Voter ID Law Ruled Unconstitutional
Nearly two years after Act 18 was enacted, a Commonwealth Court judge has ruled that the controversial state voter ID law is unconstitutional. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley said the law, one of the strictest in the nation, would unreasonably burden the fundamental right to vote, and the state had been unable to convincingly explain why it was necessary. Specifically, “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” McGinley wrote.
Proponents of the act argued that the law was needed to prevent voter fraud for reasons that include impersonation at the polls, fictitious registrations, double voting, and voting by illegal immigrants. However, with 8.2 million registered voters and no documented cases of voter fraud, Judge McGinley determined the argument as “…a vague concern about voter fraud [that] does not ride to the level that justifies the burdens constructed here.”
My Senate Democratic colleagues and I have always felt that the voter ID law was another example of the Republican agenda for the upcoming elections to disenfranchise thousands of senior and minority voters who often have less access to the proposed identification. During court proceedings, representatives from the Department of State admitted that it had failed to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud.
Upon hearing arguments against the law, the state Supreme Court concluded last year that the law should be argued in Commonwealth Court to determine how many voters could potentially be disenfranchised. Until a resolution was found, enforcement of the act was put on hold. In the meantime, the Governor’s Administration still spent $6 million of taxpayers’ money to advertise and “educate” the public on an unnecessary law in the first place.
It is unclear what steps the Administration will take next on this matter, but I should hope the Governor will stop spending money on unnecessary mandates and instead start to focus attention on the real needs of the Commonwealth by investing money into education and putting people back to work.
Update on Homeless Children Education Task Force
Over the past few years I have been working closely with Joe Lagana, the Founder and CEO of the Homeless Children's Education Fund (HCEF), on ways the state can assist his organization in meeting the needs of homeless children throughout Pennsylvania. In 2012, legislation I authored, Senate Bill 157 (SB 157), passed the General Assembly and was signed into law, becoming Act 123, which establishes a taskforce to study the needs of homeless students in the Commonwealth. In particular, the taskforce will survey the living situations of these students, and gather data such as school attendance rates, test scores, dropout rates, and the length of homelessness. The group will also assess the relationships between shelters and schools, transportation needs, barriers to educating homeless students and the best practices for combating these barriers.
Children are considered homeless if they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence according to the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Nationally, there are more than 1.1 million homeless children and nearly 20,000 reside in the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently released statistics that show close to 2,300 students were considered homeless during the 2011-12 school year in the Pittsburgh region alone, a statistic I find alarming and unsettling.
Children of all ages are negatively impacted by homelessness in the areas of physical health, emotional and behavioral development, and academic success. Obstacles like frequent moves disrupt homeless children’s education, often setting them back academically three to six months as well as making these students twice as likely to repeat a grade and 60 percent more likely to drop out of school.
Recently I spoke with a reporter from WTAE-TV on the issue of homeless children and talked about the work currently being done by the Task Force for a story they ran on the evening news last week that brings attention to this issue. You can watch this report in its entirety by clicking here. I look forward to hearing from the Task Force upon completion of their work so we can determine what legislation will help combat this growing problem.
For over a decade HCEF has been working to ensure that children facing homelessness have access to the same educational opportunities as all children. I encourage everyone to learn more about HCEF’s efforts by visiting them online at http://www.homelessfund.org/.
DCNR Recreation & Conservation Grants
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is accepting grant applications for recreation and conservation grants through April 16th. Grant assistance from DCNR helps communities and organizations plan, acquire, and develop parks, recreation facilities, trails, and conserved critical conservation areas and watersheds. The 2014 DCNR grant program encourages applications that advance local conservation and recreation vision and implements Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan and DCNR's Strategic Plan.
Specific priorities for grant proposals include:
- Sustainable and green park development and planning
- Major park and recreation rehabilitation projects that modernize facilities and bring them into compliance with the current standards for safety, ADA, and the Universal Construction Code
- Trail projects that close gaps in major statewide greenways and regionally significant trails and planning to help communities become bicycle and pedestrian friendly
- Land conservation to protect critical habitat, forested watersheds, wetlands, and riparian corridors and lands that conserve connectors between public lands, or conserve urban green space
- Rivers conservation projects that enhance water trails, improve public access and/or increase awareness of Pennsylvania rivers
- Emerging trends including off-leash dog parks, splash/spray parks, skate parks and community parks that feature green amenities such as gardens and natural areas that connect children to nature
- Statewide and regional partnerships that build capacity to promote outdoor recreation and conservation of natural and heritage resources
All applications must be submitted electronically through the Environmental eGrants System. All grant information, project guidance documents, program policies and application instructions are available on the site. For assistance with the System, please call DCNR’s Grants Customer Service Center at 1-800-326-7734 or email DCNR-Grants@pa.gov.
Did You Know…
These projects have helped plan, acquire and develop parks, recreation facilities, trails, and conserved critical conservation areas and watersheds; supported education training on conservation and recreation topics; and built conservation, heritage and recreation partnerships.
Signing Up for Health Insurance
The Consumer Health Coalition has scheduled an on-site enrollment day for individuals interested in signing up for health insurance on the federal marketplace on Tuesday, January 28th at the Carnegie Library (CLP) - Hill District branch. Certified healthcare navigators and application counselors will be present to assist with signing up and to answer questions about enrollment. The on-site enrollment day is scheduled from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and the CLP – Hill District branch is located at 2177 Centre Avenue. For more information, or if you are unable to attend that day and would like to schedule a time to meet with a navigator or application counselor, please call 412-456-1877, ext. 200.
As a result of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals in the Commonwealth without health care coverage can shop for affordable health care plans specialized to their individual needs and to those of their families. Since Pennsylvania elected not to establish its own marketplace,
Pennsylvanians can shop for health insurance by visiting the federal marketplace at www.healthcare.gov.
In addition to applying online, you may also apply by phone (1-800-318-2596) or with a paper application that needs to be mailed. You may also apply in person by visiting with a trained and certified navigator or application assister, like those who will be present at the aforementioned on-site enrollment day scheduled for January 28th at the CLP – Hill District. To find additional organizations that are available to offer assistance with the application process, click on the “Find Local Help” tab on the homepage at www.healthcare.gov and enter your city or zip code when prompted to view a listing of nearby organizations that can assist.
To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, you may also visit my website at www.senatorfontana.com. Additionally, Consumer Reports has created a free online tool, www.healthlawhelper.org that seeks to inform consumers and provides accurate and unbiased information about this law and how it affects them.
Total Casino Revenue in PA Tops $3 Billion
Last week the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced that total gross revenue from the play of both slot machines and table games at the state’s 12 casinos topped $3 billion for the third consecutive year. Tax revenue in 2013 from the combined play of slot machines and table games was nearly $1.4 billion. Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania while table games are taxed at 14 percent. Tax revenue from slot machines is directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supporting the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and four percent goes to local governments that host casinos. Tax revenue from table games is directed into the state’s General Fund (12 percent) with the remaining funds directed to local governments.
Target Security Breach
Over the last few weeks, Target has announced a security breach affecting 70 million customers. This breach included stolen credit card information and contact information including names, addresses, email addresses and telephone numbers. The PA Attorney General's office is encouraging consumers who may have been victims and have had their personal information compromised to only deal directly with the retailer or the Attorney General’s office if they have concerns.
As a result of the security breach, all Target customers can register for a year of free credit protection services by visiting Target's official website. Please avoid other websites that are offering relief for victims. These offers could be potential scams designed to obtain additional personal information. Consumers can also contact Target directly by phone at 1-866-852-8680. If you have additional questions, please contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555.
Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln
The Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History, with the support of my colleague Senator Jim Ferlo, is holding the grand opening of their exhibit “The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln: a National Photographic Exhibition” on February 8th at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall. The event is free and open to the public and will run from 6 – 8 p.m. and is both educational and appropriate for all ages.
The exhibit illustrates how President Lincoln’s effort to save the Union transformed our nation, the Constitution, and the world and highlights several of the struggles Lincoln endured during his time in office including: secession; civil liberties; slavery; and his personal life. The Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History has secured over 100 original photographs, dozens of artifacts, oil paintings, documents signed by Lincoln, and military maps from the Civil War that comprise the exhibit.
For more information on the grand opening and other educational exhibits, please visit www.photoantiquities.org. The Photo Antiquities Museum is a non-profit organization located on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
I wanted to acknowledge a recent story in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette blog that described how Beechview resident Kim Frie and a young artist, Claire Pullen, worked together to brighten up the community. Artwork designed by Claire has been installed in the windows of vacant storefronts, bringing a sense of hope into the community. While these decorated windows don’t take the place of actual businesses, they inspire a sense of energy and show the community is alive and ready to see the re-emergence of Broadway Avenue. I will continue working with all community stakeholders and the Peduto Administration to continue revamping the business district in Beechview. I was proud to secure funding that helped bring a grocery store back to Beechview but much work still remains and I am committed in helping to turn these vacant buildings into occupied businesses once again. While these efforts are ongoing, I applaud Kim and Claire for helping to inspire hope in the community.
Sheraden Park, which is situated in a wooded valley in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden neighborhood, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The 51-acre park was acquired from Pittsburgh Realty Company on January 24, 1914 and today serves communities in Pittsburgh’s 20th and 28th Wards.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
524 Pine Hollow Rd
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216