In This Update:
New Grants Available to Support Small Businesses
Small businesses in Pennsylvania that were affected by COVID-19 can apply now for state grants to offset financial losses caused by the statewide business shutdown order. The COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance program will provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to affected businesses that have 25 or fewer employees and meet other eligibility criteria.
The grant application period opened June 30 and will remain open for approximately 10 days. Eligibility criteria, application details and other information on the program are available at pabusinessgrants.com.
Senate Approves Second Round of Policing Reforms
After passing bills a pair of police reform bills last week, the Senate passed three more bills this week to strengthen police training and hiring practices and protect individuals in police custody.
The bills would 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.
Last week, the Senate voted to 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 train officers on procedures allowed.
The swift, collaborative, and unanimous actions taken by the General Assembly these past two weeks are proof that the legislative process is effective when elected officials remember our duty to act as a conduit for the voices of Pennsylvanians. When we listen to one another, seek understanding, and work together, we can achieve shared goals like improving relations between law enforcement and the community, training compassionate and effective police officers, and building a criminal justice system that adequately serves the needs of all citizens.
Unemployment Compensation Benefits Extended up to 13 Weeks
Pennsylvanians who exhaust their unemployment compensation benefits and still remain fully or partially unemployed may now qualify for up to 13 additional weeks of payments through the state’s Unemployment Compensation Extended Benefits program. The extension applies to individuals who have fully exhausted both their regular unemployment compensation benefits and payments from the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
More details about eligibility and how to file claims for extended benefits are available here.
Additionally, the Department of Labor & Industry is urging residents expecting a call from the Unemployment Call center to save the center’s contact information to their phone ahead of time to ensure that they don’t miss the call due to a RESTRICTED or UNKNOWN caller ID. Those phone numbers are:
More UC contact information can be found here.
Senate Advances Bills to Support Pennsylvania Firefighters
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional stress on many fire companies and emergency responders. The Senate took action on several bills recently to support Pennsylvania fire companies and strengthen protections for firefighters, now and in the future.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 987, which would elevate the Office of the State Fire Commissioner to a cabinet-level agency and create a new advisory board to make recommendations on issues that directly affect fire companies.
The Senate also positioned Senate Bill 932 for a final vote in the near future. The bill would eliminate current limitations on the use of state aid by volunteer firefighter relief associations (VFRA). The bill was also amended to allow densely populated municipalities the option to prohibit the use of consumer fireworks.
In addition, the Senate Finance Committee approved Senate Bill 875, which would provide a sales tax exemption for firefighters purchasing protective equipment and accessory communications equipment using their own personal funds.
Lawmakers Approve New Protections for Daycare Facilities
A bill to better protect children in state-regulated daycare facilities received final legislative approval this week and was sent to the governor to be signed into law. If signed by the governor, the new law will require family daycare homes to have a smoke detector on each floor and in the basement, as well as a portable fire extinguisher, and to meet occupancy and licensing requirements.
The bill was introduced in response to a tragic fire that claimed the lives of five young children in Erie last year.
Legislation Could Boost Community-Based Healthcare Options in Underserved Areas
A bill approved by the Senate this week could help meet the healthcare needs of more patients in underserved areas. The bill would make improvements to the Community-Based Health Care Program, which was created in 2013 to expand and improve access to healthcare services.
Under the program, funding for federally qualified health centers is capped at 25 percent of the total amount of money distributed to care providers. The bill approved this week will remove this cap and help these health centers boost access to affordable medical, dental and behavioral health services.
Committee Discussion Focuses on Economic Impact of Southcentral PA Business Shutdowns
The Senate Majority Policy Committee continued its series of workshop discussions this week regarding Governor Wolf’s business shutdown orders by examining the economic impact of the crisis in southcentral Pennsylvania. The two-hour discussion included testimony from more than a dozen business owners and economic development experts, including many Lancaster County residents and entrepreneurs in the live events industry. Sam Beiler from Spooky Nook Sports Complex, Andrea Shirk from Rock Lititz, Matt Neff from Sight & Sound Theatres, Scott Bowser from Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and many more testified before the committee, and I greatly appreciated hearing all of their perspectives on how we can more effectively manage this crisis together.
In this clip from the hearing, I asked Andrea Shirk about the utility of forming a joint task force to address the myriad issues created by the pandemic and the importance of including more voices from the business community in our response efforts.
More information about the hearing, including a full list of testifiers, can be found here: https://policy.pasenategop.com/063020/
Senate Approves Aument Bill to Establish Rules for the Deployment of Personal Delivery Devices in Pennsylvania
Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 1199, legislation to assist businesses, health systems, and consumers in deploying innovative technological tools and resources to more effectively cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing basic rules for the operation of Personal Delivery Devices (PDDs) in the Commonwealth. PDDs are autonomous robots designed to deliver packages to consumers and from business to business, within a small radius of approximately 3 miles.
At no other time in our nation’s history has it become more important for local, state, and federal governments to work together to embrace technological innovations, including PDDs. Governmental cooperation is critical to assisting businesses, health systems, and consumers react to and cope with the COVID-19 outbreak. Critically, PDDs can move and deliver groceries, take-out food, medications, and essential goods and supplies from government and businesses to our first responders, dedicated healthcare workers, nursing home employees, and average consumers, all without human contact.
Importantly, PDDs are expected to compliment and supplement the existing workforce while safeguarding public health, safety, and welfare, and even creating new jobs in fields like technology and operations.
Senate Bill 1199 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Read my full press release here.
Senate Passes New Tool to Combat Blight
Municipalities could have a new tool to transform blighted properties into thriving parts of the community under a bill approved by the Senate this week. The legislation would provide a tax exemption for up to 10 years for any improvements and new construction on blighted properties in deteriorated areas.
Bill Moves Forward to Provide Pricing Transparency for Prescription Drugs
Prescription drug costs are a serious concern for many Pennsylvanians. The Senate approved a bill this week that would provide pricing transparency in prescription drug costs and help protect small pharmacies.
The Consumer Prescription Drug Pricing and Freedom Disclosure Act would allow a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide information about the cost of a prescription drug to consumers, including the individual’s share of costs. The bill would also prohibit a pharmacy benefits manager from penalizing a pharmacy or pharmacist for disclosing this information to the individual or selling a more affordable alternative.