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In this email update:
My top education priority for Berks County: Finding a fairer way to find our public schools than our archaic property tax
Last Thursday, I met with the superintendents and legislators representing Berks County.
During this event, we discussed highlights from this year’s state budget. My main focus was school property tax elimination.
By eliminating the burdensome school property tax, we can find a more equitable, fairer way to fund our public schools and restore homeownership in Pennsylvania.
The constitutional amendment on property taxes that Pennsylvania voters approved by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent on November 7 permits the General Assembly, for the first time ever, to enact legislation to expand the homestead exclusion up to 100 percent. This gives us several more options in the Senate to move school property tax elimination forward that we did not possess before the election.
Last week I met with the grassroots advocacy groups that are pushing for school property tax elimination to select our best options to present to members of the Senate so we can obtain their support.
Examining redistricting in Pennsylvania
Reforming the way that legislative and congressional districts in Pennsylvania are re-drawn is a subject I have reviewed extensively, both as a legislator and as a part-time public policy instructor at Penn State.
Gerrymandering actually dates back to the 1700s. Legislative redistricting, under the terms of the PA Constitution, is a more bipartisan process than congressional redistricting. Under the PA Constitution, legislative districts for both the House and Senate are required to be redrawn every decade following the federal census.
Article 2, Section 16 states, “The Commonwealth shall be divided into 50 senatorial and 203 representative districts, which shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable. Each senatorial district shall elect one Senator, and each representative district one Representative. Unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”
In the year following the Federal decennial census, the bipartisan Legislative Reapportionment Commission is comprised of five members, four of which are both the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House, and then an “outside” chairman is selected. The commission is only responsible for reapportioning legislative districts in Pennsylvania. This is different than the congressional redistricting process, which is not handled by the commission, but rather through legislation that needs a simple majority vote by the House, the Senate, and then must be signed into law by the governor.
One of the first bills I ever introduced was on this subject, and while I do believe that we should reform this process, I am well aware that this will not be a simple task.
In a recent editorial from the Tribune Democrat on this topic, the newspaper concluded that while removing politics from redistricting would be the ideal situation, it is simply not realistic. Given the problem with the current “reform” bill that was introduced this legislative session, if the commission is unable to act by a supermajority, it goes to a very political state Supreme Court...thus, the newspaper’s conclusion is correct that simply removing politics from redistricting is just not possible. You can read the full editorial here.
On a positive note however, despite the challenges we face, the last remap for our region in the State Senate was actually much improved, as pictured below:
Pictured: Current redistricting map with two counties: Berks and Schuylkill.
Pictured: Map from the 2001 redistricting with 6 different counties: Schuylkill, Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Monroe.
ABC News: This Week in Pennsylvania
Last week, Senator Yudichak (D-Carbon/Luzerne) and I taped a bipartisan segment for ABC 27 News: This Week in Pennsylvania to highlight some of the major legislative initiatives in the state.
During this segment, we discussed the following topics: prison closure reforms, job creation in the public sector, and Governor Wolf’s refusal to release the internal report detailing Lieutenant Governor Stack’s misconduct.
You can watch the video here.
Don’t forget to license your dog
Did you know your dog must be licensed by January 1 of each year if you are a Pennsylvania resident?
Pictured: Our two terriers, Maggie & Wolfgang, visiting my Mahanoy City office.
Dog owners may purchase an annual license for $8.50 or a lifetime license for $51.50. The annual fee for spayed or neutered dogs is reduced to $6.50 annually or $31.50 for a lifetime. Older adults and those with disabilities may apply for a discounted dog licensing fee.
Purchase your dog license from your local county treasurer.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement reminds dog owners that a current license is the fastest way to have a lost dog returned home rather than having it become a statistic among the more than 5,000 dogs in shelters across Pennsylvania.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Homes with wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, gas-fired fireplaces, appliances, grills, generators, and motor vehicles are susceptible to the release of deadly carbon monoxide as a result of the incomplete burning of combustible materials according to the Pennsylvania Office of State Fire Commissioner (PAOSFC).
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, often mistaken for the flu, include nausea, headaches, dizziness, disorientation, fatigue, and death, if undetected. On average, carbon monoxide poisoning claimed the lives of 73 Pennsylvanians annually between 2009 and 2013.
The PAOSFC recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors and changing the batteries in the fall and spring when resetting your clocks and replacing smoke alarm batteries.
Managing increasing charitable giving requests
Charitable giving requests seem to pop up online and appear in our mailboxes at an ever increasing rate and may not always be legitimate according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. More than 11,000 charities and 462 professional fundraisers are registered with the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations.
The Bureau maintains an online charities database that separates fundraising expenses from management and general expenses, allowing the potential donor to see the percentage of dollars spent directly on program services.
Be sure to take a look at the Enforcement and Disciplinary Actions to ensure your choice for charitable giving is worthy of your contribution. You may call the Bureau toll-free within the Commonwealth at 1-800-732-0999 or at 1-717-783-1720 for additional assistance in locating or interpreting the information. You may also file a complaint upon suspicion of unethical activity by a charity.
United Way’s 211 East system
Are you in need of information or referrals on a wide array of services such as child care, health services or elder care? If so, United Way’s 211 East system provides residents in the Berks, Carbon, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill areas with direct access to a call center that will help to answer their questions and help them find what they are looking for.
For more information about the 211 East system, please click here.
Pennsylvania Link to Community Care
Pennsylvania recently launched the Pennsylvania Link to Community Care website which is designed to provide older Pennsylvanians and individuals with a disability or behavioral health needs with access to quality services and resources in their area.
Some of the resources provided on the website include: a home care directory, employment, finance, housing, and healthcare information.
For more information about the website and services offered, please click here.