May 25, 2022
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.
September 23, 2021
Harrisburg – September 23, 2021 – State Senate Democrats issued the following statement announcing the filing of an application for relief in Commonwealth Court in response to the Senate Republican subpoena of the Department of State, including the request of sensitive personal data of voters:
“Our application for relief requests a delay to the October 1, 2021 response deadline included in the subpoena issued to the Department of State and also seeks to enjoin the Senate Republicans from entering into any binding contract that would commit taxpayer funds to a third-party vendor until such time as the court makes a ruling on the lawsuit we filed last week.
This is a critical step in protecting taxpayer dollars from waste and inappropriate expenditures until the court has an opportunity to consider the legality of the subpoena. Waiting for the courts to review and rule on the subject is warranted due to the sensitive nature of the information being sought, particularly given the very real public concerns that have been raised surrounding privacy concerns.
Notwithstanding any one party’s personal viewpoints, we should all agree that the gravity of this matter constitutes serious and thoughtful consideration.”
A copy of the filing can be found HERE.
The Democratic members of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee are Caucus Whip Anthony H. Williams, Committee Chair; Caucus Leader Jay Costa; Caucus Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes; and Caucus Judiciary Chair Steven J. Santarsiero.
September 17, 2021
Harrisburg – September 17, 2021 – The Democratic members of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee issued the following statement announcing a lawsuit filed today against a Senate Republican subpoena of the Department of State, including the request of sensitive personal data of voters:
“The latest ploy by the Senate Republicans is unprecedented and completely unwarranted. All aspects of the certified 2020 election have been thoroughly reviewed and adjudicated in the courts with no findings of irregularities or fraud. The timeframe to contest the 2020 certified election results is long overdue.
The unprecedented maneuver of collecting the sensitive personal information of millions of voters without their consent, including Social Security information and driver’s license, for political purposes is unjustifiable and a gross misuse of taxpayer resources. The fact that they will not share how that personal information will be stored, used or who will have access to it is astonishing.
Our lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that it is a violation of Pennsylvania law to convene a legislative standing committee to issue subpoenas for multiple election records, including private voter information, to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing or to confirm election results. The Judiciary has the exclusive power over the trial and determination of contested elections under the Pennsylvania Constitution and the state Election Code. A legislative effort to use taxpayer funds to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing or to confirm election results violates the separation of powers doctrine where the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee simply has no statutory authority to proceed in this manner.
The consequences are dire; the committee’s subpoena requests for private voter information applicable to each and every voter in the Commonwealth, which will be provided to an undisclosed third-party vendor with no prescribed limits or protection. Simply put, Senate Republicans seek to go on a fishing expedition for clearly partisan purposes, despite the fact that the Secretary of the Commonwealth, working in concert with the county Boards of Election, has undertaken a thorough review of the election, as has the bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform.
Senate Democrats will continue the fight to protect the identity of private citizens and their right to vote without intimidation. This is nothing more than an inexcusable attempt to erode public trust in our electoral process. We must not sacrifice the most fundamental principal of our democracy so that some may pursue political gain by perpetuating the Big Lie that this election was somehow stolen.
The Democratic members of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee are Caucus Whip Anthony H. Williams, Committee Chair; Caucus Leader Jay Costa; Caucus Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes; and Caucus Judiciary Chair Steven J. Santarsiero.
Download lawsuit →
September 15, 2021
Harrisburg – September 15, 2021 – Following today’s Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing, of which had one agenda item- Consideration of a motion to authorize the issuance of subpoenas- Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Democratic Chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Anthony H. Williams, and committee members Vincent J. Hughes and Steve Santarsiero held a press conference to discuss legal action they will take to challenge Republican members’ call for confidential data from the Department of State, including a complete list containing the names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, and last four digits of social security numbers of all registered voters within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as of May 1, 2021.
Lawsuits filed by Senate Democrats will be in direct response to Senate Republicans’ far-reaching subpoena, which they argue is a violation of the separation of powers. The forthcoming lawsuit will ask the courts to confirm that the Senate is not the place to conduct an untimely election contest or to undertake an audit that will force election officials to violate federal law and invade the privacy of each and every Pennsylvania voter. The Senate does not have authority to perform either. Senate Democrats will also request to have courts protect the secrecy of ballots, which is a constitutional protection in Pennsylvania, as well as additional personal voter information Senate Republicans are seeking. The committee members also plan to file an injunction against the subpoena, asking the court to hold those until their lawsuit is heard in court.
“Facts are facts, and the law is non-negotiable. Unfortunately for Senate Republicans, those realities don’t bode well for them in this investigation. Despite their quest to engage in a partisan exercise that wastes taxpayer resources and only seeks to prove a Big Lie about an election that has already been audited and certified, our goal is not to make this a Democrat vs. Republican fight. Our goal is to follow the law at both the state and federal level,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa. “I really regret to see Senator Corman commit more and more to this path that he himself admitted was wrong back in 2020. We must not sacrifice the most fundamental principal of our democracy-fair and equal elections- so that some may pursue political gain by perpetuating the Big Lie that this election was stolen.”
Senator Dush confirmed he has yet to determine who will handle the millions of records he’s requesting or how the investigation will use the copious amounts of data. He did confirm the investigation would be paid for with taxpayer money, yet he is unwilling to share publicly about vendors he’s vetting. Decisions related to the investigation will be made with his partisan “team” of legal counsel and potentially with GOP colleagues. If millions of personal records are subpoenaed from the Secretary of State, they will be held by Republican counsel, although no details were shared on how those records would stay secure against physical or digital breach. The hearing concluded with a 7-4 vote along party lines in favor of the subpoena, with two Republican members who actively tried to overturn the 2020 election results voting “yes”.
“What transpired at our first hearing should concern everyone involved,” said Senate Democratic Whip and ranking member of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Anthony H. Williams. “And if the first hearing wasn’t enough to warrant concern, consider now Senate Republicans are asking for personal information of millions of people across the commonwealth with no plan for how they will keep the data secure, how they will use it to investigate their conspiracy theory, or who will be responsible for cleaning up the mess if there is a data breach. So, while Senate Republicans play this dangerous game with our democracy and the personal information of Pennsylvanians, Senate Democrats will stay on the side of the law and truth. I hope our colleagues eventually join us.”
“We do not need personal information to draft legislation. That fact, along with so many others clearly shows this so-called investigation represents corruption at every turn,” added Senator Vincent Hughes, who is a committee member and Democratic Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We’ve had one witness in this investigation so far. He was presented as a concerned county official, but during his testimony we learned he’d been in contact with elected officials in 2020 trying to overturn fair and credible election results. Now our committee is issuing subpoenas for personal voter records related to an election that has been audited several times and certified. I question what Senate Republicans hope the outcome of all this is. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and all I’ve seen so far is a lot of smoke that leads back to one Big Lie from a former President who lost in Pennsylvania. The evidence of Republican attempts to overturn the results of a legitimate election is growing.”
Less than a week ago, Republican Chair of the Intergovernmental Operation Committee, Senator Chris Dush, convened a hearing with just one witness: Commissioner and Chair of the Fulton County Board of Election Stuart Ulsh. During his testimony it was revealed Commissioner Ulsh emailed Senator Judy Ward and Representative Jesse Topper from his private email account on November 9, 2020, stating, “The people are asking who all is in this fight with Senator Mastriano. It couldn’t hurt the Trump campaign if our state Representatives all got involved. If we don’t stop this election problems next will be worse. If there were 109 house and 27 senate with Senator Mastriano it would be a big help. The people need this. Respect their vote.”
“The Republicans’ subpoena is a brazen attempt to use public taxpayer dollars to fund a partisan effort to contest the 2020 election,” said committee member and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Steve Santarsiero. “This is absolutely an attack on the freedom to vote, where the confidential, personal information of 7 million Pennsylvanians is being given to private entities that are accountable to no one other than the Senate Republican caucus. It was revealed today that it is possible one or more of these vendors could have been in the employ of either Donald Trump or someone associated with his campaign or supporting his campaign. This lack of transparency and accountability should worry every Pennsylvanian and every American. As to the information that came out of last week’s hearing, we are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the activities that unfolded in Fulton County in December of 2020, which apparently involved granting partisan consultant access to sensitive voter information without a public vote. These activities need to be investigated for potential violations of federal law.”
September 9, 2021
Harrisburg – September 9, 2021 – The Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee held a hearing today to allegedly examine the PA Department of State’s evolving guidance to counties during the monumental 2020 general election. Testimony today from the Chairman of the Fulton County Commissioners and the Board of Elections revealed that despite all evidence indicating the elections in the county were run smoothly with regular communication and information from the PA Dept. of State, investigations occurred on Fulton County voting machines recommended by Senate Republican members with no information on who paid for such investigations.
“It is disgraceful that Senate Republicans have chosen to waste our time calling into question the legitimacy of an election that four of their members on the Intergovernmental Operations committee were elected in, and that have been certified and held up in numerous courts of law,” Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D- Delaware/Philadelphia), Democratic Chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, said.
Senate Democratic Leader, Jay Costa (D- Allegheny) continued, “The Intergovernmental Operations Committee should not be examining elections because their committee simply does not have the authority to do so. Despite this fact, we heard in sworn testimony today that the Department of State did their due diligence in effectively communicating with counties about new voting procedures as a result of Act 77 of 2019 and the further implications of an unprecedented global pandemic.”
Fulton County Commissioner and Chair of the county Board of Elections, Stewart Ulsh, said in today’s hearing that in his five years and a half years overseeing elections, he has never had so much contact with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Ulsh stated, under oath, that despite numerous changes to voting procedures as a result of Act 77 of 2019, Fulton County found no fraud in their elections and faced no major challenges in conducting the 2020 elections.
During the hearing, Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks) asked Ulsh about the election assessment conducted in Fulton County by Wake Technology services and published in February of 2021.
Ulsh said that he felt an investigation was needed after the November 2020 elections, and a member of the Senate Republican Caucus gave him the name of Wake Technology Services for the purposes of reviewing the Fulton County 2020 lection.
Ulsh repeatedly stated that he does not know where the money came from to pay Wake Technology Services, even though they were given full access to voting information in the county, and Ulsh was also unwilling to answer why a draft report of the election assessment was altered before being posted to the county website to include information regarding potential issues with county voting machines.
Despite insistence by Commissioner Ulsh that the report by Wake Technology Systems listed who paid for the assessment, no mention of this is found in the actual report found in full on Fulton County’s website.
Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus said they found it extremely disconcerting that information about payment regarding county election assessments is being withheld from the public domain.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D- Montgomery/Philadelphia) also stated in the hearing that reporting has shown that Commissioner Ulsh, along with fellow Fulton County Commissioner Randy Bunch, contacted sitting Republican members of the legislature to urge them to support the calls of former President Trump and Sen. Doug Mastriano (R- Adams/Cumberland/Franklin/York) to label 2020 as rigged and stolen election, despite absolutely no proof of any wrongdoing.
“There is a nationally-orchestrated effort to deny people the right to vote,” said Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), member of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. “It’s a scam. We are standing up to protect our citizens’ right to vote and not allow some elected officials pick the winners. It’s time for us to focus on protecting our communities, our healthcare system and our economy from the ravages of the pandemic. It’s time for us to focus on helping our residents and businesses racked by the damage of tornadoes and floods that are the effects of climate change.”
Senate Democrats continue to assert that it’s time to move past further review of the fair and credible election results of 2020 and get down to doing the people’s business. This includes actual improvements to the election system that the counties are requesting to assist them in carrying out elections more efficiently. Items like pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots, drop box security and ensuring sufficient resources to support poll workers as well as any new technology requirements are the Democratic Caucus’ priorities.
March 12, 2021
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).
December 11, 2020
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.”
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
December 4, 2020
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.
April 8, 2020
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.
January 7, 2020
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.