In This Update:
Legislation Moves Forward to Ensure Safe Visitation of Nursing Home Residents
Many Pennsylvania families faced COVID-19 restrictions that prevented them from visiting loved ones for months – even when all state and federal safety protocols could have been followed. The Senate approved legislation this week to ensure safe visitation and enhanced care for residents of long-term care facilities.
The bill would require facilities to designate at least one essential family caregiver per resident that would be permitted to visit and care for a loved one during a disaster emergency. Under the bill, caregivers would be able to remain in contact with family members and provide companionship and assist with activities requiring one-on-one direction.
Many families of residents at long-term care facilities – as well as administrators of the facilities – have contacted me over the past couple of months to express their concern for the deterioration of the residents’ mental health during the governor’s strict lockdown. These residents felt lonely and isolated from their loved ones, with little-to-no options for in-person visits for an indefinite period of time. Senate Bill 1279 appropriately balances the need for visitation with safety protocols, and I believe it is an important measure for our elderly and their families who have been separated for far too long.
Read my full press release on the passage of Senate Bill 1279 here.
Senate Advances Measures to Boost Availability of Broadband
The Senate approved two bills this week to boost the state’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband internet coverage to more unserved and underserved areas in rural Pennsylvania. The bills are designed to reduce regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and make better use of existing infrastructure to expand coverage to a broader number of communities.
One of the bills would reduce regulatory barriers to broadband deployment by modernizing the Public Utility Code and requiring the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review and waive regulations that are no longer necessary or in the public interest.
Another bill would make broader use of existing infrastructure to further deploy broadband in areas that lack coverage. The legislation would allow electric cooperatives to utilize existing utility poles to place fiber-optic lines if the placement does not adversely affect the value or use of the property.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we rapidly expand broadband availability to those underserved regions of the Commonwealth that currently lack coverage. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students, residents working from home, and businesses alike need reliable internet service to continue studying, working remotely, and interacting with customers with as little interruption as possible. These bills will help increase that coverage.
Read my full press release on the passage of these important bills here.
Legislation Offers Relief for Rural Pharmacies
In recent years, many rural pharmacies endured severe cuts to reimbursement rates from pharmacy benefit managers. Several rural pharmacists testified during a Senate Majority Policy Committee workshop discussion that the reimbursement rates they received were lower than the cost of the drug in some cases, forcing the pharmacy to operate in the red.
The Senate approved legislation this week that would support struggling rural pharmacies by improving pricing transparency for prescription drugs and ensuring these small businesses are reimbursed for the full cost of prescriptions for Medicaid patients.
The bill builds on recent progress to protect prescription drug consumers. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved the Consumer Prescription Drug Pricing and Freedom Disclosure Act to allow a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide information about the cost of a prescription drug to consumers, including the individual’s share of costs.
Read my full press release on the passage of House Bill 941 here.
It’s Time to Restore, Rebuild, & Reimagine a Stronger Pennsylvania
I set out in April to collect feedback, thoughts, ideas, problems, and solutions to issues that constituents see and experience firsthand in their communities, schools, farms, businesses, and families. From the outset, I promised to share this feedback in the form of a final report with my colleagues in the General Assembly and use the ideas we collected as a blueprint to inform our legislative agenda.
The final report contains a compilation of the feedback I received and the legislative response to that feedback. The report is broken out into five different categories based on what I heard from constituents:
Family & Community
Read the full Restore, Rebuild, & Reimagine Pennsylvania report here.
Senate Votes to Boost Fire and EMS Services Throughout PA
Our communities are fortunate to have many brave men and women who dedicate their time and efforts as first responders to protect our lives and property. The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms this week to support our first responders and improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state.
The bill contains key improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
Legislation was also approved this week to increase funding to the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund by approximately $11 million.
The reforms were based on recommendations included in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report that was created to explore ways to better support fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania.
Bills to Improve COVID-19 Reporting Move to Governor’s Desk
Two bills to improve reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Pennsylvania are on their way to the governor to be signed into law. The bills are focused on protecting first responders and ensuring all COVID-19 deaths are reported and investigated properly.
Under the legislation, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and local health agencies would be required to notify 911 centers of the address of any known positive case of a communicable, aerosolized and transmissible disease. The legislation would ensure the information is provided to law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, emergency medical services personnel, medical examiners and coroners when they are called to carry out an essential job function at the address.
In addition, the package includes a measure to ensure county coroners are notified of all suspected deaths in their jurisdiction caused by this virus and other contagious diseases that constitute a health emergency. The bill would ensure coroners can investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding any death and eliminate inconsistencies in how COVID-19 deaths are being reported.
Bill Could Help More Pennsylvanians Benefit from Clean Slate
The Senate approved a key criminal justice reform bill this week that would allow more Pennsylvanians to have criminal records expunged if they receive a pardon or are not convicted of a crime. The measure would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records if all court-ordered restitution is paid.
Under current law, an individual who receives a pardon or is not convicted of a crime still must pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees to file for expungement. This bill would remove a serious barrier to employment, housing, education and other critical services for individuals who are otherwise unable to complete the process of criminal record expungement.
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