2017-18 Session Brings Improvements to Public Safety, Government Reforms
The 2017-18 Legislative Session featured a great deal of progress on a number of issues that community residents have identified as priorities. Over the past two years, the General Assembly passed critical new laws to reform the state employee pension system, improve the safety of our schools, address the heroin and opioid crisis, and ensure better management of taxpayer dollars.
Two measures that I authored to protect domestic violence victims were signed into law during this session. One will help judges take advantage of risk assessment tools to prevent the most dangerous offenders from being released on bail, and another ensures domestic violence victims who live in public housing can be relocated when their abusers still pose a threat.
I also introduced a proposal to expand access to epinephrine injectors to help individuals who have severe food allergies. A bill that mirrored my plan was signed into law this year.
While there is still much more work to be done, the accomplishments during the 2017-18 Legislative Session are significant and will have a positive impact both locally and statewide. This e-newsletter includes information on some of the most noteworthy bills that were approved over the past two years.
Addressing Pennsylvania’s looming pension crisis is an absolute necessity in order to get our state on better financial footing. One of the most significant accomplishments in the most recent session was passage of a pension reform plan that will save taxpayers more than $5 billion and prevent $20 billion or more in future liabilities. The plan was one of the most significant pension reform laws in Pennsylvania’s history and was hailed as an example for other states across the country to follow.
Senate Republicans also led the way in changing how we evaluate expenses in the state budget. A new law implements performance-based budgeting – requiring all state departments and agencies to review how every taxpayer dollar is spent to ensure no public money is lost to waste, fraud and abuse.
The new performance-based budgeting tool will work hand-in-hand with the creation of an independent Office of Inspector General, which will have broader authority to investigate potential mismanagement of taxpayer dollars in all state agencies and departments. New laws enacted during the past two years will also prevent the abuse of public assistance programs by creating tougher penalties for offenders who try to cheat the system.
One of the biggest concerns for many parents in Pennsylvania is the safety of our schools. There is nothing more important than protecting our children. Following several tragic shootings in schools across the nation, Senate Republicans spearheaded efforts in the General Assembly to give our schools more resources to improve school safety.
The creation of a new state grant program will not only help schools hire security personnel and purchase security equipment, but also implement other proven programs and services designed to prevent school violence. Additionally, a new anonymous school threat reporting system was created, along with new requirements for vulnerability assessments to address any potential weaknesses that could be exploited by criminals.
New laws will also allow schools to discuss security plans in private executive sessions, and require schools to conduct at least one security drill every school year. Children will also benefit from better protection on their way to school thanks to a new law allowing school buses to install cameras to catch motorists who violate school bus stopping laws.
Additional protections were also added for other crime victims. A new law protects victims of child trafficking, ensuring sexually exploited children are diverted from the criminal justice system. A potential Constitutional amendment was approved to create of a “Bill of Rights” for crime victims, and another measure was approved to provide broader representation of crime victims on the Victims’ Services Advisory Committee.
Criminal justice reform is expected to be an important issue for the General Assembly in the months ahead.
Motorists will benefit from a number of new laws designed to make Pennsylvania’s roadways safer. New penalties were established for the most egregious DUI offenses, including habitual offenders who repeatedly put the lives and safety of other motorists at risk. New penalties were added for repeat offenders of the state’s “Steer Clear” law, and a trial program will allow for the placement of speed cameras in active work zones.
Addressing the heroin and opioid crisis remains a top priority for lawmakers. Over the past two years, lawmakers approved funding for new addiction treatment centers, and new laws improved standards and criteria for the operation of drug recovery houses, expanded educational efforts in schools, and allowed hospice workers to dispose of unused prescriptions to prevent opioids from falling into the wrong hands.
Education is another critical concern for the future of our Commonwealth. Both of the annual state budgets approved the last two years provided additional resources for K-12 education, pre-K education and special education, and the most recent budget included a renewed emphasis on vocational and technical education to help match students to the careers of tomorrow. The Educational Improvement Tax Credit was expanded to offer scholarships to more students, and high school students were offered alternatives to the Keystone Exams in order to meet graduation requirements.
Senate Republicans are also leading the way toward reforms that will address concerns relating to the future viability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. A new law requires colleges to provide students with information regarding student loan debt, and protections were added to ensure students are not subjected to the risks of hazing by their peers.
Supporting veterans and the military
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle worked to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served our nation in the military. New laws have been created to help generate additional resources for the Veterans Trust Fund, ensure the protection of monuments and memorials for veterans, and establish more reasonable residency requirements for members of the military who wish to run for elected office. A new support system was created for students whose parents or guardians are in the military, and prohibitions were added to punish individuals who fraudulently present themselves as a soldier or veteran.
The 2017-18 Legislative Session featured some of the most significant new protections for animals that have been approved in decades, including new laws to aid in the prosecution of animal abusers and protections for law enforcement and emergency responders who rescue animals from hot cars.
A comprehensive list of noteworthy measures approved by lawmakers and signed into law during the 2017-18 Legislative Session is available here.