In this email edition:
Senate Committee Passes Anti-gerrymandering Bill
The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, passed my bill to establish new, nonpartisan qualifications for the Legislative Reapportionment Chair with unanimous, bipartisan support. Due to the controversial nature of this process, my bill would require that this person have no political ties.
Gerrymandering—the artificial manipulation of political boundaries to aid individuals or political parties—has been a problem in this state and this nation for hundreds of years, dating back to the 1700s. This week, we took one small step to begin to roll back the sins of the past.
Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the Minority Chair of the committee, spoke in favor of this bill due to its ability to increase transparency in the reapportionment process and inspire confidence in the final map that will determine legislative districts for the next ten years. This bill was also supported by both Fair Districts PA and the Committee of 70, two of the largest organizations that advocate for legislative reapportionment reform.
The Importance of Fair Ballot Questions
A recent article published by Spotlight PA highlights the unfair nature of two ballot questions the Wolf Administration’s Department of State drafted to limit the unilateral powers of the executive branch during emergency declarations. As the article states, the wording of these questions can have tremendous effects on the outcome of the vote, so it is very important that any question is worded in a way that is easy to understand and unbiased. These two proposed Constitutional amendments fail these tests, according to Professor Berwood Yost of Franklin & Marshall College.
I have one question for Governor Wolf in regard to these questions: what are you so afraid of?
Budget Hearing Highlights
The Senate Appropriations Committee continued its yearly review of the Governor’s budget proposal this week. We heard from the Department of Corrections, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
I asked Secretary Wetzel of the Department of Corrections whether or not the ongoing pandemic would lead to more state prisons closing. Hundreds of constituents that I represent who work at SCI Mahanoy and SCI Frackville continue to be worried about the ongoing pandemic.
I also asked the Secretary if assaults on prison staff have been on the rise or decline as a result of the pandemic and whether he believed that ongoing transfers of prisoners were consistent with the COVID-19 safety policies that he put in place (his employees don’t think so.)
I asked Acting Secretary Ortega of the Department of Education about the lasting impacts of continued learning disruptions on vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I asked Secretary Davin of the Department of Community and Economic Development about the importance of energy tax credits to bring employees back to work and help our economy.
Bipartisan Committee on Election Integrity and Reform Holds 2nd Hearing
The bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform held its second in a series of hearings reviewing all aspects of the 2020 General Election. This hearing focused on state and local insight on Pennsylvania’s current methods of holding elections and featured officials from the Department of State, county election officials, and county commissioners from around the state. Watch the hearing here.
Timothy DeFoor: New Auditor General
This week, I had the chance to meet with newly elected Auditor General Timothy DeFoor. We discussed a few different issues, including potential reforms to our welfare system. I wish him the best as he begins his tenure in this important position!
Emergency Rental Assistance Program Now Open
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services recently announced the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) is now open to provide relief to Pennsylvanians who are at risk of eviction or loss of utility service. Visit this link for the Schuylkill County program, and this link for the Berks County program.
Personal Income Tax Deadline Extension
The Department of Revenue recently announced the deadline for taxpayers to file their 2020 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns has been extended to May 17, 2021. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also recently announced that the federal income tax deadline will also be pushed back to the same date. The Department stated that this action was taken to ensure that taxpayers have the time to navigate the unusual circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here.
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