Realizing that your time is precious, I try to keep these communications as short as possible, and limited to a single topic; but the callousness that has been prevalent at the state level has been so severe and extensive, that I thought I would provide a quick overview of current goings-on in Harrisburg that ultimately will have an effect on our everyday lives. You can certainly skip to the areas that may interest you the most.
Two recent studies – one by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the other from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – have indicated that planet earth is heading for irreconcilable devastation unless drastic actions are taken to alleviate greenhouse gases. To that end, Governor Wolf’s administration has indicated its desire to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a consortium of 11 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states committed to a cap-and-trade program designed to limit the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Pennsylvania would be the largest greenhouse gas producing state to participate in RGGI.
At the end of July, the Republican dominated House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee sent a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, asking that body to reject Governor Wolf’s request to join RGGI. The letter states, “We stand with our residents, businesses, schools, and local governments who will be harmed when this regulation shutters industries and devastates communities…We stand with small business owners and employees whose livelihoods will be impacted by this regulation.’’
The problem with this letter is that the fossil fuel industry has been very adept at creating negative economic opportunities for Pennsylvania’s workers. From 2011 to 2018, Pennsylvania lost over 3,000 coal jobs, a 38% decrease in employment in that industry. Although gas producing counties experienced a 4.6% increase in employment from 2008 to 2019, that number was overshadowed by the 4.7% increase in jobs statewide. These gas producing counties also saw their population reduced by 2.6% over the past decade.
There is no mention, however, in the letter, of the hardships that fossil fuel executives and investors would suffer if the state became a member of RGGI. Yet records from FollowtheMoney.org show that, in 2020, the energy industry had contributed close to $60,000 to five of the 10 Democratic house members on the committee, but 14 of the 15 Republican committee members received over $185,000 from the industry. The letter thus assures that the captains of the fossil fuel industry suffer in silence.
Let’s be clear. Firearms are not a Philadelphia problem. They are a Pennsylvania problem. While Philadelphia’s gun-related death (GRD) rate (which includes homicides and suicides) of 20.2 (out of 100,000 residents), is the highest in the state, it is easily on par with Fulton (GRD rate of 19), Potter (GRD rate of 16.6), and Wayne (GRD rate of 20.1) counties. In fact, there are 17 counties with GRD rates over 15, thereby making firearms a problem throughout the state.
There is ample evidence to suggest that just the availability of firearms can increase the risk of suicide within a geographic area. Surprisingly, Philadelphia has the lowest suicide rate in the State, but the availability of firearms obtained illegally through straw purchases and ghost guns has certainly added to the murder epidemic in the city.
Rather than taking any action on either of these issues, the most recent gun related legislation considered in the General Assembly was HB 659, which would allow the concealed carry of a firearm without a license. The bill passed in the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee (14 yays to 11 nays), roughly along party lines.
Philadelphia, for its part, has attempted in the past to enact its own gun-control legislation, only to have these attempts pre-empted by the state legislature. The mantra from Republican legislators is that a patch-work of gun laws across the state is confusing. But it is difficult to fathom why local gun laws more confusing than the patchwork quilt of mask mandates that we currently have across the state – an issue that Republicans have refused to address.
While the big news in the state’s budget was that the basic education subsidy for public education increased by $272 million, or about $156.00 per student, there was virtually no coverage over the fact that money for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, a type of school voucher program, enjoyed a $40 million boost to its program, or $3,077 per student. For years, Republicans have been touting this program, because it broadens educational choices for the children. The problem is that these programs have provided very little evidence of academic improvement over traditional public education. Students enrolled in this program are not required to take the standardized Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) or Keystone exams. Schools that benefit from these scholarships are only obligated to complete the following information on their performance report:
· Name of Program
· Expenditure (EITC funds only)
· Describe demonstrated and/or expected outcomes
· Names of Districts and Schools
· County of Districts and Schools
About three-quarters of the funding in this program goes to religious schools. Although the money is supposed to go specifically toward academic programs, a review of various Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant websites would lead the reader to conclude that the schools use at least part of this money for indoctrination rather than education.
As a result of lobbying efforts from many of these schools, the Wolf Administration also agreed to remove language from its guidelines that would have prohibited programs that discriminate “on the basis of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability” from participating in the program.
Trying to build on EITC’s recent success of acquiring such a large pool of money, Andrew Lewis (Republican, HD 105, Dauphin) has introduced HB 1, which would not only expand the educational tax credit programs already in existence, but also create a new tranche of private school scholarships called Educational Opportunity Accounts, that would function much like EITC, but would come directly out of the state’s operating budget.
The good news this week is that the Legislative Reapportionment Committee – the committee responsible for redistricting the seats of the General Assembly (N.B., not Congressional seats) - has ruled that the 40,000 inmates in Pennsylvania’s prisons must be counted as residents of the districts where they resided before entering prison. Until now, those inmates were counted as residents of the districts where the prisons were located. This ruling should have a significant impact on the creation of additional blue districts.
Balancing out this news is the continuing drama of our Republican dominated state senate’s desire to conduct an Arizona style “forensic” audit in Pennsylvania. Senator Doug Mastriano (R., SD 33, Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, York), who had been the chair of the Intergovernmental Operations committee, threatened three counties with subpoenas unless they released all materials and machinery connected with the 2020 election to his committee. The counties refused, and Mastriano’s investigation stopped there. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R, SD 34, Centre, Huntingdon, Mifflin & Juniata counties), who had, until recently, indicated a lack of interest in carrying out any further investigation of the 2020 election; has, in recent weeks, reversed course. He replaced Mastriano with Chris Dush (R., SD 25, Cameron, Clearfield (part), Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean, Potter and Tioga Counties) as committee chair, and asked Dush to continue the investigation into the 2020 election.
Given that these actions have been proven to be embarrassing, even to Republicans, not to mention costly, I composed the following missive to my state senator. You might want to take a similar action.
Dear Senator Haywood:
I am writing as a citizen concerned with the voter fraud that had occurred during the general election of 2020. It is a well-known fact that fraud did occur – as evidenced by the fact that three individuals (all Republicans) in our state had been arrested for impersonating people – either alive or deceased – during the mail-in ballot process and at the polls.
According to various news accounts:
Bruce Bartman, 70, of Delaware County, registered his deceased mother and mother-in-law to vote using Pennsylvania’s online voter registration portal, and subsequently requested and returned an absentee ballot on behalf of his late mother.
Robert Lynn, 67, of Forty Fort, Luzerne County, applied for an absentee ballot in the name of his deceased mother, who died five years ago.
Ralph Thurman, 71, of Malvern, Chester County, voted at his polling place and then returned and voted again by impersonating his son.
While Senator Corman and other legislators are intent on yet a third audit for most of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, I believe that it is imperative to fully investigate the fraud that currently exists in the state, to understand just how deeply the roots of this evil go. What do we know about the three perpetrators? Has anyone looked into their emails, social media accounts, or web searches? Phone records? Have there been any interviews with their significant others?
It seems that the proper way of conducting a forensic investigation is to start from where you know the problems are. Any other way is simply a fishing expedition. Investigating organized crime, for example, does not start by going through the tax records of each and every citizen. One starts with who we believe the perpetrators are and work out from there.
I respectfully hope that you and your colleagues can pass this suggestion on to the Senate leadership.
Your humble constituent,
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you care about the environment or public education, or if you are an anti-NRA enthusiast, or just concerned about good government, there should be plenty of reasons why you would want to become involved during the weeks and months ahead. Here is what is coming up:
Support a Voter Registration Policy in the Philadelphia Schools
In the upcoming elections, voter registration is crucial. Out of the roughly 20,000 17-and-18 year olds currently eligible to vote in Philadelphia, only a little more than 4,000 are registered. Therefore, please consider taking the following actions toward creating a voter education and registration policy for the School District of Philadelphia:
· Testify before the School Board of Philadelphia. The board meets once a month. The schedule for the next meeting is September 23. To register, go to: tinyurl.com/PhillySchoolBoardSpeaker
· Write a letter. For the Inquirer, (Inquirer.Letters@phillynews.com) Max 150 words
· Write an op-ed. For the Inquirer, Op-eds are reviewed by Erica Palan (email@example.com) and Elena Gooray (firstname.lastname@example.org) Max 650 words
Don’t know what to say? Here are some of the previous testimonies on the topic.
Help support candidates running in local races. In recent months, community members and local leaders have been threatened at meetings over issues such as mask mandates, and the teaching of civics. We need to make certain that the more considerate majority have their voices heard on election day. Here is how you can help.
· Knock Doors in Chichester (Delco): 8/28 at 10 AM: SIGN UP HERE.
· Knock Doors in Limerick with Special Guest Senator Katie Muth (Montco): 8/29 at 12:00 PM. SIGN UP HERE.
· If you’d like to carpool, please sign up using the links and email email@example.com.