In this update:
Legislation Boosting Safety of Child Care Facilities Set for Enactment
Legislation I sponsored to improve fire safety in state-regulated child care facilities is set to be signed into law.
Many of the bills introduced in the General Assembly are in response to real life events that take place in our hometowns and local communities. In this case, I introduced Senate Bill 563 because of the Aug. 11, 2019, child care facility fire that claimed the lives of La’Myhia Jones, 8; Luther Jones Jr., 6; Ava Jones, 4; Dalvin Pacley, 2; and Jaydan Augustyniak, age 9 months.
What made this horrific incident even more tragic was the fact that these young lives may have been saved if the home had been properly equipped with smoke detectors. As it turned out, only one smoke detector was found in the home and it was in the attic.
To help avoid another such tragedy, SB 563 amends the state Fire and Panic Act to designate the locations where smoke alarms must be installed in child care facilities and require the alarms be interconnected so that if one is triggered, they all go off.
This bill will not restore the lives that were tragically lost, nor will it ease the pain those grieving families endured. However, it is government’s responsibility to learn from these tragic cases and to act to prevent them from ever occurring again in the future.
Wolf Administration Plan to Toll Interstate Bridges Halted by Court
In a major win for motorists and communities near interstate highways, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a ruling blocking the Wolf Administration from moving forward with its plan to toll nine interstate bridges across the state.
The decision follows a previous ruling temporarily halting the initiative, siding with a county and several municipalities that challenged the constitutionality of the plan to toll interstate bridges under the public-private partnership (P3) bridge program.
PennDOT attempted to move forward with tolling without approval from the General Assembly. The Senate passed Senate Bill 382 to require the P3 process to be more transparent while stopping the current initiative. Gov. Wolf vowed to veto the measure.
The new order voids the entire Major Bridge P3 Initiative, including the following bridges:
Bill to Improve Medical Care for Patients Approved by Senate
The Senate voted to improve the health care experience for patients by streamlining the prior authorization and step therapy processes for medical treatment. The bill goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Prior authorization means that, to qualify for payment, physicians and other health care providers must obtain advance approval from a health plan before a specific procedure or service. Step therapy requires patients to try prescription drug treatment options chosen by the patient’s insurance provider.
Senate Bill 225 would set standards for commercial insurance plans, as well as Medicaid plans, when seeking prior authorization approval and with step therapy protocols. The legislation would also provide a timely process for appeals determinations.
A recent American Medical Association survey found that prior authorization delays overwhelmingly result in patients forgoing treatment, leading to negative clinical impacts.
Senate Acts to Improve Drug Overdose Tracking and Response
The Senate approved legislation to improve drug overdose tracking and response in Pennsylvania, which ranks third in the nation for overdose deaths. The bill will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 1152 would require law enforcement and emergency medical services agencies to report all overdose incidents within 72 hours to the statewide Overdose Information Network or any other platform approved by the Pennsylvania State Police to capture real-time overdose reporting.
The State Police will be required to document the numbers, trends and patterns associated with known and suspected overdoses and issue an annual report available in an online format for reference by public officials and the general public.
Access to real-time data will help public officials ensure that adequate overdose reversal drug supplies are available, substance use outreach efforts are enhanced and law enforcement investigations are undertaken to interrupt sources of deadly substances.
Increased Penalties for Hiring Unauthorized Workers Approved by Senate
A bill to improve enforcement of the construction industry’s use of the federal E-Verify system was approved by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The federal E-Verify system determines the eligibility of employees – both U.S. and foreign citizens – to work in America. The Public Works Employment Verification Act already requires all public construction contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify to confirm the legal employment eligibility of new hires. However, despite these requirements, the practice of hiring unauthorized workers continues due to the enforcement mechanisms being weak.
Senate Bill 1147 would make the financial penalties more meaningful. Rather than the current penalty of $250 – $1,000, violators would face a fine of $2,500 – $25,000. Senate Bill 1147 streamlines enforcement and reduces the need for time-consuming audits by requiring construction contractors to be enrolled in E-Verify upfront and makes it a punishable offense if they are not.
Results from Recent Budget-related Survey Question
As my colleagues and I continue to work to complete a state budget, I wanted to see what those in the 49th District thought should be budgetary priorities given Pennsylvania will end its fiscal year with a revenue surplus, so last week I asked you how you thought those dollars should be spent.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey. I always look for and appreciate constituent feedback. Some of the most common add-in suggestions for ways to use the budget surplus were: road repair, increased school security, and property tax reduction.
Have a Happy Independence Day
I hope you have a great July 4th holiday with friends and family as we celebrate the birth of our great nation, which remains the best hope for freedom and liberty on Earth.
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