Early Voting Hearing
In early November, I asked the Senate Democratic Policy Committee to hold a hearing in Pittsburgh on my Senate Bill 255 (SB 255) that would allow early voting in Pennsylvania. Specifically, my legislation would grant voters the ability to cast their ballot up to 15 days before Election Day at designated sites established by the county board of elections. These geographically located sites would be required to be open eight hours daily and on at least one weekend day. Early votes would not be tabulated until Election Day.
The bill, which is currently under consideration in the Senate Committee on State Government, has 14 co-sponsors. However, SB 255 will need to be reintroduced in January since our 2015-16 legislative session ends on November 30.
Since first introducing my legislation two sessions ago, four additional states have adopted early voting policies which brings the total number of states who have some type of early voting in place to 37, as well as the District of Columbia. Our commonwealth is now only one of 13 states who not only does not offer early voting, but we also still require an excuse for absentee ballots. To truly understand the magnitude early voting has had on the United States and how behind the commonwealth is, on November 7, one day before this year’s Presidential Election, 42 million Americans had already casted their ballot through early voting.
Participating in the hearing included the Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the executive director for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the chair of the political science department at Duquesne University, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Common Cause of Pennsylvania. The Department of State also provided us with written testimony on my legislation and early voting.
At the hearing, it was highlighted that a recently released report from The Brennan Center for Justice found that early voting offers several benefits including less stress on the election system, improved poll worker performance, shorter lines for voters, early identification and correction of registration errors and, greater access to voting and a better experience for voters. We were also made aware that the Wolf Administration supports in-person early voting, no excuse absentee voting and election reforms that are aimed at making elections in Pennsylvania free, fair and accessible for all eligible citizens.
The League of Women Voters was quick to point out that in the 2012 presidential elections, Pennsylvania ranked 29th in voter turnout. That number declined even more in the 2015 elections where less than 25% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters participated. In their view, early voting would offer an additional means to encourage voting in our state.
We also heard from some about the difficulties behind instituting early voting in the commonwealth. Douglas Hill, who serves as executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, expressed support for the early voting concept, but said ballot certification was a potential drawback. He stated that the ongoing and relentless litigation involving this year’s ballot question on judicial retirement is an example of how ballot certification can be difficult to provide for early voting.
Duquesne University Professor Clifford Bob added that early voting would have a minimal impact for some demographic groups on voter turn-out, but that the convenience factor was significant. As a means to keep costs down and give voters more time to contemplate candidates, Bob recommended that the legislation’s early voting window be shortened from 15 days to no longer than a week.
Over the years, I have heard from a number of constituents that have expressed they could not vote or have found it difficult to vote because the day and times were inconvenient to their busy schedules. Others have expressed they do not have the time to spend waiting in long lines at the polling sites.
The purpose of this hearing was to start a conversation on how to move Pennsylvania forward when it comes to voting as well as find ways to improve upon the original legislation as I look to reintroduce a form of early voting again in the 2017-18 session. I believe my bill will offer greater convenience by enabling voters to cast their ballot days or weeks before Election Day as well as accommodate and provide accessibility for all while maintaining our electoral integrity.
Did You Know…
Did you know that in the late 1980’s Texas was the first state to offer early in-person voting?
REAL ID Act
In 2005 Congress passed a law the REAL ID Act that will soon have implications for Pennsylvanians. This federal legislation was recommended by the 9/11 Commission which was formed after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. This Act “established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards.”
Pennsylvania is currently one of five states that are not compliant with these federal standards. As of January 30, 2017 federal military bases will be prohibited from accepting Pennsylvania driver’s licenses or ID cards as a means to enter a facility. Admission to federal courthouses with a Pennsylvania driver’s license or ID card will continue. Beginning in January of 2018, the federal Transportation Security Administration will no longer accept Pennsylvania driver’s licenses or ID cards to board commercial aircraft.
Please know that the General Assembly is working with PennDOT to try and rectify this matter prior to the end of January and I will keep you abreast of developments.
Dispose of Unused Medications in Brookline
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen recently implemented an initiative to help residents safely eliminate unused and expired narcotic medications. Project D.U.M.P. (Disposal of Unused Medications Properly), allows citizens to contact a Sheriff’s Office Evidence Custodian who will report to their residence and take possession of any unwanted medications. The Sheriff’s Office established this program to help curtail opioid and heroin related overdoses and overdose deaths in Allegheny County.
I’m pleased that Sheriff Mullen is taking Project D.U.M.P. on the road and his office will be collecting unwanted and/or unused medications in my Brookline office on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. My Brookline office is located at 932 Brookline Boulevard.
The Sheriff’s Office continues to stress that drug take-back programs are among the safest options for disposing of unused prescription narcotics, and that medications such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin should not be thrown in the trash, flushed down the toilet, or left around the house for others to access.
If you have any medications you want to dispose of, I encourage you to visit my office on Nov. 22. Anyone with questions on Project D.U.M.P. can contact Deputy Joe Cirigliano at 412-459-5000.
LIHEAP is Open
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is now accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office, 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Reminder - Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program
I want to remind everyone that the deadline to file for a rebate through the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue 2015 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program is December 31. Applications are available at www.revenue.pa.gov or at my district offices and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and over; widows and widowers age 50 and over; and people with disabilities age 18 and over. Homeowners with a maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate. Keep in mind half of Social Security income is excluded. Some applicants who previously received rebates may continue to qualify despite Social Security cost-of-living adjustments that may have pushed their income past eligibility limits.
If you have already filed an application, have not received your rebate yet and wish to check on its status, please click here or visit www.revenue.pa.gov and click on the tab “Where’s My Property Tax/Rent Rebate?” on the home page.
PennDOT Accepting Multimodal Applications
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is accepting applications through Dec. 16 for funding transportation improvement projects under the Multimodal Transportation Fund. Eligible applicants include municipalities, councils of governments, business, non-profits, economic development organizations, public transportation agencies, Transportation Management Associations, ports, rail, or freight entities.
The Multimodal Fund was created by Act 89 of 2013. Four types of projects are eligible to receive funding. They are: projects which coordinate local land use with transportation assets to enhance existing communities; projects related to streetscapes, lighting, sidewalk enhancement and pedestrian safety; projects improving connectivity or utilization of existing transportation assets; and projects related to transit-oriented development. A local match of at least 30 percent is required.
For more information on PennDOT’s Multimodal Transportation Fund, please visit www.penndot.gov and click on “Multimodal Program” under the “Projects & Programs” tab.
Jingle Bell Rocks – TOMORROW NIGHT
The McKees Rocks Event Committee is celebrating the start of the holiday season in downtown McKees Rocks with the 2nd annual Jingle Bell Rocks. The event is scheduled for tomorrow night, from 6 – 9 p.m. and will take place at the Roxian Commons at 507 Chartiers Avenue. Attendees can enjoy live music, horse and carriage rides, food trucks, and the chance to meet Santa! This event is a great opportunity to visit with neighbors and see first-hand the great progress being made to rebuilding the McKees Rocks business district.
According to a PEW Research Center study more than 62 percent of Americans get news on Social Media.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Lawrenceville (Mobile Office)
279 Fisk Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Thursdays - 11 am - 4 pm