Senate Republican Leaders Applaud Court Ruling Halting Wolf’s Bridge Tolling Plan

HARRISBURG – Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte), Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) issued the following statement today following a Commonwealth Court ruling that blocks the Wolf Administration from moving forward with its bridge tolling plan:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for millions of Pennsylvania motorists who would have been impacted by Governor Wolf’s bridge tolling scheme. The new tolls would have taken more money out of the pockets of drivers at a time when families can least afford new financial burdens – all without being properly vetted or approved by the people’s elected representatives.

“For years, the Wolf Administration has repeatedly tried to exceed its authority and ignore the separation of powers in state government. We are thankful the Commonwealth Court prevented this plan from being implemented.

“Government functions best when all parties are involved in negotiating a final product together. We remain ready and willing to engage with Governor Wolf, our colleagues in the House, and all other stakeholders to discuss how we should fund our road and bridge projects moving forward.”

 

CONTACT:           Jason Thompson (Corman)

                                Erica Clayton Wright (Ward)

                                Gwenn Dando (Langerholc)

Senate Republicans’ Statewide Hearing Series on Combatting Rising Crime Continues in Lancaster County with a Focus on Human Trafficking

LANDISVILLE, PA – The Senate Majority Policy Committee today held the second in a series of hearings on crime and public safety, gathering at the East Hempfield Township Building in Lancaster County to get input from local police chiefs, prosecutors, human trafficking victim advocates, and key community groups.  

Pennsylvania has the highest violent crime rate of any state in the Northeast, according to FBI data. Between 2019 and 2020, no other state reported a greater year-over-year increase in violence. Driven by spikes in aggravated assault and homicide, Pennsylvania’s violent crime rate climbed 27.1% from 2019 to 2020.

“Across the Commonwealth, Pennsylvanians are experiencing increased crime in their communities and it’s having an effect on local economies,” said Sen. Scavello (R-40) who chairs the committee. “We learned in our first hearing, Pennsylvania has strong laws on the books to fight crime, however communities that embrace soft on crime approaches or ignore the rule of law are essentially disassembling our criminal justice system resulting in increased costs for our communities both economically and socially.”

“Many Lancaster County residents have expressed to me that they are deeply concerned about the rise of violent crime in their communities, and the testimony today from law enforcement officials across the county confirms that this trend is very real and should be taken seriously,” said Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36). “As elected officials, we have a duty to our constituents to respond to these concerns by advancing policies that support and empower law enforcement to do their jobs and ensure residents feel safe in their own communities.”

Chief David Steffen of the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department told the committee that the national media’s consistent coverage of emotional, high-profile, and statistically rare cases of officer-involved shootings portrayed as the norm has created a foundation of mistrust in law enforcement.

Chief Jack Brommer of the Columbia Borough Police Department told the committee that recruiting new officers to the force has become increasingly difficult, particularly as anti-police rhetoric rises.

Heather Adams, Lancaster County District Attorney, explained to the committee why Lancaster County is a hotspot for human trafficking and how her office has formed the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force to address this alarming trend.

Janelle Esbenshade, Interim Executive Director of NorthStar Initiative, a group that supports women who are survivors of domestic sex trafficking, told the committee how communities impacted by human trafficking typically see a rise in other crimes as well.

A top priority for Senate Republicans is to ensure Pennsylvanians feel safe in the towns, cities, and communities they call home. These hearings will help legislators better understand the trends in crime from law enforcement and key stakeholders, and better align the Commonwealth’s economic goals with community objectives throughout the state.

The date and location of the committee’s next hearing on crime and public safety will be announced in the near future.

Senate Republicans hear testimony from Lancaster County police chiefs about the rise in crime and what legislators can do to support law enforcement and keep Pennsylvania communities safe.

CONTACTS:

Erica Clayton Wright (Senator Kim Ward) ewright@pasen.gov
Christine Zubeck (Senator Scavello) czubeck@pasen.gov
Stephanie Applegate (Senator Aument) sapplegate@pasen.gov

Senate Republicans Hold First of Series of Hearings on Combatting Rising Crime

EBENSBURG, PA – With National Crime Victims’ Rights Week as the backdrop, the Senate Majority Policy Committee today kicked off a series of hearings on crime and public safety, gathering at the Cambria County Courthouse to get input from police, prosecutors, judges, and key community groups. 

Pennsylvania has the highest violent crime rate of any state in the Northeast, according to FBI data. Between 2019 and 2020, no other state reported a greater year-over-year increase in violence. Driven by spikes in aggravated assault and homicide, Pennsylvania’s violent crime rate climbed 27.1% from 2019 to 2020.

“The Senate Majority Policy Committee will hold several public hearings on crime and public safety across the Commonwealth as data shows that crime has been on the rise in Pennsylvania, and we want to better understand why,” said Sen. Mario Scavello (R-40) who chairs the committee.

“I spent many years walking the halls of this courthouse as an Assistant District Attorney, and I’m deeply concerned about the sharp rise in crime, particularly violent crime, in our region and across Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-35), who hosted the hearing. “We are here to identify what is needed to turn the tide and what we can do to help police ensure the safety of citizens.”

Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer told the committee it’s gotten more difficult for communities to attract and keep police officers.

Richland Township Police Chief Michael Burgan said that the influx of heroin and fentanyl are fueling a rise in ancillary offenses, such as property crimes, robbery and retail theft.

Cambria County President Judge Norman Krumenacker said DUI crimes are a major problem and was made more challenging by a 2021 state Supreme Court ruling on DUI sentencing.

Maribeth Schaffer, Cambria County Chief Public Defender focused on the need for mental health services.

A top priority for Senate Republicans is to ensure Pennsylvanians feel safe in the towns, cities and communities they call home. These hearings will help legislators better understand the trends in crime from law enforcement and key stakeholders, and better match the Commonwealth’s economic goals with community objectives throughout Pennsylvania.

The committee’s next hearing on crime and public safety will be held in Lancaster County in early May.

Video of today’s hearing can be viewed here.

 

CONTACTS:

Erica Clayton Wright (Senator Kim Ward) ewright@pasen.gov
Christine Zubeck (Senator Scavello) czubeck@pasen.gov
Gwenn Dando (Senator Langerholc) gdando@pasen.gov

Senator Kim Ward Announces More Than $14.6 Million for 7 Community Development Projects in Westmoreland County

(GREENSBURG) – Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39) today announced the approval of more than $14.6 million to support 7 community, economic development, and revitalization projects in Westmoreland County.

“Community and economic development go hand-in-hand,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward.  “The funding announced today for these projects will strengthen our local economy through job creation, advance our regional efforts to attract and grow businesses, while also improving the quality of life for our residents.”

Supported through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), the funding will support critical expansion projects, providing opportunities for additional employment training, job creation and community services.

The following projects that were approved across Westmoreland County include:

  • Distribution Park, North Phase II – $1.53 million
    This project will provide development of 60 acres of land into two pad-ready sites.
  • Enhanced Supervision Facility – $2.54 million
    This project will provide new construction of an Enhanced Supervision Facility on Adelphoi’s main campus in Latrobe, Pa.
  • Hempfield Office Park, Phase II – $1.1 million
    This project will advance the development of 110 acers for market pad sites for technology and health care ready expansion projects.
  • Airport Terminal Building Expansion – $4.5 million
    This project will expand the main airport terminal from one story to two and provide a safe dedicated security screening space and more public areas including concessions for passengers.
  • RIDC Westmorland Phase V – $1 million
    This project will improve the RIDC-Westmoreland facility through infrastructure and electrical improvements.
  • LECOM Health Sciences Center – $2 million
    This project will construct a Health Sciences Center to include lecture halls, classrooms, and Problem-Based Learning rooms, laboratories, a learning resource center and student study space, faculty offices, conference rooms.
  • Pulmonary Institute at Redstone – $1.5 million
    This project will construct a new Pulmonary Center facility.  The facility will house 60 patient rooms and 2 family suites.  The Center will have a hospital-grade centralized oxygen delivery system and vacuum system, specific for pulmonary suctioning.  

The projects announced today are in addition to the RACP funds announced in December of 2021.

 

Contact: Erica Clayton Wright, ewright@pasen.gov, (412) 334-4856

Senate Votes to Ban Unsecured Ballot Drop Boxes and Private Funding of Election Operations

 

HARRISBURG – In a strong step forward to safeguard the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections, the Senate approved two bills today that would prevent the future use of unsecured ballot drop boxes and ban private money to fund election operations.

Senate Bill 1200 – sponsored by Senators Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster), Jake Corman (R-Centre) and Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) – would require mail-in ballots that are not returned in the mail to be returned only to the County Board of Elections office, effectively eliminating drop boxes in Pennsylvania. 

Drop boxes were permitted by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2020, despite the fact that they were never authorized or intended by the General Assembly through the legislative process. Since that time, numerous examples of drop boxes being misused have been discovered throughout the state, including:

    • Video evidence from Lehigh County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
    • Video evidence from Lackawanna County showing a man allegedly harvesting multiple ballots into a drop box during the 2021 Primary Election.
    • Video evidence from Montgomery County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
    • Memorandum from Lehigh County explaining how detectives reviewed video from four different drop boxes in the county and determined there were overvotes at each of the locations.
    • Testimony from a Luzerne County Judge of Elections indicating an individual admitting to repeatedly harvesting ballots at a drop box, not realizing it was even illegal.

“Drop boxes are the least secure way to vote in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – period,” said Dush. “Because drop boxes were written into law by the courts, the Senate is now taking steps to mitigate the negative effects of that action and restore the integrity of our elections.”

With many other, more secure ways available for Pennsylvanians to vote, the elimination of these unsecured ballot drop boxes will not negatively impact voter access. There are over 10,000 publicly available locations across the Commonwealth that voters can use to return their ballots, the Senators said.

“Eliminating drop boxes that evidence shows are breeding grounds for suspicious activity will go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in our elections and results,” said Aument. “Our bill will require all ballots be returned to a single central location in each county to streamline the process, prevent tampering, and preserve a strict chain of custody.”

“We have a Constitutional duty to safeguard our election process so every voter knows the results are fair and accurate. When voters don’t believe the process is impartial, then the entire system breaks down,” Senate President Pro Tempore Corman said. “Getting private money out of our elections and eliminating the least secure method of voting should give all voters more faith in our election system.”

“The Pennsylvania Senate took two significant steps this week towards helping to restore election integrity in our Commonwealth’s voting system by eliminating the use of drop boxes and preventing third party funding from influencing elections in Pennsylvania. While other states may use drop boxes, Pennsylvania’s drop boxes have no statutory parameters as they were established by our Commonwealth’s Supreme Court without legislative approval,” said Senate Majority Leader Ward. “It was never the intent of the legislature to establish rogue voting facilities on public street corners with pop-up tents, or in cars, trucks, and vans and without Board of Elections oversight while funded by third parties. The passage of these bills in the House and signature from the governor making them law is a start towards restoring faith in free and fair elections in Pennsylvania.”

Senate Bill 982 – sponsored by Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) – would ban any state employee or county from accepting money from outside groups to pay for the administration of elections in Pennsylvania. The bill was approved by a 37-12 margin with bipartisan support.

The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election. Correspondence between CTCL officials, the Wolf Administration and county officials demonstrates that funding was intentionally directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.

Democrat-leaning counties were selectively invited to apply for the grants before Republican-leaning counties were even made aware of the funding. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties received more than $18 million from CTCL in the 2020 Election, while other counties received significantly less.

For example, Philadelphia received $8.83 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020.  On the other side of the state, Venango County, with a Republican voter registration advantage, received only $.64 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020.

“Our legislation offers a direct, straight-forward clarification to the Pennsylvania Election Code,” Baker said.  “Senate Bill 982 simply states what all of us understood to be fact – government should pay for elections.  Voters, taxpayers and citizens alike deserve the most fair and equitable election system.  It should be uniform from one county to the next regardless of size, demographics, or wealth.”

“After witnessing an incredible investment from a group whose donors are not 100% known in a recent election, we must reaffirm that our election system is above reproach,” Phillips-Hill said. “Every voter should have trust in the system, and the administration of our election system should be free of partisan influence from dark money groups.”

Both bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

CONTACT:           Jason Thompson (Corman)

                                Erica Clayton Wright (Ward)

                                Stephanie Applegate (Aument)

                                Kate Flessner (Baker)

                                Jon Hopcraft (Phillips-Hill)

                                Joseph Foust (Dush)

Senate Republicans Announce Bill to Eliminate Election Drop Boxes Citing Evidence of Misuse

Lack of security, transparency, and consistency with drop boxes prove they are a threat to election integrity

(HARRISBURG) – Senate Republicans announced they will soon introduce a proposal sponsored by Senators Cris Dush (R-25), Ryan Aument (R-36), Jake Corman (R-34), and Kim Ward (R-39) that will require mail-in ballots that are not returned in the mail to be returned only to the County Board of Elections office, effectively eliminating drop boxes in Pennsylvania. The sponsors say the proposal, Senate Bill 1200, is part of continuing efforts to increase the integrity of Pennsylvania’s election system.

Drop boxes were first used in Pennsylvania when they were written into law by the courts, without authorization from the Legislature, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s important for the public to understand that drop boxes were created by the courts out of thin air through an undemocratic and uncollaborative process that was entirely independent of the Legislature,” said Corman. “This key reform is a good first step to help restore the public’s faith in the sanctity of our voting system so Pennsylvanians can once again have an election system they believe in.”

“What the courts claimed was meant to be a temporary solution during the pandemic is now a permanent issue wrought with consequences, including a lack of proper guidelines or security measures to govern the use of these drop boxes,” said Aument.

Since the introduction of drop boxes in 2020, there have been numerous examples from around the state proving they breed misuse:

  • Video evidence from Lehigh County shows ballot stuffing in the 2021 General Election,
  • Video evidence from Lackawanna County of a man allegedly stuffing multiple ballots into a drop box during the 2021 Primary Election,
  • Video evidence from Montgomery County shows ballot stuffing in the 2021 General Election,
  • Testimony from a Luzerne County Judge of Elections indicates an individual admitting to repeatedly stuffing a drop box, not realizing it was even illegal, and
  • Cell phone geolocation data shows suspicious activity regarding drop boxes in Philadelphia, including some devices visiting drop box locations more than 100 times.

Ballot stuffing – the act of depositing anyone’s ballot that isn’t your own into a drop box without written permission – is a crime punishable by a second-degree misdemeanor, and conviction can carry a two-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine under current law.

“Intentional or unintentional, misusing these drop boxes is a crime – period,” said Aument. “Restoring security, transparency, and consistency in our election process will help Pennsylvanians regain trust in results and in the system.”

The bill sponsors are confident the measure won’t negatively impact voter access, as there are plenty of secure ways for Pennsylvanians to cast their vote:

  • In person on Election Day,
  • Provisional ballot on Election Day,
  • Absentee ballot returned via personal mailbox,
  • Absentee ballot returned via USPS collection box,
  • Absentee ballot returned in person at the County Election Office,
  • Absentee ballot returned in person at a USPS office,
  • Absentee ballot returned in person by a designee with written consent if the voter is disabled, or in certain emergency situations, and unable to return it on their own,
  • Mail-in ballot returned via personal mailbox,
  • Mail-in ballot returned via USPS collection box,
  • Mail-in ballot returned in person at the County Election Office,
  • Mail-in ballot returned in person at a USPS office, and
  • Mail-in ballot returned in person by a designee with written consent if the voter is disabled and unable to return it on their own.

“All these methods are more secure than drop boxes,” said Dush. “Eliminating drop boxes will bring us closer to securing our elections while we pursue other necessary reforms.”

 

CONTACT:  Erica Clayton Wright (Senator Kim Ward)

                        Jason Thompson (Senator Corman)

 

Senate Republicans Comment on Court Pausing Wolf’s Unconstitutional Carbon Tax Plan

HARRISBURG – Senate Republican leaders praised the Commonwealth Court today for preventing the Wolf Administration from moving forward with its unconstitutional entry into a multi-state carbon tax agreement that would hurt Pennsylvania’s economy.

The Wolf Administration is attempting to enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through the regulatory process without the approval of the legislature. Every other participating state entered RGGI through the legislative process – not unilateral executive action. A bipartisan majority of legislators have consistently voted against RGGI when the issue has been brought to the floor for a vote.

Senate Republicans – including Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte), Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chair Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) – had previously requested a preliminary injunction to halt publication of the regulation during litigation. The request was granted, and a hearing was scheduled for May 4 on that request.

The court’s order prevents publication of the regulation during the interim, barring any further action of the court.

The Senators issued the following statement today:

“The governor’s attempt to unilaterally enter Pennsylvania into RGGI would put even more financial pressure on Pennsylvania families with increased electric bills at a time when they are already struggling due to inflation and the anti-energy policies of Governor Wolf and President Biden. We need an energy strategy that makes the best use of our natural resources and unleashes the full potential to our economy – not cripple it for the sake of political ideology.

“Governor Wolf’s approach on this issue runs contrary to the Constitution by attempting to usurp powers that are vested in the General Assembly. We cannot allow him to change the rules just because he may not like the outcome. We appreciate the court putting the brakes on this troubled policy until all of the legal issues can be considered on their merits.”

 

CONTACT:            Jason Thompson (Corman)

                                Erica Clayton Wright (Ward)

                                Matt Moyer (Browne)

                                Nick Troutman (Yaw)

                               Jeremy Dias (Pittman)