Senator Fontana greets attendees as they arrive at the final Skills for Success Workshop on November 17th. The 7-workshop series provided tools for job seekers and assisted with resumes, cover letters and other skills to give them a leg up in their search.
Child Abuse by School Employee
As I wrote last week, Senate Bill 549 (SB 549), my legislation that would change the requirements and process for reporting and investigating child abuse by school employees has received a great deal of attention in light of the charges against Jerry Sandusky and the two Penn State officials. There are two questions I am asked continuously by the media: How would SB 549 have changed what happened at Penn State? and Why hasn’t the bill been acted upon?
I can answer the first question – If SB 549 had been law, the incident witnessed by the graduate assistant would have been reported directly to law enforcement and child protective services. There would have been no need for it to go through a chain of command, no responsibility for anyone else to pass information on to officials and the claims would have received immediate attention.
The answer to the second question is not as easy for me. As you know, I first introduced a version of this bill in September of 2005, shortly after I was elected. Through each and every version of it, I have worked with stakeholders – both those who are in favor of the proposed changes and those who had concerns. In that process, I have made concessions and changes to the bill. I have met with those groups that my colleagues have asked me to and my staff has spoken with each and every person who has contacted my office on this bill – to hear their story, to determine if we can address their concerns and to continue to improve this bill. I have done everything that has been asked of me – and the bill is a better piece of legislation because of it.
The answer must come from the Senate Republican leadership which has ignored multiple requests to move the legislation – and the answers need to be given not to me, but to others in our Commonwealth:
- To the third grader in Chester County, an 8-year-old who was grabbed in an arm lock and then punched in the face by a school custodian
- To the autistic child in Philadelphia whose teacher was hitting him at school, causing him to regress in his behavior, wet the bed and lose his temper
- To the Scranton-area autistic children who had been tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape
- To the Beaver County first-grader who was paddled by a school guard
- To the high school freshman in Allegheny County who was attacked and body slammed by a coach/support staff employee at his high school resulting in a broken wrist
- To the 9-year-old in Dauphin County whose finger had to be surgically reattached after a substitute teacher slammed a door on his hand
Unfortunately, these stories are far too frequent and many more examples can be found in our Commonwealth of instances of abuse. It’s time that we eliminate laws that provide dual standards for perpetrators depending on what their job is, and that we step up and protect ALL children from ALL abuse. Won’t you join me?
Marcellus Shale Impact Fee
As you may be aware, both the Senate and House considered and voted on Marcellus Shale legislation last week. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1100 (SB 1100) on November 16th by a vote of 29-20 – I voted against its passage. Similarly, the House passed House Bill 1950 (HB 1950) on November 17th by a vote of 107-76. Those bills will now cross chambers for consideration.
I received many communications on this issue leading up to the final vote. The concerns that were raised over and over were the need for heightened environmental protections, a fair impact fee with revenue distribution that made sense and the ability for residents to work with their local officials to make decisions about drilling that make sense for them locally. I do not believe that SB 1100 addressed any of these issues convincingly.
There are some heightened environmental protections in that setbacks are increased, there is additional notice of applications, a requirement that emergency regulations be adopted, and requires disclosure of hydraulic fracturing components, as well as other changes, but I believe that some of these provisions could have gone further to ensure that we are protecting the water quality, particularly, in our state. The impact fee is set only at $50,000 for the first year of production and is reduced each year, eventually phasing out after the 20th year of production. As we saw with coal, it is very probable that the effects of drilling may not be seen for quite some time making a phase-out of the fee questionable. Additionally, while we want to be competitive in the fee that is being set, the provisions of SB 1100 do not seem to take into effect that Pennsylvania has one of the largest reserves of natural gas in the country. Rather than understanding and valuing this asset, the extraction tax is the 5th lowest rate in the country. The distribution of the funds also does not go far enough. While some concerns have been addressed through the impact account, many others remain. Last, but certainly not least, SB 1100 allows local governments to pass drilling ordinances, but also provides operators with the ability to request that the Attorney General review it to determine whether it allows for the reasonable development of oil and gas operations. The bill also outlines requirements that local governments must follow for drilling in residential areas as a permitted or conditional use after meeting certain requirements.
For quite some time, I have advocated and called for the imposition of a fee on the Marcellus Shale industry, but have also stressed the need to balance the support of this promising industry with the responsibility to our citizenry and their safety. I do not believe that SB 1100 achieved that balance and that is why I voted against it on final passage.
Offices Closed for Thanksgiving
All Senate Offices will be closed on Thursday, November 24th and Friday, November 25th in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. They will reopen on Monday, November 28th as scheduled.
As we celebrate this national holiday and give thanks for the blessings in our lives, let us always remember that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be just one day a year – and that there are additional ways to express thanks, other than just by words:
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation
is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Did You Know…
The United States will raise 248 million turkeys in 2011. Pennsylvania is expected to raise nearly 8 million of those.
Webinar – Saving for College
On Monday, December 5th, I will be hosting two webinars on the Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program. The first will take place from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. with the second running from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sponsored by the Commonwealth and administered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, the Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program offers a range of resources specifically designed to assist families in saving for college. These webinars will discuss 529 plan basics, including the tax benefits, financial aid impact, and setting savings goals. Program Specialists will also be able to answer any questions you may have.
Join the webinar – Monday, December 5, 2011 from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Click here to register!
Join the webinar – Monday, December 5, 2011 from 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Click here to register!
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
You may have received notifications from your utility companies in recent weeks, encouraging you to add a carbon monoxide (CO) detector to the inside of your house, to ensure your home is being heated properly. This is something residents should consider as carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas.
I have co-sponsored Senate Bill 920 (SB 920) which, if passed, would require residential buildings to have a carbon monoxide detector installed upon sale of the building. Landlords would also be required to have detectors installed in each unit. Any residential building that has a fossil fuel burning heater or appliance, contains a fireplace or has an attached garage would need to be in compliance. Under SB 920, multi-family homes would have one year to install a carbon monoxide detector. The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that is produced whenever any fuel is burned without a sufficient amount of oxygen. Malfunctioning or improperly vented appliances often create carbon monoxide which can be poisonous and even lethal in enclosed spaces. Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania has provided information on the dangers of carbon monoxide, what signs to look for, where to purchase detectors and more.
Community Forum on Ending Homelessness
Last week I participated in a panel discussion on ending homelessness in our region at a forum hosted by Carnegie Mellon University and Community Human Services (CHS). This forum provided me the opportunity to speak with those in attendance about a bill I have introduced that would help homeless children by focusing on the continuity of their education.
Senate Bill 157 (SB 157) creates a task force on Homeless Children’s Education that is composed of 17 members and chaired by the Secretary of Education. The task force would be charged with conducting a study of the homeless child population and their educational needs in this Commonwealth and making a report of its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and Governor within one year. It is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
Brookline Christmas Tree Lighting
Brookline’s Christmas Lighting Social will take place on Saturday, November 26th from 6:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. at Cannon Coffee (802 Brookline Boulevard). Refreshments will be available, music will be playing and the annual Memory Tree will be lit. The Christmas Memory Tree will be displayed in Cannon Coffee’s front window beginning Saturday and individuals will have the opportunity to purchase a light for the tree in the memory or honor of a friend or loved one.
The Christmas Lighting Social is sponsored by the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the event, please call 412-563-0759.
Heidelberg’s First Night of Lights
Heidelberg Borough will host the 2nd Annual First Night of Lights on Saturday, December 3rd from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Ellsworth Avenue Playground (corner of Ellsworth Ave. & 3rd Street). There will be live music, an ice carving show, bon fires, hay rides, kettle corn, free hot chocolate, the lighting of the Borough Christmas tree, and a visit from Santa Claus. Residents attending are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy as the borough will be donating all received toys to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
Montour & Sto-Rox – Heinz Field Bound
Congratulations to Montour and Sto-Rox on earning trips to Heinz Field for the WPIAL football championships on Saturday, November 26th. Montour held on for a 21-14 win over previously unbeaten Central Valley. They will face Knoch in the Class AAA Championship Game. Sto-Rox defeated Bishop Canevin 12-10 in a battle of undefeated teams to earn their way to Heinz Field. Sto-Rox will face another undefeated team in the Class A Championship, Clairton. Here’s the schedule:
WPIAL Class A Championship Game – Heinz Field
Saturday, November 26th, 11:00 a.m.
Sto-Rox vs. Clairton
WPIAL Class AAA Championship Game – Heinz Field
Saturday, November 26th, 2:00 p.m.
Montour vs. Knoch
- Montour jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead over Central Valley in a WPIAL Class AAA Semifinal game. Dillon Buechel hooked up with Aaron Reed on a 12-yard touchdown pass and Julian Durden scored on a three-yard run. Leading 14-7 in the 3rd quarter, Durden scored his second rushing touchdown, from 12 yards out, to give Montour a 21-7 lead. Durden would finish with 182 yards rushing on 28 carries. Montour’s defense intercepted three Central Valley passes and recovered four fumbles in the 21-14 win.
- Josh Beverly (133) and Lenny Williams (104) each rushed for over 100 yards in a 12-10 Sto-Rox win over Bishop Canevin in a WPIAL Class A Semifinal game. Both teams entered the game undefeated. Josh Beverly opened the scoring with a two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter giving Sto-Rox a 6-0 lead. Jacob Schnelbach kicked a 27-yard field goal for Bishop Canevin and before halftime, Kevin Mechas connected with Bobby Gustine on a 52-yard touchdown pass, giving Bishop Canevin a 10-6 lead at halftime. Mechas finished with 161 yards passing. In the fourth quarter, Lenny Williams threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marzett Geter to give Sto-Rox the 12-10 win. Congratulations to Bishop Canevin on a terrific season!
- Seton La-Salle suffered its first loss of the season, 40-21 to Jeannette, in a WPIAL Class AA Semifinal game. Kevin Hart scored his 31st touchdown on the season and Luke Brumbaugh threw for 257 yards. Dylan Boccella finished the game with 107 yards receiving on seven catches. Congratulations to Seton La-Salle on an outstanding season!
(From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
The first real owner of Neville Island was General John Neville, to whom it was given by act of Congress in consideration of his valuable services to the colonies during the Revolutionary War. General Neville was born in Virginia not far from the birthplace of George Washington, one year earlier than the Father of his country, and the two men were very close friends.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana