In This Update:
Bill Could Help More Pennsylvanians Benefit from Clean Slate
As the co-chair of the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, I continue to work with many of my colleagues to make our criminal justice system fairer and more efficient. The Senate approved a key criminal justice reform bill this week that would allow more Pennsylvanians to have criminal records expunged if they meet certain criteria.
House Bill 440 would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records after an individual is fully acquitted of an offense, as well as automatically sealing crimes granted pardons until the expungement process is complete.
Under the bill, individuals would still be responsible for paying all court-ordered restitution in order to qualify for record sealing. However, they would not face the additional costs of navigating the criminal record expungement process.
Under current law, an individual who receives a pardon or is not convicted of a crime still must pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees to file for expungement. This bill would remove a serious barrier to employment, housing, education and other critical services for individuals who are otherwise unable to complete the process of criminal record expungement.
More details about the bill are available here.
Senate Votes to Boost Fire and EMS Services Throughout PA
Our communities are fortunate to have many brave men and women who dedicate their time and efforts as first responders to protect our lives and property. The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms this week to support our first responders and improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state.
The bill contains key improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
Legislation was also approved this week to increase funding to the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund by approximately $11 million.
The reforms were based on recommendations included in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report that was created to explore ways to better support fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania.
Legislation Moves Forward to Ensure Safe Visitation of Nursing Home Residents
Many Pennsylvania families faced COVID-19 restrictions that prevented them from visiting loved ones for months – even when all state and federal safety protocols could have been followed. The Senate approved legislation this week to ensure safe visitation and enhanced care for residents of long-term care facilities.
The bill would require facilities to designate at least one essential family caregiver per resident that would be permitted to visit and care for a loved one during a disaster emergency. Under the bill, caregivers would be able to remain in contact with family members and provide companionship and assist with activities requiring one-on-one direction.
Bills to Improve COVID-19 Reporting Move to Governor’s Desk
Two bills to improve reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Pennsylvania are on their way to the governor to be signed into law. The bills are focused on protecting first responders and ensuring all COVID-19 deaths are reported and investigated properly.
Under the legislation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local health agencies would be required to notify 911 centers of the address of any known positive case of a communicable, aerosolized and transmissible disease. The legislation would ensure the information is provided to law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical services personnel, medical examiners and coroners when they are called to carry out an essential job function at the address.
In addition, the package includes a measure to ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency. The bill would ensure coroners can investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding any death and eliminate inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported.
Senate Advances Measures to Boost Availability of Broadband
The Senate approved two bills this week to boost the state’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband internet coverage to more unserved and underserved areas in rural Pennsylvania. The bills are designed to reduce regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and make better use of existing infrastructure to expand coverage to a broader number of communities.
One of the bills would reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment by modernizing the Public Utility Code and requiring the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review and waive regulations that are no longer necessary or in the public interest.
Another bill would make broader use of existing infrastructure to further deploy broadband in areas that lack coverage. The legislation would allow electric cooperatives to utilize existing utility poles to place fiber-optic lines if the placement does not adversely affect the value or use of the property.
Legislation Offers Relief for Rural Pharmacies
In recent years, many rural pharmacies endured severe cuts to reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers. Several rural pharmacists testified during a Senate Majority Policy Committee workshop discussion that the reimbursement rates they received were lower than the cost of the drug in some cases, forcing the pharmacy to operate in the red.
The Senate approved legislation this week that would support struggling rural pharmacies by improving pricing transparency for prescription drugs and ensuring these small businesses are reimbursed for the full cost of prescriptions for Medicaid patients.
The bill builds on recent progress to protect prescription drug consumers. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved the Consumer Prescription Drug Pricing and Freedom Disclosure Act to allow a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide information about the cost of a prescription drug to consumers, including the individual’s share of costs.
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