Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Senate Approves Legislation to Consolidate PA’s County Code
  • PennDOT Resumes Environmental Reviews for Bridge Replacement Projects, Including the I-80 Canoe Creek and North Fork Bridges
  • Senate Expands Right to Know Law to State-Related Universities
  • Federal Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program Now Accepting Applications
  • Hearing Highlights Ideas to Combat Lyme Disease in PA
  • Applications Being Accepted for Transportation Improvement Project Funding
  • Promise of Carbon Capture Technology in Pennsylvania Explored by Committee
  • Aquatic Invasive Species Measures Still Being Discussed with Meeting Planned for Sept. 28 in Harrisburg
  • September is Suicide Prevention Month
  • Be Aware of Dirty Dirt
  • Rosh Hashanah Begins Sunday
  • Collecting Items for Area Food Banks Continues

Senate Approves Legislation to Consolidate PA’s County Code

9/22/22 - Senate Bill 831

The state Senate this week approved my legislation which would consolidate Pennsylvania’s County Code into Title 16 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes as well as make some additional changes.

Senate Bill 831 represents the last step in a multi-year effort to update the code and move it into the consolidated statutes, similar to what the General Assembly has done in prior years with other municipal codes.

In addition to the consolidation, SB 831 would:

  • Provide a process for the filling of a vacancy in the office of District Attorney;
  • Prevent a change in county classification as a result of population changes reflected in the 2020 decennial Census unless a county chooses to change its classification; and
  • Protect an elected official from being surcharged if the official acted in good faith on a written or publicly-disclosed opinion of a solicitor.

As chair of the Local Government Committee I’ve used the opportunity to move a lot of legislation this session to help local governments operate more efficiently and to provide the clarity and easier understanding of the law through these consolidation efforts.  My committee and I have worked well with our House Local Government Committee and the bi-partisan/bicameral Local Government Commission in partnership with local government officials and organizations to get these bills across the line.

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

PennDOT Resumes Environmental Reviews for Bridge Replacement Projects, Including the I-80 Canoe Creek and North Fork Bridges

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has resumed planning work and federal environmental reviews for six bridge replacement projects proposed as part of the Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (MBP3), including the I-80 Canoe Creek (Clarion County) and North Fork (Jefferson County) Bridges.

Gov. Wolf and PennDOT had sought to toll these bridges, engaging in what many, including me and my Republican colleagues in the General Assembly, saw as a misuse of the state’s Public-Private Partnerships (P3) law and something that would create a major negative impact on the local communities in which the bridges are located. However, General Assembly Republicans fought against that plan and as part of the state budget approved in July, amended the state’s P3 law to remove tolling as a means of funding the MBP3.

PennDOT is still proceeding with utilization of an Australian contractor that was part of the project before the changes were made which removed the tolling.  We have questions as to whether this violates Pennsylvania contract law, but more importantly we are concerned that the contract was written in such a way as to prevent any Pennsylvania general contractor from being allowed to bid on the contract.

The resumed review process documents how each project would affect the surrounding community’s quality of life, including health, safety, cultural resources, environmental resources and more. Comment forms are available on each project’s webpage.

Senate Expands Right to Know Law to State-Related Universities

Seeking to shine light on costs driving college tuition increases, the Senate approved legislation to expand Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law to provide greater access to public records at state-related universities.

Senate Bill 488 would create an online searchable database that details information about budgets and contracts approved by Penn State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University. The legislation also increases the amount of university personnel salary information subject to public disclosure.

State-related universities receive more than $600 million in taxpayer dollars.

Under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, the Office of Open Records processes requests for documents from public agencies, such as the governor’s administration, legislative and judicial agencies and local organizations. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Among other measures passed by the Senate this week was Senate Bill 1203, which prevents companies from receiving state contracts, grants or tax credits if they are owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of the Russian government.

Federal Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program Now Accepting Applications

The federal Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) grant program, which seeks to address railroad crossings that create traffic problems and/or pose a threat to public safety, is now accepting applications.

More details about the application requirements and procedures to obtain grant funding can be found here, and a webinar and the slides from the webinar regarding the grant program can be found here under the “Grants & Loans” tab.

Applications are due Oct. 4, 2022.

Hearing Highlights Ideas to Combat Lyme Disease in PA

Pennsylvania leads the nation in Lyme disease cases, with children making up the largest demographic affected.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a public hearing to increase understanding of tick-borne diseases, tick testing and mitigation, testing options for physicians and patients, and guidelines for treatment options.

The panel heard testimony from Physician General and Acting Health Secretary Denise Johnson, as well as the director of the Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania at East Stroudsburg University, an infectious disease physician, and the president of the PA Lyme Resource Network.

Applications Being Accepted for Transportation Improvement Project Funding

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is now accepting applications through Nov. 14, 2022, to fund transportation improvement projects under the Multimodal Transportation Fund (MTF).

Eligible applicants include municipalities, council of governments, business/non-profit organizations, economic development organizations, public transportation agencies, public airports, airport authorities, and ports and rail entities.

More information about the program and previous years’ applications and awards can be found here.

PennDOT expects to announce grant recipients next year, and funding will become available in July 2023.

Promise of Carbon Capture Technology in Pennsylvania Explored by Committee

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held an informational briefing Tuesday on Pennsylvania’s potential as a carbon capture, utilization and storage hub.

Wolf administration officials and the carbon capture and storage business opportunity manager for Shell USA, Inc. took part to discuss the region’s promise as a premier hub for both carbon capture and clean hydrogen.

The Great Plains Institute, using data from a 2009 Department of Conservation and Natural Resources report, estimates the state could store about 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide underground. This is equivalent to the level of greenhouse gases emitted from 517 million gas-powered passenger vehicles annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Interestingly, it appears some of the same environmental organizations that have been saying we need carbon sequestration appear to be gearing up to prevent the pipelines necessary to get the carbon to where it will be sequestered.

Aquatic Invasive Species Measures Still Being Discussed with Meeting Planned for Sept. 28 in Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) will hold a meeting of the Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee at 1 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2022, at the PFBC headquarters (1601 Elmerton Avenue in Harrisburg, PA). 

The primary topic to be discussed at this meeting is a proposed regulation to create a new chapter of the commission’s regulations aimed at aquatic invasive species prevention, fish health and stocking fish in the waters of Pennsylvania.

The meeting is intended to be informational in nature and no votes are scheduled to occur.

A significant amount of written comments have been received about the proposal, which the PFBC says is intended to address current conservation challenges, improve fisheries management and fish health, prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species and simplify the existing state code related to the introduction of fish into Pennsylvania waters and the transportation of live fish into Pennsylvania. 

The 90-day, formal public comment period for the proposal has concluded, but the PFBC will accept comments from interested parties beyond that date.  I’m hopeful the organizations that have reached out to me and those who are concerned will actively participate. The proposal can be viewed here, and public comment can be submitted online here.

While the Sept. 28 meeting is an in-person meeting and open to the public, the meeting may be viewed remotely by joining the webinar from your internet browser using this link: https://bit.ly/Sept28-FH-Mtg. If prompted, the webinar access number code is 2630 553 7148 and the password is “public” (without the quotation marks).

September is Suicide Prevention Month

Approximately 1.2 million adults attempt suicide annually in the United States, with more than 85% reporting having made a suicide plan prior to their attempt. In 2020, the most recent year that data is available, approximately 1,700 people died by suicide in Pennsylvania.

Suicide Prevention Month provides an opportunity to remind Pennsylvanians that help is always available. This summer, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline officially launched nationwide, streamlining call and text access to the national lifeline that provides no-cost crisis response support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In addition to 988, many other resources also remain available to Pennsylvanians in need of support, including:

  • Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
  • Veteran Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Mothers: 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS
  • Farmers AgriStress mental health hotline: 833-897-2474
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
  • Get Help Now Hotline (for substance use disorders): 1-800-662-4357

Be Aware of Dirty Dirt

Rosh Hashanah Begins Sunday

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday and ends at nightfall Tuesday evening. For all who observe this Jewish holiday, I wish you a wonderful new year.

Collecting Items for Area Food Banks Continues

Throughout Hunger Action Month, my district offices (addresses are listed below) are collecting non-perishable items to be given to food banks in our communities.

Neighbors helping neighbors is the best form of charity and it’s one of the many traditions that make our country great. Please consider making a donation to help a family in need.

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