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Sabatina Taps April for Autism Awareness

State Sen. John Sabatina (D-Northeast) won a resolution to designate April 2018 as Autism Awareness Month.

“It is incredibly important to recognize all those who are on the autism spectrum, as well as their families and caregivers. We need to work to make sure that autism is not a barrier to a successful and productive life,” Sabatina said.

An estimated one in 68 children in the United States are living with an autism spectrum disorder. As these children grow into adults, they will need support from state programs such as the Office of Developmental Programs and the Bureau of Autism Services supported by the Department of Human Services.

There is no known cause or definitive cure for an autism-spectrum disorder, early intervention and support services are the best way to help families navigate, cope, and adapt to this diagnosis.

Sabatina has a long history of working on issues impacting community health and safety issues. He is a member of the legislature’s Disability Caucus, and he was the prime sponsor of Paul’s Law, which would prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities from receiving lifesaving organ transplants. Paul’s Law (SB 108) will likely be voted by the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

Hughes Presses Automatic Voter Registration

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.) stood with Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic colleagues from the Senate to push for automatic voter registration in Pennsylvania.

“As we approach the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is appropriate that we renew our focus on the Voting Rights Act, and ensuring that everyone has access to the ballot box,” said Hughes. “Opposition to reforms that make it easier for citizens to vote is opposition to democracy itself.”

Senator Hughes has introduced SB 608, which would automatically register anyone who is eligible to vote as soon as they come into contact with a state agency. This can take several forms.

If you apply for employment with the Commonwealth, PHEAA grants, unemployment-compensation benefits, medical assistance, rent rebates, PACE or PACENET, you would be registered.

The state of Oregon initiated a similar program prior to the 2016 election with incredible success: 44% of individuals who were automatically registered voted in the 2016 election.

Harris Sides with DA on Meek Mill Release

State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-S. Phila.), chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, released the following statement on Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to support Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and not oppose the release of Philadelphia rapper Robert Williams, better known as Meek Mill:

Harris added, “However, I am also in support of freeing all the other ‘Robert Williamses’ who are dealt an unfair hand from our criminal-justice system. Williams is not a danger to himself, or society, and should be released.

“Cases like Williams’, and so many others like him, are the reason why I have been a strong advocate of reforming our criminal-justice system. This is why I worked with Gov. Wolf to pass Act 5 of 2016 and to ban the box on all state-level jobs. This is also why I am working with the legislature to pass a clean-slate bill into law so others like Williams do not fall victim to a broken criminal-justice system.”

WARD LEADER Matty Myers, L Farnese, and Louis DeRenzo, R, joined State Sen. Larry Farnese at his Senior Fair at South Philadelphia High School. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Fallen Hero Awards Increased

City Council unanimously voted to increase the amount of money the City awards to the immediate family members of firefighters, police officers and prosecution detectives who are killed in the course of performing heroic deeds.

The bill was introduced in January by City Councilmen at Large Allan Domb and Al Taubenberger.

The measure amends Section 21-105 of the Philadelphia Code, to provide a $100,000 benefit, to be paid at $2,000 per month over 50 months, to the life partner or children of a fallen hero. Currently, the city pays the families $50,000 in $1,000 installments over 50 months.

“Our public-safety heroes, our fellow citizens and fellow Philadelphians, put their lives on the line day-in and day-out to protect each and every one of us,” said Domb upon introducing the bill. “While no amount of money can heal the grief of the families of our fallen heroes, hopefully this may provide them some level of support.”

Taubenberger, in 2017, sponsored a bill that increased the Hero Award payouts from $25,000 to $50,000, but said he believed that “an additional increase is the right thing to do for the families of these heroes who lay their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.”

The Councilmen were grateful to their colleagues for so strongly supporting their legislation.

Dawkins Hails Gun Law for Domestic Violence

State Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Kensington) said he is pleased with the Senate passage of SB.501, legislation that would close a gap in Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act.

“Gun violence is a tremendous concern in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth. Access to firearms often leads to tragic and deadly altercations between abusers and their victims and providing additional protections to those who have received PFA orders against abusers or who have had abusers convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence is the least we can do to ensure the continued safety of all Pennsylvanians,” Dawkins said.

Under current law, people subject to a Protection from Abuse order over domestic violence must surrender any firearms but can put them into the ownership of friends and family. Under SB 501, guns could only be surrendered to the police, a registered gun dealer or licensed attorney, and the process would have to be done within 48 hours of the order being issued.

“I want to congratulate State Sen. Tom Killion and my counterparts in the Senate for securing a unanimous passage. I’m looking forward to the bill’s consideration and vote in the House as well. We must pass this legislation and continue the work to provide additional safety measures for survivors of domestic violence throughout the state,” Dawkins said.

The legislation is similar to Dawkins’ HB 2097, which was introduced earlier this year and referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Bass: Fed Tax Cuts Must Yield Rate Cuts

Councilwoman Cindy Bass (8th Dist.) introduced two resolutions calling for investigations into how corporate tax cuts received by Pennsylvania companies can be passed on to customers in the form of lower rates.

The first resolution calls on the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner to examine how hundreds of millions of dollars retained by insurance companies as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 can directly benefit consumers through lower insurance costs.

“In New Jersey, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield announced it will return $150 million to insurance policy holders this year, and plans to invest an additional $125 million into community health initiatives in the next five years,” said the councilwoman. “Those community investments represent a significant portion of the $550 million the insurer is expected to reap from corporate tax cuts over five years.”

In Washington state, Premera Blue Cross will use $200 million of its $390 million tax cut benefit to help improve health insurance in the state in 2019. Likewise, North Carolina’s largest health-insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, plans to donate $50 million to charities, nonprofits and health-care initiatives statewide.

“Pennsylvania’s health-insurance companies have a responsibility to its consumers, our constituents,” Bass said. “Consumers should not be overpaying for coverage while corporations see hundreds of millions of dollars in increased earnings under this new tax law.”

Bass’ second resolution looks to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to investigate how benefits reaped by utility companies through tax cuts can be passed to customers. A model budget created at the University of Pennsylvania estimated that American utility companies will save $1 billion this year from the tax cuts.

Utilities companies in Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have already announced plans to distribute their tax cut earnings to customers through decreased rates. Meanwhile, attorneys general in various states advocated on behalf of paying citizens by writing a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking “prompt Commission action” to adjust public utilities’ revenue requirements to reflect the new corporate tax cuts and their impact customers.

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