In this Update:
Survey: Should School Districts Require Students to Wear Masks?
After more than a year and a half of learning disruptions due to COVID-19, we all want to see a successful school year in 2021-22 to get the education of our children back on track.
As local parents begin back-to-school planning, many school boards are grappling with the question of whether masks mandates should be implemented for some or all students. Input from parents should be a key consideration for school districts in making this important decision.
To help gauge the views of local parents, I am inviting all residents of the 34th Senatorial District to share their thoughts by completing a short, two-question survey regarding masking requirements in schools.
The survey is open now through July 29, and I will share the results of this survey prior to a public hearing of the Senate Education Committee on August 6. To participate in the survey, please click here.
Help for Renters and Homeowners
The federal moratorium on evictions will be lifted at the end of this month. Assistance is available through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) that can help people who have been affected by COVID-19 and are facing eviction.
Under the program authorized by the General Assembly earlier this year, households may be eligible for up to 18 months of assistance to cover past-due or future rental or utility payments. The amount of ERAP assistance is determined by the county of residence. Learn more here.
For homeowners, Pennsylvania has been allocated $350 million through the federal Homeowner Assistance Fund to help homeowners behind on their mortgage and other home-related expenses due to the pandemic. Find out more here.
2021 Legislative Review: Education
The education of Pennsylvania children was severely impacted by the pandemic, and the Senate has taken action to mitigate the harm, including allocating funds to ensure schools reopened safely. Education measures passed by the Senate this year include:
Act 24 of 2021 allocates $500 million in federal funds to help ensure schools reopen safely, sustain safe operation and address student needs resulting from the pandemic.
Act 26 of 2021 makes permanent a temporary program that gave schools the option to utilize individuals training to be teachers to serve as a substitute teacher, provided the individual has valid clearances and at least 60 credit hours.
Act 66 of 2021 allows parents the option to have their child repeat a grade level during the 2021-22 school year due to COVID-19.
Senate Resolution 144 establishes the 2030 Commission on Education and Economic Competitiveness to create a long-term vision for Pennsylvania’s education system and a legislative plan for achieving it.
Senate Bill 351 creates the Community Engaged Schools for Success pilot program to bring community-based services into schools.
You can find a full list of bills of note passed by the Senate in 2021 here.
New Law Increases Access to 5G
Newly enacted legislation will increase access to 5G technology by providing uniform regulation of small wireless facilities, which could be as small as a backpack and attach to existing utility poles.
Act 50 of 2021 accelerates high-speed deployment while protecting local rights-of-way.
The Senate also approved legislation that modernizes regulation of landline telephone companies to facilitate the deployment of broadband services in rural Pennsylvania, and directs all revenue generated from leasing state-owned assets to various carriers to expanding access to high-speed broadband. These measures await action in the House of Representatives.
Update on Proposed Integration of State Universities
The Senate Education Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee held a joint public hearing Tuesday on the integration of six state universities in the face of enrollment decline and other factors.
The hearing followed a unanimous vote last week by the governing board of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to integrate six of the 14 state-owned universities. No state universities will be closed.
You can watch the hearing and view the updated plans and more material here.
Hearing on State COVID-19 Contact Tracing Contract
The Senate Communications & Technology Committee and Senate Health & Human Services Committee held a joint public hearing Wednesday to review the recently announced $34 million contract issued by the Department of Health to Public Consulting Group, the latest third-party vendor tasked to perform contact tracing of COVID-19 positive patients over the next year.
Contact tracing is the outreach to exposed persons to alert them to the exposure and provide recommendations for seeking medical care or testing and instructions to quarantine.
The committees heard from Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam and Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter on the contact tracing procurement process as well as the data breach experienced by a previous vendor that impacted more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians. You can view the hearing and read testimony here.
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