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With greater numbers at risk, Merski bill takes aim at human trafficking

(3 hours ago)

HARRISBURG, Feb. 26 – With the risks related to human trafficking on the rise, state Rep. Bob Merski this week introduced a bill that would extend a possible lifeline to victims by mandating that hotline information be posted in public restrooms statewide. Merski, D-Erie, said he introduced H.B. 644 – which would require that the National Human Trafficking Hotline number be posted in stalls, on mirrors, and by all hand dryers and paper towel dispensers – to increase access to a lifesaving tool at a time when pandemic-based hardships have upped the risks for trafficking victims. “Human trafficking is modern-day enslavement that exploits captives for commercial sex or forced labor,” Merski said. “Hundreds of cases have been reported in Pennsylvania in recent years, and that number stands to rise as pandemic-based hardships have created new opportunities for perpetrators. “Although anyone can be a target, traffickers tend to prey on people who appear vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, depression and other circumstances that breed a sense of desperation. The pandemic – which has exacerbated those problems – has only increased the risk to vulnerable populations and made it more difficult to identify and help them,” he said. “Posting hotline information in public places where captives may see it can give them a chance, when seconds count, to learn that help is just a phone call away. In other Read more

Harkins seeks to resolve confusion over why voters on ‘permanent’ mail-in ballot list are being asked to reapply

(23 hours ago)

Harkins said voters who received the letter and wish to receive their ballots by mail for the 2021 elections should complete and submit the application form on the back of the letter. Read more

Merski bill would shed light on local board decision-making

(1 day ago)

HARRISBURG, Feb. 25 – Local government boards would have more of a public face and greater accountability under a new bill introduced by state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie. Merski said H.B. 647 – which would require municipal authorities, boards and other local government bodies to maintain public websites listing board members’ names and other information – would bring greater transparency to the decision-making process. “Citizens have the right to know more about the local authorities whose decisions impact their lives and spend their tax dollars,” Merski said. “That’s more important than ever today, as the pandemic has strained resources. But it can’t happen when the decision-making process takes place behind closed doors, where special interests can poison the process. Open meetings laws can sometimes provide access, but the laws can be complicated to use, and some meetings remain closed. “Requiring boards and other local decision-making authorities to publish members’ names and contact information would provide citizens a simple way to reach members with questions or concerns and help ensure critical decision-making does not slip under the radar. By putting a public face to these boards, we let in the sunlight, and with it, greater accountability to taxpay ers.” Merski said that under his bill, all political subdivision Read more

Burns urges PA to reprioritize vaccine rollout

(1 day ago)

Says smokers should be treated like everyone else Read more

Snyder and Bizzarro push for changes to vaccine prioritization

(1 day ago)

HARRISBURG, Feb. 24 – Citing significant and troubling concerns regarding access to the COVID-19 vaccine for several at-risk populations, including teachers, school personnel and corrections officers, state Reps. Pam Snyder and Ryan Bizzarro have sent a letter to acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Allison Beam, urging her to augment the Phase 1a category to include those individuals. Snyder, D-Greene/Fayette/Westmoreland, said further changes in prioritization are needed, including limiting smokers to only those 65 or older, which would put senior citizens and high-risk workers at the top of the list, while still allowing at-risk smokers access to the vaccine. “Prioritizing others over our educators and corrections officers is baffling, especially when you consider the close congregate work they perform, and to have them currently placed in the Phase 1b category is insulting,” Snyder said. “It’s also vital that our health care systems be better informed as to the number of vaccines they’re slated to receive, as well as when those vaccines will arrive. These institutions must be kept updated, and to leave them in the dark only further exacerbates the issues we continue to have with the ongoing vaccine rollout process.” “ I am proud to partner with Representative Snyder in helping make sure our most vulnerable populations receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Bizzarro, D-Erie. “The Read more

Merski, Harkins call for increase in vaccine doses to Erie

(Feb 17, 2021)

ERIE, Feb. 17 – State Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins said Erie County is not getting its fair share of vaccine under the state’s distribution plan, and they are urging the governor and state health officials to correct the inequity. In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam co-signed by other Erie state representatives, the lawmakers claim vaccine allocation is supposed to be based on population size, but records show Erie County is not getting a share proportional to its population. “Although Pennsylvania can’t control federal production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the state can at least ensure that the supplies it does get are fairly distributed,” Merski said. “That isn’t happening right now – Erie is getting short shrift, and that’s not acceptable. “State records show Erie County has 2.1% of the state’s population, but it is only receiving 1.7% of the available vaccine. At the same time, it’s being reported that three counties in Pennsylvania representing 21% of the population are receiving more than one-third of the state’s total supply. We are urging Governor Wolf and state health officials to supply the additional doses to ensure Erie residents get the fair shot at this vaccine that they deserve.” Harkins said: “Our local Erie health officials and healthcare providers have the capacity to Read more

Letter calling on Governor to supply additional vaccine to Erie

(Feb 17, 2021)

Letter from Reps. Merski, Harkins and other Erie representatives calling for more vaccine. Read more

Longietti announces opening of Hermitage Photo License Center

(Feb 11, 2021)

HERMITAGE, Feb. 11 – State Rep. Mark Longietti announced today that a new PennDOT Photo License Center has opened in Hermitage. Longietti, D-Mercer, said the new location at 1749 E. State Street, located in the AAA office, will bring a critical service closer to home and make it more accessible for residents. “It is truly exciting seeing a new photo license center come to Hermitage,” Longietti said. “I have been working with PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers to ensure PennDOT understood the practical problems created by the lack of a conveniently located center, which had forced Shenango Valley residents to travel 15 miles or more to the only photo license center in Mercer County. “I’m heartened that PennDOT heard our concerns and responded. The new center, with its familiar location in the Shenango Valley’s commercial corridor, will be much more accessible for residents. It will also be a huge benefit for area seniors who will no longer have to drive the additional distance in inclement weather or struggle to arrange rides.” Longietti said the new Hermitage site will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The center will have one photo station. Customers in need of a photo must bring the provided camera card to obtain photo services. Read more

Harkins, Merski: Penn State Behrend awarded $200,000 to develop tech training center for regional manufacturers

(Feb 10, 2021)

ERIE, Feb. 10 – A $200,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development will allow Penn State Behrend to develop a “4.0 Center of Excellence” for regional manufacturers, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski announced today. The lawmakers, both D-Erie, said the funding from the state’s Manufacturing Training-to-Career program will help ensure that area industry maintains a well-trained workforce. “With this funding, Penn State Behrend will be able to offer training in the latest tech-based tools that manufacturers need to compete in the modern digital world,” Harkins said. “By helping manufacturers ensure that worker skills keep pace with technological advancements – from robotics to digital systems to data analysis – the center will help regional industries reach more customers, speed production and improve efficiency. “I attended Penn State Behrend, and I am extremely excited to see the ways my alma mater will be helping our region remain competitive.” Merski said, “The new Industry 4.0 Center of Excellence is going to help bring manufacturing in our region further into 21 st century. Access to cutting-edge technology is one of the keys to competitiveness in the business world, but the technology is only effective if workers are trained to use it. By offering expanded workforce training on state-of-the-art systems, the new center is going to Read more

At vaccine rollout hearing, Longietti calls on state to do better

(Feb 08, 2021)

HERMITAGE, Feb. 8 – State Rep. Mark Longietti today questioned state officials at a House Policy Committee hearing regarding why the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is not proceeding more efficiently. Citing delays and frustration, Longietti, D-Mercer, urged the state to implement a centralized system that will bring greater efficiency and certainty to the rollout. “Today at the Policy Committee hearing on the vaccine rollout, I had a chance to question the state’s senior health adviser on why Pennsylvania is not doing a better job of administering the vaccine. “I related the extreme frustration that people are feeling trying to sign up for the vaccine and encountering dead ends, going on five or six websites – or waiting more than an hour online – only to find that they didn’t even get on the list. The situation reminds me of the story of the paralyzed man in the Gospel of John. He goes to the healing pool, but he never gets healed because he doesn’t have anyone to help him into the pool. “Our state needs to do better, and this means implementing a centralized registration system so folks who meet the qualifications can sign up, rather than being stuck in limbo with no assurance of help on the way. “I also demanded answers regarding why UPMC is not starting to vaccinate the community in Mercer County and whether they plan to reach out to the entire community or only Read more