October 22, 2019
Lavish dinners, sports tickets, and nearly $3.5 million other expenses by Pa. lawmakers you’ve never seen
A year-long investigation by The Caucus and Spotlight PA uncovered other purchases, too: foreign trips, limos, fine wines and liquor, country club memberships, and even a DNA test kit.
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/The Patriot-News.
A stone’s throw from the Salzburg Cathedral in the Austrian city stands the St. Peter Stiftskulinarium restaurant, a 1,200-year-old icon partially carved into a rock face. Inside, the chefs serve up pumpkin dumplings with wild broccoli, venison with king oyster mushroom and beef tartare with fig and summer truffle.
The restaurant touts itself as the oldest in Europe and is said to have been visited by Christopher Columbus and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On a warm, late September day in 2016, the chefs served another dignitary of sorts: Joe Scarnati, the most powerful lawmaker in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Scarnati was 43 days from re-election and 4,300 miles from his constituents in his rural district along Pennsylvania’s northern tier. But records show the $246 bill was charged to his campaign credit card. So were other stops on his European trip, including in Germany, where he dropped $1,295 on lodging, and in Belgium, where he spent $152 at an Italian restaurant near Bruges’ historic city center.
Under Pennsylvania election law, campaign accounts must be used for “influencing the outcome of an election.” But what qualifies is largely open to interpretation. For Scarnati, a Jefferson County Republican with enormous influence over how tax dollars are spent, it’s the kind of dining on someone else’s dime that might have given voters pause — had they known about it.
A year-long investigation by The Caucus and Spotlight PA found lawmakers across the state are shielding sometimes lavish campaign spending by not reporting the details to the public, making it extremely difficult for voters and donors to assess how the money was spent and if that spending was appropriate.
From 2016 through 2018, state House and Senate candidates spent nearly $3.5 million that cannot be fully traced based on the information they publicly disclosed, according to thousands of pages of records obtained by the news organizations. Charges included foreign trips, sports tickets, limos, lavish dinners, fine wines and liquor, country club memberships and a DNA test kit.
In many cases, the expenditures were listed on publicly available campaign finance documents with entries such as “credit card,” “meals” or “travel,” and a total amount, with no other details. In other cases, expenses were listed in reports simply as a “reimbursement.”
“It seems to me that when somebody digs deep into their pockets to contribute to a political campaign, my guess is that they want it to be for policy as opposed to ensure that someone gets beers and brats in Germany,” said Terry Mutchler, a First Amendment lawyer and former director of the state Office of Open Records. “A 12th grader can figure out that there is a problem here and that it leaves room for gaming the system.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers operate under some of the country’s weakest campaign finance laws. The state is the only one with neither contribution limits nor an explicit ban on spending campaign cash for personal use, according to a nationwide survey by The Caucus and Spotlight PA.
October 16, 2019
Killion goes back to school to get first-hand look at education
WESTTOWN—Senator Tom Killion (R – Chester and Delaware) shadowed Dr. Nora Wheeler, principal of Westtown-Thornbury Elementary School Wednesday as part of National Principals Month sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
“There are fantastic things happening at Westtown-Thornbury,” said Killion. “The students I met were engaged, enthusiastic and excited about learning. That’s a credit to Dr. Wheeler and the school faculty and staff.”
“I love that the National Association of Elementary School Principals encourages members to invite government leaders into the classroom as part of Principals Month as a way to keep the connection between schools and our representatives strong,” said Wheeler.
Killion visited the kindergarten class of Marian Barcusky which was in the middle of a math activity before moving on to the first grade class of Sara Nyholm.
Katie Donal’s music class was Killion’s next stop where students were practicing their rendition of “This Land Is Our Land” for the school’s upcoming Veterans’ Day celebration.
Before concluding his visit, Killion stopped in the fifth grade class of Kassandra Logue. Ms. Logue’s students were working on a social studies project focused on learning about the 50 states.
Killion praised the emphasis on the utilization of the latest technology at Westtown-Thornbury.
All fourth and fifth graders at Westtown-Thornbury have iPads which are integrated into every aspect of the curriculum, and smart boards have been installed in every classroom.
“Technology plays such a central role in our economy and lives,” noted Killion. “The students’ immersion in it during their time in elementary school will prepare them to compete in the global marketplace.”
Said Wheeler, “It was an honor to have Senator Killion visit Westtown-Thornbury so that I could showcase the great strides we are making with the meaningful integration of technology and important events such as our upcoming Veterans’ Day celebration.”
One of 10 elementary schools of the West Chester Area School District (WCASD), Westtown-Thornbury has 540 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. WCASD is comprised of West Chester Borough and the surrounding townships of East Goshen, West Goshen, East Bradford, West Whiteland, Westtown and Thornbury in Chester County, as well as Thornbury Township in Delaware County.
“My thanks to Dr. Wheeler, faculty, staff, and, most importantly, the students for hosting me today. I look forward to visiting Westtown-Thornbury Elementary again soon,” said Killion. Source
October 2, 2019
‘Red flag’ gun bill author eyes changes to ease lawmakers’ concerns
A Republican lawmaker from the Philadelphia suburbs says he is considering changes to legislation that would give law enforcement the power to seize people’s guns if a court determines they are a risk to themselves or others.
Under the current draft of state Sen. Tom Killion’s legislation, a family member who makes false allegations while asking a court to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights could be charged with a second degree misdemeanor.
Following feedback from two days of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week, Killion said he’s considering boosting the penalty for a false allegation to a felony.
“That’s something we may want to look at — put more teeth into it,” Killion said during a Tuesday panel discussion at the Chadds Ford Township Municipal Building in Delaware County. “False claim — you’re going after a constitutional right. That’s a serious, serious matter.”
Killion said upping the penalty for a false allegation would address concerns that an angry ex-spouse or partner would make false claims to obtain an extreme risk protection order as payback.
“You make it a felony that takes that whole argument away. I mean, now you’re talking jail time,” he said, adding that a felony conviction also makes it difficult for someone to find a job. “So that’s what we’re looking at right now, which I think will go a long way to help us get it across the finish line.”
Killion’s legislation, Senate Bill 90, already includes other penalties for someone who makes a false statement or whom a court determines “acted in bad faith for the purpose of harassing the respondent … .” In addition to criminal charges, the penalties include paying for the defendant’s attorney fees and storage costs.
Gun rights groups and some lawmakers have raised several objections to extreme risk protection orders, including part of the process known as an ex parte proceeding. Such a proceeding, where the defendant isn’t present or represented by counsel, would allow a court to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights.
Those interim extreme risk protection orders could last up to 10 days — or longer if the defendant agrees to push back a full hearing.
A gun owner would have a chance to mount a defense if a judge moved to extend the surrender period for three months to one year.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to session in Harrisburg Oct. 21.
“We’re going to hit the ground running with Moms Demand Action and all the other advocates to push for this bill,” Killion said. “I would love to get it out of the Senate before we go home for Christmas break.”
The legislation is a top priority for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and gun violence prevention advocates. But it faces a tough fight in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lisa Baker, said she “has some reservations about due process.” But she didn’t rule out action on the extreme risk legislation — unlike the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who last week said the bill had no chance on his watch.
The Giffords Law Center, which supports extreme risk protection orders, recommends that any such law should have criminal penalties for people who file a petition that contains statements the person knows are false. The group’s online guide to the law doesn’t get into details of whether that penalty should be a felony or misdemeanor. Source
September 18, 2019
Folmer resigns post; both Delco senators called on him to do so
State Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, resigned his position Wednesday morning, hours after news broke that he had been charged with possession of child pornography.
Both Delaware County’s state senators joined the chorus of those calling on Folmer, R-48, of Lebanon, to step down following charges of possession of child pornography.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Folmer had been charged with sexual abuse of children, possession of child pornography and criminal use of a communication facility.
Shapiro’s office did an investigation after electronic service provider Tumblr notified them through CyberTip that a user had uploaded an image of child pornography through its application.
Then, Shapiro said, a search warrant was executed and images of child pornography were found on Folmer’s phone.
According to the police documents, the image in question involved a young female girl performing oral sex on an adult male. Folmer told investigators that the Tumblr account with this image was his, that he had received child pornography through this account and that he had been “dealing with some personal problems/issues.”
At the time, the attorney general said, “This defendant serves as a state senator and was entrusted to honor and represent his community in the Pennsylvania Capitol … I will continue to say it – no one is above the law, no matter what position of power they hold.
“I will continue to work to protect children and hold those who abuse them accountable,” Shapiro said.
Today, both state Sens. Tom Killion, R-9, of Middletown and Tim Kearney, D-26, of Swarthmore, called on Folmer to resign.
“The charges against Sen. Mike Folmer are extremely disturbing,” Killion said. “The allegations, related to the sexual exploitation of children, are of a nature that precludes his continued service as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate. I call on him to resign immediately.”
Kearney’s words were similar.
“The charges against Sen. Folmer are deeply troubling and beyond reprehensible,” he said. “As elected officials, we are called to uphold the public’s trust and protect the most vulnerable among us, especially children. Therefore, I call for Sen. Folmer’s immediate resignation.”
Sen. Katy Muth, D-Chester-Montgomery, left little doubt where she stood on Folmer’s situation.
“I want to make it very clear that the charges brought against Sen. Folmer for the possession of child pornography are the actions of a sexual predator,,” Muth said. “Child pornography is child rape. The news is disgusting, but sadly not surprising since there is a rape culture epidemic in our government and beyond. I commend Attorney General Shapiro for taking action to charge this criminal for his crimes and seek justice.
“The Republican leaders in the Senate need to step up, remove this predator from his position as senator, put politics aside, and finally put victims first. A real leader would act now to pass truly victim-centered legislation to strengthen our laws to prevent future harm, as well as allow all victims to have a pathway to justice and healing. This predatory behavior is plaguing every level of government and it is time for Pennsylvania to lead the way in changing the culture, instead of settling for cowardly compromises and protecting elected officials who continue to abuse their power and harm others. Senate leadership has the power to enact change immediately and their failure to act with urgency directly enables rape culture. I call on Sen. Scarnati to do the right thing and make truly victim-centered legislation the priority next week when we return to Harrisburg, showing that the public servants of the Senate stand with survivors, not predators”
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman told CNN that Folmer was immediately removed as Chair of the Senate State Government Committee.
They announced in a statement Wednesday morning that they had met with Folmer and demanded he resign.
At that point Folmer offered his resignation, effective immediately.
Scarnati, R-25, and Corman, R-34, issued the following statement announcing the resignation of Senator Folmer.
“We are sickened and disturbed by the charges brought against Mike Folmer yesterday. We have reviewed the criminal complaint and spoke with Mike Folmer early this morning to insist on his resignation from the Senate. We are in receipt of his letter of resignation and the 48th Senatorial District seat is now vacant.” Source
Sept 4, 2019
Bucks, Montgomery County Democrats stump for solar, carbon cap
At a press conference in Abington, Democratic state lawmakers connected climate change to Hurricane Dorian and other global events as they promoted bills to increase the state’s use of solar energy while placing a cap on carbon emissions.
State Democratic lawmakers from around the region gathered in Abington’s Crestmont Park on Wednesday to promote energy legislation they say is crucial to halting global climate change and protecting local communities.
“This is the only planet we have. There’s no plan B planet,” said state Sen. Art Haywood, D-4, of Cheltenham. “This event is to make sure we’re clear about the challenge and what we can do to respond.”
The news conference was originally billed as a jointly hosted event by Haywood and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-10, of Lower Makefield, to promote Senate Bill 600, which would require Pennsylvania’s power grid to use 30% solar energy by 2030. Santarsiero was unable to attend the event as he recovers from a bout of pneumonia, his office said, but other legislators connected the bill to recent events, including Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas.
“Think of the people who are suffering in the Bahamas. It looks like half that island is destroyed,” said U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4, of Abington. “Everybody from the pope, to the Pentagon, to prisoners tell you this is an extraordinary threat to our future. We ought to be listening.”
Weather records show that Dorian is the fifth Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 2016, which is the first time such storms have formed in four consecutive years since record keeping began in the 19th century.
Joe Webster, D-150, of Collegeville, also noted the military’s focus on climate change. A U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and retired colonel, Webster pointed to a 2010 report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command that placed climate change among the top security challenges facing the military.
“The migration patterns we’re seeing of displaced peoples all over the world, in Africa and the Middle East, is due to climate change,” Webster said.
Webster also noted that Navy ships in Norfolk, Virginia, are floating several feet higher than they used to, resulting in issues with proper entry onto the vessels.
Haywood said S.B. 600 would work by modifying the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, which requires energy generators and distributors to use a certain percentage of alternative energy sources. The bill would up solar requirements from 8% to 30% by 2030 and direct the Pennsylvania Utility Commission to study the benefits of a renewable energy storage program.
Democrats also worked to frame the bill as good for the economy and families, as Haywood claimed an outside study showed it would create 7,500 jobs across the state. Mark Bortman, owner of solar installation company Exact Solar in Newtown Township, also said he supported the bill.
“If we’re able to get this through, it will put Pennsylvania back in the leadership for climate action,” Bortman said. “Going forward, there’s going to be more jobs in renewable energy than fossil fuels.”
Bortman said New Jersey has 30% more jobs in renewable energy than Pennsylvania, despite having 30% fewer people.
Haywood also touted the legislation as bipartisan, as it was co-introduced by state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9, of Delaware County. However, the state legislature’s website still lists Killion as the only Republican co-sponsor since its April introduction. The bill is currently in the Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee, which is chaired by state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-6, of Bensalem.
Democratic lawmakers and leaders from environmental groups also previewed a more robust legislative effort Wednesday, saying they planned to introduce a carbon “cap” bill this fall that would work to place a limit on carbon emissions in Pennsylvania. The state is currently the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, behind only California, Texas, and Florida, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
According to press materials released at the event, the bill — the Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Transition Act — will seek to cut carbon emissions 90% by 2040.
Whether either bill stands a chance in a divided Harrisburg remains a big question. J.J. Abbott, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said Wednesday the governor “strongly supports expansion of renewable energy” in the state and “applauds” Haywood and Santarsiero for their efforts. Abbott further noted that Wolf signed an executive order in January “committing” Pennsylvania to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050.
“He is eager to work with the legislature to use every available tool to clean our energy mix and reduce emissions to combat climate change,” Abbott said.
Republicans hold controlling majorities in both the state House and Senate. Asked for leadership’s position on the two bills, Jennifer Kocher, communications director to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, was noncommittal.
“SB 600 and issues dealing with lowering carbon emission have been referred to the appropriate committees for consideration,” Kocher wrote in an email. “We have long had an interest in looking at energy policy in a holistic manner that looks to ensure reliability while balancing that with the need to protect the environment and consumers.” Source
August 28, 2019
Attack spurs talk about tougher laws
A wave of public furor over the reported assault of a mentally disabled man Aug. 20 on the Hoodlebug Trail near Floodway Park in Homer City has political and law enforcement leaders responding to the outcry.
As social media first exposed the attack, as an accused participant uploaded a video recording of three others repeatedly striking an intellectually disadvantaged Homer City man, the Internet has been a main channel for angry response to not just the assault but the ramifications for the suspected assailants.
What could broadly be called frustration by area residents over the attack has settled in two main questions: How could the criminal charges be so light? How could an attack on a disabled person not warrant harsher punishment?
The response across the board from equally frustrated prosecutors and lawmakers is that the legal system is handcuffed by the laws now on the books. Nothing more can be done to impose greater sanctions on the suspects, if they are convicted.
All that can be done is to beef up the law to deter repeat incidents and to more severely punish someone who does the same in the future, officials said.
State police filed criminal complaints Monday afternoon and arrested the suspects that evening.
The most serious charge filed against the suspects is a first-degree misdemeanor count of stalking (repeatedly commits acts to cause fear). All have been charged with disorderly conduct, false imprisonment and harassment.
For laying hands on the victim, each is charged with simple assault — all that the letter of the law allows, District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said.
Aggravated assault, a felony offense, didn’t happen, Dougherty explained by defining the statute in place in Pennsylvania.
“The Pennsylvania Crimes Code defines Bodily Injury as ‘impairment of physical condition or substantial pain’ and Serious Bodily Injury is defined as ‘bodily Injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ,’” Dougherty said. “In this case, the victim did not suffer injuries which would be considered serious bodily injury and that is required for the charge of aggravated assault.”
Cody Overdorff, 25, of Homer City, came away with red marks and minor bruises but didn’t have to go to the hospital, state police reported. The physical injuries were recorded as they were seen. Overdorff’s family members say the emotional harm, not easily seen, was worse.
Overdorff suffers from Williams syndrome, a developmental disability that also manifests with a risk of cardiac problems.
The suspected assailants: Corey Blystone, 18, of Sagamore; Jordan Kinney, 19, and Dakota Patterson, 20, both of Indiana; and Katelyn Lemley, 19, also known as Katie Black, of Homer City, remained in Indiana County Jail this morning, unable to post $50,000 bond required for release.
That in itself, detention on misdemeanor charges, is a step beyond the usual procedure, Dougherty said. Normally those charged with misdemeanors in Indiana County are sent a summons and told when to report to district court for arraignment.
But when the cases are adjudicated, the punishment for a crime against a person with disabilities is the same as that for an offense against an able-bodied victim.
Local lawmakers, Rep. Jim Struzzi and Sen. Joe Pittman, said they are as disturbed as the constituents who have flooded their phones, email inbox and social media accounts.
“It’s horrifying and appalling that someone could do this, especially on one of our county’s recreational trails. The mental and emotional anguish that he and his family must be in is unimaginable,” Struzzi said. “To help ensure that this family finds adequate justice, and to help prevent these types of crimes from happening again, I am co-sponsoring this bill so that disabled victims are given the justice they deserve.”
He referred to House Bill 1344, authored by Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Chester, that would add “intellectual or physical disability” to the list of elements that prosecutors can consider when contemplating hate crime charges.
“I’m aware and I’m mortified by (the attack), and I’m grateful for law enforcement’s work so far,” Pittman said. “It seems social media has helped to bring this to prosecution.
“And I think it’s an example of the positive power of social media. If it wasn’t for the video and ability to make people aware of this tragedy, I don’t think it would be on our radar, to be honest.”
Concern over victimization of people with disabilities has not escaped the Legislature. Lawmakers in each house introduced bills earlier this year to include disabled people as a protected class in the laws already on the books. Attacks on them would be considered ethnic intimidation or hate crimes and be cause for enhanced sentences, as assaults on a range of classes of people, ranging from minorities to gays to police officers and first responders, already are provided.
Language nearly identical to that in the House measure appears in Senate Bill 444, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, of Philadelphia.
The bills were referred in the spring to the judiciary committees in the respective houses.
Pittman, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but who took office following a special election in May, said he would promptly add his name as a co-sponsor of the bill and work for its return to the Senate floor for a vote, and Struzzi pledged his backing for Howard’s bill in the House.
Officials cautioned that any quick action for approval of the bills by the House and Senate, and the governor’s signature to make them law, would not change the way the Homer City trail beating case can be prosecuted. Only the laws on the books Aug. 20 would apply, Dougherty said, but “Make no mistake my office will prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.” Source
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.”
July 24, 2019
Killion introduces legislation closing dangerous dog loophole
CHADDS FORD — Prompted by concerns expressed by parents of children severely bitten by dogs, Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware counties) has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 798, to better protect the public from dogs proven to have caused severe injury to a person or a domestic animal.
The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a dog attack Wednesday, July 24 in Parkesburg.
Police were called to a dog attack along the 300 block of Strasburg Avenue in Parkesburg Two family members — an 82-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man — sustained serious injuries including bites, cuts and a compound fractured arm. The family was transported by ambulance to area hospitals as police attempted to contain the dog on the property. After attempts to contain the dog failed, police were forced to put the dog down.
“Under current law, a dog may severely injure someone unprovoked, yet a court could clear the owner of all charges,” noted Killion. “’At trial, ‘vicious propensity’ needs to be proven in order for a dog to be deemed dangerous, despite it causing severe injury. This is an impractical burden and a safety issue, for children in particular. My legislation eliminates that requirement.”
Under current law, a victim, the state dog warden or a police officer may file a complaint with a magisterial district judge charging the dog owner with the summary offense of harboring a dangerous dog. In addition to proving that the dog in question has severely injured a person or domestic animal, it must be demonstrated that the dog has a violent history or propensity to attack. This element of the offense often requires litigating the dog’s personality and temperament.
Senate Bill 798 would require only that victims or authorities prove in court that the dog inflicted serious injury without provocation to secure a conviction. The legislation also raises the annual registration fee for a dangerous dog to $1,000 from the current $500.
Killion drafted the bill after hearing from several Chester County mothers, including Sarah Hermans and Amanda Neill, whose children were severely injured by dogs.
Hermans’ then eight-year old son Damien underwent extensive reconstructive plastic surgery to repair his severed lips and deeply punctured nose resulting from a 2016 dog attack. Despite the unprovoked attack and severe injuries, the court failed to deem the dog to be dangerous.
“The dog law has loopholes,” said Hermans. “Damien testified in court, but that was clearly not enough. If a dog has caused severe injury unprovoked, that is all that should be required to impose safety measures to prevent further harm. This is a public safety issue.”
Neill’s daughter, Paisley, endured a similar trauma. She underwent plastic surgery after being attacked and bitten on the face at the home of a neighbor. At trial, in spite Neill’s testimony and that of a local police officer, the dog owners were found not guilty.
“We took photos of the bites to Paisley’s face and all of her medical records to court, to no avail. It was over before it started” said Neill. “The current state law is insulting to anyone who’s been seriously bitten, not to mention dangerous for unsuspecting people and pets who come into contact with the dog in the future.”
Said Killion, “The injuries these children suffered were horrible, and Pennsylvania’s Dog Law handcuffed the courts from holding these dogs and their owners accountable. My legislation keeps the focus on the attack at hand and will allow authorities to more easily secure a determination that a dog is dangerous. It will better protect Pennsylvanians, particularly children, from dogs that have caused serious injury.”
Senate Bill 798 has been referred to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. Source
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
June 5, 2019
Major criminal justice reform bill sponsored by Killion passes Senate
CHADDS FORD — Senate Bill 501, sponsored by Senator Tom Killion and part of a bi-partisan package of criminal justice reform legislation, unanimously passed the Pennsylvania Senate Wednesday.
SB501 would streamline the placement of offenders in drug treatment programs and other intermediate punishment programs, and improve and expedite the parole process for non-violent offenders.
“Emphasizing drug treatment and punishments other than incarceration is the right thing to do for taxpayers, our communities, and those convicted of non-violent crimes,” said Killion. “Breaking the cycle of addiction by streamlining the placement of offenders in drug treatment will make our criminal justice system more efficient, improve public safety and reduce the burden we ask taxpayers to bear.”
Passed along with two companion bills, SB501 is part of a Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) approach to reducing corrections spending and reinvesting savings in strategies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. Specifically, SB501 would amend Title 42 and Title 61 to:
• Incorporate county intermediate punishment program into county probation;
• Rename the State Intermediate Punishment Program as the State Drug Treatment Program and streamline the process for placement;
• Allow parole agents to quickly detain parolees for violations; and
• Help improve the process for paroling persons who receive a short sentence to prison.
Killion noted this plan builds on the success of JRI measures approved in 2012. Over the past six years, the inmate population in state prisons has been reduced by more than 4,000, and the crime rate has decreased by approximately 3.7 percent, providing $400 million in projected savings to taxpayers.
These new initiatives will further reduce costs in the justice system and ensure the money saved through these reforms is put to good use by providing assistance to our county probation and parole offices in evaluating public safety risks and compensating crime victims, said Killion.
Killion thanked the PA Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, other law enforcement agencies and officials and others for their input and assistance in crafting the bill. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“Addiction is a disease, and those suffering from need treatment,” said Killion. “Ensuring a non-violent offender gets the addiction treatment they need is smart, cost-effective public policy. It reduces crime, promotes rehabilitation and saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year.” Source
May 29, 2019
Pa. bill aims to prevent repeat DUI offenses
Senator Tom Killion is now looking to introduce ‘Deana’s Law’
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Deana Eckman, 45, was just minutes from her Delaware County home when her car was hit head-on by a suspected drunk driver.
Already with five previous offenses, the offender was only out of prison because his sentences were allowed to run concurrently rather than consecutively.
“How could someone who already had five DUIs get behind the wheel while intoxicated and end someone’s life?” asked Sen. Tom Killion, of Chester and Delaware counties.
Senator Killion is now looking to introduce “Deana’s Law.”
“We’ve made some progress in the laws. We had a major law change last year, but we still have a lot more to do,” said Killion.
The Senator says his law would focus on preventative measures, change those concurrent sentences, and he’s also looking at technology which would stop repeat offenders from getting behind the wheel in the first place.
“The biggest solution in mitigating the DUI situation is going to be solved by engineers,” said Richard DeRosa, Deana Eckman’s father.
Those are things like the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which immobilizes a vehicle when it detects the driver is over the legal limit. He’s also looking at the use of SCRAM bracelets.
“As soon as they ingest alcohol, the monitor goes off, and they are picked up as a violation,” said Debbie D’Addona, of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
They’ve already been successfully used in York and Lancaster counties.
“You’re increasing safety, absolute efficiency. Doing it swiftly, making people face their consequences early on. It’s just all around a win for everybody,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman.
Senator Killion hopes to officially introduce Deana’s Law within the next few weeks. Source
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