In this Update:
Senate Votes to Ban Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes and Private Funding of Election Operations
The Senate voted this week to safeguard the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections by approving two bills that would prevent the future use of unsecured ballot drop boxes and ban private money to fund election operations. The measures were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
No More Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes
Senate Bill 1200 would require mail-in ballots that are not returned in the mail to be returned only to the County Board of Elections office, effectively eliminating drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
Drop boxes were permitted by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2020, despite the fact that they were never authorized or intended by the General Assembly through the legislative process. Since that time, numerous examples of drop boxes being misused have been discovered throughout the state, including:
Eliminating unsecured ballot drop boxes will not negatively impact voter access. There are more than 10,000 publicly available locations across the Commonwealth that voters can use to return their ballots.
There is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the integrity of our electoral process. The reality is that a significant segment of our electorate does not have faith in the validity of our electoral process. I consider that to be a direct threat to the stability of our constitutional republic.
So, we’re taking significant steps to restore faith and integrity in our electoral process. The chain of custody of ballots is so critically important. Voters have the opportunity to vote in many ways, forms and fashions. We need to make sure those ballots are secure and that we have a clear understanding of the chain of custody, and that they’re counted correctly and accurately, to ensure every vote really does count.
Keep Outside Money Away from PA Election Process
Senate Bill 982 would ban any state employee or county from accepting money from outside groups to pay for the administration of elections in Pennsylvania.
The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election. Correspondence between CTCL officials, the Wolf Administration and county officials demonstrates that funding was intentionally directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.
Democrat-leaning counties were selectively invited to apply for the grants before Republican-leaning counties were even made aware of the funding. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties received more than $18 million from CTCL in the 2020 Election, while other counties received significantly less.
For example, Philadelphia received $8.83 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020. On the other side of the state, Venango County, with a Republican voter registration advantage, received only $.64 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020.
It was never the intent of the legislature to establish rogue election facilities on public street corners with pop-up tents, or in cars, trucks, and vans and without Board of Elections oversight while allowing outside third party entities to pay for them in areas of their choice.
The steps the Senate took with SB 1200 and SB 982 are a significant step towards ensuring the vote of Pennsylvanians is secure.
Senate Boosts Crime Victim Protection and Support
The Senate approved a package of bills aiding crime victims by providing stronger protections, increasing support and improving access to services. The bills now advance to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 1179 extends the Domestic and Sexual Violence Victim Address Confidentiality Act to give victims of child abduction and human trafficking access to substitute mailing addresses and allows applications for address confidentiality to be submitted electronically.
Senate Bill 118 expands Megan’s Law to require offenders convicted of any sex trafficking-related offenses to register.
Senate Bill 1040 requires law enforcement to make reasonable efforts to ensure a murder victim’s family has been notified before releasing the victim’s identity to the public and media.
Senate Bill 1172 expands access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to better provide quality care for victims. SANEs have specialized training in trauma and forensic nursing and are vital to a complete care system for survivors of sexual assault.
Legislation to Aid Rural Remote Working Passes Senate
Legislation to help more rural Pennsylvania communities establish remote workplace facilities was approved by the Senate. It now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 962 would create the Rural Co-Working and Innovation Centers Grant Program within the Department of Community and Economic Development to help rural communities create facilities equipped with high-speed broadband, furniture, and security systems for teleworkers.
According to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 48 out of 67 counties and 1,592 municipalities are rural and could benefit from this program.
Senate Approves Measure to Encourage Responsible Solar Development, Protect Property Owners
The Senate approved a proposal that would establish decommissioning and financial requirements for solar generation projects going out of service and offer better protections for landowners.
Senate Bill 284 includes a graduated, phase-in process for financial assurances, setting up five-year benchmarks using third-party professional engineers to assess and calculate fair market value of the project and costs to decommission it.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Public Hearing on Housing Issues
The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee held a public hearing on Thursday this week in Kittanning, Armstrong County, to collect testimony from local community members about housing issues, blight, deferred maintenance and land banks.
This hearing follows a public hearing held by the committee on April 7 in Philadelphia, during which the committee heard testimony from two panels of representatives of local organizations focused on blight prevention and response; property repair and maintenance; and greenspace, community gardens, land banks and property development.
During our April 14 hearing, the committee heard from Andrew Laddusaw, Senior Pastor of the Living Water Church; Julie Fitzpatrick, executive director of Pennsylvania Downtown Center; Jason Tigano, executive director of LEVEL; Marc Little, president of Emery Construction Services; LuAnn Zak – assistant director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development; Brigid Beatty, program manager of the Armstrong County Department of Planning and Development; and Brian Lawrence, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Westmoreland (RACW) and Westmoreland County Land Bank.
PA Leadership Conference Fueling Pennsylvania’s Future Panel
Recently, I was honored to speak at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference as part of the Fueling Pennsylvania’s Future Panel.
It presented another opportunity for me to address the significant concerns and devastating impact of Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI): Pennsylvania is the largest exporter of electricity of any other state in the country, which makes us the Keystone State when it comes to the production of electricity.
We need to embrace our commonwealth’s energy resources along with our energy independence, not kill family-sustaining energy jobs and drive up prices of everything (because just about everything we consume relies on energy).
I would like to thank those who organized the conference for having me.
IRMC Day at IUP
Last week, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) held Indiana Regional Medical Center (IRMC) Day.
The symposium highlighted the ongoing efforts of collaboration integration and alignment between these institutions.
Dr. Randall Longenecker, Assistant Dean and Professor of Family Medicine at Ohio University, spoke about “How Partnerships Can Define Rural Healthcare.”
I am extremely impressed with the partnerships developed between IUP and IRMC, and the benefit they bring to the students, our community and the region.
I look forward to continued collaboration and support their current and future efforts to expand access to quality rural healthcare.
Have a Happy and Blessed Easter