HARRISBURG, June 17 – The House today unanimously adopted a resolution commemorating 100 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland, state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, announced today. Merski said he introduced H.R. 353 to honor both the strong relations between the countries and the rich Polish-American heritage shared by so many Pennsylvanians. “I’m thrilled that the House unanimously adopted my resolution commemorating a century of strong diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland,” Merski said. “Polish Americans – including more than 800,000 Poles and Americans of Polish ancestry who call Pennsylvania home – treasure the bond our countries share and the ways in which the United States and Poland have stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the decades as staunch supporters of democracy. “We are also deeply proud of the ways in which Polish-American customs and traditions have enriched life in Pennsylvania and of the many influences Polish Americans have had on science, the arts and industry in Pennsylvania.” Guests present for the vote on the resolution included Kamil Henne, Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York; Deborah Majka, Honorary Consul of Southeastern Pennsylvania; Peter Obst, representative of the Poles in America Foundation; and Sylwia Czajkowska, Hanna Wewiora, and Michael Wewiora, secretary, treasurer, and member, respectively, of the Kosciuszko Read more
ERIE, June 14 – The Commonwealth Court’s ruling today that it could not intervene to prevent dissolution of the UPMC-Highmark consent decree set to expire June 30 is terrible news for the state’s health consumers, according to state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie. “Today’s ruling is exceedingly disappointing,” Bizzarro said. “In light of UPMC’s refusal to step up to the plate and do the right thing by the state’s health care consumers, we were hoping the court might provide some relief,” Bizzarro said. “Although the ruling is appealable, that’s small comfort for the thousands of patients, particularly here in western Pennsylvania, who stand to lose access to their trusted, chosen providers.” Harkins agreed, noting that UPMC’s position is especially troubling in light of its status as a charitable organization. “As a charitable organization receiving funding from taxpayer dollars, it’s unfortunate that UPMC does not see its obligations to the state’s patients as a compelling reason to extend its relationship with Highmark,” Harkins said. “As legislators, it’s our top priority to ensure that those patients are protected, which is why I’m supporting legislation that will ensure charitable companies like UPMC behave in the public interest.” Merski shared his colleagues’ disappointment, saying, “We Read more
HARRISBURG, June 14 – Nearly $1.33 million in grants will fund programs and services to reduce crime, assist victims, address substance abuse and support at-risk youth in Erie County, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today. The funding – administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency – includes eight grants to various Erie County criminal justice, protection and advocacy, and community service agencies. “Our community thrives when all of us thrive,” Bizzarro said. “By funding evidence-based projects and pilot programs, these grants will help us reach those in our community who are at risk, whether they’re residents struggling with substance abuse, family members living with the threat of domestic violence or youth who are falling into crime or delinquency.” Harkins said he was especially encouraged by the funding to advocacy and victims’ agencies. “Our safety as a community is important, but it’s also critically important to ensure that those who have been victimized by domestic abuse, sexual abuse, or other violent crimes receive the assistance they need to rebuild their lives,” Harkins said. “This funding will help provide essential protective services, counseling and most importantly – hope – to residents whose lives have been turned upside down by violent crime.” Merski noted that the grants Read more
HARRISBURG, June 14 – Nearly $1.33 million in grants will fund programs and services to reduce crime, assist victims, address substance abuse and support at-risk youth in Erie County, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today. The funding – administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency – includes eight grants to various Erie County criminal justice, protection and advocacy, and community service agencies. “Our community thrives when all of us thrive,” Bizzarro said. “By funding evidence-based projects and pilot programs, these grants will help us reach those in our community who are at risk, whether they’re residents struggling with substance abuse, family members living with the threat of domestic violence or youth who are falling into crime or delinquency.” Harkins said he was especially encouraged by the funding to advocacy and victims’ agencies. “Our safety as a community is important, but it’s also critically important to ensure that those who have been victimized by domestic abuse, sexual abuse, or other violent crimes receive the assistance they need to rebuild their lives,” Harkins said. “This funding will help provide essential protective services, counseling and most importantly – hope – to residents whose lives have been turned upside down by violent crime.” Merski noted that the grants will Read more
ERIE, June 13 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, issued the following statement in response to news that members of UE Locals 506 and 618 yesterday ratified a four-year labor agreement with their new employer, locomotive manufacturer Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp., after 128 days of negotiations and a nine-day strike: “I’m exceedingly proud of the union for having the fortitude and determination to stand up and fight for its members. The negotiation process required the union to rewrite its entire contract from scratch, which was a long and difficult path with a lot riding on the outcome. Through it all, union leaders stood their ground to ensure Wabtec workers receive the benefits and protections they deserve. “I’m especially pleased that the new contract will provide workers with improved health and welfare benefits; five-year recall rights for laid-off workers; a commitment for new work equivalent to 100 full-time employees by the end of the contract; and a continued policy of volunteer, as opposed to mandatory, overtime, among other protections. It’s also a step in the right direction to see that new workers will be able to increase their wages over a 10-year period until they are on-par with the legacy employees. The negotiations proved that, in this day and age, labor and management can co-exist. “Most of all, I know members are relieved to return to Read more
HARRISBURG, June 11 – Pennsylvania is one step closer to meaningfully controlling insurance premiums for residents insured through Affordable Care Act-based health insurance plans after the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to permit the commonwealth to create its own insurance exchange and reinsurance program, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, announced today. The federal government currently runs the insurance exchange – the means by which insurance plan choices, rates comparisons and other key information is delivered to consumers. “Today’s vote is a great example of what we can accomplish on both sides of the aisle when we work together,” said Bizzarro, a member of the House Insurance Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Pennsylvania’s more than 400,000 residents who rely on private insurance plans under the ACA are facing the prospect of escalating premiums. This bill would allow us to stabilize and hopefully reduce those premiums by taking the private ACA market out of federal control and placing it in the hands of the state, where it belongs. “The best part of the plan is that it would not impose any new costs on the state because it is based on what we’re already spending. The federal government – which currently runs the exchange – is expected to fund 75% of reinsurance program costs, while the remaining 25% would be paid for by the savings generated by converting Read more
ERIE, June 6 – A low-interest loan will enable an area employer to expand its operations and retain jobs, state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, announced today. Harkins said the real estate development entity Sites Bros Holdings, LLC, was approved for a $400,000, 15-year loan at a 3.5% rate through the Enterprise Development Center of Erie County. The loan will allow for acquisition of a 12,850-square-foot Erie building currently occupied by XPO Logistics Freight, Inc., and will enable the company to retain 30 jobs over the next three years. “I’m excited to see that our efforts to help secure this loan were successful,” Harkins said. “Our regional businesses provide the pulse of our economy, and a favorable loan that permits a business to expand stimulates economic activity and promotes job retention. It’s an investment that yields multiple, healthy returns for families, businesses, and the entire community.” The loan was part of a package of loans approved through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority for businesses in eight counties statewide. The loans are designed to help businesses at various stages of development – from startups to established businesses seeking to expand – and are projected to create or retain 324 jobs across the commonwealth. Read more
ERIE, June 5 – State Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, is encouraging Erie residents to retire their torn, faded or tattered American flags as he kicks off a month-long “flag takeback” program at 2:30 p.m. Friday, June 7 at his 3901 Liberty St. district office. Merski said he is sponsoring the program in partnership with the Summit Township Supervisors to help residents prepare for the July 4 holiday. “Most residents know when it’s time to retire a torn, faded or tattered American flag, but they may be uncertain how to do so, or may not have the time to retire a flag in the manner the Flag Code specifies,” Merski said. “It’s my hope that this program will make that process a lot easier for residents as they prepare to show their patriotic spirit on July 4.” Merski noted that after June 7 and for the remainder of the month, residents will be able to deposit flags at one of two locations: His district office at 3901 Liberty Street or His Summit office at the Summit Township Municipal Building, 1230 Townhall Road W. Media coverage of the program kickoff is invited. Read more
HARRISBURG, June 5 – The House Insurance Committee today unanimously passed legislation that would help stabilize premiums and benefit Pennsylvania’s consumers insured under the Affordable Care Act through the creation of a state insurance exchange, according to state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. Bizzarro, a member of the House Insurance Committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said that by restoring Pennsylvania’s autonomy in overseeing the state’s private health insurance market, the bill would bring clear benefits to consumers with no added burden to taxpayers. “This is a great step toward bringing state sovereignty back to Pennsylvania’s insurance market,” Bizzarro said. “Insurance exchanges are the means by which plan choices, rate comparisons and other key information is delivered to consumers. Moving the federal government out of the equation and permitting the commonwealth to take control of that process stands to benefit consumers, stabilize rates, and ensure that our residents receive more meaningful choices – all without any added costs to taxpayers.” Bizzarro added that the bill would also permit the commonwealth to apply for a waiver to create a reinsurance program designed to drive down premium increases in the individual market. “Reinsurance programs have allowed insurers to lower the prices on their products by removing some of the risks,” Bizzarro said. “States Read more
ERIE, June 4 – A $400,000 grant will permit Mercyhurst University to offer afterschool academic supports and other enrichment programs for students attending three Erie elementary schools, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced today. Harkins and Merski said the federally funded grant – part of a package of 21st Century Community Learning Center grants administered by the state Department of Education – will benefit students of Grover Cleveland, Jefferson, and Jo Anna Connell elementary schools. “I’m thrilled that our attempts to secure this funding were successful, because the programs funded will help level the playing field for students who may be at a disadvantage based on income barriers or academic obstacles,” Harkins said. “Every student deserves a chance to succeed.” Merski agreed, noting, “As a former teacher, I have seen firsthand the benefits of additional programs that boost learning and reinforce core concepts for grade school age children. Investing in a strong start early on for these students yields tremendous benefits later, in terms of greater confidence, greater engagement and future success.” Competitive, 21st CCLC grants fund the establishment of community learning centers that provide students with academic, artistic and cultural enrichment opportunities. The opportunities must occur during non-school hours or periods when school is not in session and help Read more
HARRISBURG, June 3 – Raising awareness about parental alienation – an insidious process in which a child is manipulated into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility toward a targeted parent or other family member – is the subject of a resolution the House unanimously adopted Monday, according to the author, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. Bizzarro said he introduced H.R. 337 – designating June 3 – 9, 2019, as “Parental Alienation and Hostile Aggressive Parenting Awareness Week” in Pennsylvania – to highlight the detrimental effects this manipulative practice has on children. “A parent is often a child’s entire world,” Bizzarro said. “Their sense of security, ability to love and trust, and to deal honestly with others – starts with the parent. Yet far too many kids find themselves caught in the crossfire of spousal conflict, and the effects can be devastating. “Kids exposed to this kind of manipulation, in which a parent attempts to poison a child’s mind against another parent, often develop low self-esteem, have difficulty trusting others and are more likely to suffer from depression and addiction. “I introduced this resolution because we desperately need to educate everyone – judges, lawyers, law enforcement, healthcare professionals, social workers, policymakers and the general public – about how this practice can destroy family relationships and Read more
On the day he died , Jake Schwab went to work like he did on any other morning, looking forward to tackling the projects ahead of him. The 48-year-old Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority mechanic and avid motorcycle enthusiast was assigned to work on a bus from a different agency. Although he wasn’t familiar with the bus, Jake wasn’t daunted. He was good at his job, and, with 27 years’ experience, he was comfortable working on a range of vehicles. But then, a problem arose: The lift equipment Jake requested was unavailable, forcing him to use different equipment in its place. As he was working, the equipment malfunctioned, and the bus shifted. A component of the suspension exploded, striking Jake in the head. He died just days later, on November 9, 2014, leaving his widow and the love of his life, Tiffany, to celebrate Thanksgiving alone. lipping through the cracks As a mechanic for a public transit authority, Jake shared many things in common with private mechanics – except one: Unlike private-sector employees, Jake was not protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Pennsylvania has no state plan imposing comparable standards to protect public employees. As a result, there had been no safety training in Jake’s garage for more than nine years, and there was no public investigation and report detailing the safety problems leading up to his death. Instead, Tiffany battled to receive Read more
ERIE, May 20 – A $25,000 grant to the Iroquois School District will fund the purchase of security equipment, state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, announced today. Harkins said the funding, administered by the state Department of Education, will allow the district to complement existing safety measures in schools with a variety of equipment-based resources. “Effective school security relies on a mix of different resources, and those vary depending on the school,” Harkins said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all plan. What’s true across the board, however, is that a safe, secure environment is essential for students to learn. The grant announced today should go a long way in ensuring that Iroquois School District can purchase the security equipment it has determined it needs to keep students and school employees safe.” Harkins noted that the grant is part of a statewide package of 39 competitive Safe Schools Targeted grants awarded up to a maximum of $25,000 each. Districts may use the funding to purchase student, staff and visitor identification systems; surveillance and special emergency communications equipment; metal detectors; protective lighting; electronic locksets, deadbolts and theft control devices; and training for the use of security-related technology. The funding announced today is in addition to more than $47 million in competitive Safe Schools Targeted grants announced earlier this month. Read more
ERIE, May 16 – A state grant of $4,350 will help ensure students at Erie Rise Leadership Academy Charter School start their day with a nutritious meal, according to state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, who said the grant will fund a breakfast program at the school. Merski said the grant, part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s School Breakfast Initiative, should give kids a productive start to the day. “Good nutrition – and a good breakfast in particular – makes a huge difference for students,” Merski said. “It’s linked to greater productivity, better understanding and retention of information, and higher test scores. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the difference proper nutrition plays in kids’ energy, performance, and confidence. I’m delighted that this grant will help fund a good start to the day for these students.” The School Breakfast Initiative was started two years ago and provides schools funding to implement breakfast programs using alternative serving methods such as “grab-and-go” or breakfast in the classroom. Schools can also expand an existing program to include an alternative serving method. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 16 – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, and state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, said they are encouraging Korean War veterans in Northwest Pennsylvania to apply for the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal. The commemorative medal is an expression of appreciation from the Korean government to American servicemen and -women who served in the three-year conflict from 1950 through 1953. “Our nation’s veterans deserve recognition for their bravery here at home and abroad,” Casey said. “While we cannot fully repay the debt of their sacrifices, an honor such as this is an important remembrance of our gratitude. I encourage those who are eligible, or their families, to apply.” Bizzarro, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, noted that the nation’s Korean War veterans – including more than 75,000 such veterans in Pennsylvania – are often considered unsung heroes. “Too often, our Korean War veterans have not received the full recognition they deserve for their valor in that conflict, which is sometimes overshadowed by accounts about World War II and the Vietnam War,” Bizzarro said. “In fact, our troops in Korea achieved a monumental task by preventing a North Korean takeover of the south, despite facing incredibly harsh conditions and opposition from thousands of Chinese troops.” To be eligible for the Ambassador for Peace Medal, veterans must have served in Read more
HARRISBURG, May 15 – More Erie students will start their day with a healthy breakfast thanks to more than $8,500 in state grants, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, announced today. Bizzarro said the grants promise to fuel better academic performance for area kids. “Just as nutrition plays in a key role in child development, it’s also strongly tied to academic performance. Studies show that a proper breakfast improves kids’ concentration, thinking and other skills needed for success in the classroom. I’m so glad our efforts to bring about this funding were successful. Our kids deserve every chance to be their best.” The funding, which is part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s School Breakfast Initiative, includes $4,660 to General McLane High School and $3,843 to the Montessori Regional Charter School. Launched two years ago, the initiative provides schools funding to implement breakfast programs using alternative serving methods such as “grab-and-go” or breakfast in the classroom. Schools can also expand an existing program to include an alternative serving method. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 15 – The House today unanimously passed a bill that would remove outdated, derogatory language from the state’s Public School Code, according to the bill’s author, state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie. “Our laws are a reflection of our values as a society,” Harkins said. “Pennsylvania has made measurable progress in updating our classrooms and educational programs to be inclusive of students with mental health issues and disabilities. At the same time, however, derogatory terms such as ‘defective’ and ‘handicapped’ remain in the Public School Code. “Language is powerful: Studies have shown that the use of certain words and phrases maintains the stigma surrounding mental health issues and disabilities. It is time to update our laws so that they keep pace with our advancement toward a more inclusive society. I’m extremely pleased that the House unanimously passed this legislation. Removing such language from our laws would go a long way toward eliminating it from speech, social interactions and perceptions.” The bill (H.B. 1196) now heads to the state Senate for consideration and a vote. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 8 – State matching grants totaling $65,335 will help 12 small businesses in Erie adopt greener practices, according to state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins, and Bob Merski, all D-Erie. The funding is provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Small Business Advantage Grant program. “I’m extremely pleased that we were able to help these seven small businesses in our district procure funding,” Harkins said. “Taking steps to be more responsible stewards of the environment helps recover natural resources and also makes economic sense for businesses, because energy-efficient practices are more cost-efficient in the long run.” Merski agreed, noting, “Greener practices translate to less waste, a healthier work environment, and greater efficiency for these companies, which helps their bottom line. It’s an investment that pays off for everyone.” Bizzarro added that businesses that work to protect the environment set a good example for others. “Small businesses can be a positive force for change by inspiring other companies and private citizens,” Bizzarro said. “By ‘going green,’ small-business owners encourage others in the community to do the same. It sends a great message.” The grant recipients, projects and amounts, by legislative district, are as follows: First Legislative District: Two Penny Corporation – HVAC – $7,000 Read more
HARRISBURG, May 8 – The House today unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, designating May 18-24 as “National Safe Boating Week” in Pennsylvania. Bizzarro said he introduced H.R. 312 to help ensure that a popular pastime does not turn deadly for residents. “In 2017, there were more than 4,000 boating accidents in the United States and more than 650 reported deaths,” Bizzarro said. “Of those who died, nearly 85 percent were not wearing a life jacket. It’s especially tragic when residents die preventable deaths while enjoying favorite recreational activities. “I hope that while area residents enjoy the unique recreational boating opportunities that are afforded by Lake Erie and Presque Isle – and enhanced by the work of our Fish and Boat Commission – they remember how far simple safety precautions can go and what a difference they can make.” Bizzarro added that the message is an important one throughout the commonwealth, where there are more than 85,000 miles of rivers and streams and 735 miles of shoreline. Read more
HARRISBURG, May 7 – The House unanimously adopted a resolution Monday designed to raise awareness about undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma – one of a group of soft-tissue cancers expected to kill more than 5,000 Americans this year, according to the resolution’s author, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. “According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,750 Americans will be diagnosed with UPS and other soft-tissue sarcomas this year,” Bizzarro said. “It’s found most often in the arms and legs and can cause fast-growing masses that can affect the bones and muscles. The primary treatment is surgery, but as with all cancers, early diagnosis is key.” Bizzarro said because UPS and other forms of sarcomas are relatively rare, it’s important to raise awareness about them, especially because the causes of UPS are still largely unknown. “Knowledge is important in the fight against cancer,” Bizzarro said. “Because soft-tissue sarcomas are relatively rare, this can slow advances in treatment and cure. We all know someone who has fought a long and difficult battle against cancer, whether it’s a common or less common form. I urge everyone to support programs and organizations that are working to enhance research and awareness of UPS so we can combat this diagnosis with a stronger hand in the future.” Read more
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