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Senator Judy SchwankAre you ready for spring? I believe all of us are. Mother Nature has provided some nice breaks in the weather recently and it was good to be reminded of what something warmer than 30 degrees feels like.

Our session days have been limited this month due to the budget hearings that are occurring before the respective House and Senate appropriations committees. I am a member of the Senate panel and we have been asking some pointed questions of Corbett administration officials whose spending priorities still don’t align with the majority of Pennsylvanians. I’ll share more on this later in this newsletter.

It was great to recently announce new tax credits supporting two low-income housing projects in Reading. I also continued providing a firsthand glimpse to Berks County high school students of the state lawmaking process.

We’re making progress in Harrisburg and I thank you for your diligence in staying up to date with the happenings of the 11th Senatorial District and for helping to make our community a better place to live, work and play.

Sen. Judy Schwank

Shocking Electricity Bills

ElectricitySome energy providers delivered a not-so-good way of thawing frozen spirits this month when they began sending drastically higher electricity bills to customers.

To date, nearly 1,000 angry electricity consumers have filed formal complaints with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. In response, the PUC has opened an investigation as it relates to customers who have subscribed to variable rate products.

As part of its investigation, the PUC has said it will look at requiring utilities to notify subscribers beforehand of price changes, provide historical rate data, and see what it can do to allow homes and businesses to more quickly change electricity providers in the event of future high price spikes.

In the interim, the PUC and I believe it is important for you to review the language in your contract with your electricity generator; they may be charging what they promised, in some cases.

If you’d like to file a formal complaint with the utility commission, click here and follow the instructions.

Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee and I have been listening intently and asking tough questions throughout February as Corbett administration officials have come before us, one-by-one, with the intent of explaining how they want to spend your tax dollars.

The governor proposed a $29.4 billion budget Feb. 4 and, while I like that he is proposing increases for domestic violence prevention and $20 million more for special education – an investment that could better help schools educate this population of students if the new funding formula I helped to devise is adopted – his proposed fiscal blueprint continues to miss the mark on basic education funding, it doesn’t address the property tax crises, and it fails to tap the hundreds of millions of dollars available through a Marcellus Shale severance tax.

Budget HearingsOn basic education, as we continue to debate the school property tax issue we need to address the school funding formula just as we have with special education. We need better direction at the state level to make honest, concerted and consistent efforts to improve the basic education system. Otherwise, we will continue this downward spiral that is affecting students and draining property owners’ wallets.

Job creation/growth strategies also continues as an open wound as there is nothing substantial in the Corbett spending map to help turn around our economy.

And, his decision to favor his unpopular Healthy PA proposal as a way to get health care insurance to thousands of Pennsylvanians who need it also is hurting us more than it is helping us.

Budget hearings end Feb. 27 in the Senate and we return to the floor of the upper chamber on March 10. The budget must be balanced and adopted by midnight on June 30. This is an election year, so it might take every second of every minute to get 2014-’15’s financial plan into the books.

PA’s Alert Network for Missing Seniors

The tragic case of a Berks County man who disappeared into the morning cold earlier this month but was not found for another week has understandably sparked concern about Pennsylvania’s ability to alert residents when our people inexplicably disappear. After all, Pennsylvania’s Amber Alert tells people when children are suspected victims of kidnapping.

Missing PersonsDuring budget hearings this week, the state police assured me that Pennsylvania does have an alert system for when people, including our elderly loved ones, go missing. It is called the Missing Endangered Person Alert and it is used in situations that do not meet Amber Alert requirements.

One of the triggers for a MEPA alert is when “the persons age, health, mental or physical disability, environment or weather conditions, places the missing person in peril of serious bodily injury or death.”

About an hour after troopers arrived to investigate the disappearance of the 76-year-old man, State Police Deputy Commissioner George Bivens told me during budget hearings this week that Pennsylvania’s MEPA alert was activated, which sent an urgent message to all news outlets and PennDOT. Flyers also went to area businesses.

MEPA is a part of the Amber Alert system and I was told by the trooper that federal officials have marveled at PA’s level of notice for people who suddenly disappear, noting it goes beyond most of the “Silver Alert” systems in the states that operate them.

Most of us are not as familiar with the Missing Endangered Person Alert as we are with the Amber Alert. I was reassured to know it works, though, and want you to know about this.

In the meantime, my deepest prayers to the family of the victim.

Intern Position Open

InternshipIt has been wonderful to work with Berks County’s high school students in my “Model Senate.” They are getting the opportunity to question real state officials and draft legislation to improve the parts of their lives that are important to them.

There are many students who would like a career in state government, and my office has the perfect opportunity for them: serving as a summer intern. I have some internships open in my Reading and Harrisburg offices, so apply if you are a high school or college student and want this opportunity. If you know someone this opportunity would benefit, pass it on to them.

There are some basic and important requirements, including an application. Completed forms must be submitted by April 1.

For all of the requirements and the application, click here.

Townhall MeetingTown Hall Opportunity

Please save the date for my next town hall meeting.

On Thursday, April 3, I’ll be meeting with you and your neighbors in the auditorium of the Wyomissing Area Jr./Sr. High School.

We talk about what is important to you at my town halls, so please come with your questions, thoughts and ideas. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

The high school is at 630 Evans Ave., Wyomissing.

Being Social

Twitter/Facebook Facebook Twitter It’s a privilege to be your state senator, so it is important to me to be in touch with you.

I really like face-to-face meetings but understand that in this busy world, sometimes that isn’t possible. Feel free to call my office to ask questions or make suggestions. Also, you may connect with me through my pages on Facebook and Twitter. Please follow me for regular updates and comments about what’s happening in the district and in Harrisburg.

Offices to Serve You

  District Office
210 George Street
Suite 201
Reading, PA 19605
Phone: (610) 929-2151
Fax: (610) 929-2576
Harrisburg Office
457 Main Capitol Building
Senate Box 203011
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3011
Phone: (717) 787-8925
Fax: (717) 772-0578