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In this Email Update:
Thanking our Vietnam era veterans and their families and friends
Over 180 veterans from the Vietnam era were honored during a ceremony I hosted with Representative Barry Jozwiak at Hamburg Area High School Thursday night.
These veterans sacrificed a lot to serve their country during the Vietnam conflict. This commemoration event is our way of saying thanks and recognizing them for their selflessness and service.
During the event, we presented each veteran and widows of Vietnam era veterans in attendance with a special Vietnam veteran’s lapel pin.
Pastor Mark Johnson of the Bausman Memorial United Church of Christ in Wyomissing provided the invocation while the Hamburg Area School District’s Aerial Boundaries choir sang the Star Spangled Banner.
Guy Wiederhold, Commander, Veterans of the Vietnam War, Post 29, Schuylkill County provided a fitting keynote address.
Seventy-two Vietnam era veterans from Schuylkill County and 117 Vietnam era veterans from Berks County participated in the program.
The commemorative event was held in conjunction with the Department of Defense as part of a nationwide tribute to Vietnam era veterans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war.
Read more about the event here.
You can view photos from the event here.
You can watch a report from the event by WFMZ here.
Breaking down the composition of the Senate for 2017-18
On Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati re-appointed me to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Majority Policy Committee as part of the Senate Republican Caucus’s reorganization that took place at the state Capitol.
I was first appointed to the post in 2014 for the 2015-16 legislative session and am the first senator from the 29th Senatorial District to hold a leadership post since the 1860s.
We’ve been very active over the last two years with the committee through bringing together stakeholders on key issues ranging from economic development to welfare reform, from pet protection to budget reforms. It’s an all-encompassing committee.
Read more about my efforts on the Senate Majority Policy Committee, including my future plans for the committee, here.
Following the election and leading into swearing-in, Senate Republicans will have a veto-proof majority with 34 total Republicans and 16 Democrats. In the House of Representatives, the chamber will have 122 Republicans and 81 Democrats.
However, despite the record numbers for Republicans in the state Senate, my key priority is passing a piece of bipartisan legislation – Senate Bill 76, or the Property Tax Independence Act.
Earlier this week, I joined my friend and colleague from across the aisle, Senator John Yudichak, who represents parts of Luzerne and Carbon counties, on the Pennsylvania Cable Network’s LIVE Call-In Program. Senator Yudichak has been a fierce advocate for the elimination of school property taxes.
We believe with the changes in the Senate, we now have the votes to approve this measure for the first time in history. You can watch the hourlong program taped on Monday here (subscription required).
Two new weapons to help communities fight blight now on the books
State laws penned by Representative Neal Goodman and me will help communities all across Pennsylvania to wage a stronger battle on the war on blight.
Under Act 152 of 2016, counties could collect up to $15 in each deed and mortgage recorded at the County Recorder of Deeds office to be used exclusively for demolition within that county. A county has to opt-in to the program.
In Schuylkill County, that could mean over $130,000 in new demolition funding and more than $315,000 for Berks County!
Act 133 of 2016 will require owners whose property has municipal property code violation(s) to bring their property into compliance or demolish the structure within 12 months of purchase. The prior law was set at 18 months.
Many older coal region towns continue to struggle with a high percentage of abandoned properties and lack of investment to tear down blighted structures. In addition to efforts in the past, these new laws are a reflection of the requests made by local elected officials to Representative Goodman and me.
Read more about our bipartisan efforts to help older communities fight blight here.
State budget update
Senator Pat Browne, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently provided me with an update on the state’s finances in his monthly report.
Here is where we are on the annual budget process: State agencies submitted their budget requests for next year’s budget (Fiscal Year 2017-18) on October 7. The governor’s office is currently reviewing agency requests as they prepare the governor’s budget request, which is will presented in February of 2017.
Chairman Browne’s state budget update included information on spending to date on overtime costs.
Specifically, the state spent $58.8 million on overtime costs from July 2016 – September 2016. The Department of Corrections spent 44 percent of the overall amount ($25.9M), followed by PennDOT ($10.1M), State Police ($9M) and the Department of Human Services ($7.8M).
The concern of growing overtime costs is not a new issue. I requested a study from a bicameral, bipartisan research agency on corrections’ overtime spending. The study is due later this year.
You can read more about my efforts to curb state spending here.
Below are two charts outlining growth in our welfare programs. When Governor Wolf first took office, he unilaterally expanded the Medicaid program in Pennsylvania.
Federal funds covered 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for 2014 to 2016, however, the state is now on the hook for this program. Specifically, federal funds will cover 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and subsequent years.
Also provided in the monthly update are unemployment statistics from across the state. You can see how Berks and Schuylkill counties compare to the rest of the state as well as national and state unemployment trends.
Protecting our anthracite coal industry
Earlier this week I sent a letter to 24 steel manufacturing companies across the United States requesting that they provide an update of their company’s purchasing procedures regarding Pennsylvania anthracite. Given the fact that many U.S. steel manufacturing companies are privy to the use of imported anthracite coal, ensuring that these companies are obtaining and utilizing anthracite coal that is mined and produced from U.S. based anthracite producers is very critical.
The letter was a follow-up letter to one that was sent back in May from the Pennsylvania Legislative Coal Caucus, chaired by Senator Gene Yaw and Representative Jeff Pyle, which highlighted the importance of protecting Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal industry from foreign competition, as well as the significant contributions the industry has provided to our economy. In Schuylkill County alone, there are thousands of jobs that are dependent upon anthracite mining.
Last September, the Senate also approved a resolution I introduced which urged Congress and the President to thoroughly examine unfair government-sponsored anthracite exports by China, Russia and Ukraine. Read more about my resolution here.
If U.S. steel proudly boasts “Made in the U.S.A.” then I would hope they would use a domestic energy source like Pennsylvania anthracite.
Staggering rate increases under Obamacare
Last month, Governor Wolf’s administration approved health insurance rates for individual and small group plans sold under the Affordable Care Act for 2017, which includes significant rate increases from the previous year.
In response to these staggering increases, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Senator Don White, Chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, sent a letter to health insurers across Pennsylvania encouraging them to decline any rate increases that exceed what they have requested.
Consumers, particularly middle and lower income wage-earners, would be hit the hardest with these increased rates, therefore making the Affordable Care Act anything but affordable.
You can read the letter here.