Senator Pat Stefano E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Parents have until July 15 to Choose Additional Year of Education for their Child Following Pandemic Disruptions
  • 2021-22 State Budget in Detail
  • Bills of Note Passed by the Senate in 2021
  • Bipartisan Task Force Recommends Steps to Improve Juvenile Justice System
  • Avoiding Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
  • General Assembly Approves Budget that Holds the Line on Taxes, Boosts Rainy Day Fund, Supports Schools, Roads and Nursing Homes
  • Senate Passes Comprehensive Voter Rights Bill to Transform Election System, Restore Faith
  • Increased Support for Crime Victims Approved by Senate
  • Senate Passes Kayden’s Law to Protect Children during Custody Disputes
  • Homeless Students and Students in Foster Care Aided by Senate Measure
  • Senate Advances Bill to Increase Vaccine Transparency
  • Senate Helps Open Agritourism to More Farmers
  • Around the District

Parents have until July 15 to Choose Additional Year of Education for their Child Following Pandemic Disruptions

Parents have until July 15 to take advantage of a new state law empowering them to decide whether their children should advance to the next grade level or be held back a year due to learning disruptions created during COVID-19.

Parents who wish to pursue the additional optional year of education for their children must complete and return a standardized form to their school district by the July 15 deadline. This allows school districts enough time to plan for changes in class sizes for the upcoming school year.

The form is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website, which also features a Frequently Asked Questions page about the new law.

The additional optional year of education was provided by the newly enacted Act 66 of 2021. The option would only apply to the 2021-22 school year to help manage learning loss caused by the pandemic.

2021-22 State Budget in Detail

Last week, I reported that the Senate approved a 2021-22 state budget that holds the line on taxes, supports Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and provides a financial safety net for the future.

This year’s budget was unlike almost any other given the amount of pandemic recovery federal funding involved. The goal was to drive state and federal funds to where they are most needed, while holding back money to balance next year’s budget responsibly. You can take a closer look at the spending plan here.

Bills of Note Passed by the Senate in 2021

Legislation giving citizens a voice in disaster response and protecting the vulnerable during the pandemic received the most attention this year, but the Senate tackled many more issues in the first six months of the two-year legislative session.

From strengthening schools, to reducing regulatory burdens, improving health care and more, here’s a roundup of notable bills passed by the Senate in 2021.

Bipartisan Task Force Recommends Steps to Improve Juvenile Justice System

The bipartisan Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force recently released a comprehensive final report with policy recommendations that protect public safety, increase accountability, achieve savings for reinvestment, and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities.

The 30-member task force assessed the state juvenile justice system and reviewed data from court and state agencies and examined how practices can better align with what research says works to improve outcomes for youth and families. The task force received input from more than 500 stakeholders.

If adopted, the policy recommendations are expected to safely reduce the population of young people in out-of-home facilities by 39% by 2026, freeing up nearly $81 million for reinvestment.

Executive Summary
Full Report

Avoiding Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest statistics (2019), Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of confirmed Lyme disease cases.

The best way to avoid it is to avoid tick bites. Some tips:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Many people get ticks in their own yard.
  • Use bug repellent.
  • Check yourself, children, clothing, gear and pets for ticks after returning indoors.

You can read more about how to avoid tick bites, as well as how to spot Lyme disease symptoms and other related topics, here.

General Assembly Approves Budget that Holds the Line on Taxes, Boosts Rainy Day Fund, Supports Schools, Roads and Nursing Homes

The Senate approved a 2021-22 state budget that supports Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing a financial safety net for the future. The plan now goes to the governor’s desk for enactment into law.

The fiscally responsible budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by the governor in February — including a 46% Personal Income Tax hike.

While Pennsylvania is on pace to end the current fiscal year with $2.5 billion in surplus revenue, revenue projections for the current fiscal year were made as Pennsylvania was coping with the financial devastation caused by the global pandemic and the governor’s business closure orders.

Despite a significant rebound in revenues and the availability of federal stimulus funds to help balance the budget, lawmakers must remain vigilant and pragmatic because Pennsylvania’s mandated spending growth still outpaces its revenue growth and the Commonwealth cannot depend on continued federal funding.

The budget provides a three-tier approach to create a strong financial safety net for coming years:

  • All $2.5 billion in surplus FY 2020-21 funds will be allocated to the Rainy Day Fund, augmenting the current $240 million balance in that account.
  • $2.5 billion in projected surplus revenue from FY 2021-22 will be used to balance next year’s budget.
  • $2.6 billion of remaining federal funding will also be used to help balance next year’s budget.

The spending plan includes $300 million more for Basic Education Funding, $50 million more for Special Education, $25 million more for Pre-K programs and $5 million more for Head Start.

It also allocates $279 million in federal funding to support highway and bridge improvement projects. This will enable the Commonwealth to address its deteriorating transportation network while supporting employers and creating family sustaining jobs.

Federal funds are also directed to supporting Pennsylvania’s nursing homes ($247 million) and assisted care facilities and personal care homes ($30 million), many of which were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Passes Comprehensive Voter Rights Bill to Transform Election System, Restore Faith

The Senate passed a comprehensive voter rights bill designed to transform our election system and restore public confidence in the outcome of elections. 

The Voting Rights Protection Act is a wide-ranging plan that expands access, boosts election security and helps counties administer elections in an accurate and more timely manner. The bill will make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote, but harder to cheat.

The bill protects voting access by:

  • Establishing an early voting period to begin in 2025;
  • Allowing voters with disabilities to move to the front of the line at polling places;
  • Providing for and securing election drop boxes; and
  • Setting standards for counting all votes including allowing non-fatal defects on mail-in ballots, such as unsigned or undated ballots to be corrected.

The bill expands election security by:

  • Ensuring voter verification through an updated county-provided voter registration card;
  • Creating an election fraud hotline;
  • Banning private donations to counties for election administration; and
  • Doubling penalties for Election Code violations.

The package contains critical reforms requested by counties to help elections run more smoothly. This includes changing voter registration and mail-in ballot deadlines, as well as giving counties more time before Election Day to count mail-in votes.

The bill also establishes a state Bureau of Election Audits that will be required to conduct ballot comparison audits to compare machine ballots to voter ballots; ballot-polling audits that will select ballots at random for individual review; and performance audits on county and state election systems every five years.

The Voting Rights Protection Act was sent to Gov. Wolf’s desk. He has 10 days from Friday’s passage to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Increased Support for Crime Victims Approved by Senate

The Senate approved legislation to improve communications with crime victims and ensure they receive any compensation they are owed. 

The measure broadens the timeframes victims’ compensation may be sought and expands critical access to compensation. It requires the law enforcement officer responding to or investigating an incident to provide basic information about the rights and services available to crime victims.

The effort uses savings generated by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, launched in 2012, to strengthen public safety and reduce prison and probation costs. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Passes Kayden’s Law to Protect Children during Custody Disputes

The Senate approved and sent to the House of Representatives legislation known as Kayden’s Law to increase protections for children during child custody disputes.

The legislation is named after Kayden Mancuso, a 7-year-old Bucks County resident murdered by her biological father in 2018 during a visit ordered by the court, despite evidence of his abusive and violent behavior.

The bill imposes safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse, modifies the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child, and recommends better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.

Homeless Students and Students in Foster Care Aided by Senate Measure

Students experiencing homelessness or living in foster care face additional graduation challenges because they changed schools before earning full credit or are unable to take a required course at their new school. Their new school also may not honor the credits they earned.

The Senate approved legislation to create a smoother transition to high school graduation for these students by designating a point person to review past transcripts and provide the essential support needed to aid student graduation.

The bill would also provide students with other methods to demonstrate that their coursework has been satisfactorily completed so necessary credit can be awarded. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Advances Bill to Increase Vaccine Transparency

The Senate voted to increase the transparency of Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout by requiring the Department of Health to make public the amount of vaccine doses that have been wasted.

The measure addresses the Department of Health’s unwillingness to release details of their pandemic response using a law from 1955. Media organizations across Pennsylvania have expressed their frustration throughout the pandemic with this refusal to publicize information.

The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for their consideration.

Senate Helps Open Agritourism to More Farmers

Agritourism includes farm markets, pick-your-own produce, corn mazes, paintball, petting zoos, hayrides and farm tours. They can make the difference between having a positive year on the ledger or ending up in the red, especially for small family farmers.

The Senate approved the Agritourism Activity Protection Act to create a statewide standard for agritourism and provide limited civil liability protection for persons who offer agritourism activities on a farm and meet requirements.

The legislation was returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.

Around the District

Special thanks to AMVETS Commander Paul Shipley and AMVETS Post 103 in Hopwood for nominating me for their Legislator of the Year Award. The State AMVETS convention was held in Reading on Saturday. I’m honored and humbled for this wonderful recognition.

At the 87th Americanism Day/Flag Day Ceremony at the Uniontown Mall, the French Consulate gave WWII Veteran William Rostich the famed French Legion Award. William was on the beaches of Normandy at the young age of 18 to aid in the liberation of France. Congratulations on received this prestigious award!  Special thanks to the American Legion Post 51 for carrying on the Americanism Day, even through a pandemic.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall was on display at the Brownsville High School and I stopped by to see the names of those veterans we lost during the Vietnam War. Special thanks to Denny and the Brownsville Area Military Honor Roll for working hard to raise funds and coordinate the Wall’s arrival. Thank you to for all the Vietnam Veterans that joined us today and those in the area for their sacrifice for our nation.

We unveiled the Private First Class Joseph Frank Duda Memorial Interchange on Rt. 43 in Brownsville. Joseph gave his life for the defense of our country back in January of 1944 at the age of 22. Not only did he lose his life at the young age of 22, he also lost all that he could have done had he survived. Joining Rep. Pam Snyder and myself were members of his family and they retold stories of his past. Now more people will see and remember the sacrifice of the Duda family and all those who have died in defense of our country. Also joining were Commissioners Lohr, Vicites and Dunn, Sheriff Custer, along with other county elected officials. Special thanks to the PA Turnpike for setting up the event along this interchange.

Congratulations to Newson’s Homecare, LLC! The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting for this new business in the Uniontown Mall. Teona Newson, CEO, had a dream as a young girl to make sure the elderly of our area had the care they needed so they can stay in their own homes. Well that dream became a reality. Now Teona has the space she needs to grow and care for those in our area. In-home healthcare is much needed in our Commonwealth. I’m so pleased to see Teona and her company make the investment in our community to open this new business. Wishing you the best of success!

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