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Lawrence, Cutler File Amicus Brief Opposing City of Chester’s Bid to Sell Chester Water Authority

Two Republican state representatives filed an amicus brief to oppose the city of Chester’s bid to sell Chester Water Authority to Aqua PA.

The case is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court on Nov. 30.

“Act 73 of 2012 abolished Chester city’s control over the CWA board. It is outrageous to suggest that years later, the city can override the clear intent of the Legislature, take control of CWA and sell it to the highest bidder.  I am grateful that the Supreme Court has agreed to review this matter, and I will continue to fight to prevent any takeover of Chester Water Authority,” said Rep. John Lawrence (R-West Grove).

Lawrence, whose constituents in Chester and Delaware counties are served by CWA filed the brief with House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).

“The CWA board has steadfastly and responsibly served the hundreds of thousands of customers who rely on this municipally provided service,” Cutler said. “The Commonwealth Court’s ruling undermines the board’s rightful position to continue to recognize the best interest of its customers and sets a dangerous precedent for all water consumers in the Commonwealth. We strongly urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take a closer look at this case.”

Previously, CWA rejected an unsolicited $320 million takeover offer in 2017. Subsequent lawsuits focused on whether the CWA Board or the city of Chester has the ultimate authority to approve a sale of the water authority. A Delaware County court decided in favor of CWA, but on appeal t the Commonwealth Court reversed the lower court’s ruling.

Founded in 1939, Chester Water Authority serves over 200,000 customers in Chester and Delaware counties. In addition to water treatment facilities, the authority owns and operates the Octoraro Reservoir, and water pipelines connecting the reservoir with the Susquehanna River and facilities in the city of Chester.

A spokesperson for Aqua, which made a $410 million bid for the system, declined to comment since the matter is in litigation.

Aqua and other privately owned corporations have been buying area water and sewer systems after a law signed in 2016 permitted them to pay “fair market value” for those public utilities.  However, residents have been organizing to fight back against these acquisitions, fearing higher rates. They have had some success, notably garnering public support to pressure the Bucks County Commissioners to oppose a planned deal for Aqua to buy the Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority for $1.1 billion.

In the brief, the lawmakers noted that the takeover jeopardizes the reservoir, which Cutler’s constituents enjoy.

The representatives argue in their brief that the City of Chester does not have the right to decide on the sale without the consent of Delaware and Chester counties, which are also represented on the CWA board.

Frank Catania, a lawyer for CWA, said the CWA board members terms are up in November. The Chester County commissioners reappointed two board members on Wednesday, Noel Brandon and Leonard Rivera, along with Erik Walschburger, deputy county administrator as a new board member.

On Thursday, the CWA board will hold a special meeting to discuss whether to join the U.S. Water Alliance and its One Water Program. That group promotes sustainable fresh water and holistic water management, according to its website.


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QUINN: Finding The Middle Ground on Abortion

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case, which returned abortion policy decisions to individual states, has sparked an important public policy discussion about what limits on abortion are appropriate. Most Americans are willing to have reasonable discussions about reasonable limits on abortion.

But some politicians have sought to take advantage of the heightened sensitivity of the issue, spreading false, misleading claims for personal political gain. My opponent is one of them and I want to set the record straight: I have never voted in support of an abortion ban. And if a ban were ever advanced in Pennsylvania, I would oppose it.

The Dobbs decision has fueled efforts by both supporters and opponents of abortion to vastly change state abortion laws. In West Virginia, some have pushed for aggressive bans on abortion with limited exceptions. Meanwhile, some pro-choice advocates are championing efforts to vastly expand abortion access into the third trimester. Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee hearing this summer featured panelists who championed eliminating all abortion restrictions. As one panelist stated, “every abortion restriction is extreme.”

There are also efforts currently underway through the courts to overturn a 30-year-old Pennsylvania law that prohibits the use of taxpayer funding to perform abortions. It provides exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother. This case, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center vs. the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The appellants are asking the state’s majority Democratic Supreme Court to establish a state constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortions. In its ruling, the court could also establish a state constitutional right to abortion, removing all abortion restrictions and allowing abortions to be performed up until the moment of birth.

Following the Dobbs decision, I’ve had extensive conversations with many constituents about what constitutes reasonable abortion access and restrictions. It is clear to me that the vast majority of residents hold moderate, middle-of-the-ground views. Many who consider themselves “pro-choice” believe if a woman plans to have an abortion, she should do it before the child would be viable outside the womb. Conversely, many who consider themselves “pro-life” support allowing abortions up until 20 weeks.

What I’ve learned is that most local residents do not support an abortion ban, nor do they support proposals promoted by Planned Parenthood and others to eliminate all abortion limitations. Most fall in the middle: Supporting both protecting a woman’s right to choose in the early stages of pregnancy and the government’s ability to protect life once it would be viable outside the womb.

Abortion in Pennsylvania is governed by the Abortion Control Act of 1982, which allows abortions to be performed up until 24 weeks for any reason, except to select the sex of the baby. There are additional exceptions after 24 weeks, such as to protect the life of the mother.

The proposed Pennsylvania constitutional amendment approved by the legislature this summer, S.B. 106, clarifies that it is entirely within the purview of the legislature to regulate abortion. For the constitutional amendment to take effect, it needs to again pass the legislature next legislative session. Pennsylvania voters would then approve or disapprove of it in a statewide referendum.

My opponent’s claim that the proposed amendment bans abortion is an outright lie. The amendment makes no change to the Abortion Control Act, nor does it further restrict access to abortion. On the contrary, I supported the amendment to maintain the status quo and prevent a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that invalidates current law, removes all abortion restrictions, and creates a constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortions.

That is why the amendment is worded the way it is. “This constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” It does not ban abortion in Pennsylvania. It preserves current law and the ability of the legislature to establish reasonable restrictions.

This is a deeply personal public policy discussion. As elected officials, we must work to achieve a public consensus on the topic through open, honest discourse. Politicians on both sides of the abortion issue who spread inflammatory rhetoric are doing a great disservice to voters.

As a member of the House of Representatives, my job is to represent the views of the residents of my district. As such, I will not support any legislation that would either expand or ban access to abortion. This is not a public policy we should rush into until such time as a public consensus is achieved.

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Veteran GOP Operative Caputo Says PA Supreme Court Playing Politics With Act 77

The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court on Tuesday voted 7-2 to overturn a lower court ruling that found  Pennsylvania’s Act 77 violates the state’s constitution. In a recent Delaware Valley Journal podcast, veteran GOP operative Michael Caputo, an outspoken opponent of Act 77, explained why he believes the Supreme Court is putting partisan politics ahead of Pennsylvania law.

Caputo spoke before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court had hearings and then stayed the decision of the lower court, which basically overturned Act 77, (The Commonwealth Court) ruled it unconstitutional,” Caputo said. The Commonwealth Court “spelled it out very clearly,” he said.

Michael Caputo

“I worked with Doug McLinko, a county commissioner and an election official from Bradford County, on his challenge of the act,” said Caputo. “He was the primary…plaintiff on the lawsuit that overturned Act 77, which is the legislature-driven, no excuse mail-in ballots law that led to massive, massive use of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania in 2020.”

While the Commonwealth Court found it unconstitutional because the constitution calls for “in-person voting,” with a few excuses for absentee voting, the state Supreme Court disagreed.

“The Commonwealth Court decision on Act 77 and McLinko v. Pennsylvania spelled it out and said, ‘Look, this is unconstitutional. But the voters in Pennsylvania appear to like no excuse, mail-in ballots, so they need to amend the constitution. Until the constitution is amended, this is going to remain unconstitutional,'” he said.

“I believe the state Supreme Court knows that and still wants the public to have no excuse mail-in balloting at their disposal for the general election,” said Caputo. “I, for the life of me, can’t see the technical reason why they would demand that and allow it. I do have my suspicions, of course.

“Many of the Republican state legislators took a long time to understand just how much they had tilted the entire election of the nation by writing this unconstitutional law in their own state. For many, many months, over a year, they could not take the blame for what they had done…The problem is we’re going to go through the midterm, I think, with no-excuse mail-in ballots because it took so long for any effective legislative fix.

“Act 77 needs to be repealed entirely,” Caputo said.  “And if the Democrats and even some Republicans want no excuse, mail-in ballots, they need to amend the constitution.  The problem is…there’s no way to pass a constitutional amendment to get mail-in ballots for the 2024 presidential election. It’s a conundrum for Democrats, including Democrats on the Supreme Court because they really want that ability to have no excuse mail-in ballots in the presidential (election) just two years from now.”

Asked if mail-in ballots were one reason former President Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania in 2020, Caputo said, “I do believe that. I’ve seen some reports done by Pennsylvania investigators, Pennsylvania lawyers, Wally Zimolong, the attorney on our case, makes a great case that this led to widespread fraud.”



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PA Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Chester Water Appeal in Aqua Case

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday granted the Chester Water Authority’s request to file an appeal of a Commonwealth Court’s ruling in its ongoing dispute over Aqua America’s plan to purchase the municipal water system.

In an order of “allocatur” — a petition to an appellate court for permission to be allowed to file an appeal— the Supreme Court said it would let Chester Water appeal on two issues in its dispute with Aqua and the City of Chester. Specifically:

  • Does the city of Chester have the right to seize the Chester Water Authority’s (CWA) assets and sell them?
  • Did the Commonwealth Court err in allowing someone other than the CWA to control the transfer of its assets?

“We’re very grateful the court has agreed to address these questions,” said CWA solicitor Frank Catania. “It’s important to preserve the public’s control of their drinking water. It’s fundamental to human life.”

Aqua America has made a $410 million bid for the water system, which serves 49,000 customers in 33 towns in Delaware and Chester Counties. The company is pledging to keep the 200,000 current CWA customers’ rates flat for a decade. Make the deal, Essential Utilities Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin told Delaware Valley Journal in October, and “there will be no movement in what the customer pays.”

CWA and its allies call that pledge hollow and they point to communities like New Garden, Pa., where ratepayers say the sale of their wastewater system to Aqua led to soaring sewer bills. “Aqua is a lot of talk,” said Margo Woodacre, co-founder of KWA – Keep Water Affordable — in New Garden.

In September, the Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 that the City of Chester controlled the CWA and its assets, despite a 2012 law that added additional governance of the CWA from Delaware and Chester Counties.

Now CWA can go to the Supreme Court and get a final ruling on the question of whether the authority is a stand-alone agency or a subset of the city. That is particularly important because the city is operating under state receivership due to its disastrous fiscal condition.

“We look forward to the opportunity to present our arguments to the court,” Catania said. “It’s very important that these issues be resolved.”

The organization Save CWA also released a statement:

“CWA appreciates that the PA Supreme Court acknowledges the significance of this issue. There is nothing more important than the public’s control over their Pennsylvania constitutionally-granted natural resources including their water. CWA also thanks their board, their employees, their ratepayers, the elected officials, and the public who keep this issue at the forefront.”

Aqua did not respond to a request for comment.


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CUTLER/BENNINGHOFF/GROVE: A Fair Congressional Map Awaits Final Approval

The citizen-drawn congressional redistricting map received a resounding endorsement when Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough recommended to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that it be used in the upcoming election.

We couldn’t agree more with Judge McCullough’s decision on the map, introduced as House Bill 2146, and strongly urge the state’s highest court to follow her recommendation.

In her 228-page report, which critiqued all map submissions, McCullough wrote that the citizens’ map “meets all of the traditional criteria of the Free and Equal Elections Clause, and does so in respects even noted by the governor’s expert, as well as the other considerations noted by the courts, it compares favorably to all of the other maps submitted herein, including the 2018 redistricting map, it was drawn by a non-partisan good government citizen, subjected to the scrutiny of the people and duly amended, it creates a Democratic leaning map which underscores its partisan fairness and, otherwise, is a reflection of the ‘policies and preferences of the state, as expressed in statutory and constitutional provisions or in the reapportionment plans proposed by the state legislature.’”

The submissions included maps from the governor and House Democrats, neither of whom attempted to move their maps through the proper channels of the legislative process.

The history of the citizen-drawn map goes back to July 2021 when the House State Government Committee kicked off the most transparent, citizen-driven congressional redistricting process in the history of our Commonwealth with the first in a long series of hearings. Over the next few months, the committee went to the people all over the state to receive their input on congressional districts. It also opened the actual map-making to citizens and, in the end, selected a map drawn by Lehigh Valley resident Amanda Holt.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf swiftly vetoed the map, even though he declined to take part in the Legislative-led redistricting process, after it was passed through the General Assembly.

We weren’t the only people to be left scratching our heads on why the governor vetoed the map. McCullough was also apparently puzzled, writing in her report “although Gov. Wolf vetoed House Bill 2146 and that bill never obtained the official status of a duly enacted statute, neither Wolf nor any other party herein has advanced any cognizable legal objection to the constitutionality of the congressional districts contained therein.”

The State Supreme Court has an opportunity to right the governor’s wrong and we truly hope the justices seize the opportunity.

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MASTRIANO: How Pennsylvania Democrats Hijacked Act 77

In October 2019, Senate leadership brought SB 421 (later Act 77) to the full floor for a vote. I was in my fourth month as a senator after a career of serving 30 years in the US Army.

Act 77 passed the Senate by a 35-14 vote along near party lines. Every single Republican senator voted for it, while nearly every Democrat voted against.

Democrats were against the bill for several reasons. It required all voting machines to be equipped with paper trails to ensure accountability for post-election audits. It also eliminated “straight ticket” voting. Pennsylvania had been one of a handful of states for voters to press a single button that automatically selects candidates of the same party. Numerous studies over the years have shown that straight ticket voting benefits Democrat candidates.  That advantage vanished when the researchers examined voter behavior in elections after straight ticket voting had been eliminated in a respective state.

When the Senate passed Act 77, critical election security safeguards were in place to prevent mass fraud. All mail-in ballots were to be signature verified and turned in by Election Day to count. “Defective” absentee mail-in ballots were not to be counted and poll watchers were expected to be permitted to observe the counting of all mail-in ballots at every location.

However, using the pretext of COVID, Pennsylvania Democrats made their move to hijack Act 77 and transform it into something NO Republican voted for. The Democrat majority Supreme Court, Governor Wolf, and Wolf’s disgraced Secretary of State Boockvar unconstitutionally rewrote Act 77.

Let’s start with the Supreme Court. On September 17, 2020, in direct contravention of the wording of Act 77, the court extended the deadline for mailed ballots to be received from Election Day, to three days after Election Day. Then the court declared that “just for the 2020 general election,” ballots mailed without a postmark should be presumed to have been received on time.  Lastly, the court mandated that mail-in ballots lacking a verified signature were to be accepted.  This meant that any ballot, without a signature, without a postal mark , would be counted– even if received three days after the election. This policy making by the court opened up Pandora’s Box for uncertainty in the outcome of the election.

Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar took it upon herself to join in on the hijacking of Act 77 in late October 2020. Boockvar directed certain Democrat counties to “cure” defective ballots.  This allowed voting officials in those counties to correct ballots so that they could be counted. GOP counties did not receive such guidance.

Boockvar dishonestly told the Supreme Court that mail-in ballots received after the November 3 election would be set aside, pending an appeal to nullify ballots collected in the days after the election. However, the secretary then told counties to tabulate the ballots as quickly as possible, co-mingling ballots received by Election Day with those received after. To this date, we don’t know how many late arriving ballots ended up being tabulated in the final results.

It’s worth mentioning that I was one of only FOUR Senators to vote “no” on Secretary Boockvar’s confirmation back in November 2019. During her confirmation hearing, she could not answer my basic questions on how she would secure the upcoming 2020 election from fraud.

Would the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election in PA be different if Boockvar’s nomination had been rejected by the Senate? Considering her actions in the lead up to the November 2020, I think that answer is yes.

In light of how the Democrats successfully hijacked Act 77, I have made numerous attempts to expose and correct the irregularities of the 2020 election.  Since November 2020, I’ve been the loudest, and at times a solitary voice, for a full forensic audit of the 2020 election results. I visited the Arizona audit in June and called for a similar audit in Pennsylvania. In July, as chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, I sent letters to three counties (York, Tioga, and Philadelphia) requesting all ballots, envelopes, and voting machines pertaining to the 2020 election. I scheduled multiple meetings to move forward with the issuance of subpoenas in August before being thwarted by the Pro Tempore of the Senate and subsequently removed as chair of the committee. Regardless of this, I continue to be a tireless voice in the Senate for a full forensic audit that includes precinct canvassing to verify voters.

On the legislative front, it’s clear that Act 77 must be repealed and I have introduced legislation to do just that.  I drafted and introduced SB 884, a constitutional amendment which eliminates “no-excuse” mail in voting and mandates signature verification.

I’m also the co-author of SB 735, which would amend the Constitution to require all voters to show a form of identification when casting a ballot. That bill passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

These bills cannot be vetoed by Governor Wolf and would appear on a ballot for the people to decide on.

The hijacked version of Act 77 is not what I voted for in October 2019.  It’s time we address this problem by passing legislation to secure our elections now.  The millions of voters in our Commonwealth who no longer believe in the integrity of our elections deserve nothing less.

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