In This Update:
VAEP Committee Supports Law Enforcement Commendations, Veterans Outreach
On Monday the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, which I chair, advanced two measures. The first would create commendation medals for law enforcement, and the second would establish a program to ensure outreach to members of the military who are returning to civilian life.
Senate Bill 1246, which I am sponsoring together with Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), would task the Municipal Police Officers Education & Training Commission (MPOETC) with designing three law enforcement commendation medals: the Bronze Star of Valor, for exceptional gallantry, heroism and bravery in the face of life-threatening circumstances; the Blue Heart, for those injured in the line of duty; and the Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice, for those who have fallen in the line of duty. The Governor would make the ultimate decision on the awarding of a medal.
House Bill 2022, introduced by Representative Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), would establish the “Veterans’ Outreach & Support Network” within the Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs. The Department would provide a “Welcome Home to Pennsylvania” packet to partner agencies in an attempt to connect Veterans with state services that are available to them.
SB 1246 and HB 2022 now go to the full Senate for consideration.
Judge Denies Wolf Administration’s Request to Delay Ruling on Gathering Restrictions
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the Wolf Administration’s business shutdowns and restrictions on large gatherings were unconstitutional. This week, the judge affirmed that ruling and denied the governor’s request to delay implementation while the administration pursues an appeal.
The ruling makes it clear that the governor’s restrictions on gatherings (no more than 25 people indoors or 250 people outdoors) cannot be enforced. Although these restrictions were struck down as unconstitutional, I encourage community residents to use common sense and defer to CDC guidance on issues such as attending gatherings, maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask in public spaces.
I am hopeful that this ruling will serve as a wake-up call that we cannot follow one-size-fits-all approaches to combat this pandemic. We need cooperation at all levels to find real solutions that work for each individual community to protect both lives and livelihoods.
Effort to Override Governor’s Veto of School Sports Bill Fails in the House
Governor Wolf vetoed bipartisan legislation this week that would have ensured school districts could make the final decision on allowing school sports, extracurricular activities and spectators during the 2020-21 school year. Unfortunately, an effort to override this veto in the House of Representatives fell short.
Although the bill was approved by more than two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House on final passage, the vote to override the Governor’s veto fell short in the House by just four votes when more than two dozen House Democrats who originally supported the bill reversed course and threw their support behind the Wolf Administration instead of standing up for school officials, parents and student-athletes.
Despite the failed effort to override the veto, school sports and activities are set to continue this fall under PIAA guidelines. However, the failed override effort means that the Wolf Administration will maintain the authority to halt these activities at any time.
Senate Votes to Ease Wolf’s Arbitrary Restrictions on Restaurant Industry
The constantly shifting guidance and severe restrictions placed by the Wolf Administration on Pennsylvania bars and restaurants has created a serious strain on the industry and jeopardized the jobs of more than 500,000 employees. A bill approved by the Senate this week would ease the most burdensome restrictions on these businesses while ensuring they can continue to operate safely.
The legislation would set the minimum capacity for bars and restaurants at 50 percent, with the ability for increased capacity if their premises allows. In addition, the bill would remove the ban on bar service, eliminate the meal requirement to purchase alcohol, and allow for event venues to operate at a minimum of 50 percent capacity.
Bill to Protect Nursing Home Residents Earns Senate Approval
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities faced the greatest threats from COVID-19, and approximately two-thirds of all deaths attributed to the virus were residents of these facilities. The Senate took action this week to better protect some of our most vulnerable populations against the threat of contagious diseases.
The measure would require the Secretary of Health to ensure long-term care facilities follow and implement disease prevention and control guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during an emergency declaration.
In addition, the legislation would ensure no individual who has tested positive for a communicable disease within 14 days is placed in a facility without being placed in isolation. Under the bill, the Secretary of Health would be prevented from forcing the admission of a patient to a long-term care facility without considering the ability of the facility to care for the patient.
Measure Would Improve Transparency on COVID-19 Death Reporting
As early as April, serious discrepancies began to emerge on the number of COVID-19 deaths that were being reported by the Department of Health and county coroners. A bill approved by the Senate this week would help eliminate these inconsistencies.
The legislation would ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency. The bill would aid county coroners in investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding suspected COVID-19 deaths and other cases of death by contagious disease.
Bill Would Create Tougher Penalties for Endangering First Responders
The Senate approved a bill this week that would rebrand the state’s “Steer Clear Law” as the “Move Over Law” to ensure motorists know how to react when approaching an emergency response area. The legislation would better protect law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel, tow truck drivers and other emergency responders.
The measure also increases fines and points for violations and boosts public awareness of the responsibilities of motorists approaching an accident scene.
Legislation Could Prevent Phone Number Spoofing By Telemarketers
Telemarketers frequently “spoof” phone numbers to trick consumers into answering calls by making it appear as if their call originates in the same area as the recipient. Legislation approved by the Senate this week would prohibit this practice in the future.
The bill would prevent any individual or entity from engaging in caller ID spoofing in order to defraud, cause harm or obtain anything of value from another person. It would also prohibit telemarketing and robocalls between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Senate Honors Prisoners of War, Servicemembers Missing in Action
The Senate approved a bill this week that would honor our nation’s prisoners of war and servicemembers missing in action by requiring all PennDOT and PA Turnpike service plazas, welcome centers and rest stops to fly the POW-MIA flag. The bill is intended to serve as a lasting tribute to those brave soldiers still missing in action and the families who have lost their loved ones.
Legislation Approved to Reduce Unused Office Space, Save Taxpayer Dollars
A bill that would help curb costs to taxpayers by reducing unused officed space earned the approval of the Senate this week. The measure would require executive, independent, and state-affiliated agencies to report their space usage on an annual basis to identify ways to reduce costs and make the best use of existing resources.
Over the past three decades, Pennsylvania has seen a 26 percent reduction in the number of state employees without any evidence of a corresponding reduction of office space.
Senate Passes Bill Requiring Notification of Information Breaches
The Senate approved a bill this week that would protect consumers by requiring timely public notification when a security breach compromises personal information held by state agencies. The bill updates the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act to require state agencies victimized by a breach involving personally identifiable information to report the incident to those affected within seven days.
The legislation also requires the state Attorney General be informed of any breach and for executive branch agencies to notify the Office of Administration within three days following a breach.