After a productive 2017 – 2018 Session, I’m optimistic about 2019.
Last Session, I advanced a host of initiatives – including the breaking of a logjam on how election lines would be drawn by a to-be-created independent citizens’ commission. I’m reintroducing my recommended changes previously approved with overwhelming Senate support and I look forward to continued – bipartisan – discussions.
I also hope to build on successful initiatives to improve the stewardship of taxpayers’ moneys while ensuring quality service for state government customers. The former was strengthened by expanding the role of the Commonwealth’s Inspector General. The latter was advanced through modernization of the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission. These changes provide better oversight for the expenditure of taxpayer moneys and ensure more competition in the Commonwealth’s efforts to recruit, promote, and maintain a qualified professional workforce through merit employment.
I was also pleased to bring some modest but nonetheless important changes involving the confiscation of property of people suspected of crimes. Drug arrests are the most common examples of civil asset seizures by law enforcement: cash, cars, and sometimes homes. The changes I was able to secure establish higher burdens of proof, protections for third-party owners, and improved transparency in the use, auditing, and reporting of forfeited property. Continued attention will be needed to protect property rights.
That’s why I’m going to continue the fight to eliminate school property taxes. Those of us who are committed to this much needed and long overdue goal want to build upon the constitutional amendment approved by voters for a “homestead exemption” for primary residences. More to follow on these ongoing efforts.
I was also pleased to address a court action delaying an important component of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program: research.
When medical cannabis came to Pennsylvania three years ago, one of the key provisions making our Commonwealth unique was the so-called “Chapter 20” provision for research. Of course, the devil is always in the details and there were (and continue to be) many issues related to cannabis research. Successful implementation of the medical cannabis law I advocated in 2016 is a primary reason why I ran for a fourth term. This program is simply too important to too many people to not get it right.
After serving as chair of the Senate State Government Committee the last four years, I also wanted another four years as chair to advance other reforms. In addition to continued deliberations on redistricting, I’d like to discuss possible election and ethics laws changes.
Few government functions are more important than election security and integrity. We need to ensure every vote is both protected and counted.
Statewide, all county election machines are being decertified and must be replaced prior to the 2020 Presidential Elections – elections that will surely see high turnout and be extremely contentious. There are many questions that need to be answered – including who and how to pay for these multi-million dollar replacement costs. I do not believe the Commonwealth should move forward to replace voting machines until these questions are fully answered.
We also need to look at ways to make it easier to vote – things like voting by absentee or mail ballot, early voting, and voting methods used in other states.
Like Pennsylvania’s election law, our ethics law has had few changes since its passage decades ago. The key to these deliberations will be ensuing that reform proposals actually work. Simple solutions may not be the best. We need to do our due diligence to ensure whatever changes we make will have an impact and not just be window dressing.
I look forward to these important and needed discussions.