Legislature continues to advance important bills as end of session approaches

Legislature continues to advance important bills as end of session approaches

This week, the Pennsylvania legislature continued to move forward on legislation dealing with several important issues as the end of the 2015-16 legislative session approaches.

In September, a bipartisan group of representatives and senators joined Gov. Tom Wolf and hundreds of advocates in the state Capitol to pledge action on addressing Pennsylvania's heroin and opioid epidemic. Ten people die every day in our state due to heroin or opioid overdose. The governor and members of the legislative HOPE Caucus have stressed that Pennsylvania needs to treat the problem as the public health crisis it is, not as a law enforcement issue. That's why legislation focused on improving training and prescribing guidelines for health care workers, limiting pain medicine prescriptions for minors and emergency room patients, introducing instruction on the dangers of misusing opioids into Pennsylvania classrooms, making abuse-deterrent opioids more accessible, and allowing patients who don't want to be prescribed opioids to establish voluntary directives are moving forward in the General Assembly.

The thousands of Pennsylvanians struggling with opioid and heroin addiction, and the families and communities suffering with them, are counting on the legislature to act before the current session ends. Democrats and Republicans are working in a bipartisan way to fulfill their pledge.

UC 'fix.' Other important legislative initiatives also moved forward this week. In the House, Democrats and Republicans have agreed on compromise legislation that would fix a significant problem with Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation law. As a result of changes made to the law several years ago, tens of thousands of seasonal workers lost their eligibility for unemployment benefits. The compromise moving through the House -- a similar bill is also pending in the Senate -- would restore UC eligibility for 48,000 seasonal workers so they can support their families during times of the year when there is little or no work for them. Important sectors of Pennsylvania's economy, such as agriculture and construction, still include work that is seasonal. For these workers and their families, this fix to the UC system is critical. Without it, they struggle for much of the year with missed mortgage payments, tuition, and utility and other bills. The plan will pay for itself, and other reforms included are designed to have the state's UC Fund reach full solvency two years earlier than under current law, and generate significant savings through protections against waste and fraud.

Other important issues. The General Assembly also made significant progress this week on legislation to make ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft available to Pennsylvania consumers legally and safely, and passed bills to allow more veterans to qualify for the state's Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, extend emergency responder death benefits, assist families of fallen first responders, and protect animals left unattended in hot cars.

Gaming fix needed. Important work remains, though. The legislature still must fix the local share portion of the state's gaming law that the Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. Without that fix, host municipalities could lose millions of dollars for their budgets. House Democratic leaders believe the legislature should also use the opportunity to expand gaming to provide $100 million for the current budget, something the governor and Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate agreed to do earlier this year.

PASSHE strike demands resolution. On Wednesday, faculty at the Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities went on strike after a deadline for resolving a new contract passed. House Minority Whip Mike Hanna, a member of the PASSHE Board of Governors, called the strike "disappointing" and urged both sides to come to a resolution as soon as possible. Hanna said a prolonged strike could have a "devastating" impact on both students and the university system. "Our students and faculty deserve better," he said.

The end of the current legislative session is approaching. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in voting session through Wednesday this coming week. Additional days could be added in November if necessary.