In this Update:
Senate Approves Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Teacher First Amendment Rights
Following the swearing in of the governor and lieutenant governor on Tuesday, the Senate began the new legislative session in earnest Wednesday by passing several pieces of legislation, including Senate Bill 84.
The measure would eliminate the prohibition on teachers from wearing any dress, mark, emblem or insignia reflecting their faith or denomination.
It would align Pennsylvania with every other state in the nation in preserving and protecting First Amendment rights for educators. The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Acts to Help Farmers Meet Rising Demand for Home Delivery
Far too often laws are passed which put unnecessary burdens on those who feed and clothe us or provide the jobs necessary for us to thrive.
One such burden is language is in the current vehicle code that allows for home deliveries via a commercial vehicle registration, but prevents the commercial vehicle from being registered as a farm vehicle. As a result, a farmer needs to purchase, register and maintain a separate commercial vehicle for at-home delivery, while also maintaining a farm vehicle to deliver agricultural commodities to places of business.
Senate Bill 95 would remove this duplicative, unnecessary and overburdensome requirement. The bill has passed the Senate and was sent to the House of Representatives.
This legislation will help farmers meet the rising demand for farm products delivered to homes.
Measure to Boost Volunteer Fire Company Membership Approved
To address the serious shortage of volunteer firefighters across Pennsylvania, the Senate passed legislation to create a pilot program giving interested high school students training in firefighting.
Senate Bill 114 would award grants to one higher education school each in eastern, central and western Pennsylvania to establish fire training programs for students in high school, with the hope they will remain firefighters for years to come.
The number of Pennsylvania volunteer firefighters has plummeted from 300,000 in the 1970s to fewer than 37,000. Senate Bill 114 was sent to the House of Representatives.
Applications Can Now Be Submitted for Federal Firefighter Assistance Grants
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) grant program is now accepting applications. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 10, 2023.
The primary goal of the AFG is to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical service organizations.
Since 2001, AFG has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources necessary for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.
Viewing the workshops about the grant is very important to a successful application. Applicants should review the Notice of Funding Opportunity prior to applying to be aware of updates from previous years.
Miniseries of Human Trafficking Interviews
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and to draw further attention to this important issue, I have produced a series of interviews (four) that I will release this month, one per week.
Every Thursday, I will post on my website a background discussion about human trafficking, a short bio of the anti-human trafficking CEO I interviewed and a five-minute interview with this human trafficking expert.
This week, the third interview features Pastor Jo Lembo, director of Faith Initiatives and National Outreach for Shared Hope International.
Jo Lembo began working alongside Shared Hope International in 2009, serving the organization as a recognized speaker and trainer in her position as the Director of Faith Initiatives and National Outreach, overseeing, inspiring and training nearly 1,400 trained volunteer Ambassadors of Hope nationwide. She is a licensed minister and has served the churches where they have resided the past 30 years. Her passion is to keep children safe. Together with her husband, Nick Lembo, they have fought against child sex trafficking in the United States for more than a decade.
I introduced a three-pronged approach to dealing with human trafficking during the anti-human trafficking conference held at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in October 2022. This approach includes communications/education of human trafficking, rescuing victims and restoration/reintegration of body and soul of survivors.
The link in the image above is a five minute introductory interview. If you would like to see the full interview click here.
Penelec Issues Warning About Scams
Penelec is warning that scammers are working hard to try and obtain personal information from their customers.
The utility has been contacted recently by several individuals that received calls from scammers stating to be with Penelec. The scammers have told these Penelec customers their electric was going to be disconnected if payment wasn’t promptly made via information over the phone.
Penelec makes clear that customers who are behind on their accounts receive written notices of a possible disconnection and how to prevent it. The utility’s representatives do not email to demand immediate payment or threaten imminent shutoff nor do they request sensitive information such as social security numbers or bank account information.
While employees of Penelec (and parent company FirstEnergy) do make courtesy calls to customers to remind them about an outstanding balance, they use that call to explain how a payment can be made using the established payment options. Again, consumers are cautioned to look at their bills or other communications they have received from Penelec/First Energy and confirm the methods being directed in the call are legitimate. They will not demand payment over the phone or at a particular physical location.
2022 Conservation Fall Grants Awarded
Last week, the recipients of the 2022 Community Conservation Partnerships Program Land Conservation, Parks, Rivers and Partnerships fall grants were announced, with some of the funding coming to the 25th Senatorial District.
In Center and Clinton counties, ClearWater Conservancy of Central PA, Inc. was given $334,400 to be used as payment toward a conservation easement on approximately 594 acres in Liberty and Marion townships, Centre County, and Porter Township, Clinton County, for habitat protection.
In Clinton County, Lock Haven City received $414,600 for the rehabilitation and further development of Hoberman Park, with the work to include renovation of the parking area; construction of a multipurpose sport court, a basketball court, a pavilion, pedestrian walkways and stormwater management measures; installation of fencing; ADA access; landscaping; a project sign and other related site improvements.
McKean County’s Port Allegany Borough got $214,600 for the rehabilitation of Port Allegany Town Square, with the work to include construction of pedestrian walkways; installation of utilities; ADA access; landscaping; a project sign and other related site improvements.
The Pennsylvania Route 6 Alliance – which is headquartered in Galeton, Potter County, and manages the PA Route 6 Heritage Corridor that spans 11 counties – received $145,000 to implement a bike tourism program in communities along the PA Route 6 Corridor and assist up to two communities in completing the Community Heart & Soul Program, with the work to include an electronic written summary report.
Another $1.8 million – through a separate set of grants focused on underserved and small communities and partnerships with conservation and recreation efforts – was awarded to heritage areas throughout the state, with portions of that funding to go toward the continued development of the PA Route 6 Heritage Corridor’s bicycle tourism program as well as the completion of a master plan for a Dark Sky Program in Cameron County within the Lumber Heritage Region.
Application Period for National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Grant Program Opens on Feb. 24, 2023
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will begin accepting applications for Round 1 of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Grant Program on Feb. 24, 2023. The application period is open until 5 p.m. on April 6, 2023.
Funds for the PA NEVI grant program are to be awarded on a competitive basis to plan, design, construct, operate and maintain EV Station Infrastructure sites across Pennsylvania.
The PA NEVI grant program includes multiple rounds of funding. During Round 1, the focus will be on building out the Alternative Fuels Corridor network along the interstates to meet the NEVI requirements.
PennDOT’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) includes instructions and information on the grant program, eligibility, scoring criteria, submission process and instructions.
All applications must be submitted electronically through PA Department of Community and Economic Development’s eGrant’s system at https://www.esa.dced.state.pa.us/Login.aspx.
Submit questions about the NOFO or how to apply to RA-PDEVCorridors@pa.gov. In addition, frequently asked questions and answers will be posted publicly online.
PennDOT Job Openings Posted for College Students
Summer PennDOT jobs are available to full-time college students registered for the Fall 2023 semester.
Jobs include assisting in seasonal maintenance work, crash system input and analysis, and maintenance and custodial services at roadside rest facilities. Many students also perform laboring and flagging duties in maintenance organizations and at highway worksites. The pay is $15.49 per hour.
Students majoring in engineering or a related scientific or technical field might be interested in engineering internship opportunities at PennDOT’s Central Office (Harrisburg) or at one of its statewide engineering district offices.
Substance Use Disorder Prevention, Education Tool Available for Restaurant and Hospitality Workers
With reports out of Philadelphia about an increase in opioid overdose deaths among restaurant-industry workers in 2020, and with the restaurant industry offering a sizable number of available positions across the country – which are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from now until 2031 – Pennsylvania health officials are highlighting the importance of substance use disorder (SUD) education and prevention within the restaurant and hospitality industries.
The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Just Five initiative is a self-paced program designed to increase awareness, reduce stigma and provide education about SUD prevention and treatment. It is displayed as six short learning modules that each take “just five” minutes to complete. The interactive lessons include the science of addiction; your risk of addiction; the dangers of opioids; signs, symptoms and treatment of SUD; how to get help; and the gift of recovery.
Just Five is available to all of Pennsylvania’s workforce. The website is completely confidential and voluntary, and no personal information regarding utilization of the program is shared. It can be accessed virtually from anywhere at any time with no registration required. The program is also available in English and Spanish and accessible for individuals with visual and/or hearing impairments.
DDAP operates the Get Help Now hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The hotline is a trusted resource for individuals and/or their loved ones if SUD treatment or resources are needed. The hotline is confidential, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and staffed by trained professionals who will connect callers to resources in their community. Callers can also be connected with funding if they need help paying for treatment.
Veterans: Now is a Good Time to Review and Update Benefits
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) says that the start of the year is a good time for veterans to meet with an accredited veteran service officer to ensure they are receiving or maximizing the benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice while in uniform.
Safeguarding military paperwork – especially the DD-214, which is used to verify military service – is an important first step for securing benefits. Filing these documents for free at the county courthouse is an easy way to secure them until needed, which can often be decades into the future. Anyone needing assistance locating their military documentation can call the DMVA at 800-547-2838 or e-mail RA-REQ@pa.gov.
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