In This Update:
Wolf Ballot Language Politically Charged, Prejudicial
This spring voters will be asked if the state constitution should be amended to limit future emergency declarations to 21 days unless extensions are approved by the General Assembly. The ballot language for consideration by the voters is written in a way that shows the Wolf Administration wants these measures to fail. Contrary to how the questions read, the General Assembly will not be able to act unilaterally. We will have to work in concert with the Executive Branch in order for policies to be passed. It also alleges checks and balances will be lost. There are no checks and balances right now. We have totalitarian power ruling many aspects of our lives including the openings of employers and our schools. The questions are written in a way to scare voters away. But I trust the voters of Pennsylvania. We are going to take the questions to them and give them the background. We are going to work to educate our constituents on why – no matter how it is worded – this referendum needs to pass. We will provide voters with the information to make an intelligent decision. I’m confident that once the people learn the real initiative behind the amendment they will vote “yes” in order to restore checks and balances back to Pennsylvania.
Wolf Administration Announces Plan to Add Tolls to Nine Existing PA Bridges
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) unveiled a proposal last week to toll nine existing bridges on the Interstate System. The plan raised serious concerns since it was done unilaterally by the Wolf Administration without any sense of transparency or accountability, and without the input or authorization of the General Assembly.
Eight of the nine bridges are in Senate Districts represented by Republicans. The tolling proposal would impact the following bridges:
Imposing these bridge tolls will negatively impact the people who use those highways as part of their daily commute — just as surely as if we would impose any of the other taxes that the governor wants to levy as part of his budget this year. Legislation will be proposed soon to reform the statute that PennDOT is utilizing to push this plan forward and prevent new tolling without proper transparency and oversight.
Lawmakers Authorize Use of PA National Guard to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine
The Senate voted recently to authorize the use of the Pennsylvania National Guard to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill would allow the National Guard to operate under the guidance of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Human Services to help collect, secure and transport doses of the vaccine.
In addition, National Guard members who have the necessary training would be permitted to administer the vaccine to Pennsylvanians who want to receive it. The proposal could help improve Pennsylvania’s troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state currently ranks 46th in the nation in terms of the percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered.
Senate Approves Bill to Generate More Private Donations to Support Veterans
Pennsylvanians could donate more money to help veterans under a bill the Senate approved on Wednesday. The legislation would increase the donation amounts to the Veterans’ Trust Fund when Pennsylvanians renew a driver’s license, ID card or vehicle registration.
The bill would increase the donation amount from $3 to $5, or from $6 to $10 when applying for a two-year vehicle registration. All donations support grants to county directors of veterans’ affairs, veterans’ service organizations and other charitable organizations that provide assistance, shelter and living necessities to veterans and their families.
Legislation Would Create Medals of Commendation for Firefighters, Law Enforcement, EMS
The Senate passed legislation this week that would create a new way to honor members of law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel who demonstrate uncommon heroism in the line of duty. The bill would establish special medals of commendation to be awarded to members of these organizations who are injured or killed in the line of duty, or who demonstrate exceptional gallantry, heroism and bravery in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
The color of each medal – the Star of Valor, Heart and Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice – would coordinate with the respective program: blue for law enforcement, red for firefighters, and white for EMS personnel.
Senate Passes Bill to Boost Farmland Preservation
Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation efforts could take a critical step forward under legislation approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill would help generate new funding for the program without placing additional burdens on taxpayers.
The legislation dedicates a portion of existing farmland preservation funding to private land trusts – groups that take stewardship over a property with the permission of the landowner. Land trusts would be required to provide matching funds, which would make more resources available to preserve farms.
Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation Claimants Must File by March 12
The Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional $100 in weekly benefits for claimants who earned at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment. Claimants must submit acceptable documentation by March 12 to receive the extra benefits. The additional benefit applies from January 2 through March 13.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants are not eligible for the program. Details on the program, applicable tax years and documentation are available here.
Students raise more than $10.6 million in unusual THON
Normally, thousands jam into Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center to dance for three days in order to raise money to help with the fight against pediatric cancer. This year, dancers were scattered far and wide in dorm rooms and home towns. Despite the challenges, these THON students raised $10,638,078.62 for pediatric cancer. I was able to honor that amazing accomplishment from the Senate floor.
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