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PA House GOP’s Pro-Energy Agenda Counters Shapiro Cap-and-Trade Plan

Two weeks after Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced his cap-and-trade carbon credits system, House Republicans unveiled a vastly different energy legislative package.

Calling Shapiro’s proposals an “assault on Pennsylvanians’ wallets,” Republicans said their bills better promote energy savings. They include proposals that would redirect more than $520 million in Act 129 funds meant for energy efficiency and conservation programs into a credit on Pennsylvanians’ energy bills.

“Households across the commonwealth experience the impacts of high energy costs, as some are forced to reduce spending on food, medicine or other necessities in order to heat their homes,” said the group of representatives, which included Bucks County Rep. Joe Hogan. “This is unacceptable, especially when rising prices are attributable to government regulations and policies.”

Shapiro claims his Pennsylvania Climate Emissions Reduction Act (PACER) proposal would save customers $252 million via electricity rebates.

Hogan, however, argued the state needs to expand its property tax/rent rebate program.

“I have heard from too many of my neighbors to know more people need help,” he told DVJournal. “That is why I’m working to include utility costs in the income determination so that more people qualify and the rebates are larger for those that currently qualify.”

The state’s property tax/rent rebate program gives rebates to qualifying residents who make up to $45,000 a year.

Another bill would create a Health Savings Account type program for utility bills that allows employers to directly deposit part of a worker’s salary into a bank account without paying taxes.

Other proposals target the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

One bill called for an Independent Energy Advocate within the agency. Appointed by the governor, the advocate would encourage regulators to consider “broader energy implications” before issuing rules. Republicans said that that would protect grid reliability and energy affordability.

DEP could get a name change to the Department of Environmental Services to promote a more business-friendly culture. A bill description suggested that DEP workers see “themselves as…a necessary barrier to the expansion of business and development.”

A bill by Rep. James Struzzi II (R-Indiana) called for the creation of an independent agency to promote energy development. The head of the unnamed agency would review all proposed energy rules. Another bill by Struzzi tasked regulators with explaining how electricity prices might be negatively affected by new regulations.

Energy production facilities that were closed due to Pennsylvania’s stalled entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative could also become eligible for Keystone Opportunity Zone-related tax breaks. A bill description said that would propose job growth and new development.

There’s also a bill suggesting that Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia team up for lobbying efforts before PJM Interconnection officials. The states are the top three energy producers in the PJM Interconnection-run power grid.

Energy and manufacturing groups hailed the bills.

“It’s refreshing to see Pennsylvania policymakers focused on a pro-growth, pro-production, pro-consumer agenda,” Carl A. Marrara, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association told DVJournal. “Nationally, Pennsylvania is the number one exporter of electricity, number two producer of natural gas, number three producer of coal; we are a global energy leader and it’s time we act like it.”

Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Callahan argued that Pennsylvania policymakers need to remember how the state benefited from natural gas. He told DVJournal that natural gas reduced carbon emissions 46 percent from the power sector and saved consumers nearly $9 billion last year compared to 2008.

Republicans are the minority in the House but control the Senate. A Senate Republican Caucus spokesperson told DVJournal that they share a common objective with House Republicans on energy policy.

Shapiro’s office did not return an email asking for comment.

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Bucks State Reps, Sen. Farry To Introduce Expanded Criminal DNA Bill

Ashley Spence burst into tears when she heard a judge sentence the man who raped and nearly killed her to almost 138 years in prison.

“As I stood in the back of the courtroom and heard these words, my head fell into my hands, and I began to cry,” said Spence. “I cried for the pain. I cried for the justice that I finally felt after 13 long years. I cried for the protection I now felt, not just for myself but for my children. But mostly, I cried because I knew this man would never be able to harm another person again.”

In 2003, when Spence was 19 and a sophomore at Arizona State University, she moved into an apartment and went to bed “thinking that I was safe.”

But during the night, “while I was asleep, an intruder came into my apartment, suffocated my face with a pillow and began to tear off my clothes from the waist down…I thought it was a nightmare.”

Her assailant beat her and raped her while keeping a pillow over her face.

(From left) Sen. Frank Farry, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson, Sheriff Fred Harran, Ashley Spence, and Rep. Joe Hogan.

“The entire time, I could not see the face of the monster that was committing these horrific crimes against me,” Spence said. “I’m so fortunate I survived, but he got away, and I never saw his face.”

Spence spoke at a press conference called by Bucks County state Reps. Joe Hogan, K.C. Tomlinson, and Sen. Frank Farry, along with Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran, spoke about a new bill that would require DNA samples to be taken from people arrested for felonies and some misdemeanors.

Seven years after he raped her, Spence’s assailant was arrested for a different crime in California and linked to her attack through DNA. She founded the DNA Justice Project to push for states to change their laws so that DNA is taken for felony arrests, not just when a criminal is convicted. So far, 19 states do. Hogan, Tomlinson, Farry, and Harran want Pennsylvania to be next.

“This is something that we believe is important to the state of Pennsylvania,” said Hogan (R-Feasterville-Trevose). “Current law in Pennsylvania is that DNA is collected post-conviction for some crimes. The law notably excludes homicide (which is taken on arrest).”

The proposed law would require DNA collection for felony arrest. If a person is exonerated, their DNA will be taken out of the system. There is great potential for solving cold cases, like the Fairmount Park rapist, Hogan said. Just last year, DNA linked a suspect to several 2003 rapes and a murder.

“The changes we are proposing mean that when an individual is booked for one of these crimes, their DNA is taken at the same time as their fingerprint. These two procedures are fundamentally the same. But as we know, DNA is vastly more accurate,” said Hogan.

Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “There is no denying we’ve all been seeing a steady rise in crime, not only in this state but across this country. Unfortunately, crime has become a real concern in my district. Over 40 percent of the individuals arrested and committing crime in my hometown do not even reside there.”

The DNA tests would also help prove a person was innocent, she added.

Farry (R-Bucks) said he would introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

“What we’ve seen is DNA is an incredible tool,” said Harran. “We’ve started doing some outside-the-box approaches using DNA, and we saw some significant crime reduction. But crime has been going up recently.”

“What I’ve found is in Pennsylvania, there’s a loophole,” said Harran, formerly Bensalem’s director of public safety. “We are one of 19 states that do not take DNA at the time of arrest, which is a mistake. DNA in Pennsylvania it’s taken once you’re convicted of a felony…That DNA that’s taken is way too late. We need to take DNA at the time of arrest…The Supreme Court has already talked about this in 2013 in a case (from) Maryland. DNA is just another tool. It’s probably one of the best tools I’ve seen in the last 38 years. We have some great crime reduction numbers to prove that.”

“In Lower Bucks County, 16 times we’ve used DNA to exonerate people,” said Harran. “This prevents crime. You’re getting criminals off the street immediately…And tomorrow, they will be one less victim out there.”

Spence said, “DNA is science. DNA is accurate. DNA is true.”

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Three PA Reps Propose Bills to Deal with Antisemitism

Just two months after Hamas carried out brutal and horrific attacks on Israeli men, women, and children, former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill told Congress that Penn students can call for genocide against Jews depending on “the context.”

Although she released a video walking back that statement, a controversy has ensued with the Ivy League school’s board of trustees considering whether to remove her.   Congress is now investigating Penn, as is the civil rights division of the Department of Education. The campus has been rocked by antisemitic incidents and pro-Hamas protests, leaving Jewish students fearful.

Friday, three Republican representatives began circulating sponsoring memos for bills that would fight antisemitism in the state.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Mercuri (R-Allegheny), would ensure that any institution of higher education in the state that receives direct funding from the state must acknowledge antisemitism as harassment and bullying.

A second bill sponsored by Reps. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) and Joe Hogan (R-Penndel) would require the Department of Education to write curriculum guidelines for schools offering Holocaust and genocide instruction. It would also require transparency for parents so they know what their children are learning.

In addition, Hogan sponsored a resolution declaring November 9, 2024, as Antisemitism Awareness and Education Day in Pennsylvania.

The lawmakers noted that The Economist recently released a poll result that showed 1 in 5 young Americans think the Holocaust is a myth. And that disinformation about Hamas’ barbarity toward the Israelis is spreading online.

Marcell, a former Council Rock School Board member, said students in that district learn about the Holocaust and genocide, but not every district teaches it.

In middle school, the students read Elie Weisel’s Holocaust memoir “Night,” then do a project about it, whether that is a poem, making a model, or something on the internet game Minecraft, she said.

“Unfortunately, not every school district uses that type of curriculum,” said Marcell. “It’s time for us to take action and ensure our youth understand,” said Marcell.

She was also struck by a recent antisemitic incident in her district. On November 1, a group of masked men yelling “Free Palestine” ripped down an Israeli flag from a wall of the Café Ole in Upper Southampton, took it outside the restaurant, and trashed it, terrifying staff and patrons.

Marcell hopes these bills will get bipartisan support. She noted the Pennsylvania House came together on October 17 and passed a resolution urging Congress to provide the State of Israel with the support necessary to ensure its safety and security and condemn the terrorist attack in Israel by Hamas.

Mercuri said, “We thought it was the right thing to do to pass this so everyone on campus feels safe. What occurred in the United States Congress this week was both heartbreaking and abhorrent.”

Mercuri said he called for Penn’s board of trustees to take immediate action right after he found out about Magill’s statements. For the leader of “an elite university” to condone antisemitism “made us shudder,” he said.

“People contacted me about the testimony of the Penn president,” said Marcell. “And they are very concerned. So, when you combine some of the things that have happened over the last couple of weeks, I believe we have to take action to help educate and create awareness about antisemitism, making sure that people know about the Holocaust and that it isn’t a myth. It’s time for us to take action and make sure our youth understand. This is a history lesson they need to know about and that we don’t want to repeat.”

“I really do hope by early next week we will have a bipartisan group of members supporting it,” said Marcell.

Bucks Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Crack Down on Crime

After a surge in suburban crime — including a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses — a group of Bucks County lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Frank Farry are sponsoring legislation to fight back.

“Every day when you turn on the news, those of us in the Philadelphia media market see what’s going on,” said Farry. “You see different and evolving crimes happening in our communities and our neighboring communities. We think it’s our responsibility, as public figures, to step forward and make sure proper statutes are on the books to help the men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

And they had plenty of backup from the local police. About two dozen police representatives from Bucks and Montgomery Counties were on hand at Thursday’s press conference Thursday outside the Northampton Township Police Department to endorse their efforts.

Lawmakers are introducing the bills because of “feedback we’ve heard from law enforcement, feedback we’ve heard from victims, feedback from our communities, and feedback we’ve heard from prosecutors,” said Farry. “We want to ensure that law enforcement has the proper tools in their tool chest to be able to properly charge crimes that will ultimately lead to convictions.”

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel, president of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Bucks County, said, “We’ve seen increases in nearly every category of crime that affects the average citizen or business owner. These categories include robbery, burglary, thefts from vehicles, retail thefts, thefts of catalytic converters, and firearms thefts…We have seen a 32 percent increase in thefts from vehicles since last year (and) a 28 percent increase over the average of the past three years. Theft of catalytic converters in Warrington Township is up 85 percent since last year, and again, that’s a 237 percent increase over the past three-year average.”

Perhaps most disturbing, “There’s already a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses, which is an 89 percent increase over the past three years,” said Friel.

And illegal car meetup rallies have become common in Bucks County, overwhelming municipal police forces, he said.

The bills include mandatory jail time for illegally possessing a firearm, cracking down on porch pirates, reducing catalytic converter robberies, increasing penalties for gun store robberies, putting the brakes on vehicle meetup rallies, and enhanced charges for rioters.

Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel speaks with Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey, Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (left), and Rep. Kristin Marcell (right).

Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey called them “common sense.”

“First, mandatory jail time for illegal gun possession is absolutely needed in Pennsylvania,” he said. “In Bensalem, we’ve experienced a 75 percent increase in illegal guns. We’ve seized 174 illegal guns in that timeframe. More distressing is the fact we’ve arrested 21 convicted felons for illegally possessing a firearm this year to date.”

“Without strong penalties, these felons are often released and go back to carrying illegal guns,” he said. “And worse, they use the illegal guns on innocent victims.”

And catalytic converter theft is booming. One Bensalem business had 58 catalytic converters stolen from its fleet of vehicles, which cost more than $100,000 to replace. When officers see someone with a truckload of catalytic converters, they can’t charge them “even when they have no legitimate purpose to carry them.”

“And the car meetups, the drifting, it’s absolutely crazy,” said McVey. “They’ve popped up in our jurisdictions. They overtake areas. They have no regard for anyone’s safety.”

Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Wrightstown) thanked Farry for shepherding the porch pirates bill, which increases penalties for that type of theft, through the Senate. It awaits passage in the House.

“Especially with the holiday season, where more people are relying on mail-order purchases, it’s more important than ever to protect consumers and to think about how we can help,” she said. She said that stealing boxes from people’s porches is not a victimless crime. For example, it could be medicine ordered by an elderly person that’s stolen.

Afterward, Marcell told DVJournal that Democratic Reps. Joe Ciresi (D-Royersford) and Ed Ne9lson (D-Philadelphia) are also sponsors.

Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Langhorne) said, “What’s happening in our cities right now is a choice. The decline, the prosecutorial decisions, is a choice…to allow violent criminals to be released out on bail to go back and commit more crimes. This morning, I learned that an individual who was picked up in the burglary and the rioting two days ago was released on bail on a murder three charge. (They were) right back out committing more crimes.”

Hogan introduced a bill in response to crooks who robbed a gun store in Langhorne in the middle of the night.

“If you rob a gun store and steal guns, you are going to jail for a mandatory minimum of time,” said Hogan. “We’re going to take that decision away from these prosecutors who are letting our cities fall into chaos, and we’re going to make sure that if that crime is committed, you are going to jail, and you’re going to be there a long time.”

Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “Nearly 40 percent of the crime committed in Bensalem is not committed by Bensalem residents but by individuals crossing over the border from Philadelphia. Sadly, the city continues to send a message of tolerance. I stand here today with my colleagues and law enforcement to make our message very clear: Bucks County will not tolerate what’s going on in the city.”

“We will always fight to maintain the quality of life we enjoy here in Bucks County,” Tomlinson said.

Hogan Bill Would Give $7,500 Tax Break to Firefighters, EMS

With volunteers making up more than 90 percent of the state’s firefighters, one Bucks County lawmaker wants Pennsylvania to pony up with a tax credit to help local departments recruit and retain these valuable volunteers.

State Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Feasterville) has introduced legislation to create a tax credit for firefighters and EMS personnel to help recruit and retain their services.

“The pandemic, with its resulting shutdowns and civil unrest, has had a disastrous impact on recruitment, as communities that rely on volunteers to fill these needs have experienced an unprecedented drop in recruitment,” Hogan said. “We should do anything we can to promote more recruitment into these professions so our communities can keep their citizens safe.”

House Bill 1557 would give a $7,500 tax credit to fire and EMS personnel currently serving in Pennsylvania and those who move to our state to take those positions. The tax break, which would be paid in $2,500 increments over three years, would go to both volunteers and paid first responders.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, volunteers account for 96.8 percent of firefighters in Pennsylvania, the second only to Delaware. The national average is 70.2 percent. Since the 1970s, volunteer firefighters have fallen from 360,000 to fewer than 37,000.

“I am now proposing we provide the same tax relief to firefighters and emergency medical service personnel that we recently gave to teachers, police officers, and nurses,” Hogan said, “Both provide lifesaving services and are critical to the standard of living that each Pennsylvanian should expect. Firefighters and EMS personnel are some of the most crucial workers in the commonwealth, and we should do whatever we can to keep them in the state.”

Fire Chief Eamon Brazunas of the Phoenixville volunteer fire company said he thinks the bill is a good idea.

“Yes, $2,500 is significant,” said Brazunas. He remembered about 10 years ago, the legislature offered $100. To qualify, firefighters had to fill out pages of paperwork. “The first thing is the retention part. I mean, you have guys and gals still volunteering, and you have people maybe toward the end of their volunteer life, for lack of a better term. If something can be done to keep folks involved for a few more years…Tax credits aren’t bad. Financially, $2,500 is significant.”

“So it’s really a win-win for the community,” said Brazunas. “And also for the volunteers.”

Robert Brooks, president of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Firefighters Association, supports the bill.

“The Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighter Association (PPFFA) is made up of nearly 10,000 members of the professional fire and emergency medical professions,” said Brooks. “Our Executive Board and our members support enhanced public safety policies, measures, and legislation. Allowing new hires to receive a tax credit could provide the opportunity to hire more professionals across the commonwealth in various municipalities.

We look forward to working on this bill and other priorities that would treat mental health as an injury for post-traumatic stress, cancer screenings for our members, and continued collective barging rights and protections.

House Bill 1557 now heads to the House Finance Committee for consideration.

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