PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.

The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.

Standing With Workers During COVID-19“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”

The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.

In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:

  • The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
  • Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
  • COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
  • Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
  • Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
  • Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
  • Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
  • Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
  • Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
  • Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
  • Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
  • Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
  • Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
  • Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)

“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”

“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.” 

“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”

“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”

“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health.  I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”

“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”

“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”

“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”

“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”

“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”

“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”

“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority.  In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”

“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times.  What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses,  job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection  of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.   

 “We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work.  We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”

 “As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”

More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.

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Members of Pa Senate Democratic Caucus Request Disaster Declaration on Gun Violence

Harrisburg, Pa. − June 24, 2019 − Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus today jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.

“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”

Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:

  • Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
  • Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
  • Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
  • Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
  • Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
  • Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
  • Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
  • Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
  • Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education

View full letter →

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Members of Pa Senate Democratic Caucus Request Disaster Declaration on Gun Violence

 

Senate, House Members Unveil Elections Reform Proposals

Harrisburg PA – June 4, 2019 – State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Pittsburgh) led House and Senate Democrats in announcing several voting reform proposals Tuesday in the Main Capitol Rotunda. 

The legislators were joined by a large group of advocates and supporters pushing for automatic voter registration, no excuse absentee voting, same day voter registration and campaign finance reform. Sen. Hughes and Rep. Innamorato are proposing similar bills that would allow those eligible to register to vote when signing up for critical state services such as renewing drivers licenses or applying for a public benefit administered by the state.  

“Our democracy depends on its voters, which is why we are fighting to ensure every eligible person has a chance to voice their opinion at the ballot box,” said Sen. Hughes, who is proposing Senate Bill 608. “We have a broad coalition of folks who understand this and are fighting for Pennsylvanians ability to have their voices at the ballot box. Expanding access and simplifying the processes will help do that for our communities across the commonwealth.” 

Pennsylvania has 8.6 million registered voters, but less than 55 percent of voting-age citizens turned out in the 2018 midterm elections, with varying reasons impeding participation including work, illness, and other unforeseen circumstances. Research shows higher voter turnout in states that have enacted some or all of the reforms the coalition is seeking. 

“Participatory government demands equal access to participation,” said Rep. Innamorato, who has proposed House Bill 1556 on automatic voter registration. “Too often, the complicated registration process we have in place poses a significant obstacle to access to the ballot. Automatic voter registration and our other proposals would make it easier for all Pennsylvanians to have a voice, get informed and be heard. We need to be removing barriers to participation, not erecting new ones. These are the first steps in the fight for a fair, secure democracy in our commonwealth and our communities.” 

Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-Springfield) discussed their proposals to expand early voting, which aim to expand voting beyond the 13-hour time frame Pennsylvania currently mandates. Both proposals would expand the time frame greatly and add options to vote on the weekend. Sen. Fontana is proposing SB 294 and Rep. O’ Mara is proposing HB 1558. 

“If people don’t vote, democracy doesn’t work,” Sen. Fontana said. “If people can’t vote, we are shortchanging our democracy. During the most recent primary election last month, many counties across the state were lucky to have even a 20 percent voter turn-out. It’s obvious we need to find ways to improve voter access and participation and to me, the task is simple. We need to find ways to make voting easier and more accommodating.”

“Introducing an early voting bill is a priority for me because voting should be easier for everyone,” Rep. O’Mara said. “When I was campaigning, I met a young woman named Kate who uses a wheelchair. She told me her polling pace is not ADA accessible, and voting is a big challenge for her. So, one reason I decided to introduce early voting is so people like Kate have the ease and access to practice their constitutional right. It’s about time Pennsylvania steps up to make voting easier for all its eligible citizens.” 

Sen. Judy Schwank (D- Berks) introduced her proposal for no-excuse absentee voting, SB 411, which would allow voters to submit absentee ballots for any reason. Currently, 27 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted no-excuse absentee voting. 

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” Schwank said. “We need to remove needless barriers that keep people from being able to vote or from having their votes counted.”   

Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) announced HB 101, which aims to bring same-day voter registration to Pennsylvania while also simplifying the process. His legislation would help increase voter turnout because of increased convenience, while also maintaining integrity in the voting process by not counting same-day registrant votes until the Department of State has verified eligibility.  

“The right to vote is the perfect symbol of our democracy,” Rep. Bizzarro said. “Unfortunately, it’s perfect in theory, not in practice. Our outmoded laws – including the one requiring that residents register 30 days in advance of an election to vote in that election – discourage participation by imposing unnecessary hurdles. Our legislation to streamline the process would help fix that.”

Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) is proposing shifting ballot positions for candidates running for public office in Philadelphia. The goal of SB 602 is to eliminate the advantages held by candidates who draw first position on the ballot.

“A growing number of Pennsylvanians, especially young voters, are unaffiliated with major parties or uninterested in party politics,” Sen. Williams said. “Those voters still deserve to have a voice in who represents them in city council and the mayor’s office, which is why I’m offering legislation to conduct nonpartisan, ranked-choice voting in the Commonwealth’s largest city, Philadelphia.” 

Advocates in attendance included the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Common Cause, Pennsylvania for Fair Elections, Committee of 79, League of women Voters, Brennan Center for Justice, Keystone Progress, SiX.