Senate Democrats Call on Republicans to Immediately Prioritize Gun Violence Prevention Legislation and Appropriations

HARRISBURG – May 25, 2022 – Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats wrote the following letter to Republican leaders in response to rampant gun violence and mass shootings that have become too common in the United States. Just this year, 215 mass shootings have taken place in the country, with the devastating shooting that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, being the 215th

In the letter, the caucus calls on the Republican majority to act on “reasonable and responsible legislation and appropriations” that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights but will help keep guns away from bad actors and support gun violence prevention. Senate Democrats list seven bills that have been introduced to mitigate gun violence but have sat in committee with no discussion or votes. They also highlight how American Rescue Plan dollars and Pennsylvania’s current budget surplus can be used to help communities prevent horrific violence.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Four Bills Out of Committee

HARRISBURG − October 19, 2021 − The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and co-chaired by Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10), held a meeting today advancing three bills focused on probation reform and a fourth related to criminal justice and police protection.

The three bills related to probation were voted unanimously out of committee and are as follows:

Senate Bill 904, introduced by Senator Baker amends Title 42 to allow for the scheduling of “remote” probation meetings.

Senate Bill 905, introduced by Senator Baker amends the Pennsylvania Crime and Delinquency Law (Act 274 of 1978) by directing the County Adult Probation and Parole Advisory Committee to establish criteria for when an offender’s schedule should be considered in the scheduling probation meetings.

Senate Bill 913, introduced by Senator Baker and Senators Camera Bartolotta (R-46) and Senator Anthony Williams (D-8) amends Title 42 to provide for comprehensive probation reforms.

“The probation reform bills passed today out of the Senate Judiciary Committee are critically needed to achieve the end goal of our criminal justice system, to deal justly and to get to a place where people can put their lives back together,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “Resolving issues of technical violations to probation, including allowing for scheduling remote meetings and making reasonable accommodations for the schedules of those on probation, are reasonable steps toward achieving this goal.”

The final bill passed out of committee, Senate Bill 814, introduced by Senator Yudichak (I-14) amends Title 18 to create two new offenses of “Evading arrest or detention on foot” and “Harming a police animal while evading arrest or detention.”  The bill honors a Scranton police officer, John Wilding, who died in 2020 from injuries sustained while pursuing three armed robbery suspects on foot.  Several Democratic Members raised concerns regarding technical aspects of the legislation including the gradation of the offenses but voted to move the bill forward with the understanding there would be an opportunity for additional dialogue and amendments. The bill was passed by a vote of 12-2 with Senators Amanda Cappelletti (D-17) and Maria Collett (D-12) voting in the negative.

On Senate Bill 814, Sen. Santarsiero noted, “This bill honors the memory of Officer Wilding and seeks to prevent the tragedy that befell him from happening again.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to modify some of the language in the bill.”

All four bills now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

 

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AG Shapiro and Senate Democrats Discuss Action Against Fracking Negligence

Harrisburg, PA − May 25, 2021 – Today, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus led in this effort by State Senator Steve Santarsiero held a virtual press conference to discuss a package of bills aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and the overall safe management of gas drilling operations in the fracking industry.

The package of legislation addresses recommendations made in Pennsylvania’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on the unconventional oil and gas industry. The report was a result of a two-year investigation that included personal testimony from 70 households across the Commonwealth and dozens of current and former state employees. Findings detailed disturbing health impacts of Pennsylvania fracking operations on children, homeowners and livestock that live within proximity of drilling sites. Multiple families close to wells or other industrial sites described unexplained rashes, sudden nosebleeds, and respiratory issues.

“Last year, the Grand Jurors called on Pennsylvania to make concrete changes to reduce the health and safety risks on a fracking industry left unchecked by regulators impacting families across Pennsylvania. It is common sense to ensure fracking isn’t happening next to a school or too close to someone’s home. It is common sense for companies to be transparent about the chemicals they are using near the water supplies of homes,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I want to thank Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta for their work on these reforms—my office is committed to making sure Pennsylvanians are protected against powerful interests.”

The package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats aim to usher in reforms that were specifically recommended by the Grand Jury report. The eight recommendations included:

  1. Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet;
  2. Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing before they are used on-site;
  3. Requiring the regulation of gathering lines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;
  4. Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;
  5. Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;
  6. Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;
  7. Limiting the ability of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the Department;
  8. Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.

Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta will sponsor and co-sponsor bills that directly respond to the recommendations and the urgent need for action.

“Under this package of bills, citizens and others could report potential environmental crimes directly to the Attorney General’s office for investigation without having to go through other agencies first,” said Sen. Santarsiero, adding “This would speed up the process for investigations and convictions for environmental crimes and make it clear to potential polluters that damaging our land and water will be met with real consequences. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources.  As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be. It is time we ensure accurate resources exist to protect the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and pure water.”

“SB653 is a worker and public safety issue,” Senator Sabatina said. “When first responders show up to an accident scene, they need to quickly identify the substance in a spill. We have to keep truck drivers, first responders and drivers in Pennsylvania safe.”

“This package of bills should’ve been enacted before a single permit was approved by the DEP,” said Senator Muth. “For over ten years, Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the cumulative health impacts of the extraction industry and often have no idea what kind of harmful chemicals are being used right in their backyard or leaching into their water supplies. The recommendations included in report one of the 43rd Statewide Investigative Grand Jury Report are commonsense, proactive measures that will increase transparency about the hydraulic fracturing process. It’s time for state government to protect the people and our natural resources instead of protecting corporate polluters who only care about profits, even if it means harming people and the planet.”

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas, following Texas. The industry has boomed in Pennsylvania with very little legal or regulatory accountability. Proposed legislation will address negligence, a lack of transparency and gaps in oversight that have allowed drillers to operate largely on their own accord, with profit often prioritized over children, families and animals that suffer because of exposure to dangerous chemicals, contaminated water and air pollution.

“In my district, where PFAS contamination levels have been among the highest in the nation, water quality is not something we take for granted,” said Senator Collett. “This urgent legislation will allow the Attorney General to take action against polluters and allow us to stop using state dollars – your dollars – to remediate hazards like these across the Commonwealth.”

“The health effects from industry activity are “magnified by proximity”, a fact that is highlighted in Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Grand Jury report,” said Senator Santarsiero.  “We must protect our communities and keep families safe in their homes by increasing the distance unconventional gas drilling operations must be from buildings and water supplies.”

“The Attorney General’s report showed that natural gas drilling operations can have serious impacts on our health, safety, and well-being and those impacts are amplified by proximity. Drilling operations don’t belong in the middle of our neighborhoods or near schools, hospitals, or our water resources,” Senator Comitta said. “It’s time to enact safer setbacks to better protect Pennsylvania families, children, and communities from the potential for the significant, negative health impacts associated with fracking.”

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Senators Santarsiero, Collett Announce Legislation to Give Attorney General Concurrent Jurisdiction in Environmental Crimes

BUCKS COUNTY – April 30, 2021 – State Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and Maria Collett (D-12) today announced legislation to allow the state Attorney General to more directly investigate and pursue polluters, and others who damage our land, waterways and drinking water.

“Under this package of bills, citizens and others could report potential environmental crimes directly to the Attorney General’s office for investigation without having to go through other agencies first,” said Sen. Santarsiero, adding “This would speed up the process for investigations and convictions for environmental crimes and make it clear to potential polluters that damaging our land and water will be met with real consequences.”

Currently, the Office of the Attorney General must wait for a referral from the local district attorney, the Department of Environmental Protection or another agency with jurisdiction, before it can take action to pursue a matter involving environmental crimes.

The three bills in the package would provide the Office of the Attorney General with concurrent jurisdiction in environmental criminal matters under the state’s Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Streams Law and Safe Drinking Water Act.

“This legislation is urgent because it would give the Attorney General the power to take action against the polluters who created the PFAS contamination crisis in my district and across the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Collett, who has again introduced legislation to set an interim maximum contaminant level for PFAS chemicals and have them classified as hazardous under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA). “As legislators, one of our jobs is to make sure our government has the tools it needs to keep our communities safe and go after those who endanger them.” 

“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be.  It is time we ensure accurate resources exist to protect the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and pure water.”

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Southeast PA Senators Urge Equity in Vaccine Distribution, Oppose Proposed Singular Vaccine Site

Chester, PA – March 19, 2021 – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators representing Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties sent a letter to Governor Wolf, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam, and the members of the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, supporting requests by county officials that the state distribute coronavirus vaccine doses to county-run clinics rather than sending them to a single mass vaccination site for the entire region.

Senators Kane (D, Delaware/Chester), Comitta (D, Chester), Cappelletti (D, Delaware/Montgomery), Collett (D, Bucks/Montgomery), Kearney (D, Delaware/Chester), Muth (D, Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Santarsiero (D, Bucks), Tomlinson (R, Bucks), and Williams (D, Delaware/Philadelphia) signed onto the letter in support of county officials. In their letter, the Senators highlighted both the continued concerns with distribution equity posed by establishing a single site for 2.5 million resident and the superfluousness of creating a new mass site on top of existing county infrastructure. 

“We’ve been facing issues with equitable vaccine distribution here in Southeast PA for weeks. Our vaccine allotment has been severely limited, and residents are already being forced to travel for their appointments, meaning access for working people, folks without reliable transportation, and caretakers of children is often all but non-existent,” said Senator Kane. “Creating a single mass vaccination site for the entire southeast, a single mass vaccination site for 2.5 million people, will only serve to exacerbate these disparities. I’m standing in support of our county health officials and asking for the additional vaccine doses to be distributed between the four counties for allocation through their existing infrastructure. I’m tired of vulnerable communities being sent to the back of the line when times are hardest, and I won’t stop fighting for my constituents.”

The proposed single mass vaccination clinic is only the latest in a serious of hurdles residents of the collar counties have been facing in attempting to schedule vaccine appointments. Three weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the four collar counties had received many fewer vaccine doses by population than other counties. Since then, legislators have faced continued hurdles in advocating for increased doses, including responses by the Department of Health that it is irrelevant where constituents are receiving their vaccines so long as they are getting vaccinated.  

However, residents of the collar counties continue to face difficulties in scheduling appointments and finding accurate information. “My constituents are beyond frustrated at the confusion and lack of coordination on how to obtain a vaccine,” said Senator Muth.  “I cannot understand the purpose of the $11.6 million dollar contract with a consulting firm for vaccine distribution and yet, here we are, many questions unanswered, incomplete data, and inconsistent information day-to-day.  Only providing one vaccination site for the entire Southeast region will simply disproportionately harm seniors who do not drive, single parents struggling to balance child care while working multiple frontline jobs, and so many who are just unable to travel an hour or more to a single vaccination site.  We can and must do better.  I urge the administration to listen to our local elected county leaders on this issue and ensure the true equitable distribution by showing all data and numbers.”

The letter follows a joint statement issued Wednesday, in which county officials from the four collar counties asked the Department of Health to reconsider their plans for a single mass vaccination clinic and to instead allocate the doses among the four counties.

Senator Kearney highlighted the added hurdle in creating a mass vaccination clinic when counties are already prepared to distribute additional doses. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating a single mass vaccination site that will somehow serve 2.5 million residents across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our counties have the infrastructure in place to get shots in arms – all they need is the supply. If our counties get the doses, our counties can get it done,” said Senator Kearney.

A full copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here

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SEPA Delegation Letter March 18 2021

 

 

Democratic Senators Intervene in Fracking Lawsuit Against DRBC

BUCKS COUNTY − March 12, 2021 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was joined by Democratic colleagues today in New Hope to announce their action to protect clean drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians from the environmental hazards of fracking. Their action is in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican senators against the Delaware River Basin Commission to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin in Pennsylvania.

Arguing for the constitutional right of millions of Pennsylvanians to clean water, the motion to intervene was filed earlier in the day in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Yaw v. The Delaware River Basin Commission.  Republican caucus members had filed suit against the DRBC in January 2021, and in late February the Delaware River Keeper Network successfully intervened in the case.

“Clean water and air is a constitutional right for all Pennsylvanians, and it’s the duty of the General Assembly to ensure those rights are not infringed upon,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “The people of Bucks County – and the rest of the Delaware River Basin – have a constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water.  We are not going to allow the oil and gas industry to contaminate that water.  Working within its authority, the DRBC has been a steadfast champion for protecting the assets of the Delaware River Basin since its inception.  Thanks to the DRBC and the work of environmental advocates, an incredible amount of progress has been made over the years to clean our waterways and create a reliable source of drinking water for millions of people.  We have come too far to cede that progress to the damaging effects of fracking on our environment and land.”

“The DRBC was created 60 years ago to manage the river system and protect our water resources, including protecting the watershed from the harmful impacts of fracking,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-19), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “The DRBC exercised its authority, with all four basin states voting to ban fracking. Individual Pennsylvania legislators don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to the compact’s decisions. We support the DRBC in its decision to ban fracking – one that upholds Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment and protects our right to clean water.”

More than a decade ago, DRBC unanimously voted in favor of a moratorium on fracking pending the adoption of new regulations.  Since then, the Commission has received almost 80,000 public comments which have been considered in updated draft rules.

“There is mounting evidence from throughout our Commonwealth that fracking cannot be conducted safely and, in many cases, permanently and completely contaminates our shared drinking water resources,” said Sen. Katie Muth.  “I applaud the Delaware River Basin Commission for preventing this dangerous and harmful industrial activity from rendering the drinking water for 8.3 million Pennsylvanians unsafe and unusable.  Moreover, I am appalled that my Senate colleagues from the Majority Party are willing to sacrifice the health of their constituents in the name of industry profit.  Without water, our homes are rendered valueless, our public health severely deteriorates due to toxic and radioactive fracking waste, and our environment is polluted for generations to come.  I stand in defense of the public health and environmental quality for all Pennsylvanians and strongly oppose any effort to harm our drinking water resources in the name of corporate greed.”

“Clean drinking water is a constitutional right in Pennsylvania, and an imperative to our health and survival as a species,” said Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-17). “The Delaware River Basin delivers drinking water to 13.3 million people. We joined the DCRB to maintain the safety of that water. Legislators who are threatening that mission should be ashamed of their thinly veiled attempt at a power grab. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian and the citizens of New York, New Jersey and Delaware have an inviolable right to keeping this water, their drinking water, clean.” 

Five million Pennsylvanians across 17 counties reside in the Basin, which includes Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties. The Delaware River Basin spans 6,471 square miles in the Commonwealth, across 522 municipalities.

“I chose to sign on as an intervenor in this case because I know my constituents and all Pennsylvanians take seriously their constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “It is my solemn and sworn duty to protect that right. This may be our last stand in attempting to protect the waters of the Delaware River Basin from the environmental hazards created by fracking. These waters are a drinking, agricultural and industrial water resource for more than 13 million Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey residents.”

Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) added, “My constituents and I know firsthand what it’s like to have to fight for “pure water” as guaranteed by the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the terror felt when that bond has been broken. The argument made by my Republican colleagues that, as trustees of Pennsylvania’s national resources under this Amendment, they must protect the pecuniary value of such resources over the health and survival of the people and ecosystems dependent on them is not just unconstitutional, it’s inhuman.”

Sen. Vince Hughes (D-7) said, “Protecting the quality of ground and surface water and the future of the Delaware River Basin has broad support from the public in Pennsylvania and the other three states impacted by the Delaware River Basin Commission. Simply put, the commission is acting to protect those interests and the right to pure water. We join in this suit to protect those rights and to prevent adverse impacts from affecting our region.”

In a February 2021 DRBC meeting the 4 member states unanimously voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin. During the special meeting, the United States abstained from the vote, but indicated support for the result.

“My colleagues and I are intervening to fight for the 13 million people who get their water from the Delaware River Basin and protect the Constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and clean water,” said Sen. John Kane (D-9). “The DRBC voted unanimously to ban fracking after hearing tens of thousands of comments over several years — that’s what our communities want, and that’s how to keep Pennsylvanians safe. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues in intervening in support of the DRBC.”

Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) said, “The Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision is not only within their authority as custodians of the waters of the Delaware River Basin but is also constitutionally sound. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to protect our environment and the people of Pennsylvania. ”

“I’m proud to stand side by side with my colleagues in the Senate’s Democratic Caucus in support of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to permanently ban fracking. This hard-fought, hard-won decision was years in the making. It is a victory for advocates, organizers, the millions of people who live within the river basin, and for the river itself. My entire district is not only within the basin, but runs along the Delaware River. I’m grateful to DRBC for protecting the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, and I’m grateful to my fellow Democratic Senators for setting their stakes in the ground with mine.” Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia)

Environmental groups have long advocated for protecting the Delaware River Basin and for the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and water.  They shared their overwhelming support for the Democratic Senators’ intervention in the lawsuit in written statements.

In a statement read during the press conference, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said, “We would like to thank Senator Santarsiero and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate for filing a motion to intervene in Yaw v. DRBC. Thousands of residents and countless elected officials and experts have spoken out in support of banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin.”

Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “The Delaware River is irreplaceably important to our entire region.   To allow it to be sacrificed to the fracking industry, to be used to advance the climate crisis, and to be used to help advance an industry that is devastating the health, safety, lives, property values, quality of life and local economies of entire communities is indefensible.  It is even worse that the republican legislative caucus, Senators Yaw and Baker would be seeking to misuse Pennsylvania’s constitutional environmental rights amendment and to deny Pennsylvania’s support for the Delaware River Basin Commission is an abuse of power and trust.  I would like to thank Senator Steve Santarsiero and the legislators of the Democratic Caucus for seeking to join the ongoing lawsuit so they can rise up and defend our river, our environment and the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania.”

“PennEnvironment applauds the state senators who’ve come together today from across the Delaware River watershed to stand up and defend this great river,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur in a written statement.  “Fracking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, much less near an iconic natural waterway like the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans. Given that local Pennsylvanians voiced their overwhelming support for protecting the Delaware River from fracking during the public input processes, it’s unfortunate that the elected officials who are the plaintiffs in the ‘Yaw v. DRBC’ case are using the courts to undo the will of local residents.

The Democratic Caucus members who have signed onto the lawsuit are Senators Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), Carolyn Comitta (D- Chester), Amanda Cappelletti (D- Montgomery, Delaware), Maria Collett (D- Montgomery, Bucks), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Art Haywood (D- Montgomery, Philadelphia), Vince Hughes (D- Philadelphia), John Kane (D- Chester, Delaware), Tim Kearney (D- Delaware), Katie Muth (D- Berks, Chester, Montgomery), John Sabatina (D- Philadelphia), Nikil Saval (D- Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) , and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).

 

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PA Senate Dems Again Call for Legislative Window of Justice for Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse & More Protections for the Future

Harrisburg, Pa. – March 12, 2021 − Pennsylvania Senate Democrats held a press conference today to again call for immediate action to create a two-year window for adult survivors of sexual abuse currently barred from seeking justice due to statutory time limitations. Members also discussed the possibility of an emergency constitutional amendment and creating more protections from abuse for all Pennsylvanians through legislative action. 

“Survivors have waited far too long for their rightful pathway to justice and healing,” said Senator Katie Muth (D-Chester).  “In good conscience, we cannot wait another day, let alone force survivors to endure another two years of suffering, due to an administrative oversite or court challenges.  I urge all my colleagues in the General Assembly to show the courage and fortitude to do what is right and act urgently to advance these common-sense legislative priorities without delay.”

Senate Democrats said that a legislative two-year window of justice for survivors would be the most expeditious way to ensure immediate justice for survivors of abuse as the previously approved constitutional amendment was unintentionally voided by the Pennsylvania Department of State. The constitutional amendment creating the window was not properly advertised and is now void. 

To amend Pennsylvania’s constitution in the traditional way, a bill must pass in identical form in two consecutive legislative sessions. After each passage, the bill must be advertised. After the second passage of the bill, it goes to voters for their approval. 

“Unfortunately, we cannot change the past for victims of sexual abuse, but we can change the future,” said Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny). “And we can do that now.  I, once again, call for the General Assembly to pass legislation to open the 2-year window for civil action and eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations for sex abuse.  It is time to give victims the justice they deserve.”

Senate Democrats stated they do not believe that survivors should have to wait any longer for justice. They were promised a chance at a two-year window to seek closure, and they deserve to have that promise fulfilled. The path to justice should be expeditiously and relentlessly pursued, whether through an immediate legislative solution, or through a bipartisan, emergency constitutional amendment process that would waive the two-session requirement of a standard constitutional amendment. 

“Survivors of abuse have been denied justice for far too long,” said Senator Maria Collett (D-Montgomery/Bucks). “Through no fault of their own, victims have had to grapple with setback after setback – but justice delayed is justice denied. We have the authority to create a pathway to justice now through the legislation we’ve introduced today. I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass these bills allowing survivors to finally seek the justice they deserve.”

Statutory windows to justice have been upheld constitutionally in several other states, and the Senate Democratic Caucus members said they believe that it is an acceptable and necessary step toward justice here in Pennsylvania.

“Refusing to consider this bill because what alleged abusers might do to further escape accountability isn’t just wrong, it’s revictimizing survivors,” said Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny). “It’s time for the Senate, and the General Assembly, to be leaders in the fight for justice for these survivors.”

Members have also introduced an updated version of Senate Bill 540 from last session which would amend Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to: 

  1. Eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitation for sexual abuse, assault and misconduct for all survivors, regardless of age, 
  2. Provide a 2 year civil window to revive previously expired SOL claims with a 6-month delay, and
  3. Prohibit non disclosure agreements that would otherwise prevent an adult survivor to report.

“We led the fight last session to reform Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, and we will not let up now,” said Senator Tim Kearney (D-Delaware). “The process of a constitutional amendment was unnecessary in the first place. Survivors have waited long enough for justice, and they shouldn’t have to wait another two years because of an administrative mistake. We must pass this bill now, because justice delayed is justice denied.” 

“There are few issues that are more emotionally charged than the decades-long denial of justice to childhood victims of sexual assault,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks). “Their stories of abuse have been seared into the public consciousness.  We can, and must, act today to ensure there is no further delay in bringing these victims closer to the justice they have been denied for too long.  They must have their day in court.”

All Senators reiterated the importance of passing legislation that brings justice to the adult victims of sexual abuse who could not seek it as children, and that protects future generations of Pennsylvanians from such horrors. Democrats ask for a swift passage of these bills and the Governor’s commitment to signing them into law as soon as they get to his desk.

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We Can & Must Do Justice

By Steve Santarsiero, State Senator (D-10, Bucks County)

Earlier this week it was revealed that the Pennsylvania Department of State failed to advertise the 2019 passage of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow the victims of child sex abuse, whose claims had been barred by the statute of limitations, a two-year window in which to file suit against responsible individuals and institutions.  The failure to do so means that any such amendment must now wait at least another two years before it can be enacted.

There are few issues that are more emotionally charged than the decades-long denial of justice to those victims.  Their stories of abuse have been seared into the public consciousness.  They must have their day in court.  Despite the Department’s error, they still can, as early as this year in fact.  Before addressing that point, however, it is worth considering the political fallout from this week’s news.

The duty to advertise the legislature’s passage of a proposed amendment to the constitution rests with the Secretary of State.  Although, as a practical matter, such tasks fall to Department staff, whom the Secretary reasonably relies on to do their jobs, to paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck stops with those in charge.  Accepting that responsibility, Secretary Kathy Boockvar offered her resignation to the Governor, and he accepted it.  In the process, however, the Commonwealth is losing a true public servant. 

Secretary Boockvar began her tenure by overseeing, in the face of considerable opposition by the Pennsylvania Republican Party, the state’s transition from its old voting machines to those that use verifiable, paper ballots, which can always be counted in the case of a dispute.  She then administered the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new, no-fault absentee voter law.  The passage of that law in 2019, combined with the public’s concerns about the pandemic, resulted in unprecedented numbers of people casting their votes by mail in 2020.  She followed both of those accomplishments by working with county officials to ensure that everyone’s votes were counted in the November election, despite persistent attempts to disenfranchise the millions of Pennsylvanians who chose to vote by mail.  Throughout that process, Boockvar was an unflappable defender of our democracy, even in the face of numerous threats to her personal safety and that of her family.  Hers was a record of exemplary and, indeed, courageous service.

The irony of all this, of course, is that there never really was a need to amend the state constitution to allow the victims of child sex abuse access to justice.  The General Assembly can pass a law today – which the Governor has said he will sign, if it does – that allows for the so-called two-year look back.  Legal scholars and the Attorney General agree that this can and should be done. 

So, why are we trying to amend the constitution and tossing aside a dedicated public servant in the process?  Because the Republican leaders of the State House and Senate refuse to allow such a bill to be brought up for a vote.  They argue that, if it were to pass, its constitutionality would be challenged.  That may be, but just because those who bear responsibility for what happened to innocent children might challenge a new law that gives those now adult victims redress, does not mean that a challenge would succeed, and it should no longer be allowed to serve as the excuse for the legislature’s inaction. 

This week, Senators Muth, Kearney, Collett, Lindsey Williams and I offered such a bill in the State Senate.  We hope that a companion bill will be offered in the House.  The legislation should be brought up for a vote and sent to the Governor’s desk without delay.  To do anything less would amount to a needless continuation of the delay of justice for the victims.  It is bad enough that the Department of State’s mistake is causing us to lose Secretary Boockvar; let us not compound that loss by yet again denying justice to those who have already waited too long. 

Statement: 16 Democratic State Senators Denounce Frivolous Election Lawsuits and Continued Attempts to Undermine our Democracy

HARRISBURG – December 10, 2020 – Today the following members of the Pennsylvania State Senate signed a joint statement – set forth below – denouncing the brazen attempt of the attorneys general of Texas and seventeen other states to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvanians and voters in three other states by asking the United States Supreme Court to prevent electors in Pennsylvania and those other states that voted for Joe Biden from certifying him the winner when they meet in Harrisburg and the other state capitals on Monday, December 14. 

The statement reads as follows:

“The lawsuit by the attorneys general of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia is based on the outright lie that voter fraud prevented Donald Trump from getting re-elected.  Since Election Day, the Trump legal team has filed scores of such suits trying to overturn the will of the people. Time and again, the judges in those matters – in many cases conservative, Republican judges, some of whom Donald Trump appointed himself – have found that there was no evidence to support those claims and dismissed the suits accordingly.

The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote and the right of voters to be sure that their votes will be counted.  This lawsuit and others like it are a direct attack on that fundamental principle.  It seeks to perpetuate the lie that the presidential election was somehow stolen.  While partisan politics – and a desire to appease the president’s restive base – may be the motivation for this latest court challenge, allowing it to go forward in silence is dangerous and, we believe, would constitute a dereliction of our duty as elected representatives of the people to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The facts are these:  Joe Biden received over 81 million votes, more than any candidate for president in the history of the United States and about 7 million more than Donald Trump.  He received 80,555 more votes than the president in Pennsylvania.  Mr. Biden received the most votes in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and, therefore, on December 14 when the Electoral College convenes, will be awarded 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to be elected president.  Every vote cast for Joe Biden was cast freely and fairly, whether in person or by mail.  In each state the vote-counting process was transparent and undertaken pursuant to law.  Local and state officials, both Republican and Democratic alike, have attested to those facts, and, as noted, the courts have agreed.  Joe Biden won the election.

Donald Trump has lost his bid for re-election; he seems incapable of accepting that fact.  For the first time in American History, a sitting president who lost re-election has refused to acknowledge his loss, acting instead like a would-be autocrat who cannot accept any outcome that does not have him staying in power.  While that may be a commentary on the character of the man, it cannot be a cause for setting aside the will of the people.

All of us have a responsibility – indeed we would go so far as to say a sacred duty – to ourselves, our fellow Americans and generations to come to prevent the lie that this election was stolen from living on and undermining future elections.  For these reasons we have signed this statement and call upon others to likewise speak out and denounce this lawsuit against our state for what it is: an attack on our democracy.”

Signed,

Senator Steve Santarsiero, 10th District  

Senator Vincent Hughes, 7th District   

Senator Maria Collett, 12th District 

 Senator Judy Schwank, 11th District 

Senator Tim Kearney, 26th District 

Senator Christine Tartaglione, 2nd District  

Sen.-Elect Amanda M. Cappelletti, 17th District     

Sen.-Elect Carolyn Comitta, 19th District  

Senator Jay Costa, 43rd District    

Senator Anthony H. Williams, 8thDistrict

Senator Katie Muth, 44th District 

Senator Art Haywood, 4th District

Senator Sharif Street, 3rdDistrict          

Senator Lindsey Williams, 38th District

Sen.-Elect Nikil Saval, 1st District

Sen.-Elect John Kane, 9th District

Pa Senate Dems Unveil Innovative $4 Billion Pandemic Relief Plan to Help Front-Line Workers, Vulnerable Residents, Small Businesses and More

Pennsylvania − December 4, 2020 − Aiming to stimulate Pennsylvania’s economy by providing direct aid to workers, families, small businesses and other vulnerable populations, the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus announced a bold, innovative $4 billion pandemic relief plan Friday morning.

The Pennsylvania Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act of 2021 (PA CARES 21) Plan would fund previously existing aid programs and establish new programs to help struggling Pennsylvanians and struggling areas of the commonwealth’s economy.

“Folks have not seen pandemic-specific relief from the state or federal government since last spring, yet thousands remain unemployed, underemployed and struggle with their housing and utility bills. This cannot go on any longer,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa. “There are immediate needs in communities across this state that must be addressed immediately. We are in the middle of another surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. We need help to recover, personally and financially; the state must play an active role in that recovery and that is what our plan today does.”

“Thousands of Pennsylvanians have been hurt by this pandemic and have received some assistance to get through this generational crisis — however it is time to do more in that space to get people the help they need,” Sen. Hughes said. “Rather than use federal dollars to help people in their time of need, we used the money to plug budget holes, telling people we had to keep state operations running to prevent further crisis. Having averted that crisis, it is now our job to step up and help our communities. They cannot wait any longer for help and the legislature must act now.” 

PA CARES 21 authorizes the commonwealth to issue $4 billion in emergency debt to (1) recapitalize programs previously funded with federal CARES funds pursuant to Acts 2A, 24 and 30 of 2020 and (2) establish new programs that provide targeted assistance to struggling Pennsylvanians and struggling sectors of the Pennsylvania economy. 

Where appropriate, this proposal utilizes the programs created under Act 24 of 2020 to drive out the funds.  If proposed funding does not fit into an existing program (e.g., utility assistance), a new program will be created. Additionally, the caucus supports fixing programs created by Act 24 (e.g., PHFA’s rental assistance program) as requested by stakeholders to maximize program effectiveness.

The PA Senate Democrats propose allocating the funds to the following priorities (a detailed spreadsheet of the spending proposal is attached):

  • $800 million in business assistance
  • $1 billion in UC benefits
  • $594 million in local government assistance
  • $135 million in hazard pay
  • $318 million in DHS programs
  • $250 million in basic education
  • $136 million in higher education
  • $100 million to hospitals
  • $100 million to utility assistance
  • $75 million in child care
  • $100 million in housing assistance
  • $50 million in food security
  • $25 million in pre-k education
  • $25 million for PPE and vaccines
  • $15 million for mental health funding
  • $180 million in transportation funding

“There is no overstating the economic toll COVID has taken and continues to take on families and businesses across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Maria Collett (D-Montgomery). “As a former infection control nurse, I promise you that the sacrifices you’ve made have saved lives and prevented long-term health complications associated with this dangerous virus for so many. But I also know these words offer little comfort when you are struggling to pay the mortgage, or juggle your job and the constant changes to your kids’ schooling, or keep your business afloat. Government is supposed to work for you and that is exactly what our PACARES 21 proposal does. It identifies ways to get money into the hands of those who need it most, including those about to lose their COVID unemployment benefits, frontline workers, child care centers, and our main street businesses, especially local restaurants and bars, in the quickest, most efficient way possible. Your families and your businesses can’t afford to wait any longer for relief. So until our communities are safe and our economy is running at full steam again, it is critical that we extend this lifeline and do so now.” 

“As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Pennsylvania continues to climb, it is the General Assembly’s duty and obligation to provide relief to all those affected – unemployed folks, front-line workers, small businesses, and especially hospitals that serve high-Medicaid populations as well as our institutions of higher education,” said Senator Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia). “These are the pillars of society that serve us in our times of greatest need and will lead our recovery.”

“There’s no denying that cases of the coronavirus are growing every day,” said Senator-elect Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester). “We need to do more than just say, ‘help is on the way.’ We need a bold, innovative plan to deliver it to Pennsylvanians. PA CARES 21 gives us more tools, more resources, and the flexibility to prepare for the future.”

“We are entering a stage of the pandemic that is, by virtually every measure, worse than the first stage, laying bare and exacerbating inequalities in all our health systems, devastating essential workers, and disproportionately harming Black and brown people,” said Senator-elect Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia). “We need to keep people in their homes, fight hunger and food insecurity, and give our children every tool they need to learn. We need this stimulus because our communities desperately need support and relief.”

More information on the proposal and the caucus’ work in pandemic relief is available online at pasenate.com/pacares.

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Senators Santarsiero, Collett Ask Governor to Allow Businesses in Personal Service Industry to Operate During Yellow and Green Phases of Reopening

BUCKS COUNTY – May 28, 2020 – Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and Maria Collett (D-12) were joined by State Representatives Perry Warren (D-31), Tina Davis (D-141), John Galloway (D-140) and Wendy Ullman (D-143) in asking Governor Wolf to issue an executive order permitting personal services businesses, such as barbers and salons, located in counties in the yellow or green phase to reopen with enhanced safety measures. 

The letter references a plan for reopening of the personal service industry used in neighboring Ohio, developed by a personal services workgroup at the request of Ohio’s Governor. The Ohio plan includes a list of requirements and best practices for businesses to implement, such as maintaining six feet of social distancing (except between the client and employee when appropriate), requiring employees to wear facial coverings (with some exceptions), requiring businesses to clean high-touch items after each use, and requiring employees to wear gloves and dispose of gloves in between tasks.

“During a productive call with 45 barbers and hair stylists from across the Commonwealth, they shared the process for reopening their industry that is being implemented in Ohio,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “Based on the precautions they recommend, paired with the hundreds of hours of training that licensed professionals in the industry receive in sanitation, sterilization and hygiene, I believe it is time to safely reopen this sector of Pennsylvania’s economy.”

“I have heard from many hair, nail, and tanning salon owners in my district, the majority of these salons being women- and minority-owned, who are ready and able to implement these expanded safety guidelines and return to serving our communities,” said Sen. Collett. “It is important that we continue to generate and propose creative solutions and compromises so that businesses in yellow phase counties can begin to resume operations and rebuild while we continue to protect the public health.”

The full text of the letter to Governor Wolf can be found here.

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PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.

The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.

“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”

The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.

In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:

  • The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
  • Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
  • COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
  • Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
  • Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
  • Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
  • Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
  • Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
  • Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
  • Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
  • Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
  • Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
  • Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
  • Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)

“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”

“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.” 

“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”

“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”

“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health.  I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”

“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”

“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”

“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”

“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”

“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”

“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”

“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority.  In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”

“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times.  What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses,  job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection  of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.   

 “We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work.  We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”

 “As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”

More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.

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Senators Santarsiero and Collett Respond to Wage History Ruling

Harrisburg, PA −  February 10, 2020 − On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld a Philadelphia law prohibiting employers from asking about wage history. The ruling partially reversed a lower court’s 2018 decision that said the city could not ban employers from asking about salary history but could ban them from using it to determine wages.

“The recent Third Circuit decision is great news for those of us fighting to close the wage gap for Pennsylvania’s women,” Sen. Collett said. “Pennsylvania continues to lag behind other states when it comes to equal pay. Banning inquiries into an applicant’s previous salary makes perfect sense; doing otherwise would simply reinforce entrenched inequalities.”

Similar legislation has been signed in recent years by New York City, the Massachusetts legislature and the state of New Jersey, which approved the policy last summer.

Unfortunately, a sizeable wage gap continues to exist between men and women across the Commonwealth.  In fact, women in Pennsylvania earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, which results in a wage gap of over $10,000 per year.

Sen. Santarsiero added, “While the recent court decision in Philadelphia is a tremendous victory for the national equal pay movement, there are still many facets of the fight for equal pay in Pennsylvania that need to be addressed. Equal pay for equal work should not be a partisan issue, and yet lawmakers in Harrisburg have avoided commonsense policy changes, such as updating the state’s antiquated Equal Pay Law.” 

To combat unequal pay in the workplace, the senators introduced legislation earlier this session, Senate Bill 721, to update Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law as follows: 

  1. Broaden the scope of current law to include more employees and fringe benefits; 
  2. Protect employees from retaliation when inquiring about wage information, ensuring wages are based on bona fide factors; and 
  3. Provide workers the ability to collect unpaid wages when an employer is found to violate the law. 

This legislation mirrors a proposal in the House of Representatives co-sponsored by Representatives Brian Sims (D-182) and Tina Davis (D-141), introduced as House Bill 850. 

For more information on SB 721, click here.

For more information on HB 850, click here.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero represents the 10th Senatorial District, which includes: Bedminster Township, Buckingham Township, Chalfont, Doylestown, Doylestown Township, Dublin, East Rockhill Township, Falls Township, Haycock Township, Hilltown Township, Lower Makefield Township, Morrisville, New Britain, New Britain Township, New Hope, Newtown, Newtown Township, Perkasie, Plumstead Township, Sellersville, Silverdale, Solebury Township, Telford, Tullytown, Upper Makefield Township, West Rockhill Township, and Yardley.

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Group of Democratic State Senators Request Hearing or Committee Vote on Bills Aimed at Protecting Quality, Stable Health Care in PA

HARRISBURG – January 7, 2020 – State Senators Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny/Washington), Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Maria Collett (D-Montgomery/Bucks), and Tim Kearney (D-Delaware/Chester) have requested that the state Senate Banking and Insurance Committee take action on four bills aimed at maintaining Pennsylvania’s commitment to quality and stable insurance for its citizens.

The group of Democratic senators sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman Mario Scavello (R-Monroe/Northampton), urging that he convene a public hearing or voting meeting on a package of health care bills that would uphold key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) should federal health care law change. The request for action on the bills comes in the wake of a recent federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that deemed the PPACA unconstitutional.

The bills put forth for public hearing or committee vote include:

  • Senate Bill 50 — prohibiting denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions
  • Senate Bill 51 — providing for essential health benefits such as mental health and addiction treatment
  • Senate Bill 939— prohibition on selling insurance policies that have an annual or lifetime limit on coverage
  • Senate Bill 982— allows young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until they reach age 26

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been critical in improving the health and wellness of our people, which makes preserving its provisions one of the most important priorities of the state legislature in 2020,” Sen. Hughes said. “We must work together to maintain quality, affordable health care for all Pennsylvanians – especially as we launch our state-run health care exchange this year.”

The Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 42 of 2019 with bipartisan support, establishing an insurance marketplace to help reduce residents’ health care costs by an estimated 5 to 10 percent. The senators are hopeful that the state legislature can again work together for the people of Pennsylvania.

“The Affordable Care Act’s core protections have benefited millions of Pennsylvanians by providing affordable access to quality healthcare and creating financial security and stability,” said Sen. Iovino. “We cannot risk these vital protections disappearing if the ACA is overturned. Our legislation to protect healthcare for Pennsylvanians deserves full consideration by the Senate.”

As an example of how important the PPACA has been, the senators’ lettor noted that current federal provisions have benefited 4.5 million of Pennsylvanians by eliminating annual and lifetime limits. It has also allowed nearly 90,000 young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance since it was enacted in 2010.

“The ACA is currently under threat at the federal level. Pending court challenges could result in all or part of this ground-breaking law being repealed,” Sen. Santarsiero. “We should move forward with these bills in the Senate to protect Pennsylvania residents’ access to healthcare and ensure they don’t lose the coverage they currently have.”

“Pennsylvanians have been very vocal about the importance of access to affordable health care,” Sen. Collett said. “We as state legislators must be prepared to act in the face of instability at the federal level. Let’s hold a hearing and get the discussion moving forward. As a nurse and the wife of a chronic cancer sufferer, I know firsthand that many lives hang in the balance here.”

“Healthcare is a basic human right and we must fight for access to quality, affordable care for all Pennsylvanians,” Sen. Kearney said. “Given the uncertainty in federal courts, the state legislature must step up to ensure our people are covered and protected. That is why I join the call for public hearing on these bipartisan bills to ensure everyone can get the care they need.”

You can read the full letter here.

Senators Santarsiero, Collett Introduce Bill to Provide Attorney General with Concurrent Jurisdiction in Environmental Crimes

HARRISBURG – May 16, 2019 – Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and Maria Collett (D-12) issued a joint memorandum inviting fellow senators to join them in support of a packet of legislation that provides Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General (OAG) with concurrent jurisdiction in matters involving environmental crimes.

The legislative packet the senators are introducing will provide the OAG with concurrent jurisdiction in environmental criminal cases under Pennsylvania’s Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Streams Law, and Safe Drinking Water Act.

Currently, the OAG cannot take action in such cases unless it first receives a referral from the local district attorney, the Department of Environmental Protection, or another agency with jurisdiction.

“The legislation Senator Collett and I are co-sponsoring will provide the Commonwealth’s top law enforcement officer with a greater ability to pursue bad actors who violate our constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of our natural resources,” Sen. Santarsiero said. “As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be. It’s time to untie the hands of our state prosecutors so that they can bring those who commit such crimes to justice.”    

“This legislation is particularly urgent because it would give the Attorney General the power to take action against the polluters who created the PFAS contamination crisis in my district and across the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Collett, who has introduced legislation to set an interim maximum contaminant level for PFAS chemicals and have them classified as hazardous under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA). “As legislators, one of our jobs is to make sure our government has the tools it needs to keep our communities safe and go after those who endanger them.” 

A link to the memorandum can be found here.                                          

 

 

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Senate Democrats Jointly Introduce Bill to Eliminate Statute of Limitations for Sexual Offenses

HARRISBURG, PA − April 10, 2019 − Today, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus introduced legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual offenses and open a window for civil liability.

The legislation was introduced as Senate Bill 540. 

“I wanted to get to Harrisburg to amplify the voices of those who’ve gone unheard for far too long,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “Trauma does not have an expiration date; We will not limit survivors’ opportunities to seek justice.”

“I support Senate Bill 540 because it follows the unanimous recommendations of the Pennsylvania grand jury that spent two years examining widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and an institutional cover-up spanning decades,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Since the Grand Jury Report was released last August, 16 other states have opened investigations into clergy abuse and cover-up, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a probe, 1600 people have called our clergy abuse hotline, and 35 states are considering legislative changes like those called for by the grand jury. It’s time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to do their part.”

“Sexual assault is horrific in every instance,” said Senator Maria Collett. “This legislation acknowledges the reality of why victims are often slow to report as well as the egregious lifelong damage this type of trauma inflicts.”

“In the PA House, I worked with Rep. Mark Rozzi in trying to eliminate the statute of limitations in cases of child sex abuse,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Over the past few years support has steadily built for that idea.  This should be the year that we lift the statute for all victims of sexual violence, children and adults.  Justice demands no less.”

“SB 540 is a victim-centered bill that will finally allow all survivors to choose their pathway to healing and justice,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Sexual violence and abuse is a public health crisis and we must stop this rape culture epidemic.”

 “I’m hopeful that this bill will be embraced and ultimately passed with bipartisan support,” said Senator Lindsey Williams.

The bill would amend Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) to:

  • eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations (SOL) for sexual abuse, assault and misconduct victims whose abuse happened at any age;
  • provide a 2 year civil window to revive previously expired SOL claims, and; 
  • also provide a 6-month delay to the window in which survivors who wish to voluntarily settle their claim outside the court system are able to do so.

While this bill addresses the concerns of the Grand Jury report on church sex abuse, what will be introduced is not SB 261 of 2017-2018 nor HB 612 of 2017-2018, though those pieces of legislation did inform the context of this bill. 

“There is a war on sexual violence in this country and in so many ways, Pennsylvania has been ground zero,” said state Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm. “I am honored to stand here with our new Senators as we add more voices to this army of support to finally change our broken system, expose those who seek to behind it and offer a path to justice and healing for all Pennsylvania’s victims and survivors.”

The Senators were also joined by a handful of survivor victims who offered remarks on the need for this legislation.

This crisis is indiscriminate of age; there are countless victims who have been subjected to sexual abuse, assault and misconduct in their lifetime. A study done by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) found that 82% of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 18 and 64. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Date Brief showed that 55.6% of women surveyed were 18 years old or older when they were first-time victims of completed or attempted rape.

However, this research is based on reported abuse, assault and misconduct. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults were reported between 1992 and 2000. This data describes a marginalized population and does not reflect the real scope of the crisis due to under-reporting.

Senators signed on to sponsor the bill are: Senator Timothy P. Kearney and Senator Maria Collett, Senator Katie J. Muth, Senator Steven J. Santarsiero, Senator Lindsey Williams, Senator John P. Blake, Senator James R. Brewster, Senator Jay Costa, Senator Andrew E. Dinniman, Senator Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr., Senator Wayne D. Fontana, Senator Vincent J. Hughes, Senator Daylin Leach, Senator Judith L. Schwank, Senator Sharif Street, Senator Christine M. Tartaglione, Senator Anthony H. Williams.

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Senate Democrats to Introduce Legislation to Abolish Statute of Limitations For Sexual Offenses

Harrisburg – April 8, 2019 –  Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus will introduce legislation to abolish the statute of limitations for a list of sexual offenses, regardless of whether the victim was a child or adult when the crime occurred.

They will be joined by supporters of the bill and survivors of sexual assault.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 10 at 9:30 am

WHERE: Main Capitol Rotunda

WHO: Senator Tim Kearney
Senator Maria Collett     
Senator Katie Muth
Senator Steve Santarsiero
Senator Lindsey Williams
Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Victims’ Advocate Jennifer Storm

Senators Santarsiero and Collett Introduce Bill to Modernize Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law

HARRISBURG – April 1, 2019 – On the eve of Equal Pay Day, Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and Maria Collett (D-12) issued a joint memorandum inviting fellow senators to join them in support of legislation that will ensure workers are compensated fairly for their work.

Currently, women in Pennsylvania earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a gap of over $10,000 a year. The gender wage gap is the result of multiple factors, including occupational segregation, bias against working mothers, and direct pay discrimination.

To combat unequal pay in the workplace, the senators will be introducing legislation to update Pennsylvania’s antiquated Equal Pay Law as follows:

  1. Broaden the scope of current law to include more employees and fringe benefits;
  2. Protect employees from retaliation when inquiring about wage information, ensuring wages are based on bona fide factors; and
  3. Provide workers the ability to collect unpaid wages when an employer is found to violate the law.

“Women contribute essential and valued work in every sector of our economy,” Sen. Santarsiero said. “It’s past time for us to guarantee women are paid fairly and fully for their work.”

Sen. Collett added, “Pennsylvania continues to lag behind other states when it comes to closing the wage gap, making Pennsylvania’s women – especially women of color – even worse off than the national average. The time for change is overdue. Closing the gender pay gap is good for our families, good for our economy, and good for Pennsylvania.”

Barbara Price, of the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition and the American Association of University Women, said on the issue of wage discrepancy, “Solving the gender pay gap is a matter of economics for women and families. With a record number of women in the workforce and nearly half of women functioning as primary or co-breadwinners, equal pay for women is critical to families’ economic security. Updating Pennsylvania’s Pay Equity Law to cover all employees will lift families and the Pennsylvania economy.”

“Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Act needs to be updated to lift the economic barriers to women in the work place so they are paid family sustaining wages,” said Tam St. Claire, also of the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition. “If employed women in Pennsylvania were paid the same as comparable men, their poverty rate would be reduced by more than half, moving us toward equity and economic security for all.  Lifting the barriers to equal pay will also lift the economy.”

This legislation mirrors a proposal in the House of Representatives co-sponsored by Representatives Brian Sims (D-182) and Tina Davis (D-141), introduced as HB 850.

A link to the memorandum can be found here.                                         

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Companion Legislation to Expand #MeToo PA Act Provisions Proposed by Democratic Senators

Collett, Kearney, Muth, Santarsiero, and L. Williams seek additional reforms 

Harrisburg – March 25, 2019 – Sens. Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery), Tim Kearney (D-Chester/Delaware), Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), and Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) are sponsoring legislation to expand reforms included in the #MeToo PA General Assembly Act.

First introduced in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware) last session, the expanded #MeToo PA General Assembly Act seeks to add reforms to the process and procedures of addressing sexual harassment claims in the Pennsylvania legislature.

“The groundbreaking reform legislation introduced by Rep. Krueger established the framework for what my colleagues and I are building on with our Senate bill,” said Collett. “We need to implement and improve the procedures in which sexual assault and sexual harassment claims are addressed in our government. This legislation allows us to do that.”

Collett and Muth joined Krueger at a news conference today to support the #MeToo movement and unveil their bill.

“As a survivor and supporter of those who have come forward through the #MeToo movement, I believe it is imperative that legislation be put into action to correct serious issues within the process of addressing harassment claims in the General Assembly,” Muth said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on implementing these reforms.”

The companion legislation being introduced in the Senate would:

  • Establish procedures for keeping investigatory, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory functions separate, as required under state law;
  • establish procedures for communicating temporary regulations that are necessary to promptly implement the new procedures; and
  • combine current settlement provisions with new provisions relating to the source of payment, personal liability of elected officials, and payment of awards.

“This is about creating a safe workplace where employees don’t have to look over their shoulders with worry,” said Kearney. “It’s about creating a system that doesn’t silence survivors, protect offenders, or waste taxpayer money. Going forward, we will ensure that wrongdoers face real repercussions while victims are heard. We will create a Capitol that sets the tone for the entire state.”

Krueger’s original legislation included the banning of non-disclosure agreements that mask the names of General Assembly members who are accused of harassment; requiring credibly accused members of the state legislature to repay any settlements that were paid with taxpayer dollars; and, requiring paid administrative leave, remote work assignments, and reimbursement for licensed counseling offered to employees during the adjudication of proceedings.

“Members of the General Assembly have the responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach,” Williams said. “This legislation ensures that members who break that faith are held accountable for their behavior, not the taxpayers.”

The Democratic senators said that their companion legislation would protect the staff and employees of the General Assembly.  Implementing these measures is long overdue, they said.

”We must protect victims of sexual harassment and assault,” Santarsiero said. “People need to feel that they can come forward safely without facing further harm. The safeguards that this legislation will provide are long past due.”

Since its start in 2017, the #MeToo movement has been instrumental in raising awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The movement has also brought to the light the lack of formal processes for victims to report sexual harassment and assault and receive the necessary protections to effectively address these issues.

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Media Contact: Eryn Spangler, PA Senate Democrats Communications
Phone:
717-787-5166
Email:
Eryn.Spangler@pasenate.com

 

Senator-Elect Collett and Santarsiero Vow to Protect and Strengthen Healthcare Rights for Residents

BUCKS COUNTY – December 20, 2018  – Senators-elect Steve Santarsiero (D-10, Bucks) and Maria Collett (D-12, Bucks and Montgomery) issued a joint press release to local residents in response to the Texas court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

To address the Texas ruling, Senators-elect Santarsiero and Collett joined the Senate Democratic Caucus in co-sponsoring SB 50 and 51. SB 50 will protect Bucks and Montgomery County residents who have pre-existing conditions and SB 51 will protect the ten essential health benefits (EHB) covered by the ACA, making those benefits mandatory under state law. 

“Without SB 50 and SB 51, we are all at risk of losing coverage or essential benefits in light of this ruling. As a health care provider, I have seen the devastation caused when coverage is denied,” said Senator-elect Maria Collett. “No family should have to choose between meals and medical care. Senator-elect Santarsiero and I are committed to protecting our constituents and all Pennsylvanians so that no family suffers.” 

“The constant attempts at robbing residents their right to affordable and accessible healthcare must end,” Senator-elect Steve Santarsiero said. “Senator-elect Collett and I will work to protect and strengthen healthcare for all local residents. We’re not going to wait for the federal government to act on an issue that effects the lives of hundreds of thousands of local residents. While the ACA isn’t perfect, we want to ensure coverage for pre-existing conditions is protected and to make out-of-pocket costs and premiums more affordable. With SB 50 and 51, we come closer to securing greater healthcare rights for all.” 

For more on the bills that Senators-elect Santarsiero and Collett co-sponsored with the Senate Democratic Caucus, you can find the co-sponsorship memos here: 

* SB 50-Preexisting condition coverage: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20190&cosponId=27061   

* SB 51-Essential benefit coverage: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20190&cosponId=27062 

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