Mar. 05, 2024

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Where’s the Uniformity in Our Elections?

The House Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, continued its review of the governor’s $48.3 billion budget proposal last week for the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year.

Click here to view video.

Things got a little heated on Tuesday during our hearing with the Department of State, which, among other things, is charged with the administration of our elections. Article 7, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says “all laws regulating the holding of elections by the citizens, or for the registration of electors, shall be uniform throughout the state”; however, Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt readily talked about differences in how our counties operate their elections. When pressed, he simply said they want to get “as much uniformity as possible.”

One of my colleagues, Rep. John Lawrence of Chester County, followed up on my question, further pressing for answers about why the agency is not doing its job in guiding counties toward uniformity. You can watch that exchange here. 

This is deeply concerning as we head into this year’s elections. Watch the exchange with the secretary and let me know what you think!

In addition to the Department of State, I posed questions during several other hearings throughout the course of the week that you may find interesting as well. Be sure to watch those conversations below!

Seeking Help in the Fight Against Flooding: Department of Insurance
Among the many impacts of flooding and flood risk in our area is the potential need for and cost of flood insurance. I asked Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys about how flood zones are determined and encouraged his agency to be on the side of property owners when it comes to stream maintenance and flood prevention.

How Far Will Broadband Money Go? Department of Labor and Industry?
The classification and pay rate of workers who will carry out the expansion of broadband service across the Commonwealth will significantly impact how far the state’s $1.5 billion in federal funding can go in ensuring connectivity for underserved regions like ours. Watch my exchange on the subject with Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Nancy Walker.  

Who’s Running Things at the Department of Health?
Last summer, Gov. Josh Shapiro withdrew his nomination of Dr. Debra Bogen to serve as secretary for the Department of Health, knowing she likely lacked sufficient support in the Senate for confirmation. What’s the deal?

The Future of Higher Education: Community Colleges
Last week, we questioned leaders of the PA State System of Higher Education about the governor’s so-called “Blueprint for Higher Education,” for which we have few details. That changed little in the hearing this week with community college leaders, including Dr. Quintin Bullock, president of the Community College of Allegheny County; Dr. Stanley Sidor, president if the Commission on Community Colleges; and Dr. Donald Guy Generals, president of the Community College of Philadelphia.

Permit Process Paralyzing Progress: Department of Environmental Protection
Agriculture, energy development, construction and manufacturing are keys to the Commonwealth’s economic success…yet, in many cases, that success is hindered by lengthy delays in permitting by various state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). I asked DEP Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley about the status of the governor’s 10-point plan to fix the state’s permitting process, a plan that was first outlined nearly a year ago.

Improving Our Parks: Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Funds from the oil and gas industry have injected some much-needed capital into infrastructure improvements at state parks across the Commonwealth. I asked Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn to talk about the impact of these funds. We also discussed the importance of recruitment and retention in the forestry industry.

A Closer Look at Court Costs: PA Judiciary
Did you know Pennsylvania has traveling courts? Watch my conversation with Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Debra Todd to learn more.

Aligning Education and Employability: State-Related Universities
In a hearing with the heads of the Commonwealth’s four state-related universities – Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln – I asked about ensuring education programs prepare students for available careers, and about articulation agreements with community colleges. Watch the response from Neeli Bendapudi, president of Penn State University; Richard M. Englert, president of Temple University; and Brenda Allen, president of Lincoln University.
 
 
Penny Heffner's Day Care



It was refreshing to return to the district and take the opportunity to celebrate Read Across America Day, launched in 1998 by the National Education Association. I had the pleasure to read The Very Cranky Bear, by Nick Bland, to the children of Penny Heffner's Day Care on Friday after a very long week of budget hearings. I am thankful to have spent time among the children, reading and sharing in their laughter. What a blessing it is to read with children!

Once you are a reader it cannot be taken from you. Reading is an asset we should all strive to have and improve upon each day. From learning new vocabulary words to enhancing our communication and being deep thinkers, reading creates independence, safety and success. No matter your age, career or language, reading is a powerful tool to improve your memory and transform your mind.
   
 
42nd Annual Youth Leader of Tomorrow Banquet



Congratulations to this year’s Youth Leader of Tomorrow award winners: Kira Good, New Covenant Academy; Marissa Griess, North-Penn Mansfield; and Lacey Mahosky, North-Penn Liberty! They and their fellow nominees are great examples of the leadership we need to help our communities and our Commonwealth thrive in the future.

As a former recipient of the award myself, I am grateful to the Mansfield Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads of the Northern Tier for continuing the legacy of recognizing senior student leaders in these great schools. From my office on behalf of the House of Representatives we were pleased to recognize these young citizens, with a presentation of citations, to the winners for their noble achievements.

Kira Good is part of the worship team and participates in the Youth Leadership Program and Student Council. She is currently undecided for after graduation.

Marissa Griess serves on Student Council and is the 2024 Class Treasurer. She participates in Student Empowerment, Tioga County Leadership Program, Spirit club and Yearbook. She plays on the softball, tennis and basketball teams; volunteers at the Special Olympics; and is a member of National Honor Society. She plans to attend a four-year college majoring in Computer Information Science.

Lacey Mahosky serves on Student Council, Future Business Leaders of America, Youth Leadership Summit with Special Olympics. She participates in Key Club, Student Empowerment, Unified Club, and is the 2024 Class vice president. She also competes on the track and bocce teams and is a member of National Honor Society. Lacey plays piano and is part of the band Flaming Foliage. She plans to attend an undecided university with a dual major in Elementary Education and Special Education.

Congratulations as well to nominees Emily Griffin from NCA; Zackary Wilcox, Tessa Mitchell, Saige Lehman, Payton Chapel, McKenna Lightner, Martina Bradford and Karson Dominick from NPM; and Dan Harman, Gage Kreger, Lydia Sparks and Tierney Patterson from NPL.

These students have demonstrated they are extraordinary young citizen who exemplify the spirit of American life that is so important to the future of our cities, towns and neighbors. We wish the best for continued excellence in all their future endeavors.
   
 
Grants Support Future of PA Farming


The Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center is now taking applications for $500,000 in Farm Vitality Planning Grants. The grants support strategic business planning to expand or diversify farms, or transition of ownership.

Farmers and prospective farmers are eligible for up to $7,500 to reimburse up to 75% of project planning costs. Applications will be accepted until funds are expended.

Apply online through the Department of Community and Economic Development's single electronic application.  

Full program guidelines are published in the February 17 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
 
 
PHEAA Announces Financial Aid, Refinancing Webinars


The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is hosting webinars in March aimed at helping students and families understand financial aid and loan repayment.

The webinar entitled “Refinancing Education Debt – Is it Right for Me?” will be offered tonight, Tuesday, March 5 at 6:30 p.m. This one-hour session will be helpful to current or previous students of any age who have student loans and may be overwhelmed with their current repayment options or are moving closer to the repayment phase and wonder if refinance may be a better solution.  

The webinar entitled “Financial Aid Timeline – Know What to Do When” will be offered at noon on Thursday, March 7, and again at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26. This one-hour presentation will provide the starting points and web resources for effective research before, during and after your student makes post-secondary education decisions.

Finally, the webinar titled “Understanding the Offer Letter and Balances” will be held at noon on Thursday, March 28, to help recipients understand what is being offered and to ultimately make knowledgeable and affordable decisions.

Additional topics will be addressed during webinars planned for April. For a full schedule, and to register your participation, visit www.pheaa.org/virtual.
 
 
The 2024 Primary Election is coming up on Tuesday, April 23.


If you are not already registered to vote, the deadline to do so is Monday, April 8. To register to vote you must be a United States citizen, a Pennsylvania resident for at least 30 days before the next election and age 18 before the next election. You may register in person at your county elections office, by mail or by visiting the state’s online voter registration website.

The last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot is Tuesday, April 16, by 5 p.m. Completed ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23.

For more information about voting in the Commonwealth, including how to check your registration and voting location, visit www.vote.pa.gov.
 
 
Veteran Resource Program


Pennsylvania is home to more than 700,000 veterans, the fourth largest veteran population in the country. To help address the challenges of homelessness, employment, mental health, addiction and much more, the Pa VETConnect program was launched in 2019. It is maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA).

PA VETConnect works to determine the needs of veterans and their beneficiaries, find resources that meet those needs, and connect veterans with those resources, regardless of the township, county or region where they reside.

If you or someone you know requires assistance, or would like more information about PA VETConnect or other DMVA programs and services, visit www.dmva.pa.gov.
 
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