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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Senate Democrats Push Legislation to Aid Farmers, Bolster Local Agriculture, Develop Markets

Hughes, Schwank, Haywood offer multi-faceted approach

Harrisburg – March 6, 2019 – Senate Democrats said today that they are sponsoring a three-bill legislative package designed to provide additional tax credits to farmers, encourage the use of locally sourced food and expand farmers’ markets.

State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Democratic Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Sen. Art Haywood, (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee are the prime sponsors of the package.

Hughes’ legislation would raise the Rural Jobs and Investment Tax Credit from its current capped amount of $1 million per year to $20 million over four years. 

“A comprehensive economic plan requires investments in a broad array of industries, including agriculture,” Hughes said.  “There is strong justification to raise the tax credit cap and allow farmers to retain and reinvest because agriculture is a key feature of our economy.”

Hughes noted that 48 of 67 counties in Pennsylvania are classified as rural and that more than a quarter of the state’s population lives in rural counties. 

Schwank, who has a long record of involvement in agriculture issues, is the prime sponsor of a measure to help farmers sell their products locally.  Under Schwank’s legislation, the requirement for using the lowest bidder on a state contract for the purchase of food would not apply to locally sourced products, provided the deviation in price was not more than 10 percent from the lowest bidder.

“It is important that local markets be better developed, and one way to achieve this goal is through a pricing incentive that encourages the use of food produced in state,” Schwank said.  “Our farms are able to deliver high-quality foods to local markets at reasonable prices.”

Pennsylvania has more than 58,000 farms and an estimated 7.7 million acres are involved in agriculture production.  According to survey data, 93 percent of Pennsylvanians prefer locally produced food.

Haywood said rising demand has opened an opportunity to expand the Farmers’ Market Development Program to serve more communities.  His legislation would enable grants through the program to be used for agritourism initiatives, renovations, and establishment of new satellite locations the bill also increases grants per market from $10,000 to $100,000.

“Consumer demand for fresh blueberries, mangoes, and spinach continues to grow exponentially and the expansion of farmers’ markets provide local access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Haywood said.  “Farmers’ markets offer an effective way to make fresh foods available, especially in areas where they are not.”

Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest market in the nation for direct farm sales.

The senators indicated that they were reintroducing the legislation.  The bills were initially introduced last session (Senate Bills 1075 -1077) but were not scheduled for a vote. 

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Senate Democrats Propose Legislation to Bolster Farmers, Agriculture Production

Local Food, Farmer’s Markets, Rural Jobs and Investment Initiatives Featured

Harrisburg – March 12, 2018 – Bolstering farms and farmers, promoting the use of locally produced food and significantly increasing a tax credit to spur job creation and investment in rural communities is the focus of a package of bills offered by three state Senate Democrats. 

Senate Democratic Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) and Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia) are the prime sponsors of the initiatives which are designed to aid farmers, increase access to healthy foods and ensure markets for locally produced food. 

“From my many years of work with farmers and the agriculture industry, I know there are specific initiatives that will help immediately and immeasurably,” Schwank said.  “The elements in this package of bills will address key aspects of farm production, market development and making the finances of farming work that much better.”

Schwank’s legislation would allow governmental entities to accept a bid higher than the lowest bid by 10 percent if they use locally-sourced food.

According to the state Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of Pennsylvanians prefer food that is locally produced.  There are 58,000 farms and nearly eight million acres devoted to agricultural production in Pennsylvania. 

“Giving this small price adjustment to support local food production and use is important to farmers and the farming community,” Schwank said. 

Haywood, who serves as Democratic chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, said his legislation would significantly expand the Farmer’s Market Development Program.  Under Haywood’s plan, grant eligibility could be used for agritourism, construction and renovation of farmer’s markets, satellite markets and other infrastructure needs.  The maximum grant would increase to $100,000.

“Farmer’s markets have become an integral part of the food delivery system,” Haywood said.  “Fresh food is now available through farmer’s markets, which have become very popular.”

Pennsylvania has the fourth largest market in the country for direct farm sales. 

“The goal of my legislation is to expand access to farmer’s markets to boost local sales and generate more income for farmers,” Haywood said. “Helping develop farmers’ markets is a win for farmers and a win for consumers.”

Another key component of aiding farmers and helping agriculture is providing fiscal stability for farmers and the industry.  Hughes’ legislation would raise the rural jobs and investment tax credit from $1 million per fiscal year to $20 million over the next three years.  The credit would increase $5 million each year for three fiscal years after rising to $5 million in fiscal 2018-19.

“Ensuring that farmers have capital on hand is important to successful farming and the agriculture industry,” Hughes said.  “Increasing the tax credit for investment into our rural areas is critical, given that a large portion of Pennsylvania is designated as a rural area.

“Spurring investment and job creation in rural areas helps the entire state and provides direct financial assistance for farmers and the industry.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are designated as rural.  These counties hold more than a quarter of the state’s population.  More than 37 percent of rural household had incomes below $35,000.

The senators said that the bill package would help focus policymaking on issues impacting farmers and the agricultural industry. 

“We need to do more to assist farmers and help them become more productive and successful,” Schwank said.  “This legislation addresses three key components that are important to agriculture: local production, access to markets and capital.”

Hughes, who is the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, echoed Schwank’s comments.

“Finding ways to resolve issues that impact farmer productivity is a benefit to every Pennsylvania resident,” Hughes said. 

Haywood said that he was pleased that the legislation was being developed as a package and said he was hopeful that the measures would be considered by the Senate this year. 

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Senate Democrats Hail Gov. Wolf’s Call for Testing of Young Children

Senate Democrats have been in the forefront of efforts to address exposure to lead

Harrisburg – September 1, 2017 – State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes and Senate Democrats applauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s support of universal testing of children under the age of 2 to determine their risk of lead poisoning. 

The governor has urged the state Department of Health to work collaboratively with the General Assembly and community partners on crafting legislation to compel testing of children under the age of 2 for lead exposure. 

Hughes (D-Philadelphia), along with several Senate Democrats, including Sens. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) Judy Schwank (D-Berks), John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) and Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia) have been leaders in the effort to combat lead poisoning. 

Senate Democrats have offered a comprehensive legislative package to help children, day care centers and home buyers deal with the threat of lead poisoning.  Senate Resolution 33, which called for a task force to study lead exposure, was approved by the Senate in early June. 

“The governor’s call for universal lead testing of children under the age of 2 is a huge step forward,” Hughes said.  “Finding out the depth of the problem will enable us to better design a more effective strategy to deal with lead and help prevent problems associated with lead.”

According to the Department of Health, 28 percent of children in Pennsylvania under 2 years of age were tested for lead in 2015.  Several years ago, lead seeping into Flint, Michigan’s public water system caused a devastating health crisis and spurred governments to examine the levels of lead exposure. Eighteen Pennsylvania cities tested higher than Flint for elevated blood lead levels.

Senate Democrats first introduced a comprehensive package of measures dealing with lead in 2016 following the Flint crisis.  The legislative package included five bills that would establish a task force to study the issue and account for the age of the state’s housing stock, pipelines and school buildings; require school buildings to be tested for lead; require the licensing of lead testing centers; require property sales agreements to include an option for water testing for lead; and create a “Superfund for Lead Abatement” that would help pay lead remediation costs.  

“We can do better and protect children and families from lead poisoning,” Hughes said.  “The governor’s support is key to our success in addressing lead in our communities, homes and schools.

“My Senate Democratic colleagues and I are ready to move aggressively on legislation that gets to the root cause of the problem.”

Information about the incidence of lead exposure would enable families to access available services, Hughes said.

In December 2016, Hughes announced that $125,000 in state grant dollars were available to help Philadelphia deal with lead issues. 

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