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Senate Completes Budget-Related Bills
The Senate completed its work on the 2017-18 state budget this week. Although I supported a number of the various parts of the budget, I voted against one major component that was approved by my colleagues – a measure authorizing the state to borrow up to $1.5 billion. Although this idea was not as damaging as some of the other alternatives that were proposed, I could not support that amount of additional borrowing to fill the budget deficit.
Too much borrowing will only weaken our financial position and limit our options to deal with any additional financial difficulties in the future. I support an alternative that would generate additional revenue by ending the Governor’s ban on non-surface disturbance drilling on state forest land. Moreover, there is nearly $4 billion in capital investment awaiting approval from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). That is why I have introduced legislation addressing these unnecessary permit delays in an effort to unleash capital investment and bring in significant tax revenue. This policy would not only generate additional revenue, but also create more jobs for Pennsylvania workers.
Although the amount of borrowing was a cause for concern, the silver lining is that the budget did not include many of the new taxes that have been proposed in recent months, including the ill-conceived idea of taxing individuals’ home heating bills and adding a severance tax on the natural gas industry. I am thankful that these ideas were abandoned as negotiations progressed in recent weeks.
The resolution of this prolonged budget impasse will help ensure the state can move forward without the need for additional short-term borrowing that ultimately increases costs to taxpayers. We can now close the book on this chapter and get back to addressing the other critical issues facing our communities in the weeks and months to come.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Greene County Association of Township Officials annual meeting. It was a great chance to share ideas and express my thanks for the work local government is doing.
Proposal to Help Relocate Domestic Violence Victims Earns Committee Approval
Earlier this month, I joined two of my Senate colleagues – Senators Art Haywood and Judy Schwank – in introducing bipartisan legislation that would allow domestic violence victims who live in public housing to be relocated upon request. The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee approved our legislation in recent days, clearing the way for the proposal to be considered by the full Senate in the near future.
In current practice, county housing authorities do not have the ability to relocate victims, even in cases in which it is clearly dangerous for victims to remain in the unit. Our legislation will allow a county housing authority to relocate a domestic violence victim to another apartment under the authority’s control or in another county housing authority, or refer the victim to local advocacy organizations for housing assistance.
More information about our joint efforts to protect domestic violence victims is available here.
Senate Panel Approves Measure to Improve Access to Mental Health Treatment
Many hospitals do not have the available beds to treat patients suffering from a mental health crisis, and emergency room staff often have to spend precious minutes calling numerous other facilities in search of care for these patients. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved legislation last week which I sponsored that would facilitate the process of connecting patients who require mental health services to the care they need.
My legislation would create a registry to identify psychiatric treatment facilities that have available beds for patients, reducing the amount of staff time spent searching for mental health services. The registry will include contact information and descriptive details for participating psychiatric facilities throughout the state as well as information regarding the number of beds available at each facility, the type of patient to be admitted and level of security.
More information about the bill is available here.
It was an honor to speak at the annual Greene County Chamber of Commerce banquet, where I presented Senate certificates to the 2017 Distinguished Service Award winner Chuck Baily and to Waynesburg University, recipient of the 2017 McCracken Legacy Award.
Entries Accepted Through December 10 for Statewide Addiction Video Competition
Entries will be accepted through December 10 for a statewide video competition that challenges middle and high school students to help raise awareness of the dangers posed by addiction. I encourage local students to do their part to help more people avoid falling victim to this terrible affliction.
The “Talk to Your State Senator” video competition encourages students to submit video entries of no longer than five minutes that highlight ways to combat abuse, help those who suffer from addiction, and develop laws to address the current crisis.
The contest is open to Pennsylvania students in grades 6 through 12 and will provide a total of $10,000 in prizes to winning entries that focus on ways to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among young people. Prize money will be awarded through the TAP 529 Account program in the PA Department of Treasury and will be deposited into a college savings account in the winner(s) name.
Schools and students can find more information on the contest, including guidelines on submitting videos, content, judging, and prizes, at www.acommonwealthcrisis.com.
REAL ID Extension Granted For One Year
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted Pennsylvania an extension to comply with federal photo ID standards until October 10, 2018. The extension means that Pennsylvanians can continue to use their state-issued driver’s license or photo ID card to board an airplane or enter a federal facility.
State lawmakers passed legislation to comply with the federal law earlier this year, and REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses should be available beginning in 2019. More information on the Pennsylvania’s compliance with the federal REAL ID law is available here.
My thanks goes out to the staff at Tech Met, Inc. for an extremely informative tour of their new facility in Donora. This new facility will allow Tech Met, a chemical milling company, to expand operations and create more than 40 new jobs in Washington County.
For more information on issues of importance to southwestern Pennsylvania, please visit my website at www.senatorbartolotta.com and connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/senatorbartolotta) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/senbartolotta).
SouthPointe District Office
Greene County Office Building