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LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP

PA Democratic Party endorses Rep. Kenyatta for auditor general; Farry, Marcell and Hogan announce $2 million+ in grants for local projects

Malcolm Kenyatta

Dems pick auditor, treasurer candidates

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has endorsed state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Ryan Bizzarro for auditor general and treasurer, respectively.

“Both Malcolm and Ryan are proven legislators with a track record of leadership,” said state Sen. Sharif Street, chairman of the state party.

Kenyatta will face Auditor General Tim DeFoor, a Republican.

Bizzarro will face Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a Republican.

Democrats did not endorse a candidate for attorney general. The candidates are former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, state Rep. Jared Solomon, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and former Defender Association of Philadelphia chief Keir Bradford-Grey.

Republican candidates for attorney general are state Rep. Craig Williams, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday and former Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland. ••

Southwest PA reps back Williams

The House of Representatives Southwest Caucus has endorsed Rep. Craig Williams for attorney general.

Backing Williams are Reps. Natalie Mihalek, Tim O’Neal, George Dunbar, Josh Kail, Jim Marshall, Jesse Topper and Andrew Kuzma.

“Craig Williams’ breadth of knowledge and ability to push back against soft-on-crime policies will make him a powerful advocate for the entire commonwealth as attorney general. I enthusiastically endorse him,” Kail said. ••

Get married or renew your vows

Bucks County Register of Wills Linda Bobrin will hold the third Vows and Valentines wedding and vow-renewal ceremony on Feb. 14.

The event will take place from noon to 2 p.m. in the third-floor rotunda of the Bucks County Courthouse Administration Building, 55 E. Court St., in Doylestown.

Bridal flowers, boutonnieres, photography, videography, live music and a catered lunch will be provided. Due to space restrictions, couples may bring up to two guests only.

Interested couples should email emarriage@buckscounty.org and begin a marriage license application. Bucks County marriage applications are accepted online and can be started at propublic.buckscountyonline.org/psi3/marriagelicense. To participate in the wedding ceremony, couples must submit a short, paragraph-long bio by Jan. 31 and must obtain their marriage license by Feb. 7. ••

State grants for local projects

Sen. Frank Farry (R-6th dist.) and Reps. Kristin Marcell (R-178th dist.) and Joe Hogan (R-142nd dist.) announced more than $2 million in grants are being awarded for local projects.

“I am proud that we’re partnering with our local communities and their authorities on these worthwhile projects,” Farry said. “The approved funding will enhance our infrastructure’s reliability and support necessary project upgrades, and I am pleased to announce these grants.”

The H2O PA program provides for single-year and multi-year grants for the construction of drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer projects; the construction or renovation of flood control projects; and the repair or rehabilitation of high-hazard unsafe dams. The approved projects include $744,000 for the construction of a stormwater management system in Middletown Township and $300,000 to improve the existing stormwater management systems in two locations in Langhorne Manor Borough.

The SWS Program provides grants for small water, sewer and storm water infrastructure projects. Municipalities and municipal authorities that own and maintain a public water supply, sanitary sewer or storm water system are eligible to apply if their projects exceed a total cost of $30,000. The approved projects include $315,000 for stormwater detention basin upgrades in Northampton Township; $240,862 to replace water main plug valves with new gate valves throughout Upper Southampton Township; $236,750 for the repair of the Stover Mill Basin located in Warwick Township; $171,162 to rehabilitate the Pumping Station C force main along Delwhite Drive in Lower Southampton Township; and $136,187 to assist with sanitary sewer interceptor rehabilitation located in Penndel Borough.

Other approved projects include $28,091 for the History Museum in Bensalem Township and $10,000 for arts organizations in Middletown Township. ••

Take ‘vulnerable’ prisoners out of solitary

State Reps. Tina Davis and Mike Schlossberg are introducing a bill that would prohibit solitary confinement for “vulnerable” populations in Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons. Davis made the announcement at a news conference, held at the state Capitol, that was hosted by the Solidarity Not Solitary Coalition.

“This bill will save taxpayers money in the long term,” Davis said. “Studies have shown that solitary confinement has led to greater psychological issues for incarcerated individuals, making it more difficult for them to be rehabilitated and reintroduced into society. This puts a stress on the social services system and leads to a higher recidivism rate.”

Supporters of the bill claim segregated confinement deprives inmates of normal human interaction and access to rehabilitative programs and processes, and contributes to a variety of negative physiological and psychological reactions, such as hallucinations, depression, anxiety and paranoia.

The legislation would offer people in segregated confinement with enough socialization to prevent the worst physical and mental effects of isolation and offer those with serious mental health issues alternatives to segregated confinement.

The bill is supported by left-wing organizations such as the Abolitionist Law Center, Human Rights Coalition, ACLU and Juntos.

Davis represents the 141st Legislative District, comprised of Bristol Township and Bristol Borough. ••

Fitzpatrick proposes minimum wage bill

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez introduced the Fair Wage Act to index the federal minimum wage to a regional cost-of-living standard. This holistic legislation also adjusts cash wages of tipped employees and the wages for newly hired employees under the age of 18, such as high school students employed for a summer job.

“Our nation’s workers deserve a fair wage that accounts for varying, regional cost-of-living rates,” Fitzpatrick said. “While others pursue partisan and unrealistic measures to address the broken minimum wage standard, I am proud to introduce the bipartisan Fair Wage Act with Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez. Our legislation recognizes that the federal minimum wage in my home of Levittown has a disparate impact than it does in Los Angeles or Little Rock. We must ensure that when it comes to the minimum wage, Americans can rely on being compensated appropriately based on where they work, live, raise their families and pay taxes.” ••

Protection for pregnant and postpartum women in jail

State Reps. Tina Davis and Morgan Cephas celebrated the final passage of their legislation to better support pregnant and postpartum incarcerated women.

The bill, H.B. 900, passed the House with bipartisan support in June and cleared the Senate earlier in December. Gov. Josh Shapiro was expected to sign the bill.

Introduced by Davis, Cephas and Rep. Mike Jones, H.B. 900 creates protections for pregnant and postpartum incarcerated women, including restricting shackling and solitary confinement; providing trauma-informed care training of corrections officers interacting with pregnant and postpartum women; and providing up to three days of post-delivery bonding time between a mother and newborn child.

“Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially for women who are separated from their families,” Davis said. “As the number of pregnant or postpartum incarcerated women rise, we must ensure they have the support that they and their babies need. We have devoted years to making this right, and I am thankful that it will soon become law.” ••

Money to address cancer mortality

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick and Debbie Dingell introduced the Knockout (K.O.) Cancer Act of 2023.

The legislation boosts funding for the National Cancer Institute by 25 percent over fiscal years 2024 through 2028 to more appropriately align with the current cancer mortality rates. Additionally, the Knockout Cancer Act asks Congress for a report on the shortage of cancer drugs that is facing the nation.

“Over five decades ago, our nation declared war on cancer with the signing of the National Cancer Act. We have made significant progress in combating this devastating disease, but there is still work yet to be done,” said Fitzpatrick, co-chairman of the House Cancer Caucus. “Current funding levels for research do not meet the alarming rate at which Americans are dying from this horrendous disease, and I am proud to lead the bipartisan Knockout (K.O) Cancer Act to ensure that the medical research community has adequate funding so that we can eventually defeat cancer once and for all.” ••

Child custody bill passes

The state Senate unanimously passed critical Senate Bill 55, also known as Kayden’s Law, that provides reform to Pennsylvania’s child custody statute. The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Steve Santarsiero and Lisa Baker, and is named for Kayden Mancuso, a 7-year-old from Lower Makefield Township who was killed in 2018 by her biological father during a court-ordered, unsupervised visit granted following a year-long custody dispute.

“Kayden’s Law will ensure the safety of the child is paramount in custody cases and will save children’s lives,” Santarsiero said. “No child in Pennsylvania should fear for their safety or be left alone with an abuser. Kayden’s Law will help ensure that never happens again by requiring supervised visitation at a minimum when there is a potential risk to the child’s safety.”

Senate Bill 55 will strengthen the current factors that judges must consider in making custody and visitation decisions to make it clear that the most important issue is the protection of the child; ensure that if there is a finding by the court of an ongoing risk of abuse, that any custody order includes safety conditions and restrictions necessary, including supervised visitation, to protect the child; and encourage the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to implement an annual educational and training program for judges and relevant court personnel on child abuse, adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence and its impact on children.

Santarsiero said, “Kayden’s Law has been a years-long collaborative effort, led by the tireless advocacy of Kayden’s mom Kathy Sherlock, along with family law advocates and experts. Kathy’s strength and dedication have continued to motivate me to push for this legislation and get it to Gov. Shapiro’s desk to be signed into law. I want to thank my colleague, Sen. Lisa Baker, for her partnership in writing the bill and helping it get through the Senate. I also want to thank my House colleagues Tina Davis and Perry Warren for their work on this issue.”

“Every day children are at risk of being ordered to remain in abusive, unsafe and deadly situations,” Sherlock said. “I vowed to do whatever it took to protect children and have found support from so many on this journey and with today’s overwhelming vote for Kayden’s Law we are one step closer to fulfilling our mission of ‘not one more.’ “

Senate Bill 55 moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. ••

Specific penalties for porch pirates

Legislation to combat porch pirating was signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Sen. Frank Farry (R-6th dist.) sponsored Senate Bill 527 – now Act 41 of 2023. It implements specific penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter. In Pennsylvania, theft of mail is currently charged under other theft offenses based solely on the value of the item taken.

“With online shopping being a growing method of commerce, package thefts have been on the rise nationwide. It’s time to hold these thieves accountable,” Farry said. “This bill focuses on repeat offenders by using a grading system that would increase the penalties if the thief had prior convictions for theft of mail.”

According to Forbes, nearly eight in 10 Americans had a package stolen in 2022.

Reps. Kristin Marcell and K.C. Tomlinson have companion legislation, HB 696, in the House of Representatives.

“Here in the commonwealth, package theft has impacted almost 2 million Pennsylvanians,” Marcell said. “When you consider the median value of stolen packages are valued at $50, you can see this crime leaves a sizable financial toll on families and businesses, not to mention the emotional distress of having your personal property violated.”

“The increasing penalties within this bill for package theft will serve as a deterrent the way the current law does not,” Tomlinson said. “Our hope behind this legislation is that it will reduce the occurrence of these crimes and will lead to a safer community.”

Pennsylvania joins eight other states ­– Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas – that have already made porch pirating a felony. ••

Funds for water, sewer projects

State Sen. Frank Farry and Rep. Brian Munroe announced that the state has awarded more than $1.4 million for three water and sewer projects in Bucks County, funded through the Commonwealth Financing Agency.

Under the H2O PA grant, the Warminster Township Municipal Authority will receive $912,000 for construction to retrofit the Tennyson and Whittier basins.

In addition, the North Wales Water Authority and Ivyland Borough will receive $120,400 and $422,301, respectively, through the PA Small Water and Sewer grant program.

The North Wales Water Authority will use the funds to install a permanent backup generator at their disaster recovery facility in Warrington Township.

Ivyland will use its grant to help fund the Greeley Avenue Storm Sewer project.

“Proper storm and sewer management systems improve our local economy, our health and our quality of life,” Munroe said. “I am happy to see these worthy projects receive state funding.”

Added Farry, “I am proud that we’re partnering with our local communities and their authorities on these worthwhile projects. The approved funding will enhance our infrastructure’s reliability and support necessary project upgrades.”

The H2O Grant provides for single-year and multi-year grants for the construction of drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer projects; the construction or renovation of flood control projects; and the repair or rehabilitation of high-hazard unsafe dams.

The Small Water and Sewer program funds activities to assist with the construction, improvement, expansion, or rehabilitation or repair of a water supply system, sanitary sewer system, storm sewer system or flood control projects. ••

Drug education bill goes to governor

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Kristin Marcell to require the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to engage in a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers of human use of xylazine has been included in a Senate bill that passed the General Assembly and is going to the governor.

House Bill 1690 was inserted into Senate Bill 683.

Over the past several years, law enforcement officers and public health professionals have detected an increase in the prevalence of the illicit use of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer — or “tranq” — in street drugs used in the commonwealth. In fact, about half of all Pennsylvania counties saw cases where illicit use of xylazine caused a death in 2021. Worse, 90 percent of the opioids sampled by the City of Philadelphia showed xylazine in 2021.

“Yet too few people are aware of this drug’s existence,” Marcell said. “Increased public awareness of the impact of the illicit use of xylazine can help the effort to protect our residents. My legislation would require DDAP to enter into partnerships with healthcare providers, community-based health centers and hospitals to educate Pennsylvanians on the dangers of human use of xylazine. 

“It would also require the creation of informational materials for distribution to Pennsylvanians on the effects of xylazine on the human body, how to discuss the dangers with family and friends, and other information deemed necessary by DDAP to educate the public on this topic.”

Xylazine, designed as a horse tranquilizer, is being used as a cutting agent for heroin and fentanyl used by humans. The drug’s users tend to get wounds that do not readily heal. ••

Farry office hours in Bensalem

State ​​Sen. Frank Farry (R-6th dist.) is offering satellite office hours the first Wednesday of every month, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Bensalem Township Municipal Building, 2400 Byberry Road, Bensalem.

Farry’s staff will be on site to assist with state government services; Property Tax/Rent Rebate applications, birth and death certificate applications, SEPTA Senior Key card registrations and renewals; and unemployment issues. ••

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