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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Inaction on Legislation to Assist Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Continues

It has been over a year now since the state released a grand jury report with recommendations regarding the abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church that has taken place for decades.  The report was chilling, frightening and devastating which not only detailed what the predatory priests did, it also provided a clear picture of how the church hierarchy covered up unlawful actions.  Not only were the bishops not held accountable to the victims, but the report revealed that these individuals did very little to stop the abuse.  If the inaction by the church wasn’t heinous enough, Pennsylvania has done nothing in the meantime to make changes to the law, leaving survivors still left on their own to deal with the pain and despair.

Watch Judiciary CommitteeLast week the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee heard various testimony regarding changing the state’s statute of limitations (SOL) for alleged child abuse victims. Also discussed was the constitutionality regarding retroactive lawsuits, criminal justice, victim compensation programs, human memory and response to childhood trauma.  The panel heard from numerous individuals and those representing different organizations that included child sex abuse victims, prosecutors, administrators of the Roman Catholic Church diocese victim compensation fund, victims’ rights advocates, the insurance industry, attorneys and academics. 

The panel also discussed the various bills that have been introduced in response to this scandal.  Currently, Pennsylvania’s state law gives children who are sexually abused until age 50 to seek criminal prosecution of their abusers and up to age 30 to sue their abusers in civil court which is a process that some victims pursue to seek monetary damages.  House Bill 962 (HB 962) would amend the state Constitution to extend the SOL for civil suits for childhood sexual abuse until the victim is 55 years old and eliminates the SOL entirely for filing criminal charges going forward.  Additionally, the legislation expands the SOL to apply to the Commonwealth’s sovereign immunity and governmental immunity related to childhood sexual abuse.  This bill passed the House in April by a vote of 187-5.

The other bill, the more controversial one, is House Bill 963 (HB 963).  This legislation seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to provide a two-year window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file previously time barred civil claims.  Some advocates do not like this route and rather support an immediate two-year window, thus avoiding a lengthy constitutional amendment process.  Opponents, which include major players of the Senate Republican Leadership, argue that this retroactive window is unconstitutional even though it overwhelmingly passed the House in April by a vote of 177-15. 

Not wanting to sit back and wait for the Republican Chairwoman to bring HB 962 and 963 up for a vote in the Judiciary Committee, members of my caucus and I have introduced Senate Bill 540 (SB 540) that would eliminate the criminal and civil SOL for sexual abuse, assault and misconduct victims whose abuse happened at any age; provide a two-year civil window to revive previously expired SOL claims, which will not be done by constitutional amendment; and provide a six-month delay to the window in which survivors who wish to voluntarily settle their claim outside of the court system are able to do so. 

While there has been inaction by the Senate, five Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania established victim compensation funds in the meantime that have paid out $53.2 million to 278 eligible claimants who accepted the compensation during an eleven-month period.   It’s important to point out that clergy sexual abuse survivors only account for 4 percent of victims.   The remainder and majority are victims of teacher, doctors, coaches, family members, neighbors and others for which no compensation fund is available to file a claim. For this reason, the only recourse for these survivors would be the opportunity for civil justice. 

Pennsylvania’s current SOL laws have made the Commonwealth one of the worst states in the nation for access to justice for child sex abuse.  This year alone, more than three dozen states have introduced bills that would reform or abolish the SOL for these types of cases.  My stance on this has remained the same.  Bring these bills up for a vote in the Senate.  If we would succeed in passage, for those who believe that any parts of the measures are unconstitutional, allow it to play out in the state’s Supreme Court.   The Commonwealth owes it to the victims to finally let their voices be heard.  These predators need to be exposed and held liable. 

Offices Closed

All Senate offices are closed Monday, Oct. 14 for Columbus Day.  My offices will re-open as scheduled on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Statewide Video Competition Challenges Students to Share Ideas on Farming

Statewide Video Competition Challenges Students to Share Ideas on FarmingPennsylvania has a rich heritage of farming that dates back centuries, and agriculture remains the state’s top industry today. However, that heritage is threatened by difficult market conditions and an aging population of farmers. For every four farmers in Pennsylvania over the age of 65, there is only one farmer under the age of 35.

The third annual “Talk To Your State Senator” statewide video competition challenges middle and high school students to share their ideas about how Pennsylvania can reverse these trends and ensure the agriculture industry will have a bright future in our Commonwealth.

The contest, which is sponsored by the Senate of Pennsylvania and Rutter’s, is open to Pennsylvania students in grades 6 through 12, including all public school, private school and home school students. Participants are encouraged to submit video entries of no longer than three minutes that promote the future of farming in Pennsylvania.

A total of $10,000 in prizes will be awarded through the PA 529 college savings program administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Treasury. Contest entries must be submitted by January 31, 2020.

More information on the contest is available online at www.legis.state.pa.us/talk-to-your-state-senator/.

New Senior Citizen ConnectCards

Senior Citizen ConnectCardsThe Port Authority of Allegheny County is in the process of issuing new Senior Citizen Connect Cards and my office can assist. The new cards will replace the current blue or yellow PA Senior Transit ID cards and will have a photo of the cardholder on the card. These new cards will enable the user to ride Port Authority and other public transit vehicles for free across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Both my Brookline and Kennedy Township offices are equipped to help seniors get their new cards. Simply visit either office and bring with you ONE valid document that shows proof-of-age.  This includes a driver’s license or state-issued photo ID card, birth certificate, PACE ID card, or passport to name a few. My staff will enter your information into Port Authority’s system and upload your photo and a copy of your proof-of-age document. 

Upon receiving the information from my office, the Port Authority will produce a new Senior Citizen ConnectCard and then mail the card to my office where you can return to pick up the card. New cards should take a couple weeks to arrive at my office from the time Port Authority receives the information. When you return to get your new card, please bring with you your current senior bus pass so we can exchange it for your new ConnectCard.

Anyone age 65 or over is eligible to receive this new card and ride Port Authority and other public transit vehicles for free.

Did You Know…

Did you know that since July 30 my district offices have issued more than 350 new Senior Citizen ConnectCards to constituents?

Senior Community Center Grants

Pennsylvania Department of AgingThe Pennsylvania Department of Aging recently announced $2 million in new grant funding opportunities for Pennsylvania's senior community centers in year 2019-2020. Grant funding opportunities are intended for enhancements that increase participation and programming, attract a new generation of older adults, and enable senior community centers to provide a safe and healthy environment for participants.

The grant application period is open through Nov. 15 and applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. that day.

This funding opportunity is only open to Pennsylvania senior community centers that are affiliated with an Area Agency on Aging.

Application instructions are available by clicking here or visiting www.aging.pa.gov. Additionally, an informational webinar detailing the grant application process will be held this Thursday, October 10th at 10 a.m.  A link to the webinar is available by clicking here or by viewing the previously mentioned instructions.

Grant applications must be submitted electronically by email and in the format prescribed by the department in the 2019-20 SCC Grant Application Submission Instructions. Incomplete, late or improperly formatted application submissions will not be accepted. Grant applications must be submitted in their entirety, in one email to SCCgrants@pa.gov. For questions, please email SCCgrants@pa.gov, or call the Senior Center Grant Program Administrator at 717-772-2551.

PennDOT Customer Survey

PennDOTThe Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) currently has an open customer satisfaction survey for sharing feedback on their performance this construction/summer maintenance season.  The survey is being conducted so PennDOT can identify potential strengths and opportunities, as well as the ways in which the public relies on them for information.

The survey can be found online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/penndotroadwork. All responses are anonymous unless you choose to provide your contact information.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Annual Report

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Last week, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) released the 14th edition of its Annual Report.  The PGCB’s 2018-2019 Annual Report provides detail on the work of the agency in regulating the Commonwealth’s gaming industry, and also includes:

  • slot machine, table games and sports wagering gross revenue and tax revenue statewide broken down for each of the 12 casinos; additionally, fantasy contest revenue and tax revenue by provider for the fiscal year.

  • up-to-date status on gaming expansion initiatives;

  • a year in review report with pertinent statistical figures from the PGCB’s key bureaus;

  • a list of all Executive Sessions held by the board during the fiscal year;

  • revenue and expenditures during the fiscal year by the PGCB, along with a breakdown of employment at the agency; and,

  • a section on problem gambling with statistics on the PGCB’s Self-Exclusion Program.

The report can be downloaded by visiting the Gaming Control Board’s website at https://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/ and choosing the 2018-2019 PGCB Annual Report link under the Quick Links section of the homepage.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness MonthOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I want to make everyone aware of the Pennsylvania Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (PA-BCCEDP). This is a free breast and cervical cancer early detection program of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. It is funded by the Department of Health and through a grant the Department receives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This program offers free mammograms, pap and HPV tests, and follow-up diagnostic tests for qualifying women in Pennsylvania.  PA-BCCEDP provides breast cancer screening and diagnostics for women between the ages of 40 and 64 who do not have health insurance, have limited health insurance, or have a gross family household income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Cervical cancer screening and diagnostics for women between the ages of 21 and 64 are also provided.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, please visit www.health.pa.gov and type “PA Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program” into the Search tab.

The Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition represents, supports and serves breast cancer survivors and their families in Pennsylvania through educational programming, legislative advocacy and breast cancer research grants.  For more information about their programs and services please visit www.PABreastCancer.org or call 1-800-377-8828.

City-Wide Public Safety Zone Council Meeting

A city-wide Public Safety Zone Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 16 at St. Pius X Byzantine Catholic Church, located at 2336 Brownsville Road in Carrick. All are welcome to attend and meet with city resources that are helping make communities safer and stronger. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Office of Nighttime Economy, Department of Mobility & Infrastructure, 311 Response Center, and Department of Permits, Licensing & Inspections will all be in attendance.

The event begins with a light dinner from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. followed by the meeting program which runs from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Scholarship Opportunity for Northside High School Seniors

ScholarshipThe Northside Leadership Conference (NSLC) is now accepting applications for the NSLC Scholarship Award through March 2020.  The NSLC Scholarship Award offers Northside high school seniors the chance to receive a $1,000 scholarship for their college or training program goals after high school graduation.

Interested high school seniors living on the Northside can find the application online at www.pittsburghnorthside.com. Awardees are honored at the annual Scholarship and Awards Dinner in mid-June. Last year, there were 15 scholarship awardees chosen for their educational achievements and volunteer work.

Easterseals Western/Central PA Fundraiser

EastersealsEasterseals Western and Central Pennsylvania is taking the Roaring 20’s by storm with an historic and entertaining night on October 24.  Speakeasy, a fundraising event celebrating Easterseals 100th Anniversary, will raise funds to support individuals of all ages who face physical, mental, emotional, and/or intellectual disabilities, as well as their families.

Speakeasy will be hosted in Pittsburgh's “Northside” neighborhood, but the specific location and password will not be disclosed until a week before the event.  There will be great eats, fun, games, surprises, entertainment and more. 

For more information including how to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.eastersealswcpa.org/speakeasy or call 412-281-7244, ext. 1229. Be sure to mark your calendars and check your emails for your entry password and location information.  Join Easterseals on October 24 as they turn back the clock to pave the way for a more inclusive world.  

Fontana Fact

National Pierogi DayToday is National Pierogi Day in the United States. Pierogi is the plural form of the rarely used Polish word pierog, which are dumplings made up of unleavened dough that are first boiled then sometimes baked or fried in butter. Usually semicircular in shape, they are traditionally stuffed with a mashed potato filling, potato and cheese, potato and onion, cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut, ground meat, mushroom, spinach or fruit. It was Eastern European immigrants that popularized pierogi in the United States.  At first, pierogi were a family food among the immigrants and were also found in ethnic restaurants; Freshly cooked pierogi became a staple fundraiser for ethnic churches in the post-World War II era.  By the 1960s, pierogi were being marketed for the frozen food aisles of grocery stores in many parts of the United States.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – First Tuesday of each month or by appointment