In This Update:
PASSHE Reform Bill Heads to the Governor
Many schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) were facing considerable financial and enrollment pressures even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and these problems have been made worse by the temporary closing of all 14 system schools due to concerns about student health. The Senate approved a set of broad reforms today to protect the future of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and ensure the system has the tools to achieve its mission for many years to come, according to Senators Robert M. “Tommy” Tomlinson (R-6) and Scott Martin (R-13).
Senator Tomlinson and Senator Martin have led PASSHE reform efforts in the Senate, including introducing Senate Bill 1172 and negotiating with stakeholders which resulted in the amendments to HB 2171. The Senators said the goal of the legislation is to promote the long-term viability of all schools in the system, protect access to an affordable education for Pennsylvania students, and ensure any changes to the system are completed with full transparency and accountability. This legislation was created with the continued help of the Chancellor, many University Presidents and staff of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, as well as various stakeholder groups and Senate Education Chairman Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R-16).
“I loved my time at West Chester University and want all Pennsylvanian families to have the opportunity of a high quality, low cost education close to home. Our State System of Higher Education wants to meet the needs of future students now. Today, we passed legislation that will continue to make the state system schools great centers with strong academic programs for future students. I look forward to seeing how these schools continue to evolve and meet the needs of our students, families and communities,” said Tomlinson, a West Chester University alumnus who now serves as Chairman of the school’s Council of Trustees.
The legislation would help PASSHE transform its system and take advantage of opportunities to create, expand, consolidate, transfer or affiliate member schools. The bill was created with input from numerous stakeholders and ensures that any future changes to the system would be completed in an open and transparent way.
The bill is on its way to the governor to be signed into law.
Police Reform Measures Advance in the Senate
In response to tragedies that have occurred in other states in recent weeks, the Senate took action on a number of police reform bills this week to strengthen officer training and minimize the risk of similar incidents happening in Pennsylvania. Passage of these bills was the result of hearings by two Senate committees last week that included the support of law enforcement officials, criminal justice experts and public safety advocates, as well as several statewide and national advocacy groups.
The Senate approved bills this week that would ban the use of chokeholds except in situations where the use of deadly force is authorized; and require municipal law enforcement departments to adopt a use of force policy and to train officers on procedures allowed under the policy.
In addition, Senate committees advanced bills this week to promote the use of in-service training, including annual instruction on the use of force, de-escalation, and harm reduction techniques; require law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough background investigation of police officer job candidates; and improve the safety of individuals in police custody, as well as Department of Corrections staff.
In addition, lawmakers gave final approval to a bill this week that would end the practice of blanket prohibitions on state job licenses for certain criminal records. The bill would provide a second chance for rehabilitated individuals seeking meaningful employment, while also expanding our state’s skilled workforce.
Hearing Explores Progress Toward Protecting Long-Term Care Facilities
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been among the hardest-hit populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a Senate hearing last month exposed the Wolf Administration’s failure to protect these vulnerable members of our communities.
The Senate Aging and Youth Committee scheduled a follow-up hearing on the issue this week to learn more about what is being done to protect residents and staff at these facilities, particularly in light of the $692 million in federal CARES Act funding that was approved by lawmakers to support long-term living services recently.
Video and testimony from the hearing are available here.
Committee Reviews Ways to Safely Reopen Southeastern PA Economy
The Senate Majority Policy Committee continued a series of workshop discussions regarding the safe reopening of Pennsylvania’s economy this week with a closer look at unique challenges posed by Governor Wolf’s business shutdowns in the southeastern region of the state. Southeastern Pennsylvania was the first part of the state to close and the last to reopen.
Local business leaders detailed the economic devastation caused by the state’s response to COVID-19, and health experts again emphasized the need to safely open businesses in accordance with CDC recommendations.
The discussion followed similar meetings regarding issues in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania in recent weeks.
Bills Protecting Healthcare Workers Earn Final Approval
Two bills that would extend new protections for healthcare professionals were approved by lawmakers this week and sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Senate Bill 351 would stiffen penalties for assaults against a broad range of healthcare practitioners and technicians, and Senate Bill 842 would eliminate a requirement for employee badges in healthcare facilities to include an employee’s last name.
Senate Approves New Marketing Tool for Veteran-Owned Businesses
Pennsylvania veterans, reservists and members of the National Guard who own their own business could soon have a valuable new marketing tool under a bill approved by the Senate this week.
The bill would direct the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to create special logos to promote veteran-owned businesses, creating new opportunities for Pennsylvanians to support the brave men and women who have served in the military at a time when that support is desperately needed during the state’s recovery from COVID-19.
Lawmakers Approve Bill to Require Insurance Coverage for Additional Breast Cancer Screenings
Dense breast tissue and other factors can make it more difficult to detect breast cancer early in some women, heightening the long-term risks. The Senate approved a bill this week that would require insurance companies to cover supplemental screenings if a physician believes a woman is at an increased risk for breast cancer due to these conditions.
New Guidance Released for Veterinary Care, Reopening Senior Centers
While we await a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on whether Governor Wolf must perform his constitutional duty to end the current disaster declaration in accordance with state law – a ruling that could come as soon as next week – the Wolf Administration has released guidance for veterinary care and reopening senior centers, adult day centers and other senior services.
New veterinary guidance allows for the resumption of non-essential services and routine or elective surgical procedures, like spaying and neutering.
Guidance from the Department of Aging includes procedures to resume operations at adult day centers, senior community centers and aging and protective services that involve in-home visits.
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