline safety in a statement issued by the governor on Friday.
“Governor Wolf has called for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to take a series of long overdue actions to help ensure the public’s safety near pipelines, and he voiced support for new pipeline legislation in the General Assembly. I thank the Governor for his strong words today,” said Killion.
In January, Killion and Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, announced a legislative package of 12 pipeline safety bills.
“It is incredibly helpful that the governor is urging the legislature to pass pipeline oversight bills. Our bills will help protect families living in pipeline communities across the state. These are commonsense, bipartisan legislative proposals that ensure the public’s safety,” said Killion.
Last year, Killion strongly urged the PUC to uphold an administrative law judge’s decision shutting down the Mariner Pipeline until an array of safety precautions were taken, but the PUC allowed pipeline operations to resume.
Killion said, “With the governor’s statement today, I hope the PUC finally understands that they can and should do more to protect pipeline communities, and that the legislature starts passing pipeline safety bills.” Source
January 30, 2019
Senators tout package to loosen absentee voting, make it easier to hire poll workers, merge precincts
When Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Folmer unveiled a package of election reforms that he and his Senate colleagues were rolling out for the new legislative session, what he emphasized repeatedly was not the fact that the proposals had bipartisan backing, but that they had emerged from conversations with local officials all over the state.
“In my first meeting with the county election officials, I was shocked by their comment that no state officials had worked closely with them about possible changes to the Pennsylvania election laws,” Folmer, R-Lebanon, said at a news conference in Harrisburg. “I promised myself I would not only speak with those who run our elections, but I would also carefully listen to them.”
The resulting package is designed to address a host of complaints and concerns that arose from hearings and discussions held by Folmer’s State Government Committee. Among the proposals are measures designed to make absentee voting easier, decrease the difficulty in finding poll workers, simplify ballots and more.
Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Schwank, is taking the lead on a proposal to loosen the state’s absentee ballot standards. Currently, voters intending to vote absentee must provide a reason, such as work, health or religious considerations, why they can’t vote on Election Day.
“One of the most exciting changes we’re proposing with this legislation is to allow no excuse or universal absentee ballots,” she said at the news conference. “A majority of other states have been able to employ no excuse absentee ballots safely, securely and credibly. And I think Pennsylvania can do it too.”
Schwank’s proposal also would allow a voter to turn in their absentee ballot in person on Election Day if they couldn’t get it postmarked in time.
Another proposal from Sen. Tom Killion, R-Brookhaven, would allow the use of “voting centers,” locations where anyone from a given county can vote regardless of their precinct. Killion’s legislation would also allow curbside voting for individuals with disabilities.
Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Connellsville, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that will allow state and federal employees to serve as poll workers. Currently, the Pennsylvania Constitution forbids this practice, and local officials say this has made the difficult work of recruiting poll workers even harder.
And the final pieces of the puzzle came from Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster. One of Martin’s proposals would establish a mechanism to win an election via write-in whereby a candidate would need to collect at least 10 signatures. Martin is also behind a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the need for a separate ballot for judicial elections.
Another element mentioned by Folmer was allowing smaller precincts to merge, which Martin said has been a legal headache up to now.
“When I was a county commissioner in Lancaster, we had precincts where you might have what, 20 people who vote in a given election,” he said. “And the precinct next door has 30 people, and the polls are literally right across the street from each other. And you’ve tried to merge them, and then the courts overturn it. So you run into issues like that. So it hasn’t been smooth sailing.”
Folmer said that there would be more hearings before his committee on the proposals before they were advanced to the full Senate, and he promised that he would have conversations with his colleagues in the House of Representatives to make sure that there was support in that chamber, as well.
“We’re trying to get on the ground running,” he said. “So the quest here is to try to get it done as soon as possible, but at the same time, making sure we do it in a very deliberate fashion. ” Source
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