The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building, in downtown Harrisburg.

Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for March 15 and the week of March 18. 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.

Opioid Crisis

Gov. Tom Wolf on March 20 renewed for the sixth time his declaration of a statewide disaster stemming from addiction to opioids.

The Wolf administration also said that it received preliminary data indicating a decrease in opioid overdose deaths in some parts of the state from 2017 to 2018.

“Even with an anticipated drop in overdose deaths in some parts of the state, it is essential to continue this disaster declaration while we still have thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from the disease of opioid-use disorder,” Wolf said in a statement. “We have made great progress in reducing the number of opioids prescribed, increasing the number of people who are eligible for treatment and saving lives with the use of naloxone. But we cannot stop until we end this epidemic. My administration is committed to fighting until that is the case.”

The Office of the Attorney General along with 16 state agencies and commissions comprise the Opioid Operational Command Center, which coordinates resources to ensure that communities have information and can connect to services.

House Resignation

State Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, on March 18 resigned from office in the wake of allegations that he sexually assaulted an incapacitated woman in Harrisburg in October 2015.

Ellis has not been charged with a crime, although the case is under investigation, according to media reports. He was stripped of his leadership post on the Consumer Affairs Committee two months ago when the allegations first surfaced in a statement from Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm. A formal complaint was filed with the state House of Representatives, The Associated Press reported, and it said the accuser was cooperating with law enforcement.

The accuser said she was at a fundraiser at a piano bar in Harrisburg when she experienced a blackout, the AP said. She awoke in bed with Ellis, according to her statement, who said they had engaged in sex. She said she did not have any memory of the sexual encounter.

Ellis’ letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said his resignation decision was in the best interests of his family, district residents and his own health, the AP reported. He said representing a Butler County district was his highest professional honor.

The Associated Press called Ellis for comment but received no response.

A special election to replace Ellis has been set for May 21.

Redistricting Reform

The new Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission said in a statement that it has scheduled a series of regional public meetings to discuss ways to make the redistricting process fairer and nonpartisan.

Wolf created the 15-member bipartisan commission by executive order in November 2018 and appointed David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the nonprofit Committee of Seventy, to serve as its chairman.

The commission has been asked to study best practices in other states and submit a report to Wolf and the General Assembly later this year with recommendations for a nonpartisan redistricting process that safeguards election integrity and fairness.

The first session is set for Williamsport on April 4 and hearings are scheduled through June.

Pension Forfeiture

A measure to ensure that public employees who commit job-related felonies are stripped of state pensions was unanimously approved by the state Senate on March 20 with House amendments.

Senate Bill 113, whose main sponsor is state Sen. John DiSanto, R-Perry, now goes to Wolf’s desk.

SB 113 would close a loophole where officials could plead guilty to lesser offenses and thus retain pension rights under Pennsylvania law. The bill would require pension forfeiture if a public employee or public official is convicted of or pleads guilty or no contest to any felony offense or other criminal offense punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding five years that is related to his or her employment. It also tightens reporting of convictions to state pension authorities.

“I am committed to reforming our government and protecting taxpayers, and this is just the start of what needs to be done.” DiSanto said.

Wolf, who has until March 30 to act on the bill, has said he supported the legislation.

Licensing Exams

The House on March 20 unanimously approved a bill to permit students studying physical therapy to take the required licensing exam up to 90 days prior to graduation.

Currently, Pennsylvania law prohibits physical therapy students from sitting for the exam prior to graduation.

House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Chris Quinn, R-Delaware, would allow testing up to 90 days prior to graduation, provided the students verify their educational status with the licensing board.

“Thirty-two other states permit students to take the necessary licensing exams 60 to 90 days prior to graduating, which enables them to start work immediately upon graduation,” Quinn said. “By requiring they graduate first, we are putting our students at a disadvantage to those who are ready to start work on day one. My bill would correct this.”

HB 138 now goes to the state Senate for consideration.