Pennsylvania State Capitol, Harrisburg. Photo: Waldteufel – Fotolia

Following is a listing of legislative and executive action for the week of Oct. 8. Both houses of the General Assembly were in recess at press time. The Pennsylvania Senate and state House of Representatives were set to return to session on Monday.

Prescription Coverage

The state House of Representatives on Oct. 11 voted unanimously to approve legislation authored by Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, which would change income eligibility guidelines for the Pacenet program, extending prescription drug coverage to more than 17,000 older Pennsylvanians. The PACE and Pacenet programs provide low-cost prescription drugs to nearly 282,000 Pennsylvanians age 65 and older. Both programs are funded from proceeds of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

“Every day many seniors on fixed incomes have to choose between medication and other necessities, and that’s a choice no one should have to make,” Farry said. “An expansion of the Pacenet program would allow them to better afford the prescriptions they need to maintain healthy lives.”

House Bill 270 would increase the annual maximum income limits in the Pacenet program to $27,500 for a single person and to $35,500 for a married couple. Current maximum income requirements for the Pacenet program, which covers those individuals with incomes exceeding PACE maximums, are $23,500 for a single individual and $31,500 for a married couple annually. This would be the first expansion of the program since 2004.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Opioid Crisis

Wolf administration cabinet officials from the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) on Oct. 11 announced they are using nearly $500,000 in federal grants to support kinship navigator programs.

Kinship navigators provide support to relatives caring for loved ones who are impaired and their dependents by helping them identify and access available benefits and services. DHS Secretary Teresa Miller pointed out that more families have become caregivers for children of parents who are impaired or in recovery, and kinship navigators can function as a “resource and lifeline.”

Pennsylvania was awarded $479,307 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to develop a kinship navigator program.

“For grandparents raising grandchildren due to the opioid crisis, this funding will provide programs to assist them in finding and utilizing programs and services to support themselves and their grandchildren,” said DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith.

Hurricane Aid

Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 10 announced that he has sent the 45-member PA Task Force 1 to Alabama as a Type 3 Urban Search and Rescue Team to assist in the wake of Hurricane Michael, the Category-4 storm that made landfall that day on the Gulf Coast. The team includes highly-trained search and rescue personnel as well as support staff.

“Some members of this team recently returned from nearly three weeks in North Carolina to help with the response and recovery from Hurricane Florence,” Wolf said. “We are proud that we have dedicated personnel who train regularly for this type of work and who are ready to go when called upon.”

The team reported to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. A Wolf administration statement did not say how long the deployment would last.

Marijuana Possession

The state House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 10 approved on a bipartisan 20-4 vote legislation introduced by state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks, that would reduce the penalties for most cases of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“This is a common-sense reform aimed at saving taxpayers money and ensuring the punishment fits the crime,” Jozwiak said. “We want criminals to pay a penalty, but we also want them to be able to get back up on their feet and become contributing members of society.” The possession of small amounts of marijuana is currently a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania and is subject to a punishment of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

House Bill 928 would reduce the penalties for most cases of possession of small amounts, consisting of less than 30 grams, of marijuana. The penalty for a first or second offense would be reduced from a misdemeanor to a summary offense. Those who violate the law would be subject to a citation, similar to a traffic ticket. The fine for the first or second offense would be a maximum of $300. If the person continues to break this law, the criminal would be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory $1,000 fine and a six-month suspension of his or her driver’s license.

The measure now heads to the full House for consideration. •