In this Update:
Senate Approves Poll Watcher Empowerment Act to Increase Election Oversight, Integrity
The Senate approved the Poll Watcher Empowerment Act to ensure election laws are strictly adhered to and improve confidence in Pennsylvania’s elections.
Senate Bill 573 would allow all registered Pennsylvania voters to be eligible to be a poll watcher in any precinct in the state and ensures poll watchers can clearly observe the pre-canvassing and counting of all ballots.
The bill would stiffen penalties against any election official who blocks, impedes or otherwise intimidates a poll watcher on Election Day. It would not change any duties, powers or responsibilities of poll watchers. Senate Bill 573 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The bill is the third election integrity measure passed by the Senate this year, along with the elimination of controversial ballot drop boxes and prohibiting third-party funding of elections.
Senate Acts to Protect Women’s Sports
The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act states that school athletic teams designated for women should not be open to those of the male sex. The bill defines “sex” as the biological distinction between male and female, based on reproductive biology and genetic make-up.
The bill was introduced earlier this year after concerns grew about preserving the increased athletic opportunities female students have gained over the past half century in this country.
Earlier Tuesday, advocates for women’s sports rallied in the Capitol with lawmakers and others to encourage passage of Senate Bill 1191 and companion legislation, House Bill 972. June 23 will mark the 50th anniversary of enactment of Title IX, which guaranteed girls and women equal access to scholastic sports.
“Just as we don’t allow 17 year old students to compete in peewee football there are physical and biological reasons we have not allowed men and boys to compete in women and girls sports.” Said Senator Dush. “The girls and women I’ve practiced with or coached in swimming worked hard to achieve their goals within an environment while allowing them to compete separately. Allowing a man or boy to make a declaration that someone arbitrarily decided would allow that male to dominate these women and girls is appalling.”
The bill will now advance to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Joint Hearing on Government Data Breach Notification
Legislation requiring timely notification to victims of a state or local government data breach was the topic of a joint Senate/House public hearing.
The Senate Communications and Technology Committee and the House State Government Subcommittee on Government Information Technology and Communication held the gathering to review Senate Bill 696.
The panels heard from representatives of the Department of General Services, the State Privacy and Security Coalition, and the Cybersecurity Association of Pennsylvania. You can view the hearing and read testimony here.
Capitol Rally Aims to Stop Wolf Bridge Tolling Plan
The No P3 Bridge Tolls Coalition was joined by lawmakers at a capitol rally Wednesday to voice opposition to the Wolf administration’s plan to toll interstate bridges in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) plan proposes tolling to pay for bridge projects and has received an overwhelming amount of disapproval, including citizens, members of the General Assembly, local officials and business operators.
PennDOT’s Public-Private Partnership (P3) bridge tolling initiative would cost the average commuter an additional $1,000 per year and was moved through the process without legislative input nor approval.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 382, which reforms the P3 statute and voids PennDOT’s plan. However, Gov. Wolf has stated that he will veto the bill. Commonwealth Court temporarily halted the tolling plan. The Wolf administration has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Scammers are Stealing Military Pensions
Pennsylvania veterans and their advocates should be aware of an increase in scammers looking to poach their VA pensions, warns the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA).
“Pension poaching” occurs when scammers or dishonest financial planners charge veterans or their beneficiaries for help in applying for or submitting applications for VA pensions. The scheme often involves financial maneuvers such as advising claimants to hide their assets in trusts or annuity products sometimes resulting in lost investments and lucrative fees paid to the advisor.
The DMVA says veterans and their advocates should remember to never share their VA login information, or deposit VA benefits directly into a third-party bank account unless the person is court appointed or a VA accredited fiduciary. More on avoiding pension poaching, and what to do if you know someone who was targeted, can be found here.
Senate Local Government Committee Approves 4 Bills Including Energy Choice Legislation
Earlier this week, I chaired a meeting of the Senate Local Government Committee during which the committee considered four bills, including legislation to protect consumers’ energy choices.
House Bill 1947, sponsored by Rep. Timothy O’Neal (R-48) would prohibit a municipality from enacting a policy that restricts or prohibits a specific type of energy source or discriminating against a utility service provider based on energy source.
HB 1947 is the companion bill to Senate Bill 275, sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), which has already won Senate approval and is awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives.
O’Neal and Yaw are championing these bills as cities across the nation have already taken steps to ban natural gas in newly constructed buildings, all at a time when energy limitations imposed by short-sighted climate policies have inflated energy costs for consumers.
The committee also approved House Bill 1213, sponsored by Rep. Lee James (R-64) to provide a different way to form a government study commission to consider and potentially propose a new, or amend an existing, home rule charter in a municipality that is currently in the Act 47 recovery program.
The legislation would also help the Local Government Commission study the recovery objectives of municipalities under home rule in Pennsylvania, and permit enforcement of voter adopted taxpayer protection provisions contained in a home rule charter.
According to the Local Government Commission’s analysis, tax rates adopted prior to the clarification language in HB 1213 would be grandfathered.
Two bills related to local government powers during a declared emergency were likewise considered by the committee:
Applications Being Accepted for Transportation Safety and Mobility Project Funding
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is now accepting applications for the 2022 Automated Red Light Enforcement (ARLE) funding program. Applications will be accepted through June 30.
Grant funding through the ARLE Funding Program may be utilized for a range of safety and mobility projects located in Pennsylvania. It is the intent of the ARLE Funding Program to fund worthwhile projects that can be completed at a relatively low cost. Projects improving multiple transportation modes are encouraged.
Examples of eligible projects include, but are not limited to, such things as roadway safety, mobility and capacity upgrades; bicycle and pedestrian improvements; Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) projects; and traffic signal improvements.
More information on ARLE, including the PA Bulletin announcement, is available here.
Public Comment Solicited Regarding PA’s 2023 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program
The State Transportation Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the state’s various metropolitan and rural planning organizations (MPO and RPO) – including our region’s North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission – would like the public to review and comment on the 2023 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
The public comment period for the 2023 STIP is scheduled from June 15, 2022, through June 30, 2022.
The STIP consists of a list of prioritized projects identified for funding by federal fiscal year and includes Transportation Improvement Programs (TIP) as adopted by each MPO and RPO as well as the TIP for Wayne County and the centrally managed Interstate Management and the Statewide Items TIP.
Beginning on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, through Thursday, June 30, 2022, the draft 2023 STIP can be viewed at https://talkpatransportation.com/how-it-works/stip.
The public can comment by filling out the online comment form at TalkPATransportation.com or by e-mailing RA-PennDOTSTC@pa.gov. Public comments can be shared by calling PennDOT at (717) 783-2262 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tax Compliance for Restaurants Webinar
With the many difficulties faced by the restaurant industry due to the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center partnered to discuss the 2022 Restaurant Industry Initiative in a webinar as part of the department’s continuing efforts to assist restaurant owners and help ensure everyone is operating on a level playing field.
This initiative is designed to provide guidance and resources to bring your restaurant business into compliance as well as ease the burden on compliant businesses.
During the webinar, the Revenue Department presenter reviews where you can find these resources and outlines the benefits this new initiative will have for the restaurant industry.
The webinar can be found here.
National Fishing and Boating Week
Pennsylvania has multiple settings for fishing and boating, whether you’re an expert or a beginner.
HuntFishPA.com is a good place to start to find out what you need to enjoy angling. The PA Fish and Boat Commission can help you find the best waters for fishing and information on fishing licenses, fishing seasons and more.
Boating Safety Education Certificates are required to operate a personal watercraft and for persons born on or after Jan. 1, 1982, to operate boats powered by motors greater than 25 horsepower. People who successfully complete an approved boating course are issued a Boating Safety Education Certificate good for a lifetime.
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