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In this Email Update:
Senate approves measure to crack down on welfare fraud
Eliminating welfare fraud and protecting taxpayer dollars is an initiative that I have been working on for some time. Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and I introduced Senate Bill 1345, which seeks to hire additional staff within the Office of Inspector General in order to investigate claims regarding welfare misconduct and use.
Earlier this week, I offered Senate Bill 1345 as an amendment to another bill, which the Senate passed by a vote of 34-15.
My amendment to House Bill 1618 will require the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to hire 50 percent additional staff to better investigate welfare fraud cases and tips.
Reports have shown that each welfare fraud investigator in the OIG is able to uncover $1.28 million in overpayments and fraudulent activity. These social assistance programs are in place to help people with a genuine need; they are not there for someone to swindle the taxpayers.
Taxpayers are rightfully frustrated that their hard-earned money goes to individuals who make a career of fleecing the welfare system. With these additional resources, the OIG can better protect tax dollars and make sure that only the truly needy receive the support which they deserve.
Anyone who has information regarding welfare fraud is encouraged to call the OIG’s toll free welfare fraud tipline at 1-800-932-0582.
Bipartisan effort will make highway work zones safer for workers and motorists
The Senate of Pennsylvania unanimously approved a proposal Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and I sponsored that would create a five-year program to place automated speed enforcement systems in active highway work zones in Pennsylvania.
The genesis of the initiative came after several meetings with local transportation and safety experts. In addition, a plea for help came from a Berks County resident, Holly Doppel, who emailed Senator Schwank and me detailing a tragedy last year along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Doppel’s son was part of a work crew near Bensalem along the Turnpike on May 2, 2015. Fortunately, her son left the crew at 1 a.m. Four hours later, a motorist was killed and four construction workers were injured, one with life-altering injuries.
Men and women risk their lives every day to improve our highways and bridges. While this proposal cannot undo the pain and suffering for those families who lost a loved one due to a reckless driver in a construction work zone, we believe this will change driver behavior and save future lives.
Under the bipartisan proposal, the automated speed enforcement system would only be active when there are workers present. Motorists would be notified with two warning signs leading into an automated speed enforcement work area. The system would only be used on interstate highways, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission must also post the location of the automated speed enforcement work areas to their respective website.
Motorists exceeding the posted speed limit by at least 11 mph would be subject to a flat $100 citation with no points attributed to the driver’s record.
A similar program in Maryland realized an 85 percent reduction in the amount of motorists speeding in work zones.
Learn more about Holly’s story and her advocacy for this important proposal here.
Bill to strengthen penalties for illegal household goods movers passes Senate committee
On Wednesday, the Senate Consumer Protection and Licensure Committee unanimously approved a proposal to strengthen penalties on illegal household good movers.
Under our legislation, household goods movers operating illegally in Pennsylvania would be subject to a $5,000 fine and a third degree misdemeanor. Vehicles used in the illegal move would be confiscated and registration would be suspended. Repeat offenders would be subject to a $10,000 fine.
Families trust moving companies with all of their possessions. Unfortunately, it’s cheaper to operate a moving company illegally in Pennsylvania than it is to adhere to the law. If a move goes wrong with these illegal entities, the families are left holding the bag since illegal movers do not carry adequate insurance for the goods they are moving. I appreciate working with Representative Day to protect families across the state so this type of unlawful behavior does not continue.
Animal cruelty bill passes Senate
I joined my Senate colleagues in approving legislation to increase penalties for animal cruelty.
House Bill 869 requires those convicted of second-degree misdemeanor, or higher, animal abuse to forfeit their animals to shelters or other organizations dedicated to preventing animal cruelty.
It also permits courts to order similar forfeiture of animals upon conviction of a third-degree animal abuse misdemeanor.
The bill also incorporates a number of proposals to prevent animal cruelty, including measures to prevent tethering dogs in unsafe conditions, strengthen penalties for animal abusers and include horses under Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Nine bills sent to governor
Nine bills received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the governor’s desk for enactment into law.
Senate Bill 286 increases transparency and accountability regarding the Delaware River Port Authority.
House Bill 447 amends the Landlord and Tenant Act by adding provisions for early termination of a lease if a tenant dies.
House Bill 683 eliminates Federal veterans’ disability payments and State veterans’ benefits from the definition of income when determining a claimant’s eligibility for the Property Tax Rent Rebate program.
Senate Bill 889 extends benefits to enforcement officers and investigators of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.
House Bill 1581 amends the Crimes Code by adding the offense of strangulation.
House Bill 1619 enacts the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act to develop a comprehensive process to allow physicians to become licensed in multiple states and allow eligible licensed physicians in one state to treat patients in other states via telemedicine.
House Bill 1734 provides a one-year extension of the continuing professional education compliance deadlines for schools, teachers and administrators.
House Bill 1841 and House Bill 1842 address temporary permits issued to those seeking to become a licensed perfusionist. A perfusionist is a certified medical technician responsible for extracorporeal oxygenation of the blood during open-heart surgery and for the operation and maintenance of equipment (as a heart-lung machine) controlling it.
Senate approves legislation to protect responsible gun owners
The Senate passed legislation on Monday to prevent municipalities from targeting responsible gun owners with local firearms ordinances that are more restrictive than existing state laws.
Senate Bill 1330 would allow an individual or organization to sue to block an overly restrictive local firearms ordinance. In current practice, gun owners who are accused of violating local ordinances often lack the time and financial resources to engage in a lengthy and costly legal battle necessary to overturn unconstitutional gun regulations at the local level.
The legislation restores the original intent of the Uniform Firearms Act, which was designed to prevent municipalities from enacting their own ordinances. Similar legislation was signed into law in 2014, but a state Supreme Court ruling last year overturned the law based on procedural grounds that had nothing to do with the content of the law.
Senate Bill 1330 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Several additional bills were approved by the Senate this week and sent to the House for consideration, including:
House Bill 49 extends the death benefit that is currently available to other emergency responders to members of the Pennsylvania Civil Air Patrol. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 535 allows Pennsylvania’s municipal police departments to use radar as a means of speed enforcement.
Senate Bill 976 amends the Wiretap Act to permit the use of body-worn cameras by police officers.
Senate Bill 1266 amends the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act to provide for additional consumer protections.
Senate Bill 1271 addresses the school attendance of a child placed in detention or shelter care.
Senate Bill 1300 would eliminate residency requirements imposed by a municipal code or charter as a qualification of elected office, or to fill a vacancy of elected office, for those on active military duty.
Senate Bill 1313 amends the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act by adding new definitions for “energy-related cost savings,” “energy savings company” and “operating costs” and amends the definition of “energy conservation measure” to clarify what costs are qualified under the act.
Senate Bill 1365 increases the number of judges in certain judicial districts.
Committee approves bill allowing communities to benefit from volunteer firefighters and EMS providers
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a proposal on Wednesday that would allow municipalities to enact a tax credit against the earned income of active volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services providers.
Communities in Berks and Schuylkill counties rely on these first responders to protect the lives of local residents. This bill will allow municipalities the authority to offer active first responders a tax credit of up to 20 percent of their tax liability.
Touring Lake Wynonah community
On Thursday, Representative Mike Tobash and I met with Lake Wynonah community members to discuss issues relating to their infrastructure. During the visit, we were informed of their overall economic impact to Schuylkill County, the local school districts and the surrounding communities. The community features two lakes and 1,200 homes.
To the right is a photo of Lake Wynonah, one of two lakes in the community, and one of the largest manmade lakes in Pennsylvania. It is a very popular spot for outdoor recreational activities for members and their guests.
Check out a photo of the lake here.
Senate citation presented to Caroline Hobbs for community service project
Last Friday, Representative Mike Tobash and I presented a citation on behalf of the Senate of Pennsylvania and the House of Representatives to Caroline Hobbs of Pottsville, recognizing her for her service and dedication to her community.
Caroline organized a clean-up event at her local playground and park. Caroline, along with some other children in the neighborhood, gathered together to clean-up the area and make it a better place for residents to visit and play.
Caroline is the daughter of Chris and Ali Hobbs, the granddaughter of the late Senator Frederick Hobbs and Senator Jim Rhoades, and the great-granddaughter of former Senator (and later, Superior Court Judge) G. Harold Watkins.
Cub Scout Adventure Day at Hawk Mountain
On Saturday, I attended Cub Scout Adventure Day at Hawk Mountain Scout Reservation in Schuylkill Haven.
During this event, I was able to meet with several cubs to discuss how state government works and how the state Senate operates.
The Cub Scout Adventure Day program provides cubs with the opportunity to participate in a number of recreational activities and games with their fellow scouts.
Sheppton-Oneida Volunteer Fire Company dedication
I was pleased to present a citation to the Sheppton-Oneida Volunteer Fire Company congratulating them on their service to the community and the three new pieces of fire equipment they received.
Since its establishment in 1993, the Sheppton-Oneida Volunteer Fire Company has been dedicated to providing professional fire and emergency services to residents.
I commend all of the volunteers for their hard work and commitment to keeping our residents safe.
The Senate of Pennsylvania is scheduled to convene on Monday, October 24 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and view the voting calendar on my website.