In this Update:
Senate Finalizes 2023-24 State Budget
The Senate on Wednesday finalized the 2023-24 state budget by approving two major bipartisan budget implementation bills, which have now been enacted into law.
A large portion of the 2023-24 state budget was completed in August with enactment of the General Appropriations Act. However, several important components still required additional budget implementation language to be passed by both the Senate and House and signed by the governor.
House Bill 1300 (Fiscal Code amendments) and House Bill 301 (School Code amendments) make major investments in the future of Pennsylvania and achieve many of the principles and priorities identified by Senate Republicans as a focus in March.
House Bill 1300 includes several important and time-sensitive measures, including reauthorization of funding for county 911 systems, expansion of a tax credit helping parents seek and maintain employment and allocation of funding for an additional 100 Pennsylvania State Police troopers to help make our communities safer. House Bill 301 includes many provisions to expand education empowerment and access and increase school safety. Read more.
Improving Washington County Railroad Track
The Pittsburgh and Ohio Central (POHC) Railroad Company will receive nearly $1.8 million in state funding to rehabilitate approximately 11 miles of track by replacing rail and ties and resurfacing the Arden subdivision in Washington County.
Funding will be used to replace 6,440 feet of rail; a fatigued turnout with a new turnout steel and timber package; a crossing surface with new rail, ties, ballast and more; and 2,440 ties along with distributing 1,000 tons of ballast and associated surfacing.
I have advocated for this funding for more than a year. This project will go a long way in improving the safety and reliability of POHC freight services and switching operations for current and future customers. It will also prevent excess traffic congestion and safety for motorists and pedestrians. The railroad will provide almost $768,812 for a total project cost of nearly $2.6 million.
POHC is a Class III short line railroad serving western Pennsylvania communities and 25 customers. It operates 38 miles of track in the commonwealth.
My Bill to Reform Probation System Signed into Law
As we prepare to spend time with our loved ones for the holidays, I am pleased my bill – passed with broad, bipartisan support – that will help families reconnect is about to become law. Along with Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and Senator Anthony Williams (D-8), we sponsored a bill that will reform Pennsylvania’s probation system to give people a better pathway out of the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 838 is set for enactment into law.
The legislation offers greater fairness, eliminates excessive incarceration and gives individuals a more reliable second chance to get their lives right. It also reduces ever-rising state correctional costs for taxpayers. Senate Bill 838 will establish a mandatory probation review conference for probationers, providing criteria for when they occur and a presumption that probation will be terminated unless the individual does not qualify.
The bill will also allow the review conference to occur earlier based on the good conduct of defendants by achieving certain educational, employment or other goals. A provision to allow for the waiving of the mandatory review conference in cases where all stakeholders agree it is unnecessary is also included.
Providing Critical Protections for Medicinal Cannabis Patients
This week the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 363, my legislation that protects Pennsylvanians suffering from chronic illness from an inconsistency in the state’s driving under the influence (DUI) law that leaves them vulnerable to wrongful criminal conviction.
Since the passage of Act 16 of 2016, more than 700,000 patients have registered and qualified for the state’s medical marijuana program. Nearly 500,000 patients are benefitting from this non-toxic and natural treatment alternative.
In the law, there were protections for employees, professional license holders and those involved in custody litigation. However, the legislation did not address Pennsylvania’s zero-tolerance controlled substance DUI laws. Currently, medical cannabis patients can be arrested, prosecuted and convicted even if they are not impaired.
Pennsylvania is one of only a few states with zero tolerance for controlled substances. Thirty-three states, including those with no legal access to cannabis, require proof of actual impairment. Senate Bill 363 would treat the medical cannabis patient similarly to one using a prescription narcotic by requiring proof that the motorist is impaired and unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
While the responsible medical cannabis patient never drives impaired, the risk of a zero-tolerance DUI arrest and prosecution is one of the most serious issues confronting Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis community. My bill will protect this community without sacrificing the safety of our roads.
The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. Watch my remarks from this week’s hearing by clicking the picture above.
Bill to Safeguard Transit Operators Passes Senate
The Senate passed legislation to safeguard transit operators against assault.
Senate Bill 977 would make it a felony of the third degree to interfere with and cause bodily injury to an operator of any public transit vehicle. The offense would be steepened to a felony of the first degree if the intrusion causes serious bodily injury or death.
Senate Votes to Preserve Prescription Benefits for Seniors
Legislation to preserve senior citizens’ access to the state’s PACE and PACENET prescription drug benefit plans passed the Senate and is set for enactment.
Senate Bill 607 would continue a law set to expire this year through Dec. 31, 2025 that prevents Social Security cost-of-living increases from making seniors ineligible for PACE and PACENET.
Current income eligibility levels for PACE are set at less than $14,500 for a single person and less than $17,700 for a couple. PACENET, which covers those individuals with incomes exceeding PACE maximums, is open to individuals earning between $14,500 and $33,500 and couples with incomes between $17,700 and $41,500. The minimum age to participate in the programs is 65, and they are funded from proceeds of the Pennsylvania Lottery.
2024 Fishing Licenses, Permits for Sale Now
Fishing licenses, permits and vouchers for 2024 purchased now are valid immediately through Dec. 31, 2024. The price of an annual resident fishing license is $27.97. Multi-year options are also available in increments of three years, five years or 10 years.
They can be purchased through the HuntFishPA online portal on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website, via smartphone by using the FishBoatPA mobile app or by visiting a retail license issuing agent.
Vouchers that can be given as gifts and are redeemable by recipients are also available.
Don’t Get Scammed This Holiday Season
Sadly, just as the holiday season is often a charitable time, there are people hoping to take advantage by scamming others.
From email and text phishing to delivery stealing to credit card skimming and more, there are so many ways to fall prey. Learn more about the common scams criminals use.
Protect yourself and your family by setting up alerts with your credit card company so you know when purchases are made and avoid paying with a prepaid gift card, CashApp or Venmo to buy a gift online. Never use Alexa to find a customer support number and dial for you or click on a hyperlink in an email, social media ad or text message to make a purchase. Instead, go directly to the store’s website.
Celebrating Bill of Rights Day
Friday, Dec. 15, is Bill of Rights Day, when we recognize
We hold those liberties – and the others that make up the Bill of Rights – dear and cherish how they impact our daily life as the true framework of our society.
Bill of Rights Day was first observed on the document’s 150th anniversary when former President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation dedicating Dec. 15 as the day to recognize our God-given rights.
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