Open Seat 48th E-Newsletter

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August 19, 2019

DCNR/State Fire Commissioner Wildfire Fighting Grants

The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the PA State Fire Commissioner recently announced more than 130 wildfire fighting grants totaling nearly $620,000 to assist volunteer fire companies. Within the 48th Senatorial District, Neptune Fire Co. No. 1 in Richland, Lebanon County, received $1,560 to assist with wildfire fighting efforts.

Agriculture in the 48th Senatorial District

According to the May 2019 PA Farm Bureau Country Focus and based off the 2017 Census of Agriculture, York County is ranked number two in the state for the number of farms – 2,067 – and number six for total value agriculture production at $261 million. Lebanon County is ranked number five in the state for total value agriculture production at $351 million.

And, according to the May/June 2019 Center for Rural Pennsylvania newsletter, Rural Perspectives, and the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the percent change in the number of farms from 2012 to 2017 decreased: Dauphin County -14.7%, Lebanon County -5.7% and York County -4.8%. The percent change in the number of acres of farmland from 2012 to 2017 also decreased: Dauphin County -37.2%, Lebanon County -11.4% and York County -3.6%.

Pennsylvania’s Top 10 commodities in 2017 were (sales in millions):

  1. Milk – $1,979.36
  2. Poultry – $1,684.54
  3. Horticulture – $1,015.95
  4. Cattle – $625.53
  5. Corn – $619.46
  6. Hogs – $572.50
  7. Other field crops – $360.62
  8. Soybeans – $286.88
  9. Vegetables – $187.32
  10. Fruit and Tree Nuts – $158.43

Column: Why?

A recent veto by Governor Wolf has me asking: Why? Who? What? Why?

Why did the Governor take this action? Who called him? What did they say to convince him to veto? Why did he issue a veto only to turn around and ask for similar proposed changes? Why hasn’t the Governor been pressed for better answers? Why?

I know some reporters have more extensive background on these questions as a number of them have talked with me. Yet, not one story as to why an elections bill unanimously reported from the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, became contentious and was ultimately vetoed. Why?

The Governor’s veto message said:  “. . . this bill eliminates straight party ballot voting. This policy choice removes a convenient voting option which is used by voters of any party affiliation. To implement such a change, particularly as new machines are being used for the first time, could lead to voter confusion and longer lines at the polls. These factors may lead to decreased voter participation, which, again, is in conflict with an inclusive approach to our system of elections. I sought amendatory language at various points to include voter-friendly reforms in this legislation, but those changes were not accepted.”

Why didn’t someone – anyone – from the Governor’s Office share his recommended changes – especially since I’ve been working on election reforms for nearly three years? Why? Who did the Governor talk with and what did they say to convince him to veto the bill?

The Senate State Government Committee included the Governor’s Department of State in public hearings to give input on bills to change Pennsylvania’s election laws. At no time did either the Governor’s Office or his Department of State ever make any mention of any opposition related to straight party voting. Why?

The only comments the Department of State made about straight party voting was to request a technical change and offer an explanation of the so-called “Pennsylvania Method” of straight party voting:  “. . . we are the ONLY state that requires the system to behave in the way described . . . .” Why wasn’t the uniqueness of the “Pennsylvania Method” a reason for the Governor to sign the bill to eliminate straight party voting rather than veto it? Why?

The vetoed bill would also have provided $90 Million to help counties replace voting systems. Shortly after his veto, the Governor proposed floating a $90 Million bond. Why hasn’t this been questioned more? Why have so few called it “flimsy and legally questionable”? Why?

The vetoed bill would have also eased absentee ballot requirements – perhaps even moving Pennsylvania toward no excuse absentee balloting or vote by mail. Why would the Governor veto a bill with such changes and then call for similar modifications? Why?

I asked the Acting Secretary about the elimination of straight party voting and the Department said it “. . . is mostly neutral on the issue of straight party voting.” They added:  “It is an area of the code the Department would love to see changed. . . .” What happened to the love? Why didn’t this factor into the Governor’s decision? Why hasn’t the Governor been pressed to explain the inconsistency? Why?

Given the extensive public vetting done by the Senate State Government Committee, the Legislature’s efforts to address Department of State concerns with election changes, and the dearth of communication from either the Department or the Governor on the very possibility of a veto on straight party voting, why aren’t more people asking questions and looking for answers?


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