In this Update:
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:
The bill expands election security by:
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.
Measure Offering Optional Year of Education Due to COVID-19 Goes to the Governor
Parents would have the option to allow their children to repeat a grade level due to learning disruptions caused by COVID-19 under a bill I authored that was approved by the Senate and sent to the governor.
In current practice, the decision on whether to hold a student back is made solely by the child’s school and teacher. The bill would only apply to the 2021-22 school year to address learning gaps related to the pandemic.
Senate Bill 664 would also give parents the option to extend enrollment in special education programs for an extra year due to COVID-19. This provision would prevent students with special needs from aging out of the system at age 21 after missing out on much of the specialized attention they need due to COVID-19 disruptions.
Gov. Wolf will have 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
I had an opportunity to discuss my bill on Fox and Friends First along with a panel of parents whose children could benefit from the proposal.
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:
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.
In addition, the budget boosts funding for the EITC and OSTC programs by $40 million, ensuring more students qualify for scholarships at schools that better meet their unique educational needs.
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.
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.
Have a Happy Independence Day
The United States of America remains the world’s beacon of liberty, 245 years after the 13 colonies took the brave step of challenging the British Empire for independence.
Open displays of love of country might seem old fashioned to some, but it is found in abundance in the homes and communities of everyday Americans. I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July celebrating our nation’s birthday.
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