Bill Would Provide Early Intervention for Mothers Suffering from Postpartum Depression

HARRISBURG, May 17, 2016 – Newborn and infant children of mothers affected by postpartum depression (PPD) would be eligible for early intervention services under legislation introduced today by Sens. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington).

Senate Bill 1269 would add PPD to the list of conditions that qualify for assessments, tracking and early intervention services. The state already monitors infants with certain medical conditions, such as low birth weight or lead poisoning, as well as those born into potentially dangerous environments, including children born to chemically dependent mothers, homeless children and infants who suffer from abuse and neglect

“Postpartum depression is a severe and potentially long-lasting condition that can put the health of the mother and the baby at risk,” Bartolotta said. “By adding postpartum depression to the list of qualifying conditions, we hope to ensure infants and their mothers who suffer from this condition have access to the services that are already in place in our communities to support healthy child development.”

“All babies deserve a healthy start in life,” said Schwank, Senate Democratic chair of the Women’s Health Caucus. “Making sure that babies of mothers with PPD are able to get available services they may need is important, and it just makes sense for both the mother and child.”

The American Psychological Association estimates that more than one in seven new mothers experience PPD. The condition can adversely affect a baby’s cognitive development, and carries an increased risk of abuse and neglect.

Postpartum depression is typically defined as a major depressive episode for the mother arising either during her pregnancy or within a year of the baby’s birth. About 21,000 babies and mothers in Pennsylvania annually are believed to suffer from it, and the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all mothers be screened for this illness.

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CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463 (Sen. Bartolotta)

William Casey (717) 787-8925 (Sen. Schwank)

Senate Approves Schwank Bill to Keep Parents Out of Jail for Delinquent Truancy Fines

 

HARRISBURG, May 10, 2016 – Sparked by the tragic death of a Berks County mom who died after being imprisoned for her child’s delinquent truancy fines, Sen. Judy Schwank has won the Pennsylvania Senate’s approval of a bipartisan bill to keep parents from this kind of punishment.

Senate Bill 359 is heading to the House on a 48-0 vote.

“There are many causes for truancy, but we have largely been relying on a single solution to it: treating it as a crime with the unfounded belief that that would fix the problems,” Schwank said today during floor debate. “Mrs. Dinino died in prison, with her children at home alone, simply because she could not pay $2,000 in fines that had accumulated against her.”

The Berks County Democrat said the 2014 death of Eileen DiNino – a widowed mother of seven who was placed in Berks County Prison because Pennsylvania law mandates a five-day sentence for failing to pay truancy fines – was the “wake-up call.”

“It was a shock … to learn that Pennsylvania mandated a prison sentence in truancy cases. It was an even greater shock to discover that not only do we have this bad idea of mandating prison for parents who are unable to pay truancy fines but, even worse, it is randomly applied.”

Should Senate Bill 359 win the approval of the House and governor, Schwank said no parent will go to jail for a delinquent truancy bill under most circumstances.

Also, the senator emphasized that the bipartisan legislation, which she worked on with Republican Sens. Stewart Greenleaf (Montgomery County) and Lloyd Smucker (Lancaster), will remind people that getting children an education is the most important reason for updating the law.

“Eileen’s death, sadly, put a human face to this ineffective injustice, and this bill today will not bring her back to her family and friends,” Sen. Schwank said. “But it did prompt a very deep and serious reconsideration of the issue that resulted in SB 359.

“The causes of truancy are much deeper than a child simply choosing not to go to school. There are reasons for these choices, and they reflect many other concerns than whether or not a child attended class on a given day.”

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Sen. Schwank Announces Fire/EMS Grant Awards for Berks County 1st Responders

READING, April 25, 2016 – More than five dozen Berks County EMS and fire companies will receive state grants totaling more than $840,000 to help with training, equipment purchases and construction or renovation of facilities, Sen. Judy Schwank announced today.

Twelve Berks County EMS units will receive $86,156, and 54 fire companies are counting a total of $755,728 from the Fire Company, Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program.

“Our first responders need the public’s support to help protect our homes and property and come to our aid when we are in distress,” Sen. Schwank said. “Getting this money to our many fire departments and EMS units will help accomplish many goals while improving public safety.”

All fire companies and volunteer ambulance and rescue squads are eligible for the grants.

The following Berks County EMS and fire companies have been earmarked for support:

EMS

Bally Community Ambulance Assoc., $6,991.46

Southern Berks Regional EMS Service, $7,147.70

Blandon Community Ambulance Inc., $7,201.70

Boyertown Lions Community Ambulance Service Inc., $7,201.70

Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Co No 1, $7,201.70

Hamburg Emergency Medical Services Inc., $7,201.70

Lower Alsace Ambulance, $7,201.70

Muhlenberg Area Ambulance, $7,201.70

Oley Fire Company, $7,201.70

Schuylkill Valley Emergency Medical Services, $7,201.70

Topton American Legion Comm Amb Service Inc., $7,201.70

Western Berks Ambulance Association Inc., $7,201.70

FIRE COMPANIES

Friendship Fire Company No 1 of Geigertown, $5,600

Central Berks Fire Company, $11,511.46

Rescue Fire Co No 1 Of Mt Aetna, $11,511.46

Marion Fire Company of Stouchburg, $11,739.29

Union Fire Company Of Bethel, $11,739.29

Alsace Manor Fire Company Truck Crew, $11,967.12

Community Volunteer Fire Company of Lower Alsace Township, $11,967.12

Pioneer Hose Co No 1, $11,967.12

Community Fire Co of Frystown, $12,194.96

Ruscombmanor Fire Company No 1, $12,194.96

Walnuttown Fire Co #1, $12,194.96

Central Fire Co #1 of Laureldale, $12,422.79

Hamburg Volunteer Forest Fire Crew Inc., $12,422.79

Community Fire Co of Seisholtzville, $12,650.62

Community Fire Company Virginville, $12,650.62

Friendship Fire Company # 2, $12,650.62

Shoemakersville Fire Co No 1, $12,650.62

Lyons Volunteer Fire Co 1, $12,878.46

Shartlesville Community Fire Company No 1, $12,878.46

Kenhorst Volunteer Fire Company No 1, $12,900.00

Monarch Fire Co #1, $13,334.12

Amity Fire Company, $13,561.96

Blandon Fire Company No 1, $13,561.96

Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Co No 1, $13,561.96

Gibraltar Fire Co., $13,561.96

Greenfields Fire Co. 1, $13,561.96

Keystone Fire Co No 1 of Shillington, $13,561.96

Keystone Fire Company Rehrersburg, $13,561.96

Kutztown Volunteer Fire Department, $13,561.96

Mount Pleasant Fire Company, $13,561.96

Temple Fire Company 1, $13,561.96

Topton Volunteer Fire Company, $13,561.96

Western Berks Fire Department, $13,561.96

Berks Emergency Strike Team, $13,789.79

Bernville Community Fire Company, $13,789.79

Brecknock Township Fire Company No 1, $13,789.79

City of Reading Pennsylvania Dept of Fire & Rescue Services, $13,789.79

Cumru Township Volunteer Firefighters Association, $13,789.79

Exeter Township Volunteer Fire Department, $13,789.79

Goodwill Fire Co #1 of Hyde Park, $13,789.79

Hereford Fire Company, $13,789.79

Kempton Fire Co Inc., $13,789.79

Mount Penn Fire Company, $13,789.79

Oley Fire Company, $13,789.79

Strausstown Volunteer Fire Company No 1, $13,789.79

Township of Spring Firefighters Inc., $13,789.79

Twin Valley Fire Department, $13,789.79

Union Fire Company No 1 of Leesport, $13,789.79

Union Fire Company No. 1 of Hamburg, $13,789.79

West Reading Fire Company No 1, $13,789.79

Womelsdorf Volunteer Fire Company, $13,789.79

Wyomissing Fire Department, $13,789.79

Eastern Berks Fire Department, $36,561.96

Boyertown Area Fire & Rescue Inc., $36,789.79

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More than 70k Acres of Berks County Farmland Now Protected, Sen. Schwank Says

HARRISBURG, April 14, 2016 – The number of acres of Berks County agricultural land protected by Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program eclipsed 70,000 today, state Sen. Judy Schwank said.

The milestone happened when the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, of which Schwank is a member, added four more Berks County farms, totaling 169.9 acres, to its ag easement list.

“Nearly 110 square miles of Berks County are now dedicated to all things agriculture,” Sen. Schwank said. “This is a remarkable achievement and something for every Berks County resident to be proud about reaching.”

The four farms added to the farmland preservation program received total ag easements of $424,750. The tracts are owned by:

  • Kenneth & Diane Leiby, Perry Township, 37.6 acres
  • John & Kimberly McGrath, Amity Township, 61 acres
  • Kathy M. Reifsnyder, Upper Tulpehocken Township, 34.2 acres
  • Kenneth R. Sholl, Bethel Township, 37.1 acres

Berks County now has 709 farms – and 70,031 acres – in the state’s farmland preservation program. Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the program.

Since the farmland preservation program started in 1988, Pennsylvania has protected 4,951 farms totaling 520,619 acres.

For more information on PA’s farmland preservation program, visit the Bureau of Farmland Preservation’s website.

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Sen. Schwank’s Volunteer Firefighters, Emergency Responders Forum Wednesday

READING, April 11, 2016 — Sen. Judy Schwank will hold a forum for firefighters and emergency responders Wednesday, April 13, at the Berks County Fire Training Center.

Joining the senator during the program will be Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Timothy Solobay, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Richard Flinn Jr., and Derrick Redcay, Sen. Schwank’s fire and emergency services intern.

“Each year I try to hold an event to provide information to firefighters and other emergency responders on issues and initiatives in Harrisburg that affect the vital work they do for all of us, and give them an opportunity to ask questions and air concerns,” said Sen. Schwank. “The top firefighting official in the commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s top emergency management official will be on hand to speak and listen to our local fire and emergency response personnel.

“I am especially pleased to have had the assistance in organizing the forum of Derrick Redcay, my fire services intern who served as a junior volunteer firefighter and who has responded courageously and successfully to a stroke that has confined him to a wheel chair,” Sen. Schwank said. “His hard work and expertise will help ensure that the event is informative and impactful.”

Media coverage is invited.

WHAT: Sen. Judy Schwank to hold Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Forum

WHEN: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 13

WHERE: Berks County Fire Training Center, 895 Morgantown Road, Reading

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Statewide Drug Addiction Study Proposed by Schwank Ordered by PA Senate

HARRISBURG, April 4, 2016 – The Pennsylvania Senate today unanimously approved Sen. Judy Schwank’s resolution for an advisory task force to find better ways to address drug addiction and treatment.

“I believe the task force will find that Pennsylvania needs better coordination and, perhaps, a stronger commitment to drug addiction prevention, care and intervention, especially as heroin and opioid overdoses have racked so many of our communities,” Schwank said.

“We suspect more can and should be done because we read about Pennsylvanians dying from drug overdoses too many times on too many days. I’ve listened during public forums and impromptu meetings with constituents who say treatment programs should have the resources to provide more beds for care or they should be able to act quicker and with more focus.

“I look forward to the advisory panel’s work and final report to help stop this growing problem, and I thank the Senate for its understanding and support to make this happen. Treatment works.”

The special panel proposed in Schwank’s Senate Resolution 267 would complete an inventory of the locations and types of drug treatment programs and determine if there is a need for additional help or better coordination.

It would also determine the ease and availability of access by Pennsylvania residents to effective treatment; examine the prevalence and practical impact of using private or public funding or health insurance coverage to pay for treatment; decide how to better help consumers determine the effectiveness and value of different types of treatment and programs, and propose how to nurture promising emerging types of treatment and best practices.

The task force will work under the supervision of the Joint State Government Commission – a bipartisan, bicameral research agency – and have 18 months to deliver its report and recommendations.

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Contact: Mark Shade

Phone:   (717) 787-5166

mshade@pasenate.com

Business Tips, Advice on Tap Wednesday During Sen. Schwank’s ‘W.E. R.O.A.R. Summit’

READING, March 28, 2016 – Women business owners and entrepreneurs will have the unique opportunity to learn how to grow their businesses Wednesday, March 30, during a special seminar in Reading sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank and a group of private and public partners.

The “W.E. R.O.A.R. Summit: Women Entrepreneurs, Relationships, Opportunities, Assistance and Resources,” is a free event that will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel, 701 Penn St., Reading.

“Women business owners and entrepreneurs are critical to the strength and vitality of our local, state, and national economies, but they face many unique challenges and obstacles in achieving success,” said Sen. Schwank. “The ‘W.E. R.O.A.R. Summit’ will bring together, in one event and at one place, a diverse array of business experts, agencies, and organizations, whose purpose is to help women-owned businesses succeed.”

Schwank said the summit is designed to benefit seasoned business owners, start-ups, and entrepreneurs alike.

Erin Andrew, director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership for the United States Small Business Administration, will deliver the keynote address.

The event will also include breakout sessions led by business experts on: “Starting and Growing A Business,” “Securing Financing,” “Strategic Planning,” and “Taking Your Business to the Next Level.”

A variety of economic development organizations, financial institutions, and agencies will be available to provide information and guidance to help attendees succeed with their businesses.

Schwank said the summit is a collaborative effort with The Pennsylvania Community Development and Finance Corp, Tompkins VIST Bank, and the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center, with special assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Even though the event is free to attend, registration is required. For more information or to attend, people may call 610-898-6151 or visit https://weroar2016.eventbrite.com.

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‘Retirement Not The End of Judicial Reform,’ Sens. Williams, Schwank Say as They Demand Action on Judicial Reform Proposals, Punishment for Those Involved

HARRISBURG, March 22, 2016 – On the plaza of the state government building that houses Pennsylvania’s highest appellate courts, state Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams and Judy Schwank called for renewed efforts to improve the accountability of commonwealth justices and said punishment still must be delivered to those involved in the recent email scandal.

The statewide email scandal ensnared former PA Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin, who announced his retirement a week ago.

“Pennsylvania cannot continue to have a system that allows – and shields – its jurists and prosecutors from punishment for unethical behavior,” Sen. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said in response to a growing public mistrust of the judicial discipline system. “The Court of Judicial Discipline must be free from conflicts of interest like those which arise naturally when disciplining their own appointing authority.”

“The inappropriate handling by the Judicial Conduct Board in recent cases against sitting state Supreme Court Justices show how vulnerable our current investigative and disciplinary processes are to inappropriate influence by the Supreme Court,” Sen. Schwank (D-Berks) said. “To restore confidence in the courts and our judicial process, we need now to deal effectively with judicial misconduct at all levels.”

As part of their reform efforts, the senators co-sponsored Senate Bill 1083 to remove the state Supreme Court from the judicial discipline process, and to:

  • Revitalize the conduct board and disciplinary court by transferring the Supreme Court’s power to appoint members to those panels to the governor and legislature
  • Reduce the number of judges allowed to sit on the panels and increase the number of public citizen members
  • Make them fiscally independent of the court and prohibit the Supreme Court from inserting itself in these cases.

The lawmakers said their proposal needs to be considered soon by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“If you’re a woman, a minority, LGBT, these emails reveal just how so many people charged with protecting you and your interests view you and talk about you in private,” Schwank said. “Tragically, it’s the same way that people who make you feel unsafe in your home view you: as an unequal, as an object to be mocked, mistreated and abused.”

Also egregious, the senators said, was Judicial Conduct Board Chief Counsel Robert Graci’s purposeful decision to not immediately disclose his role as campaign manager for Eakin.

“Graci’s performance and the co-conspiracy to cover up these embarrassing emails by state Attorney General First Deputy Bruce Beemer and state Supreme Court Special Counsel Robert Byer are why we are re-stating our call for them to be removed from office,” Williams said. “We are also seeking sanctions against federal prosecutors who were involved in this outrage.”

Sen. Williams said he received a “pro-forma” response to a Dec. 4 letter he mailed to Peter J. Smith, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District in Harrisburg. That letter asked Smith to reprimand or terminate the assistant U.S. attorneys under his charge involved in this matter. No such action has been made public in the nearly three months since that initial response.

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Contact: Mark Shade

Phone: 717-787-9220

mshade@pasenate.com

Sens. Schwank, Williams to Urge Action on Judicial Reform Proposals

HARRISBURG, March 21, 2016 – Two of Pennsylvania’s leading legislative voices for better performance and oversight of the commonwealth’s judicial system will hold a press conference at 11 a.m., tomorrow, Tuesday, March 22, to call for judicial performance and oversight proposals to be considered and for further measures against former Supreme Court Justice Eakin and those involved in “Hategate.”

Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) will demand punitive action against those involved in the widespread dissemination of pornographic, racist and misogynistic emails.

Media coverage is invited.

WHAT:           Sens. Williams, Schwank to hold press conference on judicial reform

WHEN:           11 a.m., Tuesday, March 22

WHERE:         Plaza, PA Judicial Center, 601 Commonwealth Ave., Harrisburg

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Schwank’s Hemp Bill Sails Through Senate

HARRISBURG, March 16, 2016 – State Sen. Judy Schwank’s proposal to return hemp as a legal, cash crop in Pennsylvania was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate today.

Senate Bill 50, which Schwank and Sen. Mike Folmer introduced more than a year ago, was approved by the upper chamber, 49-0.

“The United States imports $650 million worth of hemp from Canada and China,” Schwank said during floor remarks. “In Canada hemp is estimated to be more than a $2 billion crop. Pennsylvania farmers who can grow hemp should be allowed to once again.”

If approved by the governor, SB 50 would start small with a pilot program under the supervision of academic and state government experts.

“The goal is to research best practices and clear the way for Pennsylvania to become a hemp-farming powerhouse,” Schwank said. “I am not expecting hemp to be used commercially for many years, but this pilot program gets Pennsylvania’s foot in the door, and opens the possibilities for future generations of farmers.”

Senate Bill 50 has yet to garner a negative vote. The Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, of which Schwank is the Democratic chair, voted 11-0 in favor of the bill this past October.

The legislation moves to the House now for consideration.

“Hemp would allow Pennsylvania to be on the same playing field with states that have already passed some form of hemp legislation,” Schwank said. The soil and climate here in PA is perfect for growing hemp and hemp got its start in PA. We have townships such as Hempfield Township in Lancaster that were named after the crop and its viability in the area.

“I don’t think there are arguments against hemp; I look at it more as a misunderstanding.”

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Schwank’s Proposal to Find Effective Ways to Deal with Drug Addiction Clears 1st Hurdle

HARRISBURG, March 16, 2016 – The state Senate Health and Welfare Committee today unanimously approved a proposal by state Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) calling for a broad study of addiction treatment concerns in Pennsylvania.

The proposal now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

“The sharp increases in heroin and opioid abuse in recent years here and across the country have really revealed the great need for a more coordinated understanding of and approach to dealing with addiction,” Schwank said following the committee’s approval. “Our work to fight this growing crisis has been earnest, but it remains too fragmented.

“Having a task force focus on the problem will allow us to identify necessary changes that we hope can make a huge difference for the many families who are facing the impact  and challenges of  addiction.”

Under Schwank’s resolution, SR 267, which has broad bi-partisan support of a majority of the Senate,  the task force would be created under the Joint State Government Commission, which is a research agency of the General Assembly.

The task force would:

  • Count the locations and types of treatment programs
  • Assess the need for additional treatment resources
  • Determine the ease and availability of access by Pennsylvania residents to effective treatment
  • Examine the prevalence and practical impact of using private or public funding or health insurance coverage to pay for treatment
  • Decide how to better help consumers determine the effectiveness and value of different types of treatment and programs, and
  • Propose how to nurture promising emerging types of treatment and best practices.

Representatives from the departments of Corrections, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Education, Health, Human Services, Insurance, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, hospitals, treatment providers, medical professionals, recovering former users, family members of users, and other appropriate groups will serve on the task force.

The advisory task force would be required to deliver its report within 18 months.

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2nd Session of Schwank’s ‘Model Senate’ to Open Thursday

READING, March 16, 2016 – The second session of state Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual “Berks County Model Senate” will give area high school participants to experience the legislative committee process and the opportunity to interview subject matter experts.

The session will open at 11 a.m. in Sen. Schwank’s district office on George Street. The committee session are scheduled to take place at noon.

“Our model senators have learned how to elect leaders and propose bills to help their constituents and improve the quality of life in their communities,” Schwank said. “Tomorrow, they will introduce their bills and sit opposite people who understand the impact their ideas could have on people as they work to make their bills become law.”

Thursday’s Model Senate will include six committee sessions. The topics and subject matter experts include:

Agriculture – Sen. Judy Schwank

Judicial – Richard Podguski, the director of the Bureau of Offender and Re-Entry at the Board of Probation and Parole

Environment – Greg Kauffman, a legislative liaison for the PA Department of Environmental Protection

State Government – Ron Young, PennDOT district press officer

Education – Dr. Solomon Lausch, former Schuylkill Valley School District superintendent and current executive director of the Berks Business Education Coalition

Health & Welfare – Mary Turner, MS, the program coordinator for “Keystone Education Yields Success,” or KEYS, at Reading Area Community College

Sen. Schwank’s Model Senate will meet once more before concluding.

Media coverage is invited.

WHAT: Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual Berks County Model Senate

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17

WHERE: Conference room, Muhlenberg Township Municipal Building, 210 George St., Reading

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$1M in Ag Easements Approved to Protect 5 More Berks County Farms, Schwank Says

 

HARRISBURG, Feb. 18, 2016 – Five more Berks County farms totaling 393 acres will be protected from future development following the approval of their applications today by Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program, state Sen. Judy Schwank said.

“We closed out 2015 by preserving Berks County’s 700th farm and I’m pleased to report that we are continuing to lead this green effort in a strong way by adding five new farms to the preservation program,” Sen. Schwank, a member of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, said following the panel’s decision. “The largest farm preserved today is 119 acres; the smallest, 21 acres. But they are all living large because of their commitment to agriculture in Berks County.”

The five farms added to the farmland preservation program received total ag easements of $979,250. The tracts are owned by:

  • Glenn & Janet Brubaker, Marion Township, 102.7 acres
  • Burkholder & Sauder families, Maxatawny Township, 79.3 acres
  • Charles Durkin Jr., Albany Township, 70.3 acres
  • Charles Durkin Jr. #2, Albany Township, 119.2 acres, and
  • Michael Laskoskie, Perry Township, 20.6 acres

Berks County now has 705 farms – and 69,861 acres – in the state’s farmland preservation program. Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the program.

Since the farmland preservation program started in 1988, Pennsylvania has protected 4,919 farms totaling 518,827 acres.

The long-term goal of the state’s program is to permanently preserve farmland. The holders of the easements have the right to prevent development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production.

For more information on PA’s farmland preservation program, visit the Bureau of Farmland Preservation’s website.

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Schwank’s ‘Model Senate’ to Give 48 Berks Co. Students State Government ‘Experience’

READING, Feb. 17, 2016 – Four dozen high school students from 13 Berks County schools will get a close-up look at being a legislator tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 18, during Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual “Berks County Model Senate.”

The event, which will be the first of three planned sessions of the Model Senate, will begin at 11 a.m. in the Muhlenberg Township Building conference room.

This is the third consecutive year for Schwank’s Berks County Model Senate.

“The students who have participated in the Model Senate in the past learned valuable lessons about civic duty, the public spotlight, and what it takes to get bills through the legislative process,” Sen. Schwank said. “The 48 students who will be at the township building tomorrow can expect a similar enriching experience.”

During tomorrow’s Model Senate, students will elect a governor, caucus leaders, and appoint committee chairs. The students will then decide which bills will be introduced in the Senate and bring up their own proposals for debate.

Media coverage is invited.

WHAT: Sen. Judy Schwank’s third annual Berks County Model Senate

WHEN: 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 18

WHERE: Conference room, Muhlenberg Township Municipal Building, 210 George St., Reading

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Sen. Schwank, Rep. Rozzi: $490K in New Community Conservation Grants Awarded to Berks County

HARRISBURG, Jan. 28, 2016 – Work to improve trails and parks in Berks County received new state investments of about $490,000 today, state Sen. Judy Schwank and Rep. Mark Rozzi announced.

The investments, from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, are called Community Conservation Partnership Program grants, or C2P2, and target Hopewell Big Woods, Green Hills, and Carsonia Park.

“More people will be able to enjoy the beauty of these Berks County places with the help of these new state investments,” Sen. Schwank said. “Outdoor experiences make our lives richer. Fresh air, challenging hiking trails, and being close to water can broaden our horizons and help to give us new perspective.”

DCNR announced $28 million in C2P2 grants today, including the following Berks County investments:

  • Phase 1 of the gateway to Hopewell Big Woods — $72,000 for the development of Gateway to the Hopewell Big Woods Rustic Park, Birdsboro. Work will include construction of pedestrian footbridge and walkway, ADA access, landscaping, project sign and other related site improvements.
  • Green Hills Preserve, $35,000 for the acquisition of approximately 1.9 acres in Robeson Township for critical habitat and expansion of the Green Hills Preserve. National Lands Trust Inc.
  • Green Hills Preserve, $103,000 for the acquisition of approximately 34 acres in Robeson Township for open space, critical habitat and expansion of the Green Hills Preserve. National Lands Trust Inc.
  • Carsonia Park development ($250,000) and acquisition ($27,700) for the rehabilitation and further development of Carsonia Park in Exeter and Lower Alsace townships. Work to include construction of basketball and multi-purpose courts, baseball/multi-purpose field, stormwater management measures and pedestrian walkway, ADA access, landscaping, project sign and other related site improvements. Recreation Commission of the Antietam Valley.

“Carsonia Park is one of Berks County’s historic places, and DCNR’s decision to deliver $278,000 in grants will greatly help its supporters begin to bring it back to life,” Rep. Rozzi said. “The park opened in 1896 and was an amusement park for many years. Restoring this space will deliver wonderful amusement to its visitors for generations to come.”

Schwank and Rozzi noted that competition for the C2P2 grants was fierce.

DCNR said it received 430 grant applications seeking more than $92 million. Grants were awarded for municipal and regional community recreation and park projects, land acquisition, rivers conservation efforts, and planning.

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Sen. Schwank Issues Statement on Senate’s AG Kane Vote

CLICK HERE TO READ SEN. SCHWANK’S FULL COMMENTS

HARRISBURG, Jan. 27, 2016 – State Sen. Judy Schwank, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Address, issued the following statement today after voting against the report the committee submitted to the full Senate by a 5-2 vote.

“I voted against the report because, despite the majority’s reliance on unproved or unprovable and disputed claims, the evidence throughout has been clear and consistent that the attorney general remains constitutionally qualified within both the letter and the intent of the state Constitution to hold her office.

“It also was consistent and clear that there are no duties of a legal nature that the attorney general personally must perform, and that all duties of her office are being fulfilled and are not likely to go unfilled as a result of the suspension of her law license. No incompetency is apparent on a fair reading of the record, and the root of the suspension itself is a pending criminal proceeding, which Senate precedent makes grounds for removal by impeachment only and not for removal in this manner.

“The proceedings also revealed a lack of clear standards for the proof that should be required to remove an elected official and for a process properly transparent from start to finish. Instead, it also leaves other members of the Senate, who might be called to vote on removal, without a credible opportunity to gauge the weight and credibility of the evidence themselves.

“Not only was the attorney general denied the opportunity to question any of the witnesses in our hearings, but the irregularity of the proceedings was highlighted even today by the admission of apparent testimony into the Senate record without the opportunity for members of the committee to inquire into them.”

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700th Berks County Farm Added to State’s Preservation List, Schwank Says

HARRISBURG, Dec. 10, 2015 – Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation program approved the entry of three Berks County farms today, bringing the number of local tracts protected from future development to 700, state Sen. Judy Schwank said today.

“Berks County loves its farms and ag-related industries, and protecting our 700th farm is significant and praise-worthy,” Sen. Schwank, a member of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, said following the panel’s approval of today’s applications. “My thanks to the owners of these three farms for recognizing their role in agriculture and acting to make sure their land will continue to produce delicious food for years to come.

The three farms added to the farmland preservation program received total ag easements of about $266,000. They include:

  • John T. Bicksler, Tulpehocken Township, 15.3 acres
  • Daniel and Melanie Hetrick, Upper Bern Township, 50 acres, and
  • Hoppes, Kehl and Reinert families, Oley Township, 41.2 acres

Berks County now has 700 farms – and 69,468 acres – in the state’s farmland preservation program. Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the program.

Since the farmland preservation program started in 1988, the commonwealth has protected 4,892 farms totaling 516,417 acres with nearly $1.29 billion in easements.

The long-term goal of the state’s program is to permanently preserve farmland. The holders of the easements have the right to prevent development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production.

For more information on PA’s farmland preservation program, visit the Bureau of Farmland Preservation’s website.

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Schwank Disappointed in Property Tax Reform Set Back

HARRISBURG, Nov. 24, 2015 – Because of the hard work and groundswell of support from Berks County residents and Pennsylvanians, state Sen. Judy Schwank said today she is disappointed with the Senate’s defeat of a bill that would have eliminated the regressive property tax, but she said she will fight on to change how the commonwealth pays for public education.

“One no vote does not mean the issue is dead forever,” Sen. Schwank said today. “I’m pledged to resolving the unfair burden that school property taxes place on property owners.

“Let’s find the objections to property tax reform and work to fine tune the plan and educate others on its benefits. Our seniors deserve our continued focus. Our schools must have a better and more reliable source of public investment.

“Many of us understand that this is a complicated issue. It lacks uniform application across the commonwealth. It looks to replace one large source of revenue with others. But because we were so close to getting this done in the Senate, it means we are just that close to finding the ultimate solution.”

An amendment that mirrored Senate Bill 76 was defeated by the Senate Monday evening, 25-24.

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Schwank Appointed to Special Panel to Look at AG Kane

HARRISBURG, Oct. 27, 2015 – Berks County Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank has been appointed to a special bipartisan senate panel to look into whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane may serve with a suspended law license.

Fellow Democrats Art Haywood (Philadelphia) and Sean Wiley (Erie County) are also on the committee as are Republicans John Gordner (Columbia County), Lisa Baker (Luzerne County) and Gene Yaw (Bradford County).

“This is a privilege and responsibility that I take very seriously. I appreciate the trust and faith of my Democratic leader, and I look forward to working with the other members to reach a conclusion,” Schwank said.

Schwank’s “Special Committee on Senate Address” is created under Rule 5(a)(2) of Senate Rules.

The committee must issue a preliminary report to the full Senate with preliminary findings within 30 days. The report must also include an outline of procedures the committee will use should it elect to move forward with any actions.

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Schwank’s Industrial Hemp Bill Wins Unanimous Committee Approval

HARRISBURG, Oct. 27, 2015 – Without opposition, state Sen. Judy Schwank’s proposal to once again make industrial hemp a legal cash crop in Pennsylvania moved out of committee and to the Senate floor today.

The Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, of which Schwank is the Democratic chair, voted 11-0 in support of the Berks County lawmaker’s Senate Bill 50.

“Industrial hemp is another crop they can use as something new or something they can use as ground cover or to prevent erosion if their fields are fallow or if flooding affects them,” Schwank said following the committee’s vote today. “We hope that, once we get this started, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can become a powerhouse in the growth of hemp for all kinds of uses.”

SB 50 would allow the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp as part of a research program at a college or university – in accordance with federal law – under the regulation of a five-member Industrial Hemp Licensing Board that would be established within the Department of Agriculture.

Industrial hemp would also be recognized in Pennsylvania as an oilseed.

“Industrial hemp is not marijuana, and it’s not medical marijuana,” Schwank said. “It’s an age-old plant that has benefitted farmers and consumers for thousands of years, and it holds the promise of helping Pennsylvania farmers in significant ways, once again.”

Sen. Schwank said there are some 50,000 ways industrial hemp can be used, including in textiles, building materials, industrial products, food, paper, and environmental products.

“This is a multi-million dollar industry in the U.S. and there is great demand for these products,” Schwank said. “There are so many opportunities for this, and we’re losing out by not being able to grow it.”

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Schwank Urges Commonwealth to Stop ‘Balance Billing’

HARRISBURG, Oct. 1, 2015 – With many Pennsylvanians suffering “sticker shock” when they get a bill for medical procedures they believed their insurance company would cover, state Sen. Judy Schwank today urged the commonwealth to stop the practice of so-called “balance billing.”

The Berks County Democrat testified Thursday morning during a special state Insurance Department public hearing on the issue.

“Situations like this have every appearance of bait-and-switch and that is just part of the problem balance billing poses,” Schwank testified. “These debts are not just hidden, they are almost impossible for the typical health care consumer to discover beforehand.”

Balance billing is when a consumer is billed unexpectedly for a difference between the provider’s charge and the payment allowed by the insurer. It is especially a problem when patients are billed after services are provided outside their insurer’s networks without the patient being aware of it.

“The passage of the Affordable Care Act was good news for millions of men and women because screenings for breast cancer, colon cancer and other diseases – where early detection is vital – are now covered in every insurance policy without a co-pay or deductible,” Schwank said.

“Imagine the shock when someone who finally has insurance, uses it for a health screening they put off too long because of their concerns about being able to afford it, and then gets a bill for the screening they might not be easily able to afford.”

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller, who has expressed similar concerns as Sen. Schwank, called today’s public hearing on balance billing.

“The practice of balance billing is particularly troubling when the patient uses a doctor and facility that is in-network according to their health insurance, but is never told that a service they receive is delivered by another provider not in their insurance network,” Miller has said publicly. “In many instances, the patient only finds this out when they get a bill for the amount not covered by insurance.”

Schwank said Berks County residents are blessed to have two excellent hospitals, but even with them, balance billing is hurting many health care consumers.

“Earlier this year I learned through an insurance broker that a number of women who went to them for mammograms had been balance-billed,” the senator testified. “It turned out that that the radiologists working at the hospital were not hospital employees, but were employees of a private practice that served both hospitals and was outside the women’s insurance networks.”

Schwank said balance billing is not fair in these cases because the details of which specialist is employed by which health care provider is practically impossible to figure out.

She said she will work with the department to achieve appropriate legislative or administrative changes.

“Whether we use an ‘assignment of benefits’ process, such as New York enacted earlier this year, a dispute resolution board or some other method, patients deserve to know beforehand whether they will be personally responsible for their care costs,” Sen. Schwank testified.

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Schwank’s ‘College Financial Aid Awareness Night’ to Offer Helpful Info

READING, Sept. 24, 2015 – Students, parents and others who have questions about paying for college will want to save Oct. 1 on their calendars so they can benefit from Sen. Judy Schwank’s annual “College Financial Aid Awareness Night.”

The free event will run from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Muhlenberg Township building, and it will include presentations by the senator and financial aid experts from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and Reading Area Community College.

“Change is a constant in the world of college financial aid and it’s important to get the best tips and ideas to ensure to best navigate this sometimes difficult task,” Sen. Schwank said. “PHEAA and RACC’s financial aid experts have been excellent and very helpful in the past, and I am sure they will help ease many worries or fears next week.”

Additional information is available by contacting Schwank’s Reading District office, 610-929-2151.

Media coverage is invited.

WHO: Sen. Judy Schwank’s “College Financial Aid Awareness Night”

WHEN: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1

WHERE: Muhlenberg Township Building, 210 George St., Reading

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54-Acre Arnold Farm Now Protected, Sen. Schwank Announces

HARRISBURG, Aug. 13, 2015 – A 54-acre tract in Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, is now under the commonwealth’s farmland preservation shield, state Sen. Judy Schwank said today.

Lawrence and Donna Arnold received nearly $135,000 in conservation easements in exchange for including their farm in the long-running program.

“The Arnolds have worked this land and they have worked to protect their farm for years,” Sen. Schwank, who is a member of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board, said following the panel’s approval of the application. “Because the Arnold farm is now protected from future non-agricultural development, it will continue to produce valuable products for Pennsylvanians for years to come.”

With the addition of the Tulpehocken Township acreage, Berks County now has 696 farms – and 69,361 acres – in the state’s farmland preservation program. Berks County has preserved more acreage of farmland than any other county in the program.

Since the farmland preservation program started in 1988, the commonwealth has protected 4,831 farms totaling 511,335 acres with nearly $1.29 billion in easements.

Local, county or state government – or any combination of the three – may buy easements. Counties that decide to have an easement purchase program must create an agricultural land preservation board.

The long-term goal of the state’s program is to permanently preserve farmland. The holders of the easements have the right to prevent development or improvements of the land for purposes other than agricultural production.

For more information on PA’s farmland preservation program, visit the Bureau of Farmland Preservation’s website.

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State Grant Opp for Businesses Working to Stop Pollution, Improve Energy Efficiency, Schwank Says

READING, July 29, 2015 – Businesses working to save electricity or protect the environment can now apply for a state grant for pollution prevention and energy conservation projects, Sen. Judy Schwank said today.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Small Business Advantage Grants offer first-come, first-served matching grants up to $9,500.

“Berks Countians take pride in our natural resources and businesses looking for financial assistance can fund their projects and help all of us enjoy a better quality of life,” Schwank said as she shared the news of the grant’s availability. “Our office has helped several local business secure grant funding through this program over the past few years.”

The Small Business Advantage Grant is a reimbursement program that provides up to half – but no more than $9,500 – of a project’s cost.

Eligible projects must save the small business a minimum of $500 and at least 25 percent annually in energy consumption or pollution related expenses.

Eligible applicants must have no more than 100 employees; be a for-profit, small-business owner; and be taxed as a for-profit business located within Pennsylvania. The project to which the grant will apply must be located within the applicant’s commonwealth-based facility.

DEP began accepting applications July 27. The agency’s Small Business Advantage Grant Program webpage has more information. Berks County businesses may also call Sen. Schwank’s district office at 610-929-2151.

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Next Phase of Reading Waste Water Treatment Facility Upgrade to Happen with Approval of $37M PENNVEST Loan, Sen. Schwank, Reps. Caltagirone, Rozzi Report

HARRISBURG, July 22, 2015 – The ongoing rejuvenation of Reading’s treatment facilities today counted the approval of a $37.2 million low-interest loan for the replacement of the Fritz Island solid waste treatment plant.

Just as it approved an $84.6 million loan in April for Reading’s wastewater treatment plant, PENNVEST approved the new low-interest advance during its meeting today. The $37.2 million project will also help to protect the Schuylkill River from raw sewage discharges, and it will help to resolve National Pollutant Discharge System violations.

The new project is expected to create 65 construction jobs.

“With hard, diligent work, the understanding of PENNVEST’s board, and the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Justice, it is our pleasure to announce the approval of this new loan to get the Fritz Island solid waste treatment plant working correctly again,” said Sen. Judy Schwank. “Years of neglect jeopardized south Reading and the people living downstream from Fritz Island, but that’s about to change in a big way.”

“We need these funds to make sure Reading residents are protected from pollution and the Schuylkill River flows cleanly and freely,” Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Reading) said. “More than $121 million is being delivered to Fritz Island and the city from PENNVEST, which is the help we need to improve the systems’ ability to deliver great service and to restore Reading’s role as good environmental stewards.”

The 20-year loan carries a one-percent interest rate and it will not impact the rates residents now pay for solid waste treatment.

“It’s a good news kind of day for Reading and its environs,” said Rep. Mark Rozzi. “Not only will raw sewage stop traveling into the Schuylkill during rainy weather and bodies of surface water that support the river be better protected, but residents’ monthly bills will not go up because of this project.”

Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority funding comes from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PENNVEST from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and recycled loan repayments from previous PENNVEST funding awards.

Funds are not released until bills for work are paid and receipts are submitted to PENNVEST.

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