Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Measures to Increase Jobs in Manufacturing and at Airports Approved by Senate
  • Senate Acts to Provide Parents with Online Access to their Children’s School Curriculum
  • Senate Votes to Expand School Choice Eligibility
  • Senate Prohibits Vaccine Mandates for School Children
  • Landmark Bipartisan Broadband Legislation Approved by Senate
  • Comprehensive Probation Reform Approved by Senate
  • Region’s Lawmakers, Local Officials, Community Organizations, Business Leader Continue Opposition to Bridge Tolling Plan
  • Help Available to Cope with Holiday Stress, Anxiety, Depression
  • Deadline Approaching for Property Tax/Rent Rebate Applications
  • Rail Freight Improvement Projects Awarded Funding
  • BHE GT&S Awards Grants to 25th Senatorial District Organizations
  • Welcoming a New Member of the Family

Measures to Increase Jobs in Manufacturing and at Airports Approved by Senate

Continuing efforts to restore Pennsylvania’s economic vitality, the Senate approved bills to spur job growth in manufacturing and at airports across the commonwealth.

Senate Bill 706 establishes the Max Manufacturing Initiative Fund and Max Manufacturing Endeavor Loan Fund. This bill aims to create stronger public-private partnerships between state universities and private entities and maximizes research capabilities with cutting edge technologies.

Senate Bill 562 creates the Airport Land Development Zone program, providing tax credits to employers that make a significant new investment by expanding operations and creating new jobs.

Passage of these measures is the latest in a series of Senate votes aimed at moving Pennsylvania from pandemic to recovery. Last month, the Senate approved two measures making it easier for small business employers to remain competitive and create jobs. Senate Bill 706 and Senate Bill 562 will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Acts to Provide Parents with Online Access to their Children’s School Curriculum

Parents would have greater ability to review what their children are being taught in school through curriculum transparency legislation approved by the Senate.

House Bill 1332 would require K-12 schools to post curricula online in a standardized, user-friendly manner. Under the bill, beginning with the 2022-23 school year, school districts must post on their websites an internet link or title for:

  • Every textbook used by the schools.
  • A course syllabus or a written summary of each instructional course.
  • The state academic standards for each instructional course offered.

To prevent placing another burden on teachers, the bill stipulates that a school administrator or designee would be required to post the curricula online. House Bill 1332 is on it’s way to the Governor.

Senate Votes to Expand School Choice Eligibility

The Senate approved three bills that preserve school choice access for families and give more flexibility to students pursuing college degrees without incurring unnecessary debt.

Senate Bill 931 excludes pandemic stimulus payments from a household’s income when determining eligibility for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. This important legislation ensures children will not see their educational opportunities diminished because of one-time government handouts.

Senate Bill 932 revises the definition of “school-related fees” so students can use EITC and OSTC scholarships toward dual enrollment programs. This option gives Pennsylvania’s next generation of professionals the flexibility to pursue college degrees or access career training while minimizing excessive student loan debt.

Both bills will head to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

House Bill 1642 loosens the threshold for schools to be considered “economically disadvantaged,” which would allow more students to access a supplemental tax credit scholarship offered through the EITC’s Economically Disadvantaged Schools program.

House Bill 1642 was sent to the governor for enactment.

Senate Prohibits Vaccine Mandates for School Children

As Pennsylvania has struggled to keep children in their classrooms because of questionable COVID-19 policies, the Senate acted to prevent students from being barred from school if they don’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Senate Bill 937 would prohibit a child from being required to be immunized for COVID-19 as a condition of attendance in any public or private K-12 school. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill does not contest the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, which is now available to children ages 5 to 15 under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization, and full FDA approval for anyone 16 years of age and older.

The legislation acknowledges parents have a right to be involved with the health care decisions for their children. And because the COVID-19 vaccine for those under age 16 has only received FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), federal EUA law prohibits patients from being coerced into taking the vaccine. That means those children have the right to refuse the medical treatment, with their parents exercising that right on their behalf.

Landmark Bipartisan Broadband Legislation Approved by Senate

The Senate acted to improve access to high-speed internet in underserved communities by creating the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA). The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.

House Bill 2071 would establish a single point-of-contact for federal broadband funding and includes safeguards so legitimate contractors are chosen. Entities eligible for funding must have technical, managerial and financial expertise to design, build and operate high-speed service infrastructure.

The PBDA primarily would be tasked with creating a broadband plan that allows the state to apply for competitively awarded federal infrastructure money. The bill would also require the state to create a database to monitor all broadband deployment activities across the state.

Comprehensive Probation Reform Approved by Senate

The Senate approved probation reform measures aimed at reducing the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the system while better integrating probationers into society. The bills will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 913 provides an opportunity for early release from probation and ensures fewer individuals return to prison by offering incentives that reward positive behavior and participation in education, employment, vocational and drug treatment programming shown to reduce recidivism.

Among other goals, the measure is intended to prevent cases in which technical violations, such as a minor traffic offense, can perpetually extend the clock on an offender’s term and result in re-confinement.

The Senate also approved Senate Bill 904, to allow probation meetings to be held remotely, and Senate Bill 905, to improve the scheduling of probation and parole meetings. 

Region’s Lawmakers, Local Officials, Community Organizations, Business Leader Continue Opposition to Bridge Tolling Plan

State Senator Scott Hutchinson, Representatives Brian Smith and Donna Oberlander and I met earlier today (Friday, Dec. 17, 2021) with local elected officials, community service organizations and business leaders who are unified in opposition to tolling of Interstate Highway bridges which were set up as freeways when they were constructed. 

It appears that in our region and around the state there is a nearly universal opposition to this effort by Governor Wolf’s administration and that the opposition has brought together a wide coalition to let PennDOT and the Governor know about it.

Congressman Thompson and his team also participated in Friday’s meeting, briefing us on his meeting earlier this week with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials about the tolling plan.

According to Rep. Thompson, during his meeting with the FHWA it was revealed PennDOT has been in consultation with the FHWA for more than a year and recently filed paperwork expressing its interest in receiving more than $5 billion in financing for the projects.

Rep. Thompson said the meeting confirmed PennDOT had been talking with the federal government for nearly a year prior to even being authorized to look at bridge tolling, something the congressman said shows PennDOT is merely providing lip service to public input and has always been moving towards tolling, regardless of feasibility, public safety, or economic sense. Rep. Thompson also noted PennDOT is reportedly installing gantries to collect tolls along the nine bridges, even after acknowledging the Turnpike agency failed to collect $104 million in tolls last year. 

I agree with Rep. Thompson that the tolling plan is a betrayal of the public trust and it must be stopped. 

Help Available to Cope with Holiday Stress, Anxiety, Depression

The holidays are upon us, and while it’s a joyous season for many, for others the holidays are not as bright.

For some, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can feel more stressful, generating anxiety and depression. COVID has made life stressful for many with or without the holidays.

Fortunately, help is available for those who need it – you do not have to endure alone what you’re feeling. You can talk to your loved ones, talk to your support network, and don’t be afraid to make a call to resources that exist to help:

  • PA Support & Referral Hotline – call 1-855-284-2494 (TTY: 724-631-5600) for the mental health support and referral helpline run by the state Department of Human Services (DHS). It is available 24/7 and is a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – call: 800-273-8255 (Español: 888-628-9454) if you or someone you care about is experiencing thoughts of suicide.
  • Crisis Text Line – test “PA” to 741741 to start a conversation, 24/7, with a live, trained Crisis Counselor who will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.
  • PA Crisis Hotlines – in Cameron, Elk and Potter counties (800-652-0562); in Clearfield and Jefferson counties (800-341-5040); in Clinton County (570-326-7895); in McKean County (800-459-6568); and in Tioga County (888-829-1341).

Deadline Approaching for Property Tax/Rent Rebate Applications

The deadline for older and disabled Pennsylvanians to apply for rebates on rent and property taxes paid in 2020 is Dec. 31, 2021.

The rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older, widows and widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.

Claimants of the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program are encouraged to file their rebate applications online by visiting mypath.pa.gov. You can check the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program instruction booklet to learn which information you will need to input/upload to complete the process.

Rail Freight Improvement Projects Awarded Funding

This past week it was announced that the State Transportation Commission voted to approve $33 million for projects through the Rail Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) and the Rail Freight Assistance Program (RFAP).

Of the 25 rail freight improvement projects that will enhance freight mobility while creating or sustaining a total of more than 200 jobs across Pennsylvania, two of the projects are located in the 25th Senatorial District.

The RJ Corman Railroad (Cambria and Clearfield counties) will receive $3 million to improve the Cresson Subdivision and Clearfield Yard with spot tie and rail replacement and rehabilitate five at-grade crossings, while the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clearfield, Elk, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, and McKean counties) will receive $1.8 million to replace approximately 5.5 miles of worn rail on curves to improve rail conditions and safety.

BHE GT&S Awards Grants to 25th Senatorial District Organizations

Interstate natural gas transmission and storage company BHE GT&S recently announced the 2021 grant recipients through the company’s Philanthropy Program.

Through its philanthropy, BHE GT&S supports programs that focus on health, education, community and the environment. Organizations interested in the BHE GT&S Philanthropy Program can apply using the BHE GT&S CyberGrants website. More information can be requested from Don Houser (Donald.Houser@bhegts.com), the BHE GT&S contact for Pennsylvania and New York.

The 2021 grants awarded to organizations in the 25th Senatorial District include:

  • Clinton County – Chestnut Grove Recreation Authority ($10,000 for the Robbie Gould Youth Sports Complex); Chapman Township ($10,000 for the Western Clinton County Heritage Trail); Horses for Hope, Inc. ($10,000 for a tractor); Keystone Central School District ($18,000 for the Bucktail High School Athletic Scoreboard).
  • Potter County – Galeton Area School District ($10,000 for the Galeton Christmas Child & Project Warm).
  • Tioga County – Endless Mountain Music Festival ($5,000 for the Community Pops Concert).

Welcoming a New Member of the Family

12/15/21 Dush P&R Grandchild

My family and I received blessed news this week with the birth of Paisley Noelle Dush to my son Garrett and his lovely wife Katie.

Everyone is in good health, and the whole of her family are excited to hold her and to show her the love we have for her, not the least of which are her Grammy and Pappy.

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