Legislative update: Review recently introduced legislation
To keep you informed, I am highlighting recently introduced bills this term that I will be following closely. I broke them down into categories so you can find your specific interests and provided short descriptions that the bill’s sponsor has claimed. If you click on the link for the bill number, you can find out more information about the bill. If you would like to advocate for the bill, follow the link, then click on the link for what committee the bill has been assigned to. This will bring up information about the chairs and other members of that committee who you can contact and advocate for or against the bill.
HB550 would provide a mechanism for employers to join together to offer quality health insurance as a benefit for their employees. This bill is designed to assist small businesses to decrease costs and be competitive while maintaining and attracting a talented workforce.
HB561 would establish a Cultural Development District program to create jobs, reduce blight and revitalize distressed communities in Pennsylvania. All businesses and residents within the district would be exempt from state taxes for five years and then would be responsible for just a portion of those taxes for the next four years, with an increased percentage being due each year until fully reinstated.
HB643 would provide tax incentives to businesses that sell fresh and healthy food to relocate or establish new businesses in underserved areas.
HB200 would allow mothers at high risk for postpartum depression and their infant who are referred by a physician, healthcare provider, or parent to be automatically eligible for assessment and tracking by Pennsylvania’s Early Intervention Programs. These programs exist in every county. Research behind this legislation is from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, which states, “when children grow up in an environment of mental illness, the development of their brains may be seriously weakened, with implications for their ability to learn as well as for their own later physical and mental health.”
HB627 would provide a $1,000 adoption tax credit and a $500 foster care tax credit for families that provide permanency to children in the care of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services. Last session, this bill almost made it over the finish line, but died in November after passing the Senate Finance Committee on October 6, 2020.
HB631 would create a program to assist older youth in placement through child welfare with obtaining drivers' education, training and providing for the costs associated with maintaining an auto insurance policy. The sponsor states the independence that the foster youth gain with their driver’s license is invaluable toward creating a normal teenage experience and preparing foster youth for their independence as an adult.
HB641 would provide up to six weeks of protected, unpaid leave for employees caring for a grandparent, parent, sibling or grandchild with a certified terminal illness.
HB582 would ensure unemployment compensation benefits are immediately available for workers ordered into quarantine or isolation and that benefits remain available for the duration of the quarantine or isolation period.
HB595 would grant eligibility to financial assistance to certain people who maintain full-time employment. This legislation is based on modern changes in our economy where it is becoming commonplace to see some people working multiple full-time jobs to make ends meet. If that person loses one of those jobs, they will need financial assistance. Nevertheless, because they have a second full-time job that they are working at, they are currently ineligible to receive benefits.
HB612 would create a program through which an active member of a volunteer fire company or EMS agency who attends an approved institution of higher learning would be eligible to receive tuition assistance. This legislation is modeled after the PA National Guard education assistance program and is intended to strengthen the recruitment and retention of first responders. Pennsylvania has seen, and continues to suffer from, a declining number of volunteer firefighters and emergency services personnel.
HB611 would create a Direct Care Worker Wage Board. This board would meet to set a minimum wage for direct-care workers, examine ways to grow this field, field complaints from workers and create a registry of direct-care workers in the state. The sponsor hopes to determine why workers are among the lowest paid and address that. A large percentage of homecare workers and personal care aides in Pennsylvania are recipients of public assistance such as Medicaid and food stamps because wages are so low.
HB628 would provide child welfare workers with student loan forgiveness to offset the costs associated with earning a degree. This legislation is intended to help attract, recruit and retain child welfare workers and help to lower costs of the child welfare system. The 2017 State of the Child Report indicated child welfare workers in York County and 12 other counties are being overworked and underpaid and work in dangerous conditions. The report also states that “County Children and Youth Services caseworkers are not adequately trained, are burdened by overwhelming caseloads and paperwork, and earn “a remarkably low salary given the educational requirements, daily work complexity and potentially dangerous components of the job. Those factors cause high caseworker turnover, and further impact the ability of caseworkers to adequately protect children.” The average starting salary is under $30,000.
HB651 would require every person released from prison to receive a reentry certificate. This certificate would document their achievements in skill development, rehabilitation, education and their readiness for safe reentry. The Department of Corrections offers an array of programing to provide opportunities for inmates to develop skills and obtain the treatment necessary to help them get back on their feet. This programming includes vocational education programs in such skills as welding, cosmetology and fiber optics, and can include state certifications. Finding gainful employment is often the key ingredient to a person’s successful reintegration into the community after incarceration.
HB657 would guarantee that all employees could receive emergency paid sick leave during a public health emergency.
HB614 would increase the maximum income limit for renters to be eligible for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program from $15,000 to $20,000. This increased threshold would allow more low-income senior citizens, widows and widowers, and people with disabilities to benefit.
HB624 would require the state Attorney General’s Office to notify the PA Department of Aging of any investigations and enforcement actions taken within the purview of the PA Telemarketer Registration Act when those investigations and enforcement actions involve a senior citizen. The intent of this legislation is to ensure that investigations and enforcement actions involving senior citizens can be coordinated with protective services professionals at local area agencies on aging to identify and prevent potential patterns of financial exploitation, such as scams and sweepstakes fraud.
HB599 would prohibit health insurers from altering the coverage or premiums included in an insured person’s health insurance policy during the policy term when an insured person has already received a specific treatment, service or prescription drug.
HB617 and HB618 would require insurance coverage for the expenses of any Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) HIV medication. When taken daily and as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by more than 90% and can be even more effective when combined with other preventative measures. Unfortunately, a 30-day supply of PrEP can cost nearly $2,000. PEP medications are antiretroviral drugs that are designed to prevent people who have been potentially exposed to HIV from becoming infected. PEP is only available in emergency situations, typically within 72 hours after potential exposure, and must be taken for a full 28 days to be effective. Without insurance, a full prescription for PEP can cost more than $1,000.
HB622 would establish procedures for parents to give a school a physician-approved seizure management and treatment plan. At the same time, this bill would also connect teachers and other school employees with accessible, informative online training on seizure recognition and basic first aid.
HB633 would create a statewide COVID-19 vaccine registry to allow citizens to register themselves and their families as willing to receive the vaccine.
HB642 would provide telemedicine service regulations and require health insurers to provide coverage for such services. Telemedicine has recently proven to be a lifeline for many people and Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that do not require insurers to cover these services.
HB649 would allow a designated essential caregiver to be named for each resident of a long-term care facility. Other states have acknowledged that steps need to be taken to protect the physical health of long-term care residents, but also support their mental health and emotional well-being. In creating the essential caregiver program, both Indiana and Minnesota established protocols to screen essential caregivers and require additional steps for the essential caregivers to be given access to the long-term care facilities.
HB623 would permit 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. The sponsor believes this action would link early intervention with opportunity to participate in a better democracy.
HB621 would require the Department of State to provide special absentee ballots printed in braille to qualified voters who submit a written request for a special ballot. Braille absentee ballots would enable visually impaired and blind voters to cast their vote by themselves and in the privacy of their own home.
HB653 would allocate funding to support nonprofit organizations and county/municipal governments that provide community-based services to homeless Pennsylvanians.