Passage of Medical Marijuana
Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), which is the Medical Cannabis Act. This legislation would legalize forms of medical marijuana for individuals suffering from certain medical conditions. As you may recall, the Senate previously passed a version of this bill during the prior legislative session, however the bill never gained support in the House of Representatives and died. Today, SB 3 is broader in scope and includes several compromise provisions in the hopes that this legislation will make it to Governor Wolf’s desk for his signature.
Under SB 3, medical cannabis can be prescribed to patients by a doctor or a certified nurse practitioner, in collaboration with a doctor, for the following ailments:
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Cachexia/wasting syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury and post concussion syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinocerebellara ataxia (SCA)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe fibromyalgia
- Chronic or intractable pain
- Crohn’s disease
- A condition authorized by the Department of Health
The methods of administration for medical marijuana under this legislation include topical ointment, an ingestible oil, a vaporizer, or a nebulizer similar to asthma inhaler. Smoking medical cannabis would be prohibited.
In order for a patient to buy medical cannabis he or she must first register with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and obtain an access card. An access card will require annual renewal and will expire after two years. The Department must confirm that the patient has a practitioner-patient relationship and has a written confirmation of a qualified medical condition. In addition, a patient must be a Pennsylvania resident, unless the individual is from a state with a similar medical cannabis law.
The Department of Health will also create licenses and a digital registry to track and verify licensed growers, distributors, and processors to provide for the orderly administration of the medical marijuana industry. Furthermore, a grower of medical cannabis would not be permitted to be located near a school or daycare center, or in a residential area.
If the Medical Cannabis Act would be signed into law, Pennsylvania would join 23 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana for the ill and suffering.
With 88 percent of Pennsylvanians favoring legalizing medical marijuana for the sick, I proudly voted in support of SB 3. After all, there are so many ill and suffering children and adults in the commonwealth that could benefit from medical cannabis, which has been proven to be much more effective and safer than many of the prescription narcotics they are currently prescribed. I can only hope that my colleagues in the House remain vigilant and fight the fight for such a worthy cause.
Attention! Recent College Graduates
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to encourage graduating college students to begin making plans for life after graduation by working to secure employment, developing a manageable budget, and researching available student loan repayment options while being vigilant against dishonest or fraudulent debt relief offers.
Federal student loan borrowers can take advantage of the six month grace period following graduation before their monthly loan payments begin. This allows recent graduates time to find employment and choose a repayment plan that best meets their needs.
For borrowers who are unable to make their monthly payments, student loan deferment and forbearance may be available. Deferments and forbearances are periods of time during which a student’s lender may temporarily suspend or reduce regular loan payments. Borrowers should contact their loan servicer to discuss their options for relief as soon as they realize that they may have difficulty making payments. Students who do not know who services their loans should visit www.nslds.ed.gov to identify contact information for their servicer.
Falling behind on payments and defaulting on student loans can have serious, long-term consequences – making a bad situation worse. To avoid serious problems, borrowers should address repayment issues quickly by working directly with their student loan servicer to identify a manageable repayment plan. PHEAA recommends the following to new graduates who are in their six month grace period:
- Keep track of the date that their first student loan payment is due to avoid late fees. The six month grace period begins when a student graduates or their enrollment status drops below half-time.
- Consider which repayment option best suits their situation by contacting their loan servicer. Some borrowers may qualify for federal loan forgiveness programs.
- Limit credit card spending to avoid unmanageable debt levels.
- Set a monthly budget and stick to it.
- Maintain a favorable credit score by making payments on time.
- Enroll in automatic debit program to make sure payments are made on time and to avoid late fees.
- Notify their lender and loan servicer of any changes to address or phone number.
Borrowers who have questions concerning their private loans should contact their financial aid administrator, lender or loan servicer. Private student loans typically have repayment and debt relief options that are different than federal student loans.
Graduates should also be wary of any company offering student loan debt relief, such as loan consolidation, loan cancellation, loan forgiveness, or defaulted loan assistance. These companies typically charge up-front fees regardless of the borrower’s actual eligibility for programs and services that are readily available for free from the federal government. Before paying for any assistance related to student loan management or
debt relief, borrowers should contact the servicer of their loans to learn what options are available and receive assistance in determining which option is best for them.
Graduates are also encouraged to visit www.YouCanDealWithIt.com, PHEAA’s free debt management website, for information on developing a budget and student loan repayment options, including loan forgiveness programs.
Today is Election Day
The Primary Election is taking place throughout Pennsylvania today and polls are open from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. If you need any information on Election Day such as where to vote, whether or not you’re registered, or how to file Election Day complaints, please take a look at last week's edition of my News & Views or visit www.votespa.com. Don’t forget to vote!
All Senate offices will be closed on Monday, May 25th in observance of Memorial Day. My offices will re-open on Tuesday, May 26th as scheduled. Happy Memorial Day!
Local Law Enforcement Grants
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is accepting applications for the Local Law Enforcement Grant Program. The Gaming Control Board is authorized to award up to $2 million annually in grants through this program to local law enforcement agencies and the Pennsylvania State Police for the purpose of investigating, enforcing, and preventing unlawful gambling throughout the commonwealth. No grant may exceed $250,000 per year and applications will be accepted until all grant funds have been committed.
Any municipalities interested in learning more about this grant program can call the Gaming Control Board at 717-346-8300 or email PGCB@pa.gov and type “Local Law Enforcement Grants” in the subject line. Applications and guidelines can be downloaded by visiting the Gaming Control Board’s website at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Slot Machine Revenue Increases in April
Recently the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced that revenue from slot machines from the state’s 12 casinos increased over 4 percent in April compared to the same month in 2014. Gross revenue from slot machines was over $205 million in April compared with over $197 million in April 2014. Tax revenue generated during April from slot machine play was over $109 million.
Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania and 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 two percent goes to local governments that host casinos.
The state’s gaming industry employs over 17,700 people and generates an average of $3.7 million per day in tax revenue from slot machines and table games. For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Governor’s Residence Open for Tours
The Governor’s Residence is open for public tours during the months of May, June, September and October. Tours are conducted on Tuesdays and Thursdays during those months by docents at no charge during the hours of 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Reservations are required. If you’ll be in or near the Harrisburg area during the above times and are interested in touring the Governor’s Residence, please call the tour line at 717-772-9130. You may also email Brittany Shearer at email@example.com to schedule a tour or for more information.
Did You Know…
Did you know the Governor’s Residence was completed in 1968 and that approximately 12,000 people visit the Residence annually for tours and community events?
Lupus Awareness Month
For those who are unaware, the month of May is Lupus Awareness Month; an annual strive to inform and educate people of the effects and treatment for this disease. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and tissue damage, ravaging virtually any organ system of the body, including the kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood or skin. The disease can be very hard to diagnose, and early diagnosis is crucial in preventing its long-term consequences. Because it is such a rarely occurring disease, many don’t feel the need to strongly address it. The Pennsylvania Lupus Caucus urges you to take medical action if you believe that you or a friend or loved one is experiencing symptoms of this horrid disease.
The following descriptions listed below are well-documented symptoms of Lupus:
- Achy, painful and/or swollen joints for more than three months.
- Fingers and/or toes that become pale, numb, or uncomfortable in the cold.
- Sores in the mouth or nose that last for more than two weeks.
- Low blood counts: anemia, low white cell count or low platelet count.
- Prominent redness or color change in the shape of a butterfly across the bridge of your nose and cheeks.
- Unexplained fever higher than 100 degrees for more than a few days.
- Sensitivity to the sun where your skin “breaks out” after being in the sun (not sunburn).
- Chest pain with breathing that lasted more than a few days (pleurisy).
- Protein in your urine.
- Persistent, extreme fatigue and weakness for days or even weeks at a time even after 6-8 hours of restful nighttime sleep.
For more information about this cruel disease, including treatments and risk factors, please call 1-866-517-5070 or visit www.lupustristate.org.
Open Your Heart to a Senior (OYHS), an initiative the United Way of Allegheny County with lead partners, Family Services of Western Pennsylvania and North Hills Community Outreach, is in need of volunteers in
several areas that can help seniors remain independent and stay safe in their homes. Volunteer drivers are needed for various programs including Free Rides for Seniors shuttle drivers in the Route 28 area, Meals on Wheels, and drivers who can transport seniors to medical appointments. There is also a need for volunteers to assist seniors with light yard work, including planting flowers, clearing yard debris and mowing lawns.
To learn more about these volunteer opportunities please call the United Way helpline at 2-1-1 or email Allegheny@openyourhearttoasenior.org, or visit www.oyhs.org.
Ben Avon Borough, which now rests in the 42nd Senatorial District, was incorporated on January 9, 1892. According to the borough’s website, the name Ben Avon was proposed by a resident, James Lewis who thought the area reminded him of a hamlet near his birthplace in England. Over 2,000 residents today live in Ben Avon, which when translated by the Scots means “Hill by the Water.”
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
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm