Op-Ed: Session in Review

As the 2017-18 Legislative Session comes to a close, there is no better time to reflect on all that we accomplished together during the last two years, both at the Capitol and here in Lancaster County.

Beginning in mid-2017, the Legislature took up a bill authored by myself and Rep. Mindy Fee that would statutorily create the State Office of Inspector General (OIG) and give Pennsylvania’s top fraud, waste, and abuse investigator more power and authority to catch those who attempt to cheat taxpayers, abuse the system, and take advantage of the most vulnerable in society. 

Then, to bolster this office’s scope, we were able to pass additional legislation that would create stronger penalties against individuals and businesses that fraudulently traffic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, giving the OIG the authority to investigate these crimes.

Combined, these bills will help to ensure that the unscrupulous individuals who defraud SNAP and other state benefit programs to take advantage of vulnerable populations are held accountable for the damage they cause.

This session also saw legislative victories for crime victims and their families.  I was proud to support a package of seven bills specifically designed to protect victims of domestic violence and their children, including reforms such as:

  • Allowing domestic violence victims who live in public housing to be relocated to another unit (Senate Bill 919),
  • Ensuring law enforcement protection is available to a victim before or while PFA orders are being served (Senate Bill 500),
  • Clarifying that district judges can use risk assessment tools when setting bail in domestic violence cases (Senate Bill 449).

Another great achievement from this session was the timely establishment of the Nuclear Energy Caucus, a group created to give members of the General Assembly an opportunity to become more educated about nuclear energy’s economic and environmental value, and to provide insight into other related discussions, including electric power reliability, affordability, and safety. 

As a result of the work completed by the Caucus this session, we were able to release a groundbreaking report in late November detailing the impacts of losing the state’s nuclear industry and providing options for taking action to address this issue in 2019.

However, perhaps some of the more encouraging events that took place during these last two years were those involving the participation of so many passionate young people through the 36th Senatorial District.  From the regional “Senator for a Day” event to the statewide “Talk to your Senator” video competition which saw a Lancaster County entry take first prize, the youth engagement these past few years has been inspiring.  These young people will surely become some of our most influential leaders in the near future.  

Additionally, given the several hardships facing the agriculture community in Pennsylvania recently, it was also critical that legislative action was taken to address these concerns as well.  To that end, I was proud to sponsor Senate Bill 819, a measure aimed at protecting farmers and promoting agritourism activities in Pennsylvania. 

Finally, just over a year ago, in a dramatic and united display of Lancaster County values, we became the only county in Pennsylvania to have all of its municipalities approve resolutions preventing a mini-casino from locating anywhere within our borders.

Our county is extraordinary for many reasons, and hosting a mini-casino here would have added nothing positive to our culture, people, or economy.  In fact, it would have run counter to our heritage and character.  As such, I was extremely pleased with the quick response from our municipal leaders to send such a strong statement to Harrisburg special interests.

We have achieved so much these past two years and, while there may seemingly be no clear connection between all of these accomplishments, they do have one thing in common:  They were all done to better the lives of the people of Lancaster County.

And while I am proud of the flourishing success our county has experienced recently, it is critical that we continue to advance the interests of the people of Lancaster County.  Our work is not done.  There is much more to do and I am honored and humbled to have been reelected for another term representing the good people of Lancaster County in the Pennsylvania Senate to continue this important work. 

Thank you for your continued engagement – and please know that my door is always open and my staff and I stand ready to help you make our communities stronger, better places to live, work, and raise families.