Child Abuse Protection Laws Take Effect
With the start of the New Year, some new laws have gone into effect including the Child Protective Services Law of 2014. Act 153, which was signed into law in October, combines 21 pieces of legislation that addresses deficiencies in child protective laws. Particularly, Act 153 expands background checks for school volunteers, employees and independent contractors who have direct contact with children.
Previous to passage of Act 153, school employees, certain volunteers and independent school contractors had to undergo an initial child abuse screening to partake in their duties. Now, individuals who are responsible for the welfare of a child or have direct contact with children will need to get child abuse and state clearances every three years. These include a state police criminal history check, a child abuse clearance from the state Department of Human Services and a federal criminal history check by an authorized agent for the FBI. Combined, the total cost for these clearances is about $48.
Although school volunteers must receive child abuse and state police checks, the FBI checks, which includes fingerprinting, is not mandated for volunteers if they can prove they have lived in Pennsylvania for at least a decade and sign an affidavit that they did not commit certain crimes in other states. However, school districts have the prerogative to choose to require all of the clearances for volunteers.
New volunteers must have clearances, effective December 31st. Existing volunteers who do not have clearances will be required to get them by July 1st, or, if their clearances will be more than three years old by then, will need to get new ones before July 1st.
In addition, current school employees with clearances older than three years as of December 31st will need to update their clearances within a year. Employees with clearances less than three years old will now need to get them on their third year anniversary.
The new law has provisions that allow individual school districts to determine how they define a volunteer and who will be required to have a background check. However, school boards are permitted to pass more strict policies than the state law. With that being said, by no means will Act 153 prohibit parents and guardians from attending a child’s concert or participation in certain classroom observations without a background check.
Legislation that I authored, Act 44, has also gone into effect with the start of the New Year. As you may recall, this law clarifies and strengthens child abuse reporting in our schools by doing away with the separate reporting requirement for schools and mandates that suspected child abuse be reported directly to the Department of Human Services’ Childline (1-800-932-0313) or the police within 24 hours for investigation. Act 44 covers all students, from kindergarten through college. In addition, the bill removes the different reporting requirements for school employees and puts them on the same level as other mandated reporters.
In addition, Act 44 broadens the definition of child abuse. Previous to passage of my legislation, a child had to be “severely injured” and have “lasting impairment” for it to be considered child abuse. As a result of changes to the law, the requirements of inflicted pain has been reduced from severe to substantial and now includes “bodily injury,” which is defined as impairment or substantial pain. Mandated reporters will also have to go through regular training on what constitutes child abuse among other aspects.
If you would like additional information about school clearances or mandated reporters, please visit www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov.
Did You Know…
Did you know that one out of every 1,000 children living in Pennsylvania in 2013 were found to be victims of child abuse?
Brookline Open House – Meet Your Representatives
As a result of the constitutionally-mandated reapportionment of all Senate and House districts, there have been changes to districts all across the commonwealth. While I continue to represent the entire 19th ward in the city of Pittsburgh in the state Senate, there are now three state Representatives that represent parts of the 19th ward. Representatives Dan Deasy, Dan Miller and Harry Readshaw, all now represent portions of the 19th ward which includes the neighborhoods of Brookline, Beechview, Duquesne Heights and Mt. Washington.
On Saturday, January 10th, from 10 a.m. – noon, I will be hosting an Open House for Representatives Deasy, Miller and Readshaw in my Brookline office, so residents of the 19th ward can come and meet their new representatives. My Brookline office is located at 932 Brookline Boulevard.
With the weather turning colder and a recent survey by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) showing over 23,000 households in Pennsylvania have no heat related service, I want to remind everyone that the Department of Human Services (DHS) is accepting applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. 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 one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on 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 dealer and are credited to your account. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to encourage high school seniors and their families to prepare to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible after January 1st. The FAFSA is the federal form that all students must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance including the Pennsylvania State Grant, Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, PA Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans. The only way to find out if you qualify for awards is to complete and submit the FAFSA. Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of higher education more manageable.
Now is the time to get a jump on the application process by preparing, before sitting down to complete the FAFSA application. Students and families will be able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov beginning January 1st, and will need the following information when beginning the application process:
- Social Security Numbers
- Student’s driver’s license
- Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
- W-2 forms
- Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
- Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds, and other investments
The FAFSA can be submitted beginning January 1st and it is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after that date as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. Once again in 2015, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across the commonwealth where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing assistance in completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this listing as more sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Slot Machine Revenue Rises
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board released its monthly slot machine revenue report yesterday for the commonwealth’s 12 casinos. The report showed gross revenue for slot machines in December 2014 increased nearly six percent from December 2013, producing more than $188 million in gross revenue compared with just over $178 million the previous December.
Gross revenue from slot machine gaming during 2014 remained above $2.3 billion for the fourth straight year. Tax revenue generated from slot machine gaming in 2014 was over $1.2 billion. Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent and the revenue is directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supports the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and four percent goes to local governments that host casinos.
To read the entire report, please visit the Gaming Control Board’s website at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Get Outdoors PA
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) wants you to be aware of a website you can visit, www.getoutdoorspa.org, to see what winter activities are scheduled statewide. Throughout the winter months state parks and forests routinely host winter festivals with games, dog-sled races, sleigh rides and fun competitions for families. These events and many more can be viewed at www.getoutdoorspa.org. You may also view ice conditions and snow depths for activities like skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing and more by visiting DCNR’s website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Christmas Tree Recycling Program
The Allegheny County Department of Parks is offering its annual Christmas Tree Recycling Program through January 17th. County residents can drop off their Christmas trees from dawn to dusk at all nine regional parks. All lights, decorations, tinsel and stands must be removed from trees prior to drop off. All trees received will be mulched and used in the County’s nine regional parks. Trees may be dropped off at the following locations in each of the parks:
- Boyce Park – parking lot by the wave pool
- Deer Lakes – parking lot by Veterans Shelter
- Harrison Hills – parking lot at the intersection of Chipmunk and Cottontail Drives
- Hartwood Acres – parking lot at the mansion
- North Park – parking lot at the swimming pool
- Round Hill – parking lot between Meadow and Alfalfa Shelters
- Settler’s Cabin – parking lot by the wave pool
- South Park – parking lot at the swimming pool
- White Oak – parking lot by Poplar Shelter
In 2014, the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins all qualified for their respective leagues’ post-seasons. This was the first time all three teams all made the playoffs in the same year since 1992. That year, the Pirates lost in the National League Championship Series to Atlanta, the Steelers reached the AFC Divisional Playoff, losing to Buffalo, and the Penguins won their second consecutive Stanley Cup, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks.
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