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August 31, 2020
Local lawmakers recognized as environmental champions

WEST CHESTER — Five Chester County lawmakers recently joined dozens of residents virtually to discuss the state of the environment.

The lawmakers discussed their critical actions to protect Pennsylvania’s air and water and combat climate change — and how they stood up against polluters who would put their profits over environmental protection.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Scorecard, compiled by four environmental organizations across the state, scores Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives on their votes on environmental legislation.

Chester County has one of the state’s highest number of environmentally friendly legislators in office — with eight out of our thirteen legislators scoring 100 percent.

“We’re proud to recognize the numerous state legislators in Chester County with perfect scores, and we hope their unyielding commitment toward protecting our water, air, and lands become a trend across the state,” said Jess Cadorette, Conservation Voters of PA field director.

The scorecard helps Pennsylvanians discover whether their legislators are prioritizing our environment when voting in Harrisburg.

“Protecting our neighborhoods and environment is critical to maintaining the beauty and habitability of our County and our Commonwealth,” said Rep. Dan Williams (HD-74).”I am greatly appreciative that my beliefs have earned myself such a high recommendation from these organizations.”

Said Sen. Katie Muth (SD-44): “Elected officials and those in positions of power who take money from fossil fuel companies should not be drafting or voting on environmental legislation. Too many members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly remain loyal to special interests, resulting in a direct attack on our democracy, our environment and our public health.”

The 2019-2020 Environmental Scorecard reflects a denial of science among legislative leaders that risks the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s residents for generations to come. This session, 116 legislators scored zero percent, marking a 500 percent increase in bad voting records on environmental issues since the last environmental scorecard in 2017-2018. However, Chester County was one of the few regions which saw an increase in legislators scoring 100 percent.

“We all know the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of preserving and protecting our environment for future generations,” said Rep. Carolyn Comitta (HD-156). “I am proud to stand with my colleagues to ensure that our communities have environmental champions that are dedicated to passing legislation that will safeguard our constitutional right to clean air and water.”

Enivironmental scores: State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (SD-19): 67 percent, State Sen. Tim Kearney (SD-26): 100 percent, State Sen. Thomas Killion (SD-9): 50 percent, and State Sen. Katie Muth (SD-44): 100 percent.

State Rep. Stephen Barrar (HD-160): 8 percent, State Rep. Carolyn Comitta (HD-156): 100 percent, State Rep. Tim Hennessey (HD-26): 8 percent, State Rep. Kristine Howard (HD-167): 100 percent, State Rep. John Lawrence (HD-13): 15 percent, State Rep. Danielle Otten (HD-155): 100 percent, State Rep. Christina Sappey (HD-158): 100 percent, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman (HD-157): 100 percent, and State Rep. Dan Williams (HD-74): 100 percent.

Said Sappey: “I remain committed to protecting our rights to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of our open space and environment. Thank you to Conservation Voters of PA for this opportunity to come together and discuss the environmental challenges still facing us.”

Cadorette said environmental issues are important.

“Pennsylvanians deserve to know where their lawmakers stand, and the 2019-2020 Environmental Scorecard is a critical tool to help people stay on top of what bills are passing through Harrisburg and when to hold their legislators accountable, ” said Cadorette. Source

June 19, 2020


Nov 19, 2019

Aug 7, 2019
Wolf declines calls for special session on gun laws unless consensus on bills emerges

HARRISBURG — Fellow Democrats this week implored Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special session of the legislature to address gun bills, citing the deadly mass shootings last weekend in Ohio and Texas.

Mr. Wolf, though, has declined to do so — even as he touts the need for further gun control measures, such as universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.

“The governor is open to calling a special session if there are commitments to allow votes on critical reforms that will save lives,” spokesman J.J. Abbott said in a statement. “Without such an agreement, there is no guarantee of action.”

Republicans, who frequently oppose gun control measures, control the Legislature.

While they stopped short of criticizing him directly, some progressive members of the governor’s party on Wednesday called for more robust action, urging Mr. Wolf to bring the legislature back before its currently scheduled return in mid-September.

“Well-tailored press statements, thoughts, prayers are no longer enough,” freshman Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, a Democrat from Chester County, said at a Wednesday news conference. “Inaction is nothing short of an endorsement of a culture of gunning people down in our streets, schools, churches, concert halls, movie theaters, and grocery stores. We need policy and change, and we need leadership.”

Others in the Capitol, including some in Republican circles, have hinted that the governor’s approach might be a pragmatic one, absent any current consensus on gun measures.

Special sessions are rare and often mired in politics. The last one happened in 2010, when Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell convened lawmakers to hash out plans for funding long-term transportation and infrastructure projects. The effort was a bust.

The Pennsylvania Constitution gives the governor the authority to convene a special session if “in his opinion the public interest requires” or if a majority of lawmakers send him a petition requesting one. There don’t appear to be any credible efforts to put together such a petition.

When a special session opens, the governor addresses lawmakers, committees are formed, and then the normal rules apply. That means Republicans, who have the majority in both legislative chambers, would still control which bills come up for a vote — and which ones don’t.

And some GOP leaders have hinted that a special session might be unnecessary or premature, given that lawmakers don’t yet appear to have a consensus on some of the major gun bills.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee through which most gun bills flow, promised this week to hold a series of public meetings.

“Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives,” she said in a statement. “Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding.”

On the House side, Republicans are trying to find compromises that balance the rights of legal, responsible gun owners while also tamping down on crime, according to spokesman Mike Straub.

Conversations in that chamber are expected to revolve around a bill that would create so-called extreme risk protection orders, or which would allow people to petition the courts to temporarily confiscate someone’s guns if they present a danger to themselves or others.

The calls for action on that and other gun control measures are not new. Many of them gained a renewed urgency last year, after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania lawmakers have not passed any major gun bills since that shooting.

Similar calls arose in Virginia, after a gunman killed 12 people in a shooting earlier this year.

The political dynamics in Virginia are similar to the ones in Pennsylvania. In both states, a Democrat holds the governor’s office, and Republicans control the legislature.

After the Virginia Beach shooting, Gov. Ralph Northam convened a special session to address gun bills. The Legislature left after fewer than two hours.

While Mr. Northam described lawmakers’ quick departure as “shameful and disappointing,” some Republicans accused him of trying to advance a political agenda.

Now, as they head into the fall, the fate of those gun bills remains unsettled. Republican lawmakers there are waiting for a crime commission’s recommendations — which are due after the November election.  Source

August 7, 2019
Chesco state legislators call for gun session

WEST CHESTER — Members of the General Assembly whose districts include portions of Chester County are urging Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special joint session of the legislature to address gun violence and extremism in the wake of two mass shootings within 13 hours of each other last weekend.

“We cannot afford another preventable tragedy in our own backyard,” said state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157th, of Schuylkill about the need for legislative action Tuesday in a press release. “What happened in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, can be avoided here in Pennsylvania, so instead of wallowing in this seemingly never-ending cycle of tragedy, let’s end it.

“We can go into session right now and pass legislation that would make it more difficult to put guns in these people’s hands,” she said.

Shusterman joins other Democratic state legislators including state Reps. Carolyn Comitta, D-156th, of West Chester, Danielle Friel-Otten, D-155, of West Whiteland, Christina Sappey, D-158th, of Malvern, and state Sen. Katie Muth, D-44th, of Royersford in calling to Wolf to bring the topic to a special session. Comitta and Friel-Otten are members of the PA Safe Caucus, which encourages legislation to halt gun violence.

PA Safe Caucus wants the special session to consider legislation in the House and Senate that would address access to guns for people at risk of violence to themselves or others, close the loophole for gun background checks, and to ban assault weapons.

In a press release issued by the House Democratic Communications Office, Shusterman noted that most public opinion polls reveal that most Americans support mandatory background checks on gun purchases, as well as other safety legislation.

“When two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history happen within the same news cycle you know our nation is in a dark place. It is clear that we as a society have become numb to such events,” Shusterman said.

“I’ve heard the cliché ‘tragedies show us the best humanity has to offer’ regarding these shootings, and it’s starting to unnerve me. It seems to be part of the script following every mass shooting. It seems to be a way to minimize the terror of the actual shooting and instead put the focus on the recovery that should never have been necessary.

“My colleagues and I have over 25 pieces of legislation that have not been passed out of committee that could put Pennsylvanians’ safety before an industry’s profits. The time is now to put an end to these hateful acts of violence. I urge our leaders to call the legislature to Harrisburg and not stand idly by.”

J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, said the governor is not necessarily opposed to a special session. However, Abbott said without “commitments to allow votes on critical reforms that will save lives, there is no guarantee of action.”

“What is desperately needed is broader recognition that change is necessary to protect all Pennsylvanians,” Abbott said. “Gun violence is a crisis that shows itself not just in mass shootings like Tree of Life, El Paso or Dayton, but in community gun crimes, suicides by gun and domestic violence.”

Meanwhile, one Republican who has sponsored gun control legislation in the past and who represents residents of eastern Chester County, urged caution concerning bringing together legislators attempting too wide a focus. State Sen. Tom Killion, R-9th, of Middletown, is one of a few moderate Republicans sponsoring that measure-colloquially known as a “red flag” bill.

“You start trying to do too much, then you end up with nothing,” he said. “If I can get this done, I’ll be quite happy.”

Killion noted that one of the key reasons last session’s domestic violence bill received enough bipartisan support to pass was that its sponsors compromised with the National Rifle Association so that the group would remain neutral, instead of opposing it.

Shusterman encouraged her constituents to call the Republican majority chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Rob Kauffman, at 717-705-2004 and ask him to schedule hearings on gun violence prevention legislation, and to call House Speaker Mike Turzai at 717-772-9943. Source

August 4, 2019
Rep. Danielle Friel Otten

This afternoon, while waiting for my flight home to my own precious babies, I read the story of a 2 year old survivor of the El Paso shooting yesterday who’s broken bones will likely be the least of her suffering. Her mother did what every one of us would do and threw her body over her to protect her, losing her own life at the hands of a racially radicalized white supremacist during a likely routine visit to Walmart. I am overcome, breathless, forcing myself not to turn away from things so painful to acknowledge. I am sitting here on a plane filled with folks reading books, playing crossword puzzles and listening to music and it feels bizarre.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and remember the rise of skinheads and neo-Nazi punk rock. I’m thinking about the story of the Chris Picciolini, the skinhead turned peace activist who talks about how hate drew him in and what influenced his change of heart.

Read more about it here:…/a-former-neo-nazi-explains-why-hate-d…

“Here we are in 2018 and we have a lot of hallmarks coming from political figures, the administration and policies that are very similar to what we espoused 30 years ago. The language may be a little bit more palatable. Dog whistles may be used, but it is still the same underlying theme. It is a white supremacist culture that is being pushed.”

No photo description available.

July 1, 2019
Interview with Pennsylvania State Representative Danielle Friel Otten

This was written by Mollie Michel, Moms Clean Air Force’s Pennsylvania State Organizer: 

Pennsylvania State Representative Danielle Friel Otten was elected in November 2018 to serve as state representative for the 155th District, which encompasses parts of Delaware and Chester counties outside Philadelphia.

While Danielle’s platform is focused on social justice at every level – strong public schools, making health care more affordable and accessible, public safety, workforce development and family-sustaining jobs – it was environmental justice that first called her to run for office.

In 2015, rumors swirled that the construction of Mariner East – a natural gas liquid pipeline being run across 355 miles of Pennsylvania – would overtake her neighbor’s yard, just feet from where her children play.

As a concerned mother and community member, Danielle began to coordinate with neighbors to demand safety, transparency, and accountability from government and state agencies who oversee these projects.

She says she understood there were already existing pipelines in the neighborhood, carrying petroleum products. But she also realized that this pipeline was a drastically different proposition.

“If there were a leak of the existing pipelines, it would be an environmental disaster, for sure, but they wouldn’t cause an explosion that would cause loss of life and property,” she says. “With Mariner East, they’re not only changing the contents of the pipeline but they’re also changing the size, and creating a dangerous infrastructure within feet of our children’s bedrooms.”

The section of the pipeline near her home in Exton is considered a “high consequence area” because it is highly densified. In fact, she says the house closest to the pipeline is only 15 feet away.

“I have a neighbor where the pipeline comes so close to his home that it’s technically inside the foundation,” she says. “His son is in the bedroom directly above.”

Friel Otten was integral in founding Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a collective of eight coalitions in Delaware and Chester counties joining forces to fight for public safety at the state level. The group’s advocacy resulted in national headlines and legal investigations. Mariner East remains the key political issue in the 2019 county elections and members of the organization continue to step up and run for elected office.

Friel Otten also notes that her now 5-year-old son had his first hospitalization for asthma in 2017 when pipeline construction was happening next to his preschool. When the construction stopped for a year, his asthma greatly improved, and he had far less need for medication.

“But just as the construction started up again, he woke in the middle of the night with an asthma attack,” she says.

As State Representative, Friel Otten now sits on committees for both Children and Youth and the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Her policy priorities include working for resolutions on fighting climate change, setting limits on carbon emissions, and making sure we are taking tangible steps forward to improving air quality and putting limits on the fossil fuel industry.

She currently serves on the Pipeline Safety Caucus, motivated to work on changing regulations at the state level regarding oil and gas infrastructure. The Caucus is working a package of legislative solutions that would create accountability for operators and their contractors and improve public safety by implementing siting authority and communications systems for local first response agencies.

She admits it’s a difficult task in Harrisburg, where there is an entrenchment of the industry lobby for oil and gas. But she refuses to take a back seat as a freshman legislator, and plans to fight vigorously for Pennsylvania families.

“I’m not going to stay silent or tread lightly,” she says. “I am driven by my children and what’s happening directly in our communities.” 



June 30, 2019
‘Nobody is going to go to heaven.’ Pa. budget deal divides Democrats

HARRISBURG — When the state budget wrapped up late last week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could boast that he navigated yet another budget season without any major clashes with the Republican-controlled legislature.

Instead, it was the progressives within the governor’s own party who left the state Capitol this year feeling shortchanged.

The nearly $34 billion budget bill, which Wolf has signed, contained few of their legislative priorities. Though it boosts money for public education — long one of Wolf’s priorities — it siphons money from environmental protection efforts, lacks an increase to the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, and strips funding for a cash assistance program that helps Pennsylvania’s poorest residents.

Democratic lawmakers, including some newly elected in a progressive wave last year, balked at some of the missing items. Though they stopped short of publicly directly criticizing Wolf and their leadership, they expressed frustration that they did not have greater input in the process, which produced a plan they believe abandons their ideals.

“I’m frustrated,” Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Philadelphia) said of Wolf’s decision to sign the budget deal. “We are hungry for debate. We are hungry to fight for the issues that we believe in and that he believes in. And I saw an opportunity to do that this year. I saw a group of Democrats both in the House and Senate who were willing to fight with him, and by him — and have his back.”

Farnese, who during the budget debate last week pleaded with Wolf to veto the deal, said the results of last year’s election showed voters in Pennsylvania endorsed the progressive platform that Wolf and other Democrats have championed. Wolf handily won a second term, as Democrats narrowed GOP majorities in the state legislature and in Congress.

“To me, he had a mandate to fight for progressive causes,” Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Philadelphia) said of Wolf. “I think it was a missed opportunity.”

Wolf did score some wins this year. He got legislative buy-in for changing the mandatory age for school attendance to six years of age from 8, strengthening campus rape-reporting procedures, and creating a marketplace to make it cheaper for Pennsylvanians to buy some forms of health insurance. The governor also got approval for a measure that provides post-secondary educational credits for families of Pennsylvania Guard members.

When the budget came up for a vote last week, more than half the Democrats in the House voted against the plan. In the Senate, roughly a third of the Democratic senators rejected it. For some, it was their first taste of how deals are brokered in Harrisburg.

Democratic leaders acknowledge that the budget contains concessions. But House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) defended his decision to agree to it, noting the budget is a “complicated issue,” and that “nobody is going to go to heaven.”

“When you have a budget bill like this, it’s hard to deal with it,” he said. “We have a Republican majority we have to deal with and we have issues that we care about deeply, … and you try to accommodate everybody, [but] you can’t.”

Wolf, who kept a low profile during negotiations, has said he hopes to rekindle conversations on some of his priorities not included in the deal, such as boosting the minimum wage and additional anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

“We’ve gotten a lot of things done, but it doesn’t .. . take away from the idea that we still have a lot of work to do,” Wolf said Friday, shortly before he signed the bulk of the budget-related bills. “Minimum wage is one of those things. Making sure that we are addressing the needs of our most vulnerable fellow citizens is another.”

While Wolf and Democratic leaders promise to continue fighting, they acknowledge Republicans have given no assurances that they will take up those issues in the fall or next year.

Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) said he believes Democrats won’t have another chance to advance legislative priorities until next summer’s budget talks — traditionally a time of horse-trading on big policy issues.

“This is a matter of math at this point,” he said. “And the math is not in the Democrats’ favor.”

Wolf is no stranger to budget fights. In his first year in office, he went to war with Republicans over fiscal matters — a battle of wills that led to a historic, nine-month impasse that stressed out school districts, social service providers, and others reliant on state aid.

But the governor in recent years has employed a different negotiating strategy, working largely behind the scenes and avoiding public spats with GOP leaders.

Some want him to return to the Wolf of 2015.

Democratic leaders caution that fighting this year could have led to a late budget and the consequences that come with it.

But for others, a prolonged argument would bring potential rewards. Keystone Progress, a progressive activist group, released a statement on Tuesday morning that attacked lawmakers for prioritizing “timeliness” over “their core values.”

One freshman legislator echoed the group’s sentiments.

“An impasse is not the worst thing that can happen for my community,” said state Rep. Summer Lee, a Democrat from Allegheny County. “An impasse is not the worst thing that can happen for communities across this commonwealth. The worst thing that can happen is for you to tell us that there is nothing that we can do — that there is nothing more that we can do for those who are the least among us.”

Other first-term Democrats also railed against the budget plan. State Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten (D., Chester), called it a “sweetheart deal for special interests,” and Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Philadelphia) called it “galling” in a year when money wasn’t tight.

Pollster G. Terry Madonna, who has followed state politics for decades, said Wolf faces no real consequences for ignoring the progressive minority within his party. He said the governor can push for legislation, such as raising the minimum wage, in the fall.

Nevertheless, some are hoping that the division within the party will spark discussion on how budget deals are negotiated, and set the tone for future talks.

Said Fiedler: “Going forward, I’m hopeful that we are going to have more open conversation and communication on the budget in general and on spending priorities within the commonwealth.”

June 25, 2019

This budget proposal is full of sweetheart deals for special interests, but it leaves working families behind. When my neighbors talk to me about cleaning up government waste, they don’t mean pulling the rug out from our most vulnerable individuals, who are struggling with addiction, disability, and domestic violence. They don’t mean gutting the agencies and funds aimed at protecting our environment and the well-being of our children. I voted NO because this plan fails to put the needs of you and your family first!

June 21, 2019
This week, we had a very special opportunity to join PA State Rep. Dan Moul in the PA House of Representatives to designate September as Hirschsprung’s Disease Awareness month. We spoke on the house floor about our story and recognized an amazing doctor who pioneered the work to cure this disease. Watch the full video here:
June 17, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf asked to investigate possible link between Pa. fracking, childhood cancer

More than 100 organizations and 800 individuals have signed a public letter to Gov. Tom Wolf calling on him to direct the state Department of Health to investigate potential links between shale gas development and a proliferation of childhood cancers.

The letter, which environmental groups plan to deliver to the governor and state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine via email Monday, and hand deliver during a demonstration in Harrisburg Wednesday, also requests that all new shale gas permitting be suspended until the health investigation can demonstrate the cancers are not linked to shale gas drilling and fracking operations.

“This is a public health crisis that requires immediate and significant action,” according to the text of the four-page letter.

Emily Wurth helped lead the letter-writing effort and said the broad-based support for examination of health impacts of shale gas development was prompted by the ongoing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series “Human toll: Risk and exposure in the gas lands.”

Stories in the Post-Gazette series document up to 67 cases of childhood and young adult cancers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties where shale gas operations are active. The total includes 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

“The letter references the investigative reporting and scientific evidence that strongly suggests a link between childhood cancers and shale gas operations,” said Ms. Wurth, who is organizing co-director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action. “We organized this strong response in just a couple of weeks from the about 125 organizations and even more individuals who are concerned about what they’ve read.”

A state health department review of 12 Ewing sarcoma cases in Westmoreland County and six in Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County failed to conclude that either met the criteria for designation as a “cancer cluster.” The study only included three of the six Canon-McMillan area cases in the cluster assessment.

The shale gas industry has vigorously denied there is any link between human health impacts and the air and water pollutants emitted by its widespread and expanding drilling, fracking, processing and transport operations.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer said in written responses to questions: “We are disappointed that some activists choose to sensationalize tragedy, make inflammatory suggestions that run counter to the views of respected medical experts, top environmental and health regulators and decades of scientific data and research.”

He said the industry is committed to protecting and enhancing the health and safety of the environment and communities where it operates.

Raina Ripple, director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a Washington County nonprofit that does educational outreach about the health impacts of shale gas drilling, said the multiple childhood cancers focus public concern and present an opportunity to press public officials for answers.

“This is a moment in time to raise these concerns about our children’s health and the cancer rate, and we feel the governor would be remiss in not addressing these concerns,” Ms. Ripple said.

She said there are still significant questions about what is spiking the cancer rates and noted multiple factors may be contributing to that problem, including genetics, legacy pollution and radiation sites, lifestyle factors and environmental exposures.

“But what is new in the last five or 10 years that could have triggered this?” Ms. Ripple said. “Many in the community are quick to seize on legacy causes like radioactive waste but something has changed. The indices of childhood cancer are out of whack. And what’s changed, what’s new, is the shale gas industry.”

The letter notes that about 12,000 wells have been drilled and fracked in the four mostly rural southwestern Pennsylvania counties in the last 15 years, bringing in a host of toxic chemicals, many of them known carcinogens.

Many of those chemicals pose a high risk to children and at-risk populations, the letter states. It also notes there are numerous peer-reviewed public health studies that have found an association between shale gas drilling and fracking and low birth weights in babies, birth defects, asthma and other respiratory problems.

Scientific associations don’t prove that those health impacts are linked to shale gas development activities, but they could be, and should be the subject of more scientific study, said Sandra Steingraber, a biologist at Ithaca College and founder of Concerned Health Professionals of NY.

“We may be on the leading edge of what could be a real cancer crisis in the shale gas drilling and fracking industry,” said Ms. Steingraber, noting studies showing high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the urine of gas well workers, and another that found children living within 500 feet of gas wells in Colorado have higher rates of leukemia.

The letter to the governor notes a Yale study that identified at least 55 fracking chemicals as known or possible carcinogens and recommends further research into the relationship between shale gas development and the “risk of cancer in general and childhood leukemia in particular.”

“As a biologist, what I see so far is little arrows pointing in a direction, arrows that say, ‘Dig here,’” Ms. Steingraber said.

“Based on its air and water emissions, we should look at the role of the drilling and fracking industry,” she said. “Those are reasonable questions to ask.”

Among the organizations signing the letter are Allegheny County Clean Air Now; Climate Reality Project: Pittsburgh & SWPA  chapter; Thomas Merton Center EcoJustice Working Group; Green Party of Allegheny County; Allegheny County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America; Marcellus Outreach Butler; PennEnvironment; Pennsylvania Council of Churches; Physicians for Social Responsibility-Pennsylvania; and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Beaver County.

In addition to Ms. Steingraber, other notable individuals signing the letter include actors Mark Ruffalo and Shailene Woodley, “Gasland” documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, and Bill McKibben, founder of the climate change focused State legislators signed on include Reps Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia; Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester; Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia; Sara Innamorato, D-Lawrenceville; and Summer Lee, D-Swissvale.

“We’ve been seeing different challenges to the investment this state has been making in shale gas development and fracking,” said Ms. Otten, whose district doesn’t have drilling but does have pipelines and pumping stations. “It’s beyond time to take a pause, a breath, to ensure that we’re moving Pennsylvania in the right direction and upholding our statutory responsibilities in ensuring public health and safety.”     Source

May 31, 2019
Today marks the 150th day of the 2019-2020 legislative session. I am deeply honored to serve as your state representative for the 155th legislative district. The work we are doing would not be possible without my staff and our active and engaged constituents. Your continued feedback and participation help me better serve the interests of our district. Thank you to everyone for your committment to making our district and our Commonwealth a better and safer place for all. I am proud to be YOUR voice in Harrisburg.
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May 30, 2019
FacebookToday I was grateful to Chairman PA State Rep. Steve Barrar for his invitation to sit as a guest on the Emergency Management and Veterans Affairs Committee public hearing on pipeline safety. For almost 5 years I have sat in the audience of hearings like this and today I felt very grateful for the opportunity to be a voice for my neighbors and friends. Having watched from the sidelines for many years, although slow, I feel the conversation shifting toward public safety and away from industry talking points and I’m so appreciative of my colleagues from across the state for asking some pointed and meaningful questions and to those who testified for their constructive, solution oriented conversation.There is great work to be done. Never stop making your voice heard.Image may contain: 1 person
May 15, 2019
Pennsylvania Capitol-Star
How the House’s Democratic women owned the debate over Down syndrome abortion ban | Wednesday Morning Coffee

(*This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Rep. Sara Innamorato’s last name. It has also been updated to correctly reflect the fact that Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, was telling the story of her sister’s decision to bring a challenging pregnancy to term, not her own. The Capital-Star regrets the error.)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

We’ll get this out of the way up front: We’re relatively certain that men spoke during Tuesday’s state House debate over a bill banning abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

But what they had to say was of absolutely no consequence — even after the bill cleared the House on a 117-76 vote (For the sake of the completists among you, the bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate appeared far from assured Tuesday in the face of a guaranteed veto from Gov. Tom Wolf).

In every way that mattered, the debate over a bill that went to the fundamental principles of personal freedom, choice, and bodily autonomy belonged exclusively to the women in the 203-member chamber, who, while they make up just a quarter of its total membership, spoke with a clarity of intent that was striking in its intelligence and sheer humanity.

And it belonged particularly to the chamber’s Democratic women.

That’s no more true than in the case of Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, who found herself facing calls for her resignation just a week or so back for some ill-chosen remarks about pipeline workers.

On Tuesday, Otten, speaking with quiet directness, relayed the searing, and deeply personal, choice *that her sister made to bring a baby son, who was born without an arm and with a serious heart problem, to term.

“I have watched my baby gasp for breath. I have watched as his heart arrested and they performed CPR on him in front of me,” Otten said —taking on the voice of her sister — of the long, sleepless nights spent at the child’s bedside. And as she spoke, every heart in the room, particularly among those who were parents, silently broke.

“I’m a tireless advocate and the mother of a child with special needs,” she said. “Every choice I’ve made has been that — a choice.”

And that was the point that Democratic women made again and again — that the Legislature had no role to play in what is, in the final analysis, a decision involving a woman, her doctor, her partner (if applicable), and whatever deity to whom she happens to bend a knee (or not).

Otten’s deeply personal story found echoes in remarks from Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, of Philadelphia, and *Sara InnamoratoD-Allegheny, and Melissa Shusterman, of Chester County. 

“You cannot imagine all the intimate, nuanced decisions a woman must go through to come to a decision about an abortion,” Innamorato said, crystalizing the debate in an instant. “You’re voting against liberty and the ability of a woman to make the decision that’s best for herself, her family and her future.”

Speaking after InnamoratoShusterman added that, by approving the bill, the majority-male, majority-white, majority-Republican chamber was sending a clear signal that “women cannot be trusted to make decisions,” about their own bodies, and that 203-members of the General Assembly somehow knew what was best for “6.5 million women in Pennsylvania.”

And after she was thoroughly and gratuitously dissed  during floor debate last week, it seemed like House Speaker Mike Turzai, a co-sponsor of the ban bill with York County Rep. Kate Klunk, went out of his way to make sure that Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, got her turn at the microphone.

Smart move, that.

There were even some touching stories from such Republicans as Rep. Sue Helm, R-Dauphin, a ‘yes’ vote on the ban, who spoke with a kind of grandmotherly affection about a young family member with Down syndrome. Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, also a “yes” vote on the ban, and who went on her own deeply personal journey last year, spoke with affection about being an adopted mother.

The stories and arguments from the House’s women lawmakers piled up and up, until they rendered the rhetorical contortions of the chamber’s male members effectively irrelevant.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, offered some impassioned arguments. And then he kind of blew it by banging on about an entirely advisory opinion from the Legislative Reference BureauHouse Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, joined the fray as well by trying to rebut Frankel on the LRB opinion.

But after OttenInnamorato and ShustermanHanbidge, and other Democratic women members, it all just felt like noise. It just reinforced the complete absurdity of the notion that an overwhelmingly male legislative body has even half a clue about what’s best for women or their bodies.

And it underlined the fact, brought up so eloquently by the chamber’s Democratic women, that the ban bill wasn’t about ensuring disability rights or protecting kids with Down syndrome, as Republicans argued on the floor Tuesday.

It’s just about finding some ridiculous pretext to legislate abortion out of existence because the courts — at least for now and however precariously — aren’t cooperating.

So, yeah, women might make up a quarter of the House’s membership on paper. On Tuesday, they were the majority.   Source

May 3, 2019
State lawmaker apologizes for ‘Nazi’ remark over pipeline fight


(Harrisburg) — A state lawmaker protesting a natural gas liquids pipeline project in her neighborhood apologized Thursday for saying “Nazis were just doing their jobs too” and drawing a comparison to pipeline workers.

After condemnation grew during the week, Democratic Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, of Chester County, said on Twitter that her language had been insensitive.

“I sincerely apologize for my choice of words and to all who were hurt by my post,” Otten wrote.

Otten had maintained that she hadn’t compared Nazis to pipeline workers, and accused oil-and-gas industry media consultants of stirring up outrage.

Criticism had come from the state’s top Democratic lawmakers, the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia-area chapter and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The state Republican Party called on Otten to resign.

Jim Snell, the business manager of Steamfitters Local 420, which represents the workers, wrote on Facebook that his union’s members are military veterans, Little League coaches, church volunteers, Boy and Girl Scout leaders and volunteer firefighters.

“I suggest that you look up what a Nazi really is,” he wrote. “You clearly missed that topic in history class, otherwise, you would never have said what you did.”

Otten’s initial Saturday comment on Twitter was in response to complaints by a pro-pipeline organization that pipeline opponents had parked their cars to block worksite entrances and were preventing pipeline workers from doing their jobs.

In a Wednesday statement , Otten had said that she never called the workers “Nazis” and that her fight wasn’t with the workers.

She told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she didn’t mean to minimize the horror of the Holocaust, but was comparing the moral choices of the pipeline workers to anyone who says “it’s just my job” to justify a bad act.

Separately, she told the Daily Local News that she did not mean to villainize the workers.

Otten’s protest involves the 350-mile Mariner East pipeline, which is owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, a multibillion-dollar firm that owns sprawling interests in oil and gas pipelines and storage and processing facilities.

This pipeline, she said, carries highly volatile liquids 50 feet from her family’s home.

The company’s projects have drawn more than $13 million in fines in Pennsylvania — primarily for polluting waterways from spills of drilling fluid and construction methods not approved by state regulators — and several temporary shutdown orders by state agencies.

Sinkholes on the lawns of homes in Chester County along the pipeline have sparked alarm from residents and prompted county and state prosecutors to investigate.   Source

Rep. Danielle Friel Otten
May 1, 2019

In November, Chester County made a choice to send new leadership to the PA House of Representatives. Yesterday, that choice paid off, as House Bill 1055, a bill that would have been very bad for Pennsylvania, failed by just *two* votes.

If it had passed, this bill would have created government waste, threatened the few critical protections we have against projects like Mariner East, and taken regulatory decision making out of the hands of representatives elected by the voters, by establishing a new government agency at a taxpayer-funded cost of $783,000 per year.

I am proud to be among the five new representatives Chester County sent to Harrisburg this year to stand up for our communities. Together we are making a difference!
Rep. Dan WilliamsRep. Melissa ShustermanRep. Christina SappeyRep. Kristine Howard

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April 19, 2019
Lawmakers, PennEnvironment announce ‘Zero Waste PA’ package to address single-use plastics, litter and a ‘throwaway’ society

HARRISBURG– House lawmakers joined PennEnvironment recently to announce a package of bills aimed at addressing single-use plastics, pervasive issues of litter and the various environmental harms caused by a “throwaway” society.

Legislation in the “Zero Waste PA” package works to address issues created by a disposable society including single-use plastics such as straws, plastic bags and Styrofoam takeout food containers, electronic waste, funding Pennsylvania’s recycling programs and more.

“We can no longer ignore the growing waste problem that is threatening our environment. My colleagues and I have introduced a package of bills that, together, address this problem from a number of angles,” said Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery. “By encouraging the use of more naturally biodegradable materials, addressing issues with the way we recycle, and finding ways to support environmentally friendly practices, we can help preserve our planet for future generations.”

“Every day, unwitting Pennsylvanians are barraged with products that we’re expected to purchase and use, and then throw away. Only, there is no ‘away,’” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “Instead, it ends up in landfills where it can cause water pollution, in incinerators that cause air pollution, or blowing around in our neighborhoods in the form of litter. Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment, neighborhoods, rivers and oceans for centuries to come.”

The measures that would be addressed in the package include:

• Prohibiting food establishments from using polystyrene containers to distribute prepared foods. (Rep. Tim Briggs)

• Dissuading litterers and illegal dumpers by increasing the fines and penalties for those caught illegally throwing away their garbage. (Rep. Donna Bullock)

• Prohibiting establishments from offering plastic straws except upon the customer’s request. (Rep. Mary Jo Daley)

• Increasing the disposal fee for municipal waste landfills from $4 per ton to $8 per ton to help support important conservation and environmental protection programs. (Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler)

• Increasing the recycling fee that landfill operators pay from $2 per ton to $5 per ton on waste received at their landfills, the first increase in 30 years. (Rep. Mary Isaacson)

• Authorizing counties that have recycling programs to collect a recycling and waste management fee of up to $4 per ton, to be used to create and maintain new or existing recycling programs, programs to clean up illegal dumping sites or litter, and/or programs for alternative energy. (Rep. Patty Kim)

• Significantly diverting organic waste from our landfills and incinerators and spurring a market for organic waste composting (Rep. Danielle Friel Otten)

• Establishing a statewide cigarette filter upcycling initiative, where a 20-cent, partially reimbursed deposit on each pack of cigarettes sold in Pennsylvania would be used for collection centers and safe reuse. (Rep. Chris Rabb)

• Ensuring that producers of plastic packaging take responsibility for the decisions they make by requiring that they cannot sell or distribute plastic packaging in Pennsylvania unless they are part of a recycling program to take it back. (Rep. Melissa Shusterman)

• Providing for a fee of two cents on each non-reusable plastic bag used by purchasers of consumer goods at retail establishments grossing over $1 million annually to support recycling. (Rep. Brian Sims and Rep. Jared Solomon)

• Creating a 5-cent beverage bottle and can deposit program in Pennsylvania. (Rep. Wendy Ullman)

• Encouraging the use of reusable water bottles by requiring that newly constructed state buildings, as well as existing state buildings undergoing renovations to water and pipe infrastructure, install water bottle filling stations. (Rep. Perry Warren)

• Addressing Pennsylvania’s failing electronic waste recycling law by taking from best practices implemented in other states to make Pennsylvania’s law effective. (Rep. Mike Zabel)

In the coming months, the lawmakers will be building co-sponsorship support for these measures and holding local events in their districts related to the package.   Source

Rep. Danielle Friel Otten
April 10, 2019

I’m proud to be part of #ZeroWastePA, which works to make Pennsylvania cleaner, more sustainable, and safer for our children. My legislation within this package of bills focuses on diverting our food waste from our general trash to a composting system. Today in Harrisburg, I explained how this move would ultimately improve our environment and save taxpayers money

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March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations

Mariner East 2 pipeline project

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 6, 2019
Local lawmakers announce formation of pipeline safety caucus

WEST CHESTER—State Senator Andy Dinniman, State Representative Danielle Friel Otten, fellow lawmakers, community groups, residents, and families from across Pennsylvania will hold a Rally for Pipeline Safety and Environmental Protection on Tuesday, March 19 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Main Capitol Rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

At the rally, residents will lobby for the passage of a package of comprehensive pipeline safety bills introduced by Dinniman and others in the wake of various environmental violations, public safety concerns, geologic problems, threats to private property and water rights, and other wide-ranging quality-of-life issues brought on by Sunoco/ETP’s controversial Mariner East project.

“Mariner East may have brought area residents together and opened our eyes to the lack of strong pipeline public safety and environmental protection regulations in Pennsylvania, but this is a statewide issue and one that demands real, immediate and lasting reform,” Dinniman, who serves on the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee said.

“Residents are coming to Harrisburg by the busload on March 19 to demand immediate relief and real action from the legislature so that no one in Pennsylvania will have to have their home and their safety held hostage by a pipeline project again.

The rally is being coordinated by volunteers from nearly 50 organizations across the Commonwealth. Local residents interested in transportation should contact Jerry McMullen at to reserve a seat on a bus scheduled to leave the Exton Square Mall early that morning.

In addition, Dinniman will announce the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral Pipeline Safety Caucus that he is forming in conjunction with Friel Otten, a fellow Chester County legislator. Following the rally, members of the caucus will hold a news conference expressing their commitment to the passage of pipeline public safety legislation.

“Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East project has triggered sinkholes, exploded a Pennsylvania family’s home, and destroyed personal water sources. We are negligent if we fail to act,” Friel Otten said. “The time has come for public safety, private property rights, and environmental protection to guide economic development in Pennsylvania. I am grateful for the support of our colleagues as we take the fight to protect our communities to the next level.”

Dinniman, who has long voiced safety and environmental concerns related to the Mariner East project, said the movement he helped launch several years ago has now grown into a full-fledged, statewide grassroots initiative. With rising support from both parties within the legislature and that of a number of new representatives, like Friel Otten, who were elected on the pipeline issue, he said Pennsylvania is moving closer to legislation that will provide a regulatory safeguard for our residents.

He pointed to mounting pressure on the PUC to take action on Mariner East, including a number of school districts, municipalities and counties filing as intervenors in a public safety complaint on Mariner East. And most recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection barred all future ETP pipeline permits, and the governor publicly expressed support for four of Dinniman’s pipeline safety bills.

“Change can take time. And now is the time,” Dinniman said. “We’ve worked hard and we’re gaining the numbers we need to make this happen. However, highly volatile natural gas liquids continue to flow in our area through a hodge-podge of antiquated pipelines, and Sunoco still has the power of eminent domain.”

He said that’s why he has introduced legislation calling for a two-year moratorium to give the legislature time to develop a stronger regulatory process regarding the safety of pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids, as well as a better approach to the use of corporate eminent domain by companies like Sunoco/ETP.     Source


February 8, 2019
Legislators respond to DEP decision to suspend review of Energy Transfer permits

HARRISBURG, Feb. 8 – State Reps. Carolyn Comitta, Danielle Friel Otten, Kristine Howard, Leanne Krueger, Christina Sappey and Melissa Shusterman met with Gov. Tom Wolf and his staff last week to address the growing problems with Energy Transfer’s Mariner East project.

Today, those representatives have issued the following statement regarding news that the Department of Environmental Protection has suspended review of permit applications and other pending approvals for Energy Transfer due to noncompliance:

“We applaud the unwavering efforts of community members who continue to make their voices heard and draw attention to serious hazards and areas of oversight that need improvement.

“The action taken by the Department of Environmental Protection today is a step in the right direction.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to have a seat at the table for our communities and we look forward to continued collaboration with our state agencies and the governor’s staff to put the interests of the people of Pennsylvania first and foremost. There is still a lot of work to be done and we will use every tool available to us to make our community’s voice heard.”

The same six representatives sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission earlier this week, urging action related to a recent sinkhole along the Mariner East 1 pipeline. The letter can be found here.   Source

January 29, 2019
Rep Friel-Otten
Today I stand with my colleagues and CeaseFirePA activists across Pennsylvania as we recommit to continuing the fight for common sense gun safety legislation. 

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January 29, 2019
Friel-Otten appointed to House committees, including Environmental Resources and Energy Committee

HARRISBURG, Jan. 29 – State Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten announced today that she was appointed to serve on several standing House committees, including the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Friel-Otten was also appointed to the Children and Youth, Aging and Older Adult Services, and Tourism and Recreational Development committees.

“These committee assignments give me the chance to work on issues that matter in our community,” said Friel-Otten, D-Chester. “I’m especially eager to join the Environmental Resources committee, as our community deals with the environmental and safety impacts of pipeline construction through our back yards. I look forward to representing our community’s interests as an active member of these committees.”

The Environmental Resources and Energy Committee works with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to establish regulations on environmental issues, including air and water quality, and has oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies.

The Tourism and Recreational Development Committee oversees legislation related to the state’s tourism industry and has jurisdiction over the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The Children and Youth Committee reviews bills that affect Pennsylvania’s youngest residents and bills related the Office of Child Development and Learning and the Office of Children Youth and Families, under the Department of Human Services.

The Aging and Older Adult Services Committee works with the Department of Aging and reviews bills that affect senior citizens in Pennsylvania.  Source

January 11, 2019
Rep Danielle Otten visits Exelon

This week, I had the pleasure of joining some of my colleagues on a tour of Exelon’s #limerickgeneratingstation to learn about our nuclear energy fleet in Pennsylvania and the state of Nuclear as we move forward. 30%of Pennsylvania’s energy comes from nuclear energy and it makes up 94% of carbon free energy production in the state.

I had a lot of walk away thoughts, but the greatest of those thoughts was the observation of the care and responsibility for personnel and publicsafety at every step of the tour. From employee name badges with photos of “why I work safe” featuring children and grandchildren to safety focused posters and communications throughout the plant, to standard operating procedures that were somewhat military in discipline and a facility that was so clean you could eat off of the floor. It was evident that there was an extreme understanding that the lives of 300,000 people are in their hands. A much different experience than what I have seen from energy operators in my own backyard.

Did you know that in Pennsylvania you can choose the company that generates your energy? Check out PA Power Switch:

October 19, 2018
Danielle Friel Otten
The Polls Say It’s A Dead Heat

We had a polling call the other day, and based on recent data, the race among likely voters is a dead heat: 49 – 49. Becky Corbin must have gotten the same memo, because she has turned up the heat. They are in the mail and on TV with nasty attack ads, false claims about dark money, and spin on Becky’s lackluster record.

The one place she can’t compete is in the field with the tireless work that’s been done over months and months by our dedicated volunteers, stakeholders in this change, who have made over 60,000 (yes, you read that right SIXTY THOUSAND) attempts to have one-on-one conversations with voters about what’s at stake in this election. With tens of thousands of conversations under our belt, we are leaving NOTHING on the sidelines. We have a robust operation planned for the next 18 days, and we will be talking to and turning out voters until 8 PM on Tuesday, November 6th — we won’t stop one minute sooner.   Read more

October 10, 2018
Democratic candidates discuss issues at public forum

WEST GOSHEN — Christina Sappey, a candidate running for state representative for the 158th Legislative District, waited until the very end of the program to emphatically state what all five candidates at a forum had voiced earlier, to a lesser degree.

“Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote,” Sappey, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Rep. Eric Roe, implored an audience of 150, at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Monday night.

The forum was organized and run by the Chester County League of Women Voters and the West Chester Chapter of the NAACP.

During the 2½-hour forum, five Democratic candidates, all of whom are women, answered questions posed by the audience and event organizers about topics including, health care, water quality, literacy, business taxes and incarceration.

All the candidates in the county were invited. There will be a similar forum with different speakers at St. Paul’s, on Monday, Oct. 15, at 6:30 p.m.

Democratic state Rep. Carolyn Comitta is running against Republican Nick Deminski in the 156th District, and told the attentive audience to vote for people who share their values.

“Your state representative is your last stop from protecting all the people,” Comitta said. “Elect someone who gets it.

“Your vote is your voice.”

Kristine Howard is a Democrat running in the 167th District against incumbent Republican Rep. Duane Milne.

“We need to elect the right legislators,” she said, “We need to take back our power from some extremists.

“This is a really important election.”

Democrat Danielle Friel Otten is facing off against Republican Rep. Becky Corbin in the 155th District.

“Educate yourself about who is on the ballot, vote, and talk to your neighbors,” Friel Otten said.

Sappey said that it all depends on who the public votes for.

“It’s time for us to start electing people who are going to work together,” Sappey said.

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan is facing off against Republican Greg McCauley to fill the seat vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello in what she said is the “new and improved” 6th Congressional District, referencing a state Supreme Court decision to draw new congressional districts after finding the state’s previous congressional map violated the state constitution due to partisan gerrymandering that favored Republicans over Democrats.

The business owner, MIT graduate, former teacher and veteran, listed health care, decent jobs, a great education and a safe planet as her priorities.

The candidates were asked about “reaching across the aisle.”

Friel Otten suggested that more women should be elected and that politics is not just a Democratic or Republican issue.

“We have the opportunity to look each other in the eye,” she said.

Said Comitta: “It’s all your perspective. It’s about being in this role for the right reason.”

Sappey was a stay-at-home mom and said becoming a state rep is not her dream job.

“You have to enter every conversation knowing that you have to give something up,” she said.

The candidates were asked about incarceration. Howard talked about “super long” prison sentences.

“We had more juvenile lifers than any other state,” Howard said. “We have a very, very harsh justice system in this state and prosecutors hold all the cards.”

The group of candidates talked about supporting small businesses.

Friel Otten said that when manufacturing goes overseas, people on “Main Street” can no longer exist.

“The burden of taxes is on the small business owner,” Friel Otten said. “Close the loopholes (for big businesses) and take the pressure off of small businesses.”

Sappey is a proponent of businesses.

“We need to make it more attractive for businesses to come to Pennsylvania,” Sappey said.

Comitta said that when you buy local, you make an investment in the community.

“For every dollar you spend in a local business, 68 cents goes back into the community,” Comitta said.

Education was also discussed.

“Our municipal government is in a position to choose between the youngest and oldest residents and that is a crime,” Friel Otten said.

Howard favors fair funding for schools.

“We know this is the right thing to do, we have the wrong people,” Howard said.

When asked about the natural gas boom and enacting an extraction tax, Comitta said Pennsylvania is “sitting on a gold mine.

“I’m not against people making a lot of money, but it needs to be done safely and cleanly and (any proposed tax) should be used for kids in schools.”

While Howard said the liquid gases need to be taxed, Friel Otten said that several alternatives should be addressed, such as, creation of siting agencies, oversight of out-of-state companies, and taking any new tax revenue to build renewable energy alternatives.

Sappey reiterated the need to vote for reps supporting the Affordable Care Act.

“Make sure we vote for people who understand how important this issue is — the costs are through the roof,” Sappey said.

St. Paul’s Pastor Wayne E. Croft Sr. welcomed the guests and said he was pleased that the NAACP and League of Women Voters had crafted a platform enabling voters to make informed decisions.

Cassandra Jones, NAACP chair for political action committee, said that the audience was pleased to ask questions, face-to-face.

Pamela Gray, president of the Chester County League of Women Voters appreciated the “very engaged candidates” and the turnout of prospective voters. Source



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