Senator John R. Gordner E-Newsletter

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December 4, 2019

Recent Senate Action of Note 

The Senate recently passed several significant pieces of significant legislation.  I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on a few of them.

  1. Statute of Limitations for Survivors of Sexual Assault

The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bills to support survivors of sexual abuse, including legislation to reform the statute of limitations to give survivors more time to come forward.

The package of legislation addresses all of the recommendations of a grand jury investigation that was released to the public last year. The bills are designed to ensure victims are supported and all perpetrators of sexual crimes against children are held responsible for their heinous actions.

The bills include:

  • House Bill 962, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of a child, as well as associated crimes such as human trafficking. The bill also extends the deadline for civil actions from age 30 to age 55.
  • House Bill 963, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to create a two-year window of time for retroactive lawsuits for victims whose statute of limitations has already expired. The legislation addresses concerns lawmakers raised last year about whether the two-year window was unconstitutional.
  • House Bill 1051, which clarifies mandatory reporting standards for suspected cases of abuse and increases penalties for mandated reporters who continue to fail to report suspected child abuse.
  • House Bill 1171, which ensures survivors who sign non-disclosure statements are not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement regarding their abuse.

The bills are a culmination of a years-long effort to create effective and permanent laws to ensure perpetrators of sexual offenses against young people are held accountable by the legal system.

HB 962, HB 1051 and HB 1171 were signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf.  HB 963 is a constitutional amendment, which will require being passed in the same form in the next legislative Session in order to go to the people for their approval via a ballot question.  It does not require a Gubernatorial signature.

  1. Minimum Wage Increase

Senate Bill 79 represents a compromise package that will phase in increases to the current $7.25 minimum wage rate incrementally as follows:

  • July 1, 2020: $8.00
  • January 1, 2021: $8.50
  • July 1, 2021: $9.00
  • January 1, 2022: $9.50

The federal minimum wage was last increased to $7.25 an hour in 2009. Pennsylvania is one of 21 states with a minimum wage set at the federal minimum.

This compromise represents a sound approach to raising the minimum wage in a manner that recognizes the time that has passed since the previous increase, but doing so responsibly so as not to eliminate the entry-level jobs currently available to those who need them. 

SB 79 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

  1. Down syndrome abortion prohibition

House Bill 321 would prohibit an abortion being deemed medically necessary based solely on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.  Similar protections already exist to prevent babies from being aborted based solely on their gender.

Nothing in the bill would interfere with the existing ability of a woman to obtain an abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother. The bill is targeted only at protecting babies who would be aborted solely because of the possible presence of Down syndrome.

An estimated 67 percent of fetuses prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in the United States.

Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the measure on November 21, 2019.

  1. Online Firefighter Training

Senate Bill 146 ensures that online training would be voluntary and free to both career and volunteer firefighters. All available courses would be listed online and developed under the leadership of the state Fire Commissioner.

Training requirements are often cited as a barrier to recruitment and retention, particularly for volunteers, because they can be costly and time-consuming, often demanding travel and time away from work and family.  Senate Bill 146 was signed into law by Governor Wolf on November 27, 2019.

I was honored to recently take part in a pinning ceremony for Columbia County Vietnam veterans with Representative David Millard (R-109).

Moving Up the Presidential Primary in Pennsylvania

I sponsored legislation that would move up the date of our Presidential primary election in the Commonwealth.  Under existing law, the primary takes place on the fourth Tuesday of April. In most Presidential elections, the outcome is largely decided before our voters have a chance to cast their vote.

If enacted, Senate Bill 779 will move Pennsylvania’s Presidential primary election day to the third Tuesday of March. This will allow our voters to have a significant say in the outcome of these essential elections, while not running afoul of any rules set forth by the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee.

Further, to avoid any confusion for voters and candidates alike in the upcoming 2020 election, my bill will not take effect until the Presidential primary of 2024. It is anticipated that, with this change, our primary would be on the same day as Arizona, Florida and Illinois.  It will not change the date of primary elections in non-Presidential years.

SB 779 has recently started to move through the legislative process, gaining approval by the Senate State Government Committee.  It is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee for its approval.

DCNR Offers Grant Assistance Workshops

Individuals and groups interested in applying for Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grants for recreation, conservation, riparian buffer, trail, and community-based projects can register for free, in-person workshops scheduled for six convenient locations around the Commonwealth during November. 

Community leaders, municipal officials, consultants, land trusts, volunteer board members, trail managers, and park and recreation professionals will receive technical assistance for the 2020 grant program running from January 15, 2020 until April 22, 2020. 

Teacher workshops scheduled throughout the fall and winter focus on K-12 watershed education.  The instruction also qualifies teachers for Act 48 credits


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