Week of February 4, 2019
It was great meeting with students and staff from Dauphin County Technical School and the York County School of Technology this week. What an amazing and driven group of youth. I was glad to hear of their positive experiences in their respective technical programs. Best of luck to all of you in your future endeavors!
Constituent Highlight: Jennifer Dixon and Aaron Young
Congratulations to Jennifer Dixon and Aaron Young, both of Middletown, Dauphin County in the 48th Senatorial District, for being honored with a Carnegie Medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission! Established in 1904, the Carnegie Medal honors individuals in the U.S. and Canada who have risked their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
Jennifer Dixon was selected to receive the award for helping to save the life of a teenage boy after an automobile accident on November 25, 2016. While returning from a high school football game, the driver of the vehicle lost control and crashed in Lower Swatara Township. Jennifer, who was driving through the area with her mother, heroically stopped to render aid. While Aaron Young rescued the driver, Jennifer ran to the vehicle and burned her hand trying to pry open the front passenger door. After hearing the passenger call for help, Jennifer kicked and shattered the window of the rear passenger-side door, crawled beneath flames from inside the car, partially entered the vehicle and dragged the passenger part way out of the car.
With the assistance of her mother, Mavis Dixon, Jennifer pulled the passenger to safety and patted down the flames, while Aaron Young rendered aid to the driver. Aaron extended his arms through the shattered window of the driver’s side door, pulled the driver to safety, and patted out the flames until a police officer arrived with a fire extinguisher.
Jennifer and Aaron are truly deserving of recognition and praise for their outstanding response and successful avoidance of a potentially tragic situation.
Column: Election Reforms
I’m pleased to join with Senate colleagues to propose bipartisan election changes – beginning with three constitutional amendments: absentee ballots, poll workers, and judicial retention elections.
Under Pennsylvania’s Constitution, voters wanting absentee ballots are restricted to when their work takes them outside their county, an illness or disability, or observance of a religious holiday.
By amending Pennsylvania’s Constitution, we can empower voters to request and submit absentee ballots for any reason – allowing them to vote early and by mail.
We’d also like to address other absentee ballot issues, including: eliminating public postings of approved absentee voters’ names, mailing absentee ballots earlier, and giving voters more time to return absentee ballots.
We should also establish that voters could make written requests to be placed on a county Permanent Early Voting List – with procedures to remove inactive voters. Once a voter opts in, they would automatically receive absentee ballots.
During Pennsylvania’s 1968 Constitutional Convention, there were apparently concerns with poll workers, and the existing Constitution excludes federal, state, county, or municipal employees. We can expand the number of volunteer poll workers through a constitutional amendment that eliminates these restrictions.
Pennsylvania’s existing Constitution also has an anomaly that causes confusion and needless costs: requiring a separate ballot or column for the retention of justices, judges, and justices of the peace. Another constitutional amendment would eliminate this problem.
Counties must secure polls, comply with federal ADA requirements, get voting machines delivered on time and ready to use, and find volunteers for polls. These challenges are compounded in precincts with less than 250 voters. We should give counties the option to consolidate small precincts and also add another option to mail ballots in undersized districts. Ballots would be automatically mailed like absentee ballots and voters would return them without going to a poll.
Current Pennsylvania election law also requires counties to have ballots for 110% of the total number of registered voters for each polling place. We can trim these needless costs by reducing the requirement to 10% of the highest number of ballots cast in the previous three Primary or General Elections in each individual election district.
Write-in candidates are an American phenomenon: a person not on the ballot is elected by voters who write in his or her name. However, there are unintended consequences. For example, someone writes-in a name regardless of interest or qualifications and that other person is elected by just one write-in vote. Write-in candidates should receive the same number of votes as would be required if they had filed nomination petitions. For example, if ten petition signatures are required, a write-in candidate should need to receive a minimum of ten identical write-in votes to be elected to that office.
We should also give counties the option to establish “Vote Centers”: alternatives to traditional, neighborhood polls. Voters would be allowed to cast votes at any county Vote Center – regardless of their home address. Studies have shown vote centers may increase voter turnout while cutting costs.
We should also consider “curbside voting”. If a voter cannot physically enter a poll, he or she may ask an election officer bring a ballot to the entrance or curb. There, they would be read the ballot (unless otherwise requested by the voter). However, it would be illegal to try to influence a voter, mark the ballot any other way than requested, or tell how someone voted.
As chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I look forward to deliberating these and other proposed election changes in the weeks and months ahead.
Senate State Government Committee Meeting
The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, held its first committee meeting on January 29th to consider three pieces of legislation: SB 9 (Yaw), designating the Eastern hellbender as the official amphibian of PA, SB 26 (Schwank), regarding Project 70 restrictions in Berks County, and SB 130 (Gordner), addressing a property restriction in Montour County.
I’d also like to welcome back committee members from last session, Senators Stefano, White and A. Williams (Minority Chair), and new committee members Senators Phillips-Hill (Vice-Chair), Gordner, J. Ward, Collett, Muth and L. Williams. I’m looking forward to the committee collecting information on, and advancing, many important issues this session!
Cornwall United Methodist Church 225th Anniversary
Cornwall United Methodist Church, in Lebanon County, recently celebrated its 225th anniversary! The congregation was established in 1793 in its first meeting place, a small brick structure built in the 1830s. A new church, constructed of limestone and brown sandstone, was erected in 1877, and a pipe organ, bell and stained glass windows were added over the years. In 1998, a major addition to the building was completed, adding an elevator, corridor to the sanctuary and three floors of space, including the Fellowship Hall, a kitchen, classrooms, offices and a library.
The Cornwall United Methodist Church has provided spiritual strength as well as compassionate assistance for residents of the community. Throughout its history, it has been blessed with a succession of pastors whose guidance and leadership have helped it to grow and flourish, as well as faithful and devoted members. The church is presently following the spiritual guidance of the Reverend Jim Heath. Best wishes for continued service to God and humanity!
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