In this Update:
Strengthening the Integrity of Pennsylvania’s Elections
Most Pennsylvanians say they are dissatisfied with the way elections are conducted in the state, according to a recent poll. To address this, the General Assembly passed one of the most significant election integrity packages in America.
The General Assembly passed two proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution addressing elections. If approved again in the 2023-24 legislative session, the questions will be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
One of these amendments would require all voters to present a valid form of identification prior to voting in person or by mail. Seventy-four percent of Pennsylvanians support requiring voters to present identification to vote.
A separate proposed amendment would require the General Assembly to provide for audits of elections, including the administration of elections and the results. This crucial work would be performed by the state Auditor General.
In addition to moving these constitutional questions one step closer to voters, the General Assembly passed Act 88 of 2022 to get private money out of the administration of our elections. The legislation was created after certain counties received millions of dollars from a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during the 2020 Election.
The new law creates grants for counties to cover costs such as hiring and training staff, printing ballots and managing voting machines and tabulation equipment. In return, counties who accept the money are required to take several critical steps to ensure the integrity of the process.
Pennsylvanians have advocated for real and meaningful changes that will promote confidence in the fairness of our election system. As elected officials, it is our responsibility to ensure every part of our voting system is above reproach.
Senate Committees Hold Hearing on Veteran Homelessness
This past week, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee and the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, which I chair, hosted a joint hearing in Pittsburgh to learn about the progress made to combat veteran homelessness, as well as what improvements can still be made.
During the hearing, we heard of the many struggles and hurdles veterans face. It was inspiring to also hear incredible stories from veterans who received the help and assistance they needed and their dedication to now assist others who face similar issues.
One such issue is not having DD-214 papers for veterans, which delays being able to connect veterans with services and programs that are designated for them. We were also told the income cutoff for those services is too low.
Testifiers explained that a strong collaboration between federal, state and community partners is critical to most effectively help veterans – particularly when they have circumstances that present unique challenges like being responsible for a larger family or a pet.
Thank you to Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard for hosting us, and all those who participated, including Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; Allen J. Lockard, Director of Veterans Affairs for Indiana County; Timothy Martin, Chief Veterans Affairs Officer for Allegheny County; Rob Hamilton, Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard; Sally A. Mounts of City Mission of Washington County; William M. Reed of Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania; and Janine Wytovich of Veterans Leadership Program.
Special Education Additional School Year Notification Deadline is Monday
The General Assembly recently passed a proposal to provide an additional year of instruction to special education students who reached the age of 21 during the 2021-22 school year or before the 2022-23 school year starts.
Due to COVID-19, many of these students suffered immense learning loss and need a bridge before aging out of the public school system.
Information about this provision is available here. Parents must submit the Act 55 of 2022 Student Enrollment Notification Form to their school district by this Monday, Aug. 1.
IUP STEM Workshop
I was delighted to visit Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) last week to check in on one of the STEM kit workshops being held there.
IUP received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education earlier this year to develop and provide STEM-focused learning kits for participating teachers from Indiana County area schools.
This a fantastic collaboration between IUP staff and local educators and a great benefit to local K-12 students!
New Law Improves Access to Home Health Care Services
Legislation recently passed by the General Assembly and enacted into law will help improve access to home health care services by making permanent two regulations waived during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, non-physician practitioners were unable to order or oversee orders for home health care services. Additionally, registered nurses were not able to perform remote visits to patients in need of home health care services.
Due to great need, those regulations were waived during the pandemic. Act 30 of 2022 makes these exceptions permanent, so health care services are more accessible to those individuals who cannot leave their homes to obtain care or treatment.
Help for Veterans and Beneficiaries Facing Unexpected Hardships
Pennsylvania veterans and beneficiaries facing a crisis can receive financial relief for necessities of life such as food, shelter, fuel and clothing through the Veterans Temporary Assistance program.
Eligible veterans or their beneficiaries can qualify for up to $1,600 in a 12-month period. Eligibility requirements include: a person who served in the U.S. Armed Forces (discharged under honorable conditions), died in service or was killed in action, or suffered a service-connected disability.
To apply, contact the County Veterans Affairs Director in your county.
Watch Out for Energy Marketing Scams
Consumers should be alert for potential energy marketing scams, especially unsolicited telemarketing calls requesting immediate action and promising far-reaching savings on energy bills.
One type of misleading solicitation involves robocalls from unidentified sources making vague and potentially misleading statements about customer discounts, refunds, rebates and bonuses if the customer acts now. The calls often appear as a local telephone number on recipients’ caller ID, which is often fake or “spoofed,” or the calls fail to display any number at all.
According to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, if the sales agent fails to immediately identify themselves and the reason for the call, the consumer should end the call. Find out more about scammers and how to avoid them here.
Please Support Local Independent Retailers
Local, independent retailers reinvest more of their revenues than chain retailers and much more of their revenues than Amazon. Shopping local and supporting independent retailers contributes to the health and prosperity of our communities. I hope you give them a chance to earn your business year-round.