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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Here we are in January 2020 and we still are talking, and not acting, to combat the rising epidemic of gun violence in our society. Unfortunately, due to inaction, we must continue speaking out until this issue is addressed and we cannot continue to stand by and do nothing in the face of this tidal wave of senseless violence.

End Gun ViolenceThe extremists need to be ignored and rational, workable solutions need to be found by rational people who are willing to work together. Constant rantings from people who claim things like: "conservatives don’t care if school children get gunned down,” or that “liberals are determined to confiscate all guns” need to be ignored. If there is ever a need to avoid the noise of extremists and find commonsense solutions, now is the time.

One of the issues that nearly all Pennsylvanians agree on is the need to get guns away from people who are clearly a danger to themselves or others. I have authored legislation the last two legislation sessions that would do just that.

Senate Bill 293 (SB 293) would empower families and police officers to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is a threat to themselves or others through the implementation of Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). An Extreme Risk Protection Order grants family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual is a threatening harm to themselves or others. The person subject to that order must surrender their guns to police and will not be able to buy, sell, or possess other firearms with a judge determining the time frame of this suspension not to exceed one year.

I want to make it clear that during the suspension period, this person would have every right to petition a judge to rescind the suspension. When drafting this bill, I made every effort so that this plan is structured in a way that prevents frivolous accusations or judicial overreach and I welcome any reasonable idea that would improve my bill and help strike this balance.

In short, extreme risk protection orders would get guns away from deranged people without violating second amendment rights.

It was not too long ago when this very body, along with the House, overwhelmingly passed legislation that put a similar system in place for cases of domestic violence. The bipartisan agreement to protect people from the risk of violence was the right thing to do. And we can and should do it again.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have extreme risk protection order systems. In three of those states, legal challenges were brought against the law and in all three, courts held that it does not violate due process or constitutional rights. Furthermore, two states, New Hampshire and Virginia, are currently considering bills implementing extreme risk protection orders in those states as they are moving through the legislative process. 

It’s important to emphasize that in nearly half of all mass shootings, the killer openly threatened to harm someone. Our current law blocks police officers and loved ones from taking the necessary steps to prevent a tragedy before it happens.

I am tired of hearing post-shooting accounts from heart-broken family members and police officers who were powerless to do anything. It is time that our law stands with those who are trying to protect innocent people and empowers families who are trying to get their loved ones the help they need. If this extreme risk protection order system were in place, it may have very well helped to prevent the tragedy of the hate crime that took place in Squirrel Hill just over a year ago.

Inaction is no longer an option. It’s time the legislature deals with this issue responsibly, fairly and soon.

Community, Recreation & Conservation Grants

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR)The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR)  is accepting applications for the Community Recreation and Conservation (C2P2) grant program. Community Parks and Conservation grants are awarded to municipalities and authorized nonprofit organizations for community recreation, park and conservation projects. These include planning for comprehensive recreation, park open space and greenway plans; land conservation and stewardship plans; swimming pool and indoor recreation facility feasibility studies; master site development plans; land acquisition for active or passive parks and conservation purposes; and new development and rehabilitation of parks and recreation facilities.

For more information about the program and to complete an application, please visit https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Communities/Grants/Pages/default.aspx.  The grant application period closes on April 22, 2020.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in 2019, 15 grants were awarded through the C2P2 program specifically for improving community parks in Allegheny County alone?

Renewing Veterans’ Benefits

The Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is reminding veterans that the start of the new year is a good time to meet with a professional to ensure they are receiving the benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice.

Veterans’ BenefitsSafeguarding military paperwork, especially the DD-214, which is used to verify military service, is an important first step for securing benefits. The easiest way to manage military documents is to make sure they are filed in a safe place immediately upon leaving the military. Veterans often find that filing their documents for free at their county courthouse of record is an easy way to secure them until needed, which can often be decades into the future. Anyone needing assistance locating their military documentation can count on assistance from the DMVA by calling toll-free 800-547-2838 or e-mailing: RA-REQ@pa.gov.

Another key step is for veterans to apply for federal health care and state benefits by visiting their local county director of veterans affairs or area accredited veteran service organizations to take a look at what benefits they may be eligible for and to get help applying for those benefits.

In Allegheny County, veterans can call 412-621-4357 to reach the county’s Director of Veterans Affairs, Dwight Boddorf. He can also be reached via email at dwight.boddorf@alleghenycounty.us. The Allegheny County Veterans Affairs office is located at 4141, 5th Avenue, 3rd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

In addition to connecting with a county director or an accredited veteran service organization, every one of Pennsylvania’s nearly 800,000 veterans should sign up for the DMVA Veterans Registry, an extremely helpful, free tool that electronically delivers timely information about the many state benefits, programs and services available to veterans. Veterans, family members and people who work with veterans can sign up by computer or mobile device at www.register.dmva.pa.gov

The DMVA also wants veterans to know that they and their dependents should never pay for help to apply for veteran’s benefits because plenty of free, professional help is available. There are about 200 veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work with organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices, and several veterans service organizations. They are experienced, trained professionals who provide veterans with the best advice and assistance at no cost.

For more about the DMVA, including information on their six veterans homes, visit them online at www.dmva.pa.gov.

Port Authority Public Meetings

Port AuthorityThe Port Authority of Allegheny County will be hosting a series of meetings over the next few months to discuss with residents in communities throughout Allegheny County upcoming projects and programs that will help shape the future of public transit in our region.

“Public Transit: A Community Discussion” will focus on a variety of topics ranging from Port Authority’s use of technology to fare policy to long-range planning.  Residents will be encouraged to provide input and ask questions.

The meetings will begin tomorrow at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and will feature three separate sessions. The first will run from 9 a.m. – noon.  The second from 1 – 4 p.m. and the final one that day will run from 5 – 8 p.m.

Meetings in February and March will be held at locations around Allegheny County including East Liberty, Millvale, Monroeville, McKeesport, Oakdale, Bethel Park, Springdale and Oakland.

For more information on these meetings please visit https://www.portauthority.org/GetTogether.

New Senior Citizen ConnectCards

Senior Citizen ConnectCardsThe Port Authority of Allegheny County continues to issue new Senior Citizen ConnectCards 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.

Please note that effective January 1, 2020, seniors are no longer be able to use a Medicare ID card to ride free on Port Authority buses, inclines or light rail vehicles.  The Port Authority will continue to accept blue or yellow PA Senior Transit ID cards indefinitely, but customers are encouraged to get the new ConnectCard.

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.

Gaming Revenue Increases

casinoThe Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced recently that total revenue from gaming, including table games, slot machines, fantasy contests and sports betting in Pennsylvania during the month of December increased 3.4 percent compared with December 2018. Total gaming revenue in December came in at more than $291.8 million compared with $282.2 million in December 2018.  Total tax revenue generated from all forms of gaming and fantasy contests was more than $118.1 million in December.

The Gaming Control Board also announced that gaming revenue increased 4.5 percent in calendar year 2019 compared with 2018. Gaming revenue in 2019 exceeded $3.41 billion compared with over $3.2 billion in calendar year 2018. Total tax revenue generated in 2019 from all forms of gaming was more than $1.4 billion.

For a complete breakdown of revenues generated from all forms of gaming in Pennsylvania, please visit www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov. The state’s gaming industry employs over 16,000 people and generates approximately $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games. 

honus wagnerFontana Fact

Tomorrow marks the 84th anniversary of former Pittsburgh Pirate great, Honus Wagner, being in the first group of players to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Wagner was elected alone with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. Wagner played shortstop for the Pirates from 1900-1917 and collected 3,420 hits in 2,794 games.  He was the first of 12 Pirates to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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
By appointment