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PA Senate Passes ‘Grow PA’ to Help Keep Graduates in Commonwealth

Pennsylvania lost 10,408 residents between July 2022 and July 2023, the U.S. Census said.  After the 2000 Census, Pennsylvania lost a congressional seat because so many residents sought their fortunes elsewhere.

Hoping to reverse this trend, on Tuesday the Republican-led state Senate nearly unanimously passed a bipaartisan package of bills dubbed “Grow PA.”

“Everyone knows we have a declining population in Pennsylvania, and our workforce is shrinking as Pennsylvanians age,” Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery) told DVJournal. “So we came together, and leadership did a great job of putting this together.”

Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the free market think tank, agreed.

“The Commonwealth Foundation applauds Pennsylvania Senate Republicans—and state Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) in particular—for its leadership in advancing much-needed higher education reform in the commonwealth. The passage of Grow PA illustrates the Senate Republican’s commitment to supporting our students and future workforce,” Stelle said.

“Grow PA’s reforms provide student-centered funding, ensuring financial aid benefits students directly. From technical programs and community colleges to four-year universities, Grow PA funds students regardless of their choice of higher education. It prioritizes student choice—not bureaucracy—and allocates resources to the fields of study our state needs the most,” she said.

“Grow PA links accountability and results, tying scholarship grants to student success in high-demand fields, such as health care and agriculture. This approach makes higher education more affordable and aligns educational programs with the demands of our state’s key industries. As a result, students graduate better prepared, collect less student debt, and have a greater chance to secure gainful employment.”

The Grow PA Scholarship Grant Program will offer grants of up to $5,000 per year for in-state students who attend college in Pennsylvania, pursue a degree in a high-demand industry, and agree to live and work in that industry in Pennsylvania after graduation.

Students who receive grants would be required to live and work in Pennsylvania for at least 15 months for each year they accept the grant. Otherwise, the grant is converted into a loan.

A Grow PA merit scholarship program also attracts high-performing out-of-state students to a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) school.

Another bill would expand the Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to promising students to cover the cost of post-secondary education. The bill would increase household income limits from $126,000 to $175,000 and allow students with at least a 2.5 GPA to qualify.

Pennycuick was the lead sponsor of a bill to help foster children.

The measure would expand the Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program, which waives higher education tuition and fees for foster children in the foster care system and adopted children. Under the bill, the program would include eligible nonresident students for undergraduate courses at PASSHE schools.

“Many young, talented individuals are simply in need of a chance to succeed. This is especially true for foster care children, who often face significant barriers when seeking access to postsecondary education,” said Pennycuick. “Let’s give foster care kids across the nation the opportunity they seek right here in Pennsylvania.”

She hopes those former foster children will continue to live as contributing members of Pennsylvania society.

“We’ve got phenomenal schools in Pennsylvania,” she said. “We have some top-notch universities. I think it’s a great way to grow Pennsylvania and bring kids that need an opportunity here.”

Another bill would impose performance-based metrics to funding for state-related universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania State University, and Temple University.

Stelle added, “Grow PA links accountability and results, tying scholarship grants to student success in high-demand fields, such as health care and agriculture. This approach makes higher education more affordable and aligns educational programs with the demands of our state’s key industries. As a result, students graduate better prepared, collect less student debt, and have a greater chance to secure gainful employment.”

The bills will now be taken up by the House.

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DREIBELBIS: PA Senate Looks at Election Security, Finds It Lacking

Our election systems are vulnerable to error, hacking, and fraud.

This may not be news to you, but it is news that the Pennsylvania Senate is seriously considering new legislation to mitigate the risks.

On March 18, the Pennsylvania Senate House committee on State Government held a hearing regarding the state of the science of securing elections from cybersecurity experts, to be considered for new legislation regarding election security. The Senate committee Chair Chris Dush and Minority Chair Amanda Cappelletti moderated testimony, including questions and answers with three distinguished experts.

It also published written contributions from several sources, including a “Suggested Principles…” document signed by 20 election security experts, which was provided to both the Senate and the House State Government committees.

Often, hearings are held, but no legislation makes it through the long process of becoming law. This one, though, may have a chance. Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee were rapt during the experts’ testimony. No one expressed reluctance to act on the recommendations.

In the hearing, a great deal of time was spent discussing the two incidences of election machine errors in Northampton County using the ExpressVote XL all-in-one ballot marking device. The errors (in two elections) were caused by a mistake in programming how the machine relates the vote entered on its screen to the wrong candidate’s vote tally. No human could verify how the votes were attributed – the paper record of the ballot printed for the voter showed the candidates who received the votes as an unreadable QR code. The ExpressVote XL is also used for Cumberland and Philadelphia Counties.

The recorded testimony and submitted documents provide eye-opening accounts of other vulnerabilities that new legislation could mitigate. I urge all citizens to view the hearing’s recording or read the 11-page linked document if you don’t have 2 hours to view the recording.

On the table are suggestions regarding exposures to (1) voting machine hacks, (2) ballot marking devices (for the disabled), (3) internet and flash drive connectivity, (4) chain of custody gaps, and (5) existing risk-limiting audits.

To summarize the suggested principles, these 20 experts stated, “The vulnerabilities inherent in technology should be counterbalanced by incorporating non-technological verification methods, such as subjecting outcomes to statistically probative audits of the paper ballots.”

The implications of vulnerabilities and mitigation recommendations are very significant.  The chain of custody for mail-in ballots is impossible to secure. These 20 experts recommend that voting should only be done by hand-marking optically scannable paper ballots in their local polling location on Election Day.

But, they recommend that the election management systems be retained and used to scan the ballots and tally the votes.

They say a chain of custody for in-person voting ballots is an exposure.  Not only is it difficult to secure, but Pennsylvania offers no standards for establishing a trusted chain of custody.

Its auditing of voting could be more effective.  In most cases, it is done by re-scanning the election’s ballots with the same machinery without any protections to prevent the “ballot pool” from being polluted by ballots being swapped or added to. The two0 percent risk-limiting audit performed a week after the election by a “return board,” statistically, will always confirm the Election Day results. There needs to be hand-counting of ballots as close to the time and location of voting as possible.

As for computer hacking, our election systems are all designed and certified to meet standards published in 2005, not the revised standards published in 2015 and 2021! Thus, they are wholly unable to stop the emerging threats our election systems face.


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Chester County’s Mike Woodin Throws Hat in Ring for PA Senate 9th District

Mike Woodin is running for state Senate against incumbent Sen. John Kane (D-Chester/Delaware).

Woodin, 40, a resident of London Britain Township, is a finance and business professional. He has experience in the corporate world, higher education, small business, and public accounting.

“I’m running for the next generation. As a father, businessman, and community leader, I will advocate earnestly to restore prosperity, support strong and safe communities, and empower families,” said Woodin.

The Republican Committees of Chester County and Delaware County endorsed Woodin. He was elected to the Avon Grove School District Board of Directors in 2021, receiving bipartisan support and the most votes of the four candidates in his region.

Woodin said he’ll collaborate “with fellow Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum.”

“When our military heroes serve together, when first responders reach neighbors in crisis, when educators welcome students to their classroom, they don’t stop to ask what someone’s political affiliation is,” Woodin said. “They consider how they can help. That is the spirit with which I will approach this campaign and office,” Woodin said.

Woodin is also an advocate for better access to high-quality mental health care. He is a founding board of directors member for the New London Counseling Center, which serves individuals and families across the tri-state area, regardless of their ability to pay.

Woodin volunteers with inner-city youth and advocates for parental involvement in education. He is a former elder of his church.

Woodin and his wife, Laura, who grew up on a third-generation Chester County farm family, are raising three children, ages 11, 7, and 3, one of whom they welcomed through adoption.

Kane, 63, the Philadelphia Plumbers Local 690 business manager and a plumber by trade, was elected in 2021. He lives in Birmingham Township in Chester County. Kane and his wife, Lori, have three children.


PA GOP Legislators to Shapiro: Support Texas’ Efforts To Secure the U.S. Border

With the U.S. southern border in chaos, Pennsylvania Republicans are supporting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in his efforts to prevent waves of illegal immigrants from crossing into the U.S. And they want Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) to step up, too.

In December, Customs and Border Patrol reported a record 302,000 migrant encounters at the U.S./Mexico border. More than 7 million illegal immigrants have crossed into the country since President Joe Biden took office three years ago, according to the House Homeland Security Committee.

One of Biden’s first acts was to stop construction work on the border wall initiated by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-39), Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41), Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin (R-13), and Majority Whip Ryan P. Aument (R-36) circulated a co-sponsor memo Wednesday for a resolution affirming Abbott is lawfully exercising his constitutional authority to defend his state and its citizens.

It comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing Border Patrol agents to cut razor wire that Texas forces deployed along the Rio Grande in an attempt to prevent illegal border crossings.

The Senate resolution also calls on Shapiro to join 25 GOP governors across the country publicly endorsing Abbott’s actions. The resolution also calls on the Biden administration to stop fighting Texas’ efforts and instead commit resources to support the Lone Star State in securing the border.

“Many of us are hearing from our constituents who are concerned with this troubling crisis and who have expressed a desire for us to help take a stand against the Biden administration’s disastrous border policies. This resolution reflects our duty to uphold our oath to support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States and ensure the safety of its citizens,” the lawmakers said.

“State and local officials across this country have sounded the alarm regarding the straining of their resources, the scourge of fentanyl deaths, the tragedy of human trafficking, including children smuggled across the border, and the flow of illegal firearms and dangerous gang members; all exasperated by the disastrous enforcement at our borders by the Biden administration.”

The resolution will likely go before the full Senate for a vote next week.

Similarly, the letter penned by Rep. Michael Cabell (R-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Wyoming) and signed by dozens of representatives calls on Shapiro and Attorney General Michelle Henry to support Texas’ Operation Lone Star.

“While Operation Lone Star should be credited for, in a relatively short span of time, apprehending approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants and seizing enough Mexican fentanyl to kill the entire population of the United States, additional manpower and resources are urgently needed to stem the tides of unlawful migration, human trafficking, and deadly narcotics trafficking,” the letter to Shapiro reads.

“At a time when the federal government has demonstrated an unmistakable aversion to countering this ever-increasing surge in illegal immigration, we encourage you to honor your commitment to ensuring that Pennsylvania ‘does not leave any state with an oversized responsibility’ in addressing the crisis at our southern border. Indeed, like you, we believe that all states, including Pennsylvania, share an obligation to fight this crisis to safeguard our communities and uphold the rule of law.”

Delaware Valley Reps. John Lawrence (R-West Grove), Donna Scheuren (R-Gilbertsville), and Milou Mackenzie (R-Bethlehem) signed the letters.

Also, Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who ran against Shapiro for governor in 2022, called on Shapiro to send Pennsylvania National Guard troops to help Texas.

“Reckless federal government policies have created a crisis at our nation’s southern border,” Mastriano said. “Every state is now a border state. Pennsylvania has a compelling interest in helping secure the southern border of the United States. Fentanyl has flooded communities throughout our commonwealth, school districts are increasingly burdened, and strained social safety net funds are being diverted.”

Asked to comment, Shapiro’s spokesperson Manuel Bonder said, “Gov. Shapiro has been clear that our country needs a secure border and Congress needs to pass comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system. This issue requires leaders from both parties to step up and deliver real, comprehensive solutions — not the failed talking points and political grandstanding that have brought us decades without immigration reform.”

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PA Senators Learn About the Horrors of Human Trafficking

“You can sell a drug once, but you can sell a child over and over and over again,” said Chantee Vernille with Familylinks. “Please tell your friends and your neighbors that this is something happening in every ZIP code.”

Vernille spoke to the state Senate Policy Majority Committee’s hearing on human trafficking last week. Pennsylvania is considering new laws and increased spending to address the problem.

“It is a multibillion-dollar industry thriving on the vulnerability of its victims, perpetuating the cycle of suffering,” said committee chair Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie). “More than 27 million people around the world endure the appalling abuse of human trafficking and forced labor, including thousands of people right here in the United States. It is a threat to global security, public safety, and human dignity.”

Various forms include sexual exploitation, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and child exploitation, he said.

“Due to the clandestine nature of human trafficking, many cases go unreported,” Laughlin said. January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said, “The trafficking is horrendous. It is horrible. Women and children mainly. Labor and sexual.” One of her bills signed into law last year puts traffickers on the Megan’s List registry. Pennsylvania is the first state to take that step.

She called on the legislature “to get some really strong laws passed. Because if we don’t, who is going to protect these people?”

Executive Deputy Attorney General Michele Kelly Walsh and Chief Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino both testified before the committee. Castellino is in charge of the new Human Trafficking Section launched by Attorney General Michelle Henry to “address and bolster statewide efforts to effectively investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases and facilitate assistance for victims.”

There were 341 Pennsylvania victims or survivors of sexual trafficking who contacted the human trafficking hotline in 2021. Some 192 cases were identified, with 315 victims. Those cases included 153 sex trafficking cases, 18 forced labor cases, and eight sex and labor trafficking cases.

The victims included 129 adults, 42 minors, 154 females and 27 males. Typical venues for sex trafficking were illicit massage/spa businesses and residence-based commercial sex.

Walsh said the Attorney General’s Office has been prosecuting these cases for more than a decade. But more resources are needed because the cases are “not short term. They require trained investigators, trained prosecutors, and they require time.”

“These cases are not what you see in Hollywood,” she said. “These traffickers prey upon the vulnerable among us, typically young females.”

Victims struggle with drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, and low self-esteem. “They are chosen by these predators for a reason,” said Walsh.

Fred Woodard, director of investigations with Asservo Project, said, “A year ago, we had a young boy taken from his home in the middle of the night and driven halfway across the country.”

A predator groomed the boy through a chatroom on Discord. The Asservo Project is pioneering the use of AI facial recognition to track trafficking victims, he said.

Sidney McCoy, director of advocacy at Shared Hope International, said the group has analyzed legislation and policies in the states, and in 2023, Pennsylvania scored a ‘D.’ The “unjust criminalization” of survivors needs to stop, she said. “We will not simply prosecute our way out of this issue.”

Pennsylvania is one of 30 states that prohibit charging minors for prostitution, acknowledging that “no child engages in commercial sex by choice.”

Victims are sometimes forced into other crimes by their captors, she said. And “vulnerabilities do not end at 18.” She said she believes protection from prosecution needs to be extended to adult victims.

Brad Ortenzi, Zoe International’s regional director, said it had implemented prevention and awareness strategies in Berks and Lancaster Counties along with the district attorney offices. They train people at various agencies to identify victims of human trafficking and to prevent it. They have also taught people at hospitals, hotels, and at homeless shelters.

They match vulnerable children with a Zoe advocate for mentorship for “relational-based prevention.”

“Rarely does a child disclose they’re being trafficked,” he said.

Women who are recently released from prison are vulnerable to traffickers, he said. Zoe has developed a program to educate female inmates about the danger of being recruited into the sex trade once they are released.

John McKown with Truckers Against Trafficking said there are 3 million truck drivers in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, 170,000 truckers have been trained in “what to look for and how to report this horrible crime.”

“Before I was trained, I probably missed an opportunity or two,” he said. “I was in a rest area in Chillicothe, Ohio, taking my hours, and I had this young girl, about 16 years old, knock on my door and ask if I wanted a date. I really didn’t understand. Back then, you thought, ‘Why in the world would somebody be out there at this time of night.’ But now you know. I’m almost positive that she was being trafficked, and I didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t know.”

“Don’t have your head down, look around. If you see something that doesn’t look right, make that call. Call 911 and report this stuff. It does make a difference. Human trafficking is the greatest human rights violation of our time, and traffickers count on apathy and ignorance,” he said.

“I cannot overstate the depravity the victims of human trafficking endure,” Walsh told the committee. “The scourge of human trafficking is prolific across the commonwealth. The victims, they’re mothers, they’re daughters, there are some former military individuals, there are teachers. They could be anybody.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 888-373-7888.

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PA State Senate to Join House in Closing

They might want to hang a “Closed for Business” sign on the door of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

First, the state House closed. Now the state Senate announced it will be closed the weeks of Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 because the House is closed.

“Given that the House has not yet organized their chamber, our options for fully addressing legislative issues are limited at this time,” said Kate Flessner, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong).

“Additionally, the Commonwealth Court opinions on the impeachment process create more questions than answers, leaving our proceedings on the matter in flux.  Given that an open appeal period on the litigation runs through January 30, until further notice. No impeachment actions will be taken by the Senate,” Flessner said.

The Senate was to hold an impeachment trial for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Jan. 18. It was postponed after the court ruling.

In the closely divided House, several Republicans, including the leadership, had agreed to elect Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) as speaker. While the Republicans currently hold the majority at 101-99, the Democrats will likely be narrowly in the majority after special elections are held for three vacancies in heavily Democratic districts.

Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) had said they voted for Rozzi, a moderate who was nominated by Rep. Jim Gregory (R-Blair), to keep progressive Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) out of the position.

“We prevented the progressive agenda from being able to move forward,” White said.

However, when Rozzi did not immediately change his party registration to independent as he had promised Republicans, including Gregory, called for him to step down. And the legislative session paused.

Rozzi adjourned the House and issued this statement. “In an effort to move things forward and to get Democrats and Republicans talking again, I am creating a workgroup of three Republicans and three Democrats of varied interests from across the commonwealth to sit down and find a way forward.

“Make no mistake – we must pass statute of limitations reform (for childhood victims of sexual abuse). But we also must fix the workings of our government and find a way to move forward as Pennsylvanians for the betterment of Pennsylvania.

“History will not judge us based on how many Democratic Party wins or Republican Party wins we achieve, but we will be judged based on what we did for the children of this commonwealth.”

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Ward Elected First Woman to Lead PA Senate

Sen. Kim Ward was elected by her colleagues on Tuesday as the first woman Senate President pro tempore, or leader of the Pennsylvania Senate.

She will also serve as lieutenant governor until Democrat Rep. Austin Davis is inaugurated on Jan. 17. (Davis resigned from the House last month to prepare for his new position.)

Ward (R-Westmoreland) noted in her remarks to senators that more women are now serving in the Senate than ever before, eight Republicans and eight Democrats. While the House is nearly evenly divided, with Democrats likely to take control after three special elections to fill vacancies are held, the Senate retains a Republican majority.

Democrat Josh Shapiro will become governor this month.

Asked what she believes the legislature can accomplish with a Democratic governor and House, Ward told the Delaware Valley Journal that bills that are “good for the people of Pennsylvania” will be passed.

Her number one priority is a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification.

“That’s probably the most important thing we want to get done,” she said. Polling shows most Pennsylvanians, regardless of party, agree that voters should show their ID to vote.

“It’s a popular issue,” she said. “It’s 100 percent common sense.”

Asked what she can do to stop the state’s continued population loss (about 40,000 people from July 2021 to July 2022), she said the newly decreased corporate income tax should help.

“I think it’s important in that it is businesses bring jobs, right?” said Ward. The legislature passed “a big package. It’s going to help everybody in Pennsylvania.”

She also wants to unleash the energy sector and promote Marcellus Shale gas.

“We should choose to use the vast natural resources that we’re sitting upon,” she said. “And we don’t need to be pounding negatively on other energies and other energy sources do not need to pound negatively on fossil fuels.”

Using that natural gas will bring more jobs and more people to the state, she said.

And she’s hopeful that Shapiro will keep to his campaign commitment to take Pennsylvania out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Gov. Tom Wolf entered despite legislative denials.

She asked why Pennsylvania should be “negatively impacted” by RGGI, which will increase electricity costs, because “New York and these other northeastern states don’t have what we have (natural gas).”

The DVJournal wondered whether Republicans in Harrisburg and the rest of the state think the Delaware Valley is now hopelessly Democratic.

Ward said, “We’re never going to give up. We’re going to come back and get all of you to come back to our side.”

Asked her advice for other women who aspire to leadership positions, Ward was straightforward.

“Stay focused. Keep your eyes on where you’re to be. Work hard as you can and don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do something because yes, you can.”

At her swearing-in ceremony, Ward said that in addition to reducing the corporate net income tax, they increased education spending and g, created the Pennsylvania Edge Tax Credit program to increase energy production. They also created a childcare tax credit, a home repair program, and a health care prior authorization change to help people access needed procedures. And these improvements were done in a bipartisan way.

“As we look forward, I’m hopeful that we can, together, put Pennsylvania on a greater path to prosperity,” she said.  “By tapping into our state’s energy abundance, we can fuel our state’s economy, create, and maintain good family-sustaining jobs and create energy independence, not only for our commonwealth but for our nation.”

Ward also wants to promote “earlier detection of breast cancer and greater access to a BRCA gene test for women.”

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PA Republican Sen. Kim Ward Elected First Woman President Pro Tempore

Senate Republicans Tuesday elected Sen. Kim Ward to serve as president pro tempore. She is the first woman to serve in that position, which is the third highest office in the state. It was among the Senate Republican leadership positions for the 2023-24 legislative session chosen on Wednesday.

“We think this is going to be pretty challenging in the next year or two,” said Ward (R-Westmoreland) at a Harrisburg press conference afterward. “The landscape has changed a little bit. We’re not sure really what’s happening in the House. That’s still up in the air. We have a new governor. All I know is this: We need to be the best we can to serve the people of our commonwealth.”

Ward had previously served as the Senate Majority Leader.

“I am incredibly proud to elect Kim as the first female pro tem. Her leadership and experience will be critical as we potentially lose the majority in the house. I am looking forward to working with Kim and the rest of the Senate leadership team,” Rep. Tracy Penncuick (R-Harleysville), who was just elected to the Senate 24th District, to serve parts of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

The president pro tempore is responsible for appointing the chairpersons and members of the 22 standing committees of the Senate and serves as an ex-officio member of all committees. She will preside over the Senate floor when the lieutenant governor is unavailable and fills the position of lieutenant governor if the office becomes vacant. The office also refers bills and resolutions to the appropriate Senate committees for consideration.

“To all members of the Senate, Democrat and Republican, I look forward to working with you to chart a path forward that requires us to selflessly work together advocating for all Pennsylvanians and their families by putting the principles and respect for this institution and our Commonwealth above all,” Ward said. “Together we have done big things for Pennsylvania, and they should be acknowledged in the bipartisan manner in which they were achieved. It is proof we can be diverse and unified at the same time and a kind reminder of the work we must continue to do on behalf of our commonwealth and its citizens.”

The Senate Republicans also elected Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong) as Senate Majority Leader. His duties include overseeing the legislative agenda, developing policies and strategies for the Senate Republican Caucus, and playing a key role in floor debates officials said. He also has a major role in negotiating issues with the administration and House of Representatives and in coordinating action on the Senate floor. Pittman previously chaired the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.

“To serve as the majority leader of the Senate Republican Caucus in the upcoming session will be a great honor,” Pittman said. “I am flattered to have the support of my colleagues and am committed to advancing a positive, pro-growth agenda for the citizens of this entire Commonwealth. The constituents of the 41st Senatorial District who have elected me to represent them as their senator will always be my top priority and focus, and I will use my voice to represent them and their interests.”

Others elected to leadership included Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) as Majority Whip. Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in developing the state budget.

Also, Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) will serve as Majority Caucus chair for the 2023-24 legislative session. The chair presides over Republican caucus meetings to discuss bills and amendments and to develop caucus strategy. And Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver) was elected Senate Majority Caucus secretary to oversee all executive nominations submitted to the Senate for confirmation.

Ward was first elected in 2008. Previously, she had served as a Westmoreland County commissioner and was on the Hempfield Township Board of Supervisors, where she was chair.

Ward worked in a bipartisan way to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

She led efforts to ensure the people’s voice was not lost by advancing a constitutional amendment giving the people a say through the introduction of Senate Bill 2, which instituted the largest transfer of executive power since President Herbert Hoover, according to her online bio.

She’s also been active in regulatory reform and tax relief.

Ward advanced efforts to reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT) for Pennsylvania, taking it from one of the highest in the nation to phasing it down to one of the most competitive rates among states. She also helped to provide more certainty for businesses through regulatory reform and make tax code adjustments for small- medium-sized businesses, her website said.

Ward is a member of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Hempfield Township, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the NRA. She is a southwestern Pennsylvania native who grew up in Meadowlands in Washington County. She attended The Community College of Allegheny County Respiratory Therapy program, the University of Pittsburgh, and Middle Tennessee State University.

Before entering politics, Ward worked as a board-certified respiratory therapist at Allegheny General Hospital, Vanderbilt University Hospital, and Hershey Medical Center.

She and her husband, Dr. Thomas Ward, have three sons: Tom, Michael, and Matthew, and six grandchildren.

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Muth Rebuked After Calling Supporters of Parents’ Rights Bill ‘Homophobic’

In a heated debate over school books containing graphic language and images of sexual conduct, Delaware Valley state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery) was reprimanded after calling supporters of these protections “homophobic.”

The bill, requiring parental notice when instructional materials and books containing sexually explicit material are being taught, passed the Senate Wednesday in a party-line vote. A second bill prohibiting teachers from speaking to very young children about sexual identity also passed the Senate. Both bills were sponsored by Sens. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster)

“This legislation opens up a harmful window of unnecessary litigation,” said Muth, who voted against both bills. “They will be very costly to our school districts, school districts that are already under-funded, school districts that have had to pay out millions and millions of dollars to charter schools.” The bills include no funding for increased costs for litigation or insurance, she said.

But it was when she accused the bill’s backers of being bigots that she was called out by leadership. Sen. President Pro Tempore Jake Corman rebuked Muth and she recanted her name-calling.

Groups of concerned parents have complained to their legislators after discovering that library books such as “Gender Queer,” with many explicit passages, were in school libraries and available to children as young as middle school students.

Delaware Valley parents have complained to several local school boards about these books, including Great Valley and West Chester Area, but they were rebuffed.

“I believe this Senate bill is an excellent start to address the problem of sexually explicit materials in the schools,” said Bruce Chambers, a former Great Valley School Board president. “This issue was brought to the forefront by Fenecia Redman at Great Valley School Board meetings, but the school board would not even address the issue. In fact, when she showed the graphic material to the school board, they told her to take it down, and then left the room like cowards when she refused. Apparently, the school board didn’t see the irony in avoiding the material that was readily available to all the students in the library.”

Chambers added, “You can view an example of this online on the TikTok site for the Great Valley High School library. The second selection on the front page is ’10 Sweet Queer Graphic Novels.’ When you select it, you can see those Queer Novels featured by the librarian. This is the type of material that is currently up front and in the face of Great Valley students and should come under the legislation proposed by the Pennsylvania Senate.”

Redman also led a group of parents to the capitol last week to protest the books. The parents displayed enlarged posters of illustrations from some of those books, causing a capitol police officer to tell them to take their display down since children might be present.

Senate Bill 1277 would require schools to identify sexually explicit content in school curriculum and materials and notify parents that their child’s coursework includes such content. Senate Bill 1278 would prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, consistent with the timeline for when the existing academic standards on general sex education begin in sixth grade.

“A school district in Chester County instructing elementary school teachers to withhold information from parents about children questioning their gender; a teacher reporting that a Philadelphia school was permitting volunteers to talk to elementary school students about LGBTQ issues without parental knowledge; and mothers of first-grade students in Allegheny County suing their school district for teaching about gender dysphoria without parental knowledge or consent – these are just a small sample of the dozens of complaints we’ve received from concerned parents around the commonwealth,” said Sens. Martin and Aument. “While we may not agree on what moral, ideological, and religious values to teach or not to teach our children, we can certainly agree that it should be up to the parent to decide – not the government.”

For some examples of sexually explicit content found in Pennsylvania school libraries and curricula, readers can, at their own discretion, review the dedicated webpage here, which contains blurred copies of the original materials.

The bills will be taken up by the House.

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