In this Update:
Join My “Stop the Tolls” Telephone Town Hall with Congressman Thompson
You’re invited to join my “Stop the Tolls” telephone town hall with Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson on Feb. 3 at 6 p.m.
You can sign up here, and at the time of the event you will receive a telephone call from me inviting you to participate. Simply stay on the line and you will be connected to the call. You can also choose to audio stream the event live via your smartphone or PC.
The topic of the telephone town hall is the new tax that the Wolf Administration is preparing to impose on Pennsylvania motorists: The requirement that drivers pay tolls to cross 9 interstate bridges across the commonwealth. Included are the Canoe Creek Bridges on Interstate 80 in our region.
Last week, I took to the floor of the Senate to explain why this is a horrible idea. My remarks focused on the closed process that produced the plan and excluded citizens and lawmakers from discussion. This week, I talked about the cost to Pennsylvania drivers and the impact on communities. Motorists who use these bridges daily could spend more than $1,000 a year crossing these spans. You can view my Senate remarks below.
You can find more on the tolling plan here.
Senate Approves Hutchinson Bill to Improve National Guard Health Care
Legislation I sponsored to increase the number of health care providers in the Pennsylvania National Guard was approved by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives.
The legislation improves the Medical Officer or Health Officer Incentive Program, which was created in 2014 through legislation I authored (Act 78) to provide an education stipend to those who qualified through their time in the armed services. This incentive program began to provide a solution for what the Pennsylvania National Guard saw as a lack of health care providers within its ranks.
Even though the program was successful in attracting providers into Guard service, some health professionals, such as dentists and physician assistants, were inadvertently left out of the program.
Senate Bill 927 would establish a broader definition of health professional to capture those left out of the original program. It would also create education stipend tiers based on the participant’s education level, so that physicians and physician assistants would get a higher reimbursement to help pay down their higher tuition debt.
Act 78 was a resounding success, bringing numerous health professionals into the Guard to fill a crucial need. This legislation will strengthen the program and allow for even more health professionals to take advantage of this opportunity.
Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said:
“The Medical and Health Officer Incentive program significantly increased our ability to recruit and retain military medical professionals in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Since the program was established in 2014, over 100 health care providers have joined the Guard with 80% participating in the program. This incentive program is critical to support the medical readiness of our Guard members and their ability to provide medical support to our communities.”
Senate Sends Bill Protecting Right to Bear Arms to Governor
Legislation to ensure Pennsylvanians’ Second Amendment rights are protected statewide was approved by the Senate and sent to the governor.
While state law already prohibits municipalities from enacting their own gun laws, some have chosen to break that law.
House Bill 979 would deter local implementation of illegal ordinances by holding offending jurisdictions financially responsible for attorney fees and costs, as well as any lost income, for a person who successfully challenges such an ordinance.
The measure is similar to legislation I co-sponsored that passed the Senate in November.
Senate Passes New Funding for Hospitals, Health Care Workers
The Senate this week approved critical funding for hospitals and frontline health care workers who continue to keep Pennsylvanians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was sent to the governor for enactment.
It allocates a total of $225 million to hospitals and their employees. The additional dollars will be allocated as follows:
The legislation requires the funding to be directed to retention and recruitment programs for staff. Hospital executives and administration, contracted staff and physicians would not be eligible for payments.
Student Loan Relief for Nurses Available through March 1
Applications are being accepted through March 1 for the new Student Loan Relief for Nurses program.
Qualified nurses working through the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible to receive student loan relief of up to $2,500 for each year of work (beginning with 2020) for up to three years, with a maximum benefit of $7,500.
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency indicates the high volume of applications has slowed the review process, and online applications are not offered. You can learn more about the program and the application process here.
Congressional Redistricting Map Approved by General Assembly
Legislation to redraw the boundaries of Pennsylvania congressional districts to reflect changes in population was approved by the Senate and sent to the governor, who vetoed the measure.
The U.S. Constitution requires congressional redistricting following the updated census count every 10 years.
The preliminary congressional map was developed after a series of public hearings held by the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Applications Being Accepted
Older and disabled Pennsylvanians can apply now for rebates on property taxes or rent paid in 2021.
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older, widows and widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.
After checking eligibility requirements, you can file your rebate application online by visiting mypath.pa.gov. Submitting your application online does not require you to sign up for an account. You can check the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program instruction booklet to learn which information you will need to complete the process.