Pennsylvania State Capitol. Pennsylvania State Capitol. Photo credit: Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

GUN SAFETY

House Judiciary Committee Majority Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, on March 6 announced a series of four hearings set for April to discuss public safety and proposed changes to Pennsylvania gun laws.

“With the recent tragedies in Parkland, Orlando and Las Vegas, as well other school shootings that have occurred over the last year, it is clear we need to act to prevent these situations from happening in the future,” Marsico said in a statement. “That’s why I’ve called for a series of special public hearings to discuss legislation dealing with public safety, violence and firearms.” Members of the “PA SAFE” caucus in the General Assembly had campaigned for Marsico to hold such a hearing and applauded the move.

“This is one of the most important safety issues we face, and I am pleased that the judiciary chair has recognized the need to address gun violence,” said PA SAFE Caucus co-chairwoman Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, in a statement. “The students in Parkland are leading the fight for real reforms; it is now up to us to listen and make sure these hearings lead to meaningful passage of legislation that will save lives.”

Marsico announced a series of three hearings from April 9 to 11 in the Capitol, with a fourth hearing on April 12 at a precise time and place to be determined. He said the hearing would be open to any member of the state House of Representatives and that the hearings would close with a period for public comment.

OPIOID ADDICTION

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, on March 6 introduced legislation requiring counseling for every patient receiving medication-assisted treatment for addiction, using substances such as Vivitrol, Suboxone and methadone.

“Providing counseling in conjunction with [medication-assisted treatment] is imperative for sustained, long-term recovery,” Benninghoff said in a statement. “Simply replacing one drug with another does not treat the ‘whole person,’ nor does it break the cycle of drug abuse or change patterns of risky behavior.”

Benninghoff’s legislation, HB 2130, would direct the Departments of Health, Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs to work together to establish guidelines for the use of medication-assisted treatment of all kinds, of which counseling must be a component. It also outlines penalties for prescribers that do not verify their patients are receiving the required counseling before writing or filling prescriptions.

SCHOOL FUNDING

Pennsylvania is failing to live up to the constitutional mandate of providing a “thorough and efficient education” to all children, said Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes, D-Philadelphia, and a lawsuit proceeding through the state’s courts should provide impetus for action.

Hughes spoke on March 7, as the Commonwealth Court held a hearing on a suit filed by parents and advocates for urban and rural school districts who say the state’s funding formula shortchanges many districts. The court was considering a motion to dismiss the case by leaders of the Pennsylvania Senate and state House of Representatives.

“Pennsylvania policymakers have an obligation to give our students every chance to succeed—right now—through a quality education, and that is not happening,” Hughes said. “This lawsuit will compel action and it needs to move forward through the courts.”

At a state budget hearing on March 6, Hughes raised his cellphone and implored Pennsylvania students to take pictures of dilapidated buildings, mold, flooded basements and other structural problems and asked for them to be posted on his Facebook page. Hughes said that the pictures will illustrate the problems they must deal with, “to send a message to the adults who are in [the state Capitol] who are supposed to be responding to their needs.”

JOB TRAINING

Gov. Tom Wolf on March 5 announced the Pennsylvania Department of Education is awarding $1.2 million in competitive grants to 38 school districts, career and technical centers and area vocational technical education schools.

The grants are aimed at making purchases of equipment to train students for  high-demand jobs that businesses need to fill.

“Businesses are growing in Pennsylvania, but they need more skilled workers,” Wolf said in a statement. “Not every student wants to go to a four-year college, but they will need the hands-on experience technical education schools are providing to help students and workers get good-paying Pennsylvania jobs, both now and in the future.” •