Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Court Ruling Could End School Mask Mandate Dec. 4
  • General Assembly Approves Gun Rights Bill
  • Senate Acts to Increase Campaign Finance Transparency
  • Update on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission
  • Senate Committee Receives Input on Congressional Redistricting
  • Congressman Thompson Opposes PennDOT Bridge Tolling, Supports Proposed DRIVE SMART Act.
  • Apprenticeship Week: Information for Employers and Job Seekers
  • November is American Diabetes Month
  • PPL Billing Assistance

Court Ruling Could End School Mask Mandate Dec. 4

A Commonwealth Court ruling has paved the way for Governor Wolf’s school mask mandate to potentially end Dec. 4. If the Wolf Administration and the courts take no further action, the mandate will no longer be in place after that date.

Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon’s ruling comes a week after her court threw out the statewide mask mandate. The mandate stayed in effect because the administration appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. Governor Wolf has said the order will be lifted Jan. 17.

The court ruled Nov. 10 that the administration improperly used a law from 1955 to override parents and local school boards and impose a statewide masking mandate on students.

General Assembly Approves Gun Rights Bill

Following votes the past two weeks by the General Assembly, my legislation, Senate Bill 565, to ensure those legally allowed to own a gun can carry it openly or concealed, without needing a permit, is on its way to the governor.

No criminal has ever said, “I want to go commit assault and murder – but I have to wait for my license to carry to come in.” But every day, honest Pennsylvanians who want to carry a gun simply to come home safe at night are forced to wait for their permit so they can carry legally.

My bill allows for law-abiding citizens to carry guns in a concealed manner without a license, but use of firearms, whether criminal or for self-defense, is still controlled by other Pennsylvania statutes that remain unchanged. This bill does not get rid of background checks or change any of the statutes surrounding the lawful purchase of firearms.

Though the legislation would remove the requirement of a concealed carry permit for Pennsylvanians, Senate Bill 565 still allows for the issuance of a concealed carry permit for those of us who wish to be able to carry concealed within states that have reciprocity agreements with Pennsylvania under the current system. When drafting the bill, we wanted to ensure it did not negate your ability to carry in those states if Pennsylvania residents wanted to travel to them.

The People of Pennsylvania have declared through the Pennsylvania Constitution the right to keep and bear arms shall not be subject to questioning. When considering what to do with the bill, Gov. Tom Wolf should heed the constitutions of both the United States and Pennsylvania to which he’s taken an oath and sign Senate Bill 565.

Senate Acts to Increase Campaign Finance Transparency

All candidates for office and political action committees in Pennsylvania would be required to file campaign finance reports online under legislation recently approved by the Senate.

Senate Bill 140 would require all candidates for office and political action committees in Pennsylvania to electronically file their campaign finance reports using the Department of State’s online filing system.

Currently, candidates and committees have the option of filing their campaign finance reports through paper submission, which aren’t visible online until uploaded by staff. Citizens wishing to view the reports in a timely manner have to travel to Harrisburg or pay for copies to be sent by mail.

The bill also increases penalties for late filings. Senate Bill 140 now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Update on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its latest public hearing this week in Harrisburg.

The commission took input from an expert panel about citizen mapping efforts. You can watch the hearing and view testimony here. It has held nine public hearings, receiving input from a total of 29 experts and 51 citizen witnesses, in addition to 490 written submissions by citizens. 

As dictated by the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission redraws the lines of Senate and House of Representative districts every 10 years to reflect changes in the U.S. Census.

Senate Committee Receives Input on Congressional Redistricting

The effort of redrawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania Congressional districts continued with the third public hearing on the issues by the Senate State Government Committee.

The panel discussed maps created by citizens and took testimony regarding the process behind it. You can access hearing video and testimony here.

As with state legislative districts, congressional boundaries are redrawn following each census to reflect population changes. Because Pennsylvania’s population has been outpaced by growing states, it will drop from 18 to 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 2022 elections.

Unlike state Senate and House reapportionment, congressional redistricting is done through the legislative process, beginning at the committee level.

Congressman Thompson Opposes PennDOT Bridge Tolling, Supports Proposed DRIVE SMART Act.

The General Assembly continues its efforts to put a stop to PennDOT’s plan to toll as many as nine bridges throughout Pennsylvania, including one in the 25th Senatorial District, and those efforts recently received support from Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-15).

Congressman Thompson, in an op-ed piece published last week by the Harrisburg Patriot-News, said many legislators in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. have expressed serious concern with PennDOT levying taxes in the form of tolls. While PennDOT has claimed tolling is merely one funding stream being examined, Thompson said State Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian made it clear in a recent op-ed she wrote that tolling isn’t just part of a plan, tolling is the plan.

“I remain incredibly concerned that bridge tolling will punish residents who live near these bridges, endanger local communities with truck diversion, and cause greater maintenance costs on local roads,” wrote Congressman Thompson. “Tolls will crush jobs and harm hardworking Pennsylvanians who are just beginning to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Tolling should be a last resort, not the starting point.”

As I’ve noted in past editions of the Mission Report, everyone who can needs to contact PennDOT as it collects public comment about their plans for the nine bridges, including the North Fork Bridges, which carry Interstate 80 over Redbank Creek and Water Plant Road in Brookville Borough and Pine Creek Township in Jefferson County. In fact, four of the nine bridges targeted for tolling are located on I-80.

It’s clear from everything I’ve heard from you in the 25th Senatorial District that the tolling plan needs to be terminated, which is why the General Assembly continues to work on Senate Bill 382. We’ve also been working on the DRIVE SMART Act to make needed reforms to the state’s transportation systems and provide alternative transportation revenue sources – an overhaul that Congressman Thompson said is important.

Having spoken with the PennDOT Secretary Yassmin, I am convinced that not only is PennDOT’s bridge tolling effort a misuse of the state’s Public-Private Partnerships (P3) law, it was not well thought out nor does it address the significant disparity between the amount of money western Pennsylvania already sends to PennDOT in gas taxes versus the amount of money that we get back to our region.

For over 50 years I’ve seen the impact on the Borough of Brookville whenever there is an accident on I-80. Truck traffic diverted through Brookville’s Main Street and back out to I-80 between the Brookville and Hazen exits has a devastating impact on the businesses downtown. If they place these tolls, drivers will seek to avoid the tolls, with that having a daily impact on Brookville, as well as the other communities along I-80 where bridges are to be tolled, that none can afford.

Apprenticeship Week: Information for Employers and Job Seekers

National Apprenticeship Week is a reminder apprenticeships play a critical role in producing a skilled workforce by connecting aspiring workers with employers in need, and that resources are available to make that connection happen.

According to state Labor and Industry Department estimates, nearly nine out of 10 apprentices are employed after they complete their apprenticeship, and the majority take jobs with a starting salary of $60,000 a year or more. Apprenticeships also allow Pennsylvanians to graduate with little to no student debt.

There are 1,585 apprenticeships registered with the state, along with 74 pre-apprenticeships. You can learn about the different kinds of apprenticeships, how to secure one and more here.

November is American Diabetes Month

More than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians, or 11.1% of adults, have diagnosed diabetes. An additional 303,000 have diabetes but don’t know it.

More than 34% of the adult Pennsylvania population have prediabetes with blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Complications from diabetes include heart disease, stroke, amputation, end-stage kidney disease, blindness and death. American Diabetes Month is an opportunity to learn about the risks, how to manage diabetes, and more.

PPL Billing Assistance

As we head into winter, energy bills are expected to rise. For those PPL Electric Utilities customers struggling to pay their bills, there are a variety of programs offered by PPL to help.

Assistance programs offered by PPL for which customers might qualify, depending on their income, include:

  • OnTrack, which offers debt forgiveness and a lower fixed monthly payment.
  • Operation HELP, which is a PPL fuel fund for customers in need. This year, PPL has increased the income limit to be able to help more customers.

Additionally, customers should check to see if they’re eligible for LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), which is a government-run program that provides cash grants for home heating bills and emergencies.

And regardless of income:

  • Customers can work with PPL to set up a flexible payment agreement so utility bill balances can be paid down over time.
  • PPL offers budget billing, through which PPL averages your electric use over the entire year to smooth out your monthly bill and make payments more predictable.
  • Customers can also change the due date of their bill to better align with their financial schedule.

The most important step is always the first one: Go online to learn about the available programs and apply at pplelectric.com/billhelp or call 1-800-342-5775. 

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