Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In This Update:

  • 10-Digit Dialing for 814 begins Saturday, April 3
  • After Wolf’s Blunder, Senate Votes to Support Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse
  • Input Needed for Transportation Planning
  • Bipartisan Election Integrity Committee Meets to Gather State and Local Insights
  • Budget Hearings Focus on Job Creation, Broadband, Corrections Costs
  • Personal Income Tax Filing Deadlines Extended to May 17
  • Eight Counties Added to Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine
  • PennDOT CDL and Learner’s Permit Extensions End March 31
  • COVID-19 Restrictions Relaxed on Businesses, Gatherings
  • Budget Hearings Continue with Discussion on Education
  • Senate Approves Bill to Open Career Opportunities for Individuals in Recovery
  • Unemployment Compensation Programs Extended
  • World Down Syndrome Day is March 21

10-Digit Dialing for 814 begins Saturday, April 3

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Reminder: Callers in the 814 area code will have to use the area code plus the 7-digit phone number for local calls beginning Saturday, April 3. It’s the next step toward arrival of a new 582 overlay area code needed to free up phone numbers. More information is available from the PUC.

After Wolf’s Blunder, Senate Votes to Support Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The Senate re-started the process this week to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers even if the statute of limitations had expired. The resolution would address the issue after an egregious blunder by the Wolf Administration will prevent the amendment from appearing on the ballot in the spring primary election on May 18.

Lawmakers weighed several different options to fully rectify the Wolf Administration’s blunder. However, none of these options – including an emergency amendment to the Constitution or legislation to open a two-year window for lawsuits – were likely to withstand legal challenges and would have provided false hope to sexual assault survivors.

Creating a window for retroactive lawsuits would complete all the recommendations of a 2018 Grand Jury Report that detailed shocking cases of the sexual abuse of children.

Lawmakers have already created laws to address the other recommendations, including eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for future cases of sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking; extending the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 55; clarifying mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse; increasing penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse; and ensuring survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.

Input Needed for Transportation Planning

The North Central North Central PA Rural Planning Organization is looking for feedback on the 12-Year Program, Long Range Transportation Plan and the Freight Movement Plan.  This year is unprecedented in that we are partnering with the State Transportation Commission to collect feedback on all three initiatives through a Public Survey. The group also will be using this information for our 2050 Long Range Transportation Plan Update. Take the Survey before April 14, 2021.

Bipartisan Election Integrity Committee Meets to Gather State and Local Insights

The bipartisan Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform held its second public hearing on Tuesday to gather testimony on the administration of the election from state and local officials, including representatives from the Department of State, county election officials and county commissioners.

State residents are encouraged to submit their thoughts and comments through the online form.

Budget Hearings Focus on Job Creation, Broadband, Education, Corrections Costs

The Senate Appropriations Committee continued to study Governor Wolf’s budget proposal on Monday with budget hearings with the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Education, the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole.

The discussion regarding the future of education in Pennsylvania included the Department of Education and representatives from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Some of the topics of discussion included the importance of returning students to in-person instruction safely, the need for schools to use federal stimulus funding prudently, and redesigning PASSHE to provide a quality education to students at an affordable price.  Key Points

The conversation with DCED focused on programs designed to spur job growth, including tax credits to support manufacturing and other critical industries. Members of the committee also raised concerns about the governor’s proposed cuts to broadband funding for underserved areas.

Lawmakers also learned during the Corrections hearing that the number of inmates was reduced by more than 6,000 over the past year, which is the largest drop in Pennsylvania history, with an anticipated further reduction of 2,000 inmates next year.

Budget hearings are scheduled to continue on April 6.

Personal Income Tax Filing Deadlines Extended to May 17

The deadline for taxpayers to file their state and federal personal income tax returns has been extended from April 15 to May 17. The extension provides additional time for taxpayers to navigate the difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension applies both to tax filing and payments.

Pennsylvania taxpayers can now file their state personal income tax returns online at mypath.pa.gov.

Eight Counties Added to Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species that feeds on many types of plants that are important to Pennsylvania’s economy. Eight counties were recently added to the quarantine zone, bringing the statewide total to 34 counties under restriction.

One estimate found that under a worst-case scenario, the spotted lanternfly could lead to more than $550 million in expected losses for Pennsylvania’s economy and nearly 5,000 jobs lost. Pennsylvanians are encouraged to report sightings of the spotted lanternfly by calling 1-888-422-3359 and to destroy any egg masses or spotted lanternflies they see.

PennDOT CDL and Learner’s Permit Extensions End March 31

The expiration dates for commercial driver licenses (CDL) and commercial learner’s permits have been extended several times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The final extension is scheduled to expire on March 31, and no additional extensions are expected to be offered.

Motorists who are covered by extensions that run from March 16, 2020, through March 31, 2021, are encouraged to renew these licenses and permits as soon as possible before they expire next week.

COVID-19 Restrictions Relaxed on Businesses, Gatherings

After weeks of dedicated advocacy from lawmakers, employers and employees, Governor Wolf finally announced that several restrictions on businesses and gatherings would be relaxed effective April 4. Some of the changes include:

  • Increasing indoor dining capacity to 75 percent for restaurants that self-certify compliance with cleaning and mitigation requirements;
  • Allowing bar service and alcohol service without the purchase of food;
  • Removing the curfew on serving alcoholic drinks; and
  • Increasing occupancy for gyms, entertainment facilities and personal services facilities.

In addition, occupancy limits will be increased to 25 percent for indoor venues and 50 percent for outdoor venues, regardless of size.

Although this is positive news for industries impacted by Governor Wolf’s unilateral orders and restrictions, the fact that these restrictions are still in place today speaks to the dangers of allowing one branch of government to control all the power during an extended emergency declaration. Lawmakers approved potential amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would give the people a stronger voice in emergency response through their elected officials. An explanation of the amendments – and how Governor Wolf is working to sabotage them – is available in this editorial.

Senate Approves Bill to Open Career Opportunities for Individuals in Recovery

Individuals in recovery for substance use disorders could stand a better chance of breaking the cycle of addiction by maintaining meaningful employment under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. The bill would create a Recovery to Work pilot program to connect individuals suffering from substance use disorders with high-priority occupations.

The pilot program would allow state agencies to work with local workforce development boards, treatment and recovery providers and employers to find job training and employment opportunities for individuals in recovery.

Unemployment Compensation Programs Extended

The federal government recently extended all Unemployment Compensation programs, including the additional $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, through September 6. The maximum number of weeks of eligibility for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was also extended from 24 weeks to 53 weeks, and the maximum number of weeks of eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is extended from 50 weeks to 79 weeks.

In addition, up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits for an individual (or $20,400 for a couple, if both members received unemployment benefits) will not be considered federal taxable income in 2020, assuming the individual or couple earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income for the year.

World Down Syndrome Day was March 21

March 21 was designated as World Down Syndrome Day by numerous states and countries in recognition of the incredible achievements of the individuals living with this condition. Each person with Down syndrome has different talents, abilities and needs – and that makes every person living with this condition special and unique.

More information on World Down Syndrome Day is available here.

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