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

Abortion Rights

Gov. Tom Wolf pledged on May 9 to veto House Bill 2315, which would prevent physicians from performing abortions when tests show a fetal heartbeat.

In a statement, Wolf framed the bill as the latest Republican proposal to criminalize women’s health care decisions, common health care procedures and attack a woman’s constitutional right to choose.

Wolf in 2017 vetoed a measure that would have criminalized abortion after 20 weeks. He called HB 2315 “even more extreme.”

“Women’s health care decisions should be between them, their doctor and their families—there is no space for Harrisburg politicians to insert themselves,” Wolf said.

He added, “Republicans in Harrisburg show a tremendous disrespect for these women and their abilities to make their own health care decisions.” HB 2315, which was introduced by state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, has been referred to the state House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.

Maternal Mortality

Gov. Tom Wolf on May 9 signed into law House Bill 1869, which directs the state Department of Health to create a 15-member Maternal Mortality Review Committee to collect confidential information or investigate and disseminate findings related to maternal deaths.

The bill, which was written by state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, is aimed at producing information to better understand circumstances surrounding pregnancy-related deaths and enable them to take appropriate actions to prevent them. In a statement, Wolf said the data could lead to systemic changes needed to decrease maternal mortality.

Prior to passage of this legislation there was no mechanism for data collection on maternal deaths in Pennsylvania, according to the Wolf administration.

Mackenzie said in a statement that more women in the United States die from pregnancy complications than in any other developed country. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States—-despite advances in medicine and medical technologies—has seen a 26 percent increase in the maternal mortality rate from 2000 to 2014.

The measure is now Act 24 of 2018.

Gun Safety

In response to community concerns about the gun violence epidemic, Wolf, state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, and other members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus on May 8 announced a new $1.5 million gun violence reduction initiative, and commended the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) for the recent release of $48 million in grants to organizations serving crime victims across Pennsylvania.

“After hearing from this community about the real-world dangers of gun violence, I’m proud to return and deliver funds to help stem the tide of violence,” Wolf said. “We must continue to tackle this crisis head-on, and these new grants are an important step toward achieving that goal.”

PCCD began accepting applications for the Gun Violence Reduction Initiative on May 8 at www.pccd.pa.gov. Awarding of the competitive grants is expected to start in early July.

School Taxes

State Reps. Tim Hennessey, R-Chester, and Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery, on May 7 jointly introduced legislation aimed at helping school districts facing sudden and overwhelming losses of property tax revenue, and also advancing the goal of tax fairness.

“It has been two years since the adoption of the Fair Funding Formula for basic education funding. Although this was a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to provide true fairness,” Quigley said.

Mensch added that Pennsylvania “needs to have a greater urgency in achieving full implementation of the new school funding formula. But until the state gets there, bills like we are introducing are essential for the financial success of struggling school districts.”

The first bill would incorporate the recommendations of the bipartisan 2014-15 Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) for a new distribution formula that would address funding disparities by directing 75 percent of all new funding to the 180 school districts that are currently identified as underfunded. The remaining 25 percent would be distributed to all 500 of the state’s school districts.

The second bill would address school districts’ loss of property tax revenues when a for-profit hospital sells its institution to a nonprofit. Such moves were crippling in the Pottstown School District, Hennessey said, when a sale resulted in a loss of nearly $1 million.