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Senator Fontana and Maggie Forbes

Senator Fontana and Maggie Forbes, the Executive Director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall stand inside the Capt. Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) which just recently re-opened after having been sealed up nearly 50 years ago. The Post room is believed to be one of only a handful of intact GAR Post rooms in the country

Legislation Prohibiting Private Transfer Fees Moves from Committee

Last Wednesday, the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee took up Senate Bill 353 (SB 353), my legislation that would prohibit private transfer fees from being imposed in Pennsylvania. The bill was unanimously reported from the committee and I am hopeful that it will be considered by the full Senate in the very near future.

Private Transfer Fees are also known as resale fees or capital recovery fees and allow the developer or builder of a home (or in some cases, a commercial property) to collect 1% (or more) of the sales price from the seller every time the property changes hands for the next 99 years. It is a new tool being used by companies (developers and builders) seeking new ways to gain access to cash in the depressed housing market.

This is a consumer protection issue. In some states, a declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions isn’t included in the closing papers and doesn’t even require a signature. Essentially, someone with no ownership stake or interest can continue to collect revenue off of a property that they may have built up to 99 years ago. Opponents believe that it exploits an already complex real estate transaction and think that it could also hurt real estate values in the future if buyers are reluctant to purchase properties that have a fee attached. Other negative consequences of the PTF include the fact that it takes equity from consumers, can cost consumers money when the home is sold, will depress home prices, has no positive impact on an assessment, creates an additional disincentive to sell or purchase property in a depressed housing market, reduces transparency for buyers, creates lien issues for lenders, and increases the risk of title claims

This legislation was also introduced in the last legislative session as Senate Bill 1481 and was unanimously passed by the Senate. Unfortunately, it was not considered by the House before the end of the legislative session. The bill is supported by the PA Association of Realtors, the PA Land Title Association, the Community Associations Institute and the PA Bankers Association.

R. I. P. Chuck Tanner

As you may know, last Friday, Chuck Tanner, the former Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who led the team to their last World Series title, passed away at the age of 82. Chuck was a Western PA boy who grew up in New Castle, Lawrence County. He attended high school and played ball at Shenango High School and in his later years lived in Neshannock Township, both in Lawrence County. During yesterday’s session, I offered a condolence resolution, Senate Resolution 37 (SR 37), in the Senate, recognizing Chuck Tanner’s contributions to our region, along with Senator Robbins and Senator Vogel.

Chuck Tanner is most well know for leading the Pirates to their 1979 World Series pennant. The team was a true FAM-A-LEE and worked together to get their team into the playoffs. The 1979 Pirates team became one of only six teams in the 20th century to have won a World Series after trailing three games to one.

Folks in Western PA and Pittsburgh remember Chuck Tanner more though for his life off of the field. He was a true and genuine character and even after the spotlight of the game was over was always gracious and hospitable. He possessed incredible courage, compassion and devotion to his wife, Babs (Barbara), to whom he provided constant care and attention during the final years of her life until she passed in 2006.

Chuck Tanner’s incredible generosity and positive spirit spread not only to his family, but to anyone in the community that came in contact with him. Chuck would always take or make the time to talk, acknowledge and bring smiles to the faces of everyone in his personal and professional life. He possessed a magnetic personality and a genuine heart, proven by the countless memories he will leave in the lives of those he touched.

“What you have to remember is that baseball isn't a week or a month but a season - and a season is a long time.” ~ Chuck Tanner

adultBasic

As I am sure you are aware, adultBasic, Pennsylvania’s health insurance coverage for modest income adults, is set to expire on February 28, 2011. Although there has been a loud call for further extension of the program, Governor Corbett has indicated that the program will not be continued. If you currently receive adultBasic coverage, you must take steps to pursue alternative coverage.

The Department of Insurance has provided a website and toll-free number (1-800-GO-BASIC) that can be used by those who need more information or have questions about the alternatives. The Medical Assistance (click on “Do I Qualify”) program is available to those whose income may have decreased or who may have become disabled since enrolling in adultBasic. If you have turned 65, are disabled, or meet other eligibility, you may qualify for Medicare.

Share Your Story PA’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans offer Special Care, a subsidized health insurance plan for individuals and families. Eligibility for Special Care is similar to that for adultBasic, but the level of benefits and the costs are different; however, the plans have agreed to waive pre-existing condition exclusions for adultBasic members who enroll directly into Special Care by May 1, 2011.

Please be assured that I, and my colleagues, recognize the impact that the expiration of this program will have on working Pennsylvanians. Nearly 42,000 individuals have adultBasic coverage and there are another 400,000 who still have no insurance coverage in our Commonwealth. We are continuing to struggle with why the decision has been made to end the program. Pennsylvania’s Blue Cross plans have contributed funding toward adultBasic as part of their charitable mission for the past five years, during which time their surpluses have increased from $3.5 billion in 2002 to $5.6 billion in 2009 (that’s a growth rate two-and-a-half times more than that of wages in Pennsylvania!) Despite this unsurpassed revenue growth, the agreed-to funding plan has ended, and it looks like it will not be brought up for renegotiation.

Considering their revenues over the past five years, the Blues could fully fund adultBasic - without any state funds - by using less than 3% of their combined surpluses. In the alternative, I have co-sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 420 (SB 420), that proposes using the legislative surplus funds ($189 million) to temporarily fund the program until a better solution is found. I remain supportive of extending adultBasic and will continue to advocate for the families that rely on the program to receive affordable health care.

Senate Offices Closed Next Monday

In observance of President’s Day, all Senate offices will be closed next Monday, February 21st, but will be open on Tuesday, February 22nd as scheduled.
 

Autism Mini-Grants

Families and individuals that are unable to access Autism support services should apply for mini-grants from the Bureau of Autism Services. These grants are available to support children and adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and families that include an individual with ASD. Applicants that meet eligibility requirements can apply for up to $500. Priority will be given to those who have not previously received a Bureau of Autism Services mini-grant. Grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Applications for the 2011 grant program will be available February 18th on the Bureau of Autism Services website. To request a paper application, call 1-866-539-7689 after February 18th. The full application packet will have more information about the grant and directions for completing your application. The Bureau has also developed a recorded webcast that shares information about the mini-grant application process.

For this legislative session, I have been appointed to the Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee. I have always been committed to the health and safety of residents in the 42nd District and across the Commonwealth, but believe that with this appointment I will be able to provide additional information to you directly related to the issues that come before us. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you to address the issues that are of interest and importance to you.

Make a Donation Operation Safety Net

Donations for Operation Safety Net

A program that provides much-needed health care to homeless men and women in Pittsburgh is looking for donations. Operation Safety Net is in need of men’s clothing, especially new gloves, hats, undergarments and cotton socks. Your donation can help people in need get through the rest of the winter season. As part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, Operation Safety Net has become a model for similar programs nationwide. Before delivering your donation call 412-232-5739, or visit the Mercy website to make a financial contribution.

Trail Based Tourism Learning Event

Are you interested in learning more about the benefits of trail-based tourism? Join the Ohio River Trail Council on Tuesday, March 1st at 6:00 p.m. at the Community College of Beaver County, Room 9103 for a special educational event to discuss the economic benefits of nature and trail based tourism and how it affects the region. The event is free and registration is not required. For more information, contact Dr. Vincent Troia at 724-728-2625, or e-mail him directly at troiaeye@verizon.net.

Scholarship Application Deadline Extended

Pennsylvania American Water has extended the application deadline for its 2010-2011 Stream of Learning Scholarship Program until March 11th. This scholarship was noted in my News & Views last month and is available to students living in the company’s service area (Pittsburgh is included), and those who are interested in pursuing a career in the water and wastewater industry. The program will award ten $2,000 scholarships. Applications can be downloaded from the company’s website and must be postmarked by March 11, 2011.

Around the District

Much of this past week was spent in Harrisburg. The Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee held a joint hearing with the Senate Consumer Protection Committee to hear from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office about the charges against Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the Grand Jury’s recommendations for changes to the Department of Health and the Department of State that will provide further protections for the health and welfare of our Commonwealth’s residents.

This past week, I had a number of nominee meetings, giving me the opportunity to talk with and learn more about the individuals that have been appointed to head up our Commonwealth’s departments and agencies. The Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee will have an ongoing relationship with C. Alan Walker who has been nominated as the Secretary for the Department of Community & Economic Development. I was glad to hear of his support for several programs that have been beneficial to our region and look forward to changes that he intends to make that will result in a more efficient and effective department. His nomination hearing is scheduled before my committee on March 1st.

The Legislative Budget & Finance Committee met this past week and released two separate reports – one on the cost of implementing a statewide virtual learning program and the other on the cost of transportation for Medical Assistance patients to methadone treatment clinics. As I noted above, the Senate Urban Affairs Committee also met on Wednesday.

Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to tour the Espy Post at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall. The “Carnegie Carnegie” is home to a true national treasure: the Capt. Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The Espy Post is one of a half dozen most intact GAR posts in the country. To put that number in perspective, there were over 6,000 GAR posts across the United States in the late 19th century. In 1906 members of the Espy Post signed a charter with Library trustees. Local veterans of that war used the room from 1906 until the mid-1930s for meetings and to house their collection of flags, books, prints and relics. When the Thomas Espy Post of the Grand Army of the Republic ceased operations, the Civil War Room was locked and left undisturbed for 50 years. The room suffered from water damage, mold, mildew and neglect; however, it became a virtual time capsule. Not only does it house invaluable artifacts, but the room itself provides a unique historical record of the first part of the century.

he Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Fontana Fact

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has been named one of the top ten children’s museums in the country. Parents magazine ranked the museum seventh on its list. The magazine was impressed with the museum’s Mister Roger’s Neighborhood exhibit, its Curiosity Lab and the Gravity Room. According to the magazine, it’s also a great place for children as young as six months.

 

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana