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REGAN: Rioting in Philadelphia Costing Commonwealth Millions

Law and order are long overdue in the City of Brotherly Love. This week’s rioting is the latest black eye on Philadelphia in an ongoing saga of dangerous incidents that keep piling up.  Disgraceful criminals with zero respect for the city, for their neighbors, and for businesses that fuel the local economy have caused destruction beyond belief.

As Chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, I want to commend the Philadelphia City Police, who have managed to make arrests and reel in the lawlessness each evening. The Police are doing their job in reestablishing law and order. I wish the same could be said for District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose philosophy has added to the mayhem in Philadelphia because criminals understand his reluctance to prosecute them.

This lax approach and allowing criminals to take control is resulting in severe losses to the city.  Tourists are too fearful to visit. Businesses are relocating to other cities. Law abiding residents have decided to move on.

And the impact will not just be on Philadelphia. The city’s economy is a significant driver of Pennsylvania’s economy.

The Law and Justice Committee, in addition to overseeing police matters, has oversight of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and medical marijuana issues.

Rioters have hit PA liquor stores across the city, resulting in an estimated loss of $750,000 to $1,000,000 each day those stores are closed. This does not even take into account the loss of product stolen by these criminals and the cost of clean-up.

Additionally, a medical marijuana dispensary in the city was broken into as part of the looting efforts. Authorities have not yet released what all, if anything, was stolen, but it is one more business that should not be dealing with a mess of replacing windows, doors, display cases and anything else that was damaged.

All of this costs time and money. While these costs will be paid upfront by business owners, insurance companies, and in the case of state stores – taxpayers, ultimately, these damages will be passed on to everyone through higher prices on goods, insurance premiums, and increased taxes to ensure the continuation of police coverage.

I certainly hope those that were advocating to de-fund the police in recent years realize that approach serves no one. If it was your business being looted, you’d expect the police to respond. But if we’re not funding them, obviously, there won’t be anyone to help you.

We not only need to continue funding the police but also protecting them and ensuring our rioting laws are updated and keeping up with changing times. That is why I commend my colleague Senator Frank Farry (R-Bucks) and am happy to join in his effort to sponsor legislation targeting rioters, particularly out-of-state residents who travel here for the purpose of rioting and those Commonwealth residents who recruit out-of-staters to riot in Pennsylvania. I will be working with him to also include measures that hold accountable those who use social media to rally troops to riot, fueling the fire and further creating mayhem. All of these individuals will face felony charges under our legislation.

At least in the rest of Pennsylvania. Maybe not in Larry Krasner’s Philadelphia.


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Bill Would Legalize Recreational Pot in PA

Will this be the year that Pennsylvania legalizes recreational marijuana?

Two state senators, a Democrat and a Republican, announced they are introducing legislation to legalize it in the Keystone State.

“We have a unique and singular opportunity to correct decades of mass incarceration, disproportionate enforcement against marginalized communities, the criminalization of personal choice, and the perpetuation of violence, which all materialized from the failed war on drugs,” said Sen. Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia). “Legalizing the adult use of cannabis will help us fully and equitably fund education, lower property taxes, and address various community needs throughout Pennsylvania.”

The legislation would grant licenses to sell marijuana to social and economic equity applicants while providing room for new and existing licensees to ensure demand in Pennsylvania was met. Also, it expunges non-violent marijuana convictions for medical marijuana patients and goes further to expunge all non-violent marijuana convictions.

Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) said, “Legalized adult use of marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians, and this legislation accomplishes that while also ensuring safety and social equity. With neighboring states New Jersey and New York implementing adult use, we have a duty to Pennsylvania taxpayers to legalize adult-use marijuana to avoid losing hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue and thousands of new jobs.”

The bill sets the minimum marijuana consumption age at 21 years old and provides appropriate deterrence to keep marijuana out of the hands of anyone under 21. Additionally, law enforcement would be given the means to adjudicate driving under the influence and the authority to pursue and eradicate any illicit market. The legislation also bans any marketing directed toward children and sets workplace requirements regarding marijuana use for those operating in good faith.

During state budget hearings held in 2021, the Senate Appropriations Committee was told by the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office that legalized adult-use marijuana could generate $400 million to $1 billion in new tax revenue for the commonwealth, the senators said in a press release.

Daylin Leach, a former state senator for Montgomery and Delaware counties, said, “I actually introduced the first bill to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018 (SB 350). Getting rid of the pernicious arcane policy of prohibition is long overdue. But it’s important to get it right. I hope they’ve taken the time to fully understand the issue.”

“I’d rather they buy it legally. If they’re going to get it, they’re going to get it,” said Ed “Eddie Z” Zampitella, who owns a sober living club, The Last Stop, in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.

If people buy illegal marijuana, it can be laced with fentanyl, which may be fatal, he noted. And also, they may go into bad neighborhoods to purchase the drug, where “they can get robbed or killed,” Zampitella said.

But Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub has a different perspective.

“This seems like pure rationalization for the government to make more money from a taxable vice. DUIs, and therefore DUI-related crashes, injuries, and deaths, will increase due to this legislation,” Weintraub said.

Street and Laughlin also touted the benefits to the state’s farmers. The legislation may also strengthen Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural industry by empowering farmers and craft growers across the state to grow marijuana in a manner that is safe and regulated, they said in a press release. Additionally, it would allow Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of cannabis plants at their homes for personal use to help ease the cost and accessibility burdens that still exist for medical marijuana.

The legalization effort comes as more studies raise questions about the impact of the widespread use of marijuana on mental health and brain development.

A study published in the medical journal Lancet last year found that high-potency cannabis is associated with a greater risk of psychosis and addiction. And a newly-released National Institutes of Health study showed young men with cannabis (marijuana) use disorder have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.

“Previous studies indicate that rates of daily or near-daily cannabis use, cannabis use disorder, and new schizophrenia diagnoses are higher among men than women, and that early, frequent cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia,” the NIH reported.


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Frustrated by Water Rate Hikes, Chester County Rep Wants Repeal of Act 12

After the passage of Act 12 in 2016, there has been a flurry of private-company purchases of publicly-owned water and wastewater systems. And there has been an accompanying flurry of higher rates for customers. Now a Chester County Republican says he has had enough.

State Rep. John Lawrence (R-West Grove) wants ratepayers to be able to vote on whether their water or sewer provider is sold and also have  “unbiased information to make informed decisions.”

Lawrence said he planned to introduce four bills that would repeal Act 12 and is circulating a memorandum to garner co-sponsors.

Act 12 permits private companies to purchase public water systems and charge residents higher fees based on the network’s appraised fair market value. In his memorandum, Lawrence said the result has been greatly increased costs for ratepayers throughout the state.

At issue, Lawrence wrote, is the way utility systems are appraised before their sale—and how the appraisers themselves are compensated.

“In a direct conflict of interest, these appraisers can get paid more if they provide a higher appraisal value to their clients,” Lawrence wrote. “Note that the law allows the Public Utility Commission to approve a different (perhaps higher) rate.

“These fees are then eventually passed along to – ratepayers.”

Lawrence told DVJournal he has “heard from many who are very concerned about municipal water and wastewater systems being sold to the highest bidder under the provisions of Act 12.”

“In particular, the proposed takeover of Chester Water Authority has galvanized folks across Chester and Delaware Counties in opposition,” he said. “I am fighting the sale of CWA both in the legislature and the courts, and these bills are the latest effort in that fight.”

CWA’s attorney Frank Catania praised Lawrence and Rep. Christine Sappey (D-Kennett Square) and Sen. John Kane (D-Chester) for their help with the issue.

“We’re in favor of his efforts because he’s letting the decisions stay with the ratepayers,” said Catania. “He’s letting them decide the issue. It’s really a bipartisan effort.”

“We’re 100 percent supportive,” said Catania.

Lawrence’s proposal would repeal Act 12 and “remove the ability of the PUC to approve a rate higher than 5 percent for these ‘utility valuation experts.'”

The legislation would also ensure that ratepayers are notified directly of any payments to estimators, requiring “that these fees be disclosed to ratepayers in a special mailing/notification.”

Currently, Lawrence wrote in the memo, ratepayers “have no ability to speak directly into the decision to sell a municipal water or sewer system.” He said his legislation will ensure “greater transparency and disclosure for those most affected – utility ratepayers.”

Act 12 has been controversial since its passage. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 2018 that Act 12 had set off “a feeding frenzy for public water systems” in the state.

Last year residents of Bucks County mobilized to oppose efforts by Aqua PA to purchase the county’s water and sewer systems for just over $1 billion. The county subsequently backed away from that sale, pledging instead to invest around $155 million in its aging sewer system.

A judge in February ordered a stay on the proposed sale of the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority to Aqua PA, citing the fact that “the terms of the contract [between the two authorities] remain unsettled.”

Lawrence told DVJournal his proposals “provide reform, accountability, and transparency.”

“Ratepayers should have the right to vote on any proposal to sell a municipal water or wastewater system and have reliable information about what it will cost in the short and long term,” he argued.

“Current law provides little or no opportunity for meaningful ratepayer input before the sale of municipal water and sewer systems, ” he added, “even though ratepayers are expected to pay the bill for decades to come.”

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ORTITAY: Act Now to Prevent Sexual Harassment by House Members

On Jan. 27 in Philadelphia, during one of the stops of the Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward listening tour, an allegation of sexual harassment was made against a sitting member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

It takes courage to make an allegation like that, particularly in our state Capitol against a lawmaker. I stood with and supported a victim of sexual assault when a worse situation occurred several years ago with a former member. I saw the toll it took. Unfortunately, the culture under the dome in Harrisburg has long been unsettling, even before my arrival. That needs to change. Sexual assault or harassment is something nobody should have to tolerate while doing their job.

We have an opportunity to easily remedy this now in the soon-to-be-voted House regular session rules for the 2023-24 legislative session. Last session, Rep. Kate Klunk authored House Resolution 192, which would have expanded House ethical conduct rules and procedures to sexual harassment complaints made by anyone against a member or officer of the House in circumstances related to their office or employment. Prior rules only applied when the complaint was made by a member or employee of the House.

“Justice for the victims of sexual misconduct.” That was a quote repeated over and over again in our first session week back since November 2022. Ironically, Rep. Klunk was barred from adding language similar to House Resolution 192 to the House special session rules.

As a member of the speaker’s workgroup, I feel it is important to continue to pursue this rule change so that every lawmaker is held accountable for their actions while doing their job no matter the location or with whom they may be working. As was stated in the testimony to the workgroup “harassment is not a partisan issue.”

I highly encourage the speaker and whoever is writing rules for the regular session to include the language from House Resolution 192. It will hold lawmakers accountable through the House ethics process and give both the testifier at the Philadelphia listening tour stop and the accused lawmaker an opportunity for a fair process that can deliver justice.

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