In this Update:
General Assembly Terminates Emergency Declaration, Ensures Key Waivers Remain
The General Assembly voted this week to end Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration while ensuring Pennsylvania can take the steps necessary to recover.
House Resolution 106 terminates the pandemic emergency declaration and ends the governor’s power to close employers, limit occupancy, suspend state statutes or issue stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. The measure does not need to go to the governor for enactment.
The legislature also approved House Bill 854, which will ensure all waivers that were previously effective under the COVID-19 emergency will remain in effect until Sept. 30, 2021, unless sooner terminated by the authority which initially authorized the waiver. This protects access to critical federal funding and waivers that benefit health and safety, such as the emergency authorization of telemedicine, temporary staffing at nursing homes and personal care homes, and other staffing issues in health care facilities.
The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.
Voters approved two constitutional amendments in May that limited the length of disaster declarations and gave the General Assembly the sole power to extend a governor’s initial disaster declaration. The General Assembly’s action this week reflects the will of the people and is a necessary step to help the Commonwealth transition out of crisis.
Senate Votes to Rein in Health Secretary’s Power, Ban Vaccine Passports
Legislation to prevent the excess use of power by the state Secretary of Health and prohibit vaccine passport requirements was approved by the Senate.
The bill prohibits the Secretary of Health from using the 66-year-old Disease Prevention and Control Act to mandate those who have not been exposed or in close contact with the exposed to wear a mask, stay at home or be socially distant. It also prevents the secretary from using the same laws to force business closures.
It also prohibits the state – as well as counties, municipalities, school districts and colleges that are subsidized by state taxpayers – from requiring proof of vaccination. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Legislative Rundown for June 11, 2021
The Senate was in session this past week, advancing a bill I sponsored, Senate Bill 554, which amends the Sunshine Act to increase government transparency.
Currently, the law requires government agencies to notify the public in advance of a meeting. However, this legislation would take that intent a step further by requiring the meeting’s agenda to be made public at least 24 hours in advance of a meeting.
It is my experience that the public is becoming increasingly more interested in their government’s proceedings. I believe the people have a right to know in advance what will be considered, so they have an opportunity to participate in the issues that matter most to them.
I am pleased to share that the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 554, and the bill now moves to the House for consideration. You can watch my comments here:
Chairman’s Update: Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
This week, the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee advanced four measures, according to Senator Pat Stefano (R-32), committee chairman. These measures included legislation to amend the Constitution by expanding the Disabled Veterans Property Tax Exemption program; legislation to allow municipal fire companies to participate in the Fire & EMS Loan Program; and legislation to delay implementing the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund Formula a year.
Senate Bill 578, sponsored by Senators Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) and Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by changing the Disabled Veterans Property Tax Exemption Program. Currently, a veteran must be 100% disabled to receive a 100% exemption from property taxes. The bill would permit spouses of soldiers killed in action to be eligible for the property tax exemption. It would also eliminate the requirement that soldiers’ disability come during a period of war. Finally, the bill would exclude disability income from being included in their calculation of income.
“For years, Pennsylvania has provided our veterans who are 100% disabled to be exempt from their local property taxes,” said Sen. Stefano. “It is only right that we permit spouses of soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice to also be eligible.”
Senate Bill 739, sponsored by Sen. Stefano, would permit municipal fire companies to apply for and receive low-interest loans under the State Fire & EMS Loan Program.
“During the May Primary, voters overwhelmingly approved a Ballot Question authorizing municipal fire companies to be able to participate in this program,” said Sen. Stefano. “This legislation would codify this measure into law.”
Senate Bill 740, also sponsored by Sen. Stefano, would delay implementing the new Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund (EMSOF) formula.
“In 2020, the General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed into law Act 93, which put in place a new funding formula based on increased revenues,” said Sen. Stefano. “Unfortunately, the revenues from the program were not realized, and as such, we must delay implementation until they do come in so that EMS agencies that are already struggling financially are not hurt any further.”
The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration. For a link to the video from the meeting, click HERE.
Increasing Community-Based Services in Schools
The Senate voted to establish the Community Engaged Schools for Success Pilot Program to encourage community partners to work with schools to provide student support services.
Designated schools that qualify would be eligible for grants from the Department of Education to appoint a manager and a coordinator to implement community engagement plans. Physical and behavioral health resources, as well as basic needs such as food and clothing, can be provided to students more quickly if they are available at the school.
The legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Application Deadline Extended
The deadline for older and disabled Pennsylvanians to apply for rebates on rent and property taxes paid in 2020 has been extended from June 30 to Dec. 31, 2021.
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.
Applications can be submitted online with the Department of Revenue’s myPATH system. Filing online leads to fast processing, easy direct deposit options and automatic calculators that help with the process.
Something to Celebrate this Flag Day
June 14, Flag Day, commemorates the 1777 adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States. It has grown to mean more than simply the celebration of a banner.
This spring, as we head back outside and reconnect with neighbors, the flag symbolizes what unites us. Despite our differences, we share the unbreakable bond of citizenship in the greatest nation on earth. Fly our flag with pride, gratitude and love of neighbor.
U.S. Army Marks 246 Years of Defending America
“Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen [sic], be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia; … [and] that each company, as soon as completed [sic], shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.” – Continental Congress resolution, June 14, 1775
For 246 years, the U.S. Army has defended the nation and the free world as a fierce fighting force noted for its power and bravery. It’s an honor to recognize the Army’s June 14 birthday, as well as the dedicated men and women who give it its strength all year round.
Around the District
Last night I joined Commissioner Walker’s family on the back of his John Deere pulled wagon to head down the streets of Berlin for the Berlin VFD Block Party Parade.
Great to see many folks out last evening where I joined them at the block party for good festival food, good fun and good conversation.
Shanksville Troop 151 has 2 new Eagles Scouts! Congratulations to Hunter Kimmel and Jonathan Daniels for becoming Eagles Scouts today at the Jennerstown VFC Social hall. Congratulations to them and their family for achieving such a milestone!
Hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day. Today I reflected on the traditions and origins of Memorial Day (aka Decoration Day) in Meyersdale. Special thanks to the Meyersdale American Legion for hosting this celebration and honoring our fallen veterans. God bless and keep those veterans who’ve left us, God bless our veterans that are with us and God Bless America.