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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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State Senate Committees Zero In on Cybersecurity

The Bucks County Emergency Services Center CAD system spent nine days offline last month after hackers crashed it. Delaware County had a security breach in 2020. Hackers targeted the Aliquippa Water Authority in western Pennsylvania in November and disabled pressure monitoring equipment.

And over the weekend, Pennsylvania’s court system was hit with a disabling cyber attack.

In response to these and other threats to public agencies, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee and Senate Local Government Committee met with representatives of municipal governments, industry, and academia last week to discuss threats to vital systems and infrastructure.

“An unfortunate reality of our world is that no organization is immune to a cyberattack,” said Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery/Berks), who chairs the Communications and Technology Committee. “The havoc and serious damage that these incursions can have on local governments, public authorities, and the people they serve are not only disruptive but also present a direct threat to public safety.”

Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks), who also serves as fire chief of the Langhorne-Middletown Fire Company, said the Bucks County CAD system automatically dispenses first responders to addressees.

“Our dispatchers literally had to do it manually,” said Farry. “They did a fantastic job.” But it was not as fast as the CAD system and also impacted record-keeping, he said.

Executive Director of IT and Chief Information Officer for York County, Joe Sassano, said the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) is working with counties to address the growing threat.

“In York County, cybersecurity needs have driven most of our IT-related projects and, subsequently, most of our IT budget for the last several years,” Sassano said. “CCAP, counties, other local government organizations, and state agencies are already working together closely to improve security definitions and implement vital cybersecurity initiatives, conducting reoccurring quarterly meetings, an annual cybersecurity conference, security resources, and other projects.”

“The weak spot, we found, is the human element,” said John Berti of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association and the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority. Wyoming Valley implemented a “KnowBe4” security awareness service to help employees prevent email cyberattacks, he said.

Unisys, a corporation based in Blue Bell that provides security consulting services, sent two representatives to the hearing.

Unisys Regional Director John Alwine said many counties, cities, and other municipal entities “have learned the cost of not doing cyber security” and then trying to do damage control.

“The legislature and administration must seek out increased coordination amongst state IT users, foster greater recognition of security risks for state agencies, hold government IT leaders accountable in establishing a security path forward, and provide the resources necessary to implement such a strategy,” Alwine said.

Unisys Managing Principal Clifford Shier said, “There is a need for a statewide baseline.” The state, counties, and municipalities are all connected, as well as various vendors that log into systems.

Also, entities need to know what they have.

“Identification of what you have is key,” said Shier. He has “heard many times (someone) didn’t know this end-of-life piece of equipment is on (their) network or where (their) data was.”

Because protection may not be perfect and hackers, including hostile governments like Iran, try to break in, they must also plan for recovery.

“There will be a time you need to recover,” said Shier. “Don’t get rid of backups.”

Alwine said, “We need to develop a plan, fund it, execute it, and update it on a continual basis.”

Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Delaware), minority chair of the Local Government Committee, said, “It’s important for our communities to stay on top of this issue.”

“It’s going to require people to agree to the baseline (of security measures),” he said, and called on people to work together on the issue for  the “public good.”

“Somebody in York County might have an effect in Delaware County. We, as a society, have trouble with that. My county had a security breach, ransomware. They had insurance for it. They tried to keep it as quiet as possible. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Kearney said.

The Communications and Technology Committee recently approved a bill to protect information on state-owned devices from downloading and using TikTok. The full Senate passed that bill.

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Pennycuick Bill Would Give Employers Tax Credit for Hiring National Guard Members

Hoping to incentivize employers to hire Pennsylvania National Guard members, state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery/Berks) introduced a bill to provide a $1,000 tax credit to employers who hire them.

“The Pennsylvania National Guard is recognized as one of the finest National Guards in the nation, and it’s largely made up of part-time members who work full-time jobs,” said Pennycuick, a U.S. Army combat veteran. “Giving employers an incentive to hire Guard members boosts access to workers with unique skill sets and makes serving in the Guard more attractive to Pennsylvanians.”

Recruitment and retention numbers for the Guard have dipped in previous years, presenting a manpower challenge as the Guard works to remain mission-ready for its dual state and federal responsibilities. Since most Guardsmen serve “part-time,” a key consideration for these dedicated and skilled individuals is obtaining full-time employment while they serve.

There are more than 700,000 veterans and approximately 18,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard in the Keystone State. National Guard members are “citizen soldiers” often called up in emergencies in their home states. They usually drill once a month and undergo training for two weeks yearly.

The governor or the president can call upon the National Guard to help with various situations.

Newly-elected Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker has mulled the idea of asking the National Guard to deal with the open-air illegal drug market that plagues Kensington. However, according to reports, Gov. Josh Shapiro is not likely to go along with that idea.

Under the legislation, a $1,000 tax credit would be available if a business hires an active member of the Pennsylvania Guard or if a current employee enlists or re-enlists in the Guard. The tax credit can offset income tax or corporate net income tax liabilities.

Delaware Valley state Sens. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery), Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery), and Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill.

“With the second largest National Guard in the nation, it’s clear that Pennsylvanians are committed to service,” said Collett. “Employers across the Commonwealth are in desperate need of a dedicated workforce that has the leadership, skills, and character developed by those who serve in our Guard. That’s why I am proud to sponsor SB 985 with Sen. Pennycuick to incentivize employers to hire even more of our Guard members.

“Whether through a deployment or their employment, this bi-partisan legislation underscores how important our National Guard members are to the safety, security, and strength of Pennsylvania,” said Collett.


Pennycuick Hosts First Veterans Appreciation Breakfast

(From a  press release)

State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Berks/Montgomery) recently hosted her first Veterans Appreciation Breakfast on Saturday, November 4 at Upper Perkiomen High School, as a way to say “thank you” to all our local heroes.

Several hundred were in attendance, which included veterans, veterans’ guests, exhibitors, and guest speakers. Veterans from every American conflict, from the Korean War to Operation Inherent Resolve, were in attendance. Dr. Jim Arcieri of Community Bible Fellowship Church, recited the blessing and benediction and the keynote speaker was state Rep. Timothy J. O’Neal (R-Washington Co.).

“We can never truly thank our veterans enough for their service to our country and community,” said Senator Pennycuick. “This event is a small token of gratitude that carries a big message: we wouldn’t be the nation we are without our veterans. I am pleased so many of our veterans were able to participate and be recognized for their heroic acts.”

Sen. Tracy Pennycuik talks with a veteran.

Veterans also enjoyed patriotic songs performed by the Upper Perkiomen High School Women’s Choir and the National Anthem performed by Upper Perkiomen High School student, Autumn Alderfer. Attendees were also able to obtain veteran identification cards from the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds.

Various organizations were available to provide veterans with various information and services including: Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds, Montgomery County Veterans Affairs, Norristown Vet Center, PA Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor Program, Inc., The Korean War Memorial America-Korea Alliance Peace Park, Valley Forge Military Academy & College, Veterans Brotherhood, Vets For Vets Healthcare, state Rep. Milou Mackenzie (R-Bethlehem), state Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks), and state Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Gilbertsville).

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PA Senate Bill Would Require Armed Officers at Schools

On Aug. 25, a 17-year-old student came to the Cheltenham/Abington football game with a gun tucked into his waistband. That same evening, a teenager was gunned down at a football game in Choctaw, Okla.

State Sen. Mike Regan introduced a ripped-from-the-headlines bill on Tuesday to address fears inspired by stories like these. Senate Bill 907 would require school districts to employ an armed, trained, and vetted security person at every school during school hours.

“Students want to know their schools are safe, and parents want to know their children will come home at the end of the school day. The safety of students, teachers, and school staff should be a top priority. Students deserve a safe environment where they can learn and grow, and teachers should not have the sole responsibility for protecting our kids,” said Regan (R-Cumberland/York).

Abington Police Chief Patrick Molloy said the quick thinking and skill of two of his school resource officers allowed the gun-carrying Cheltenham student to be arrested without incident and before anyone got hurt.

“Thank God for a mother who wanted to remain anonymous, saw the gun in the kid’s waistband,” he said.

He said the youth at the Abington field allegedly had a ghost gun with 30 rounds and two extended magazines with a laser affixed for accuracy.

“God knows what he was up to. But the actions and the planning of those two officers to take him into custody, with very few people even knowing it and escorting him out of there, was remarkable,” said Molloy.

School resource officers have extra training and “want to be with the kids,” he said.

“It takes a special kind of cop that wants to do that,” said Molloy. “I think that’s how we should be recruiting. We should do everything we can. My officers are highly trained. One of them is a SWAT officer. He’s in the school all day. They have all kinds of tools on their belt, but the biggest tool is their ability to communicate and de-escalate.”

“In 30 years, we’ve had school resource officers in Abington Township, and we’ve had no major uses of force,” he added.

Regan’s legislation also aims to enhance safety at school extracurricular activities. It would allow school boards to station armed school security personnel on school grounds during extracurricular events outside regular school hours.

Part of the bill would require any armed school safety personnel to comply with vigorous training and certification requirements, including lethal weapons training and student interaction training.

Sen. Tracy Pennycuick, who represents parts of Montgomery County, applauded the initiative.

“It is unacceptable that our nation’s schools, teachers, and students have become targets for those seeking to perpetrate violence,” Pennycuick said. “Having professionally trained school safety personnel on campus is a commonsense step we can take to better secure our institutions and ensure that there is an extra layer of security keeping our kids safe. Our children are our most cherished treasures, and I applaud my colleague, Sen. Regan, for advancing this important proposal.”

Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-Bucks/Lehigh) supports efforts to improve and increase school safety but also has not had a chance to read the bill and can’t comment specifically, a spokesman said

But some senators have reservations.

During a podcast interview with DVJournal, Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) said that while he hadn’t seen the bill, he did have some concerns about the concept.

“I don’t know the bill,” said Williams. “I don’t know the limitations or parameters. I don’t know who gets to be armed, or how much training they have. Many of the police officers who do school policing are not necessarily candidates that have graduated from the law enforcement schools.”

He pointed to the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility who was hit by gunfire from three now-former Sharon Hill officers. They reacted to shots fired by two teenagers who were fighting down the block and fired into people leaving a game.

“Unfortunately, I have to say this, you know, we had police officers that were not trained at a sporting event that led to significant tragedy and the death of a child in Delaware County,” said Williams. “So just having someone there without proper training does not guarantee anyone’s safety.”

Regan argues the state must step up.

“We require our children to attend school; therefore, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to secure them while they are there,” Regan said. “Failure to enact this bill would leave our schools, teachers, and students more vulnerable to attack. That is too great a risk that we just cannot take.”

Since 2018, the General Assembly has appropriated $800 million in grant funds to help districts pay for school safety and security upgrades. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, about half of the commonwealth’s 500 school districts have taken advantage of that funding to put armed officers in schools.

“Many school districts haven’t done what is considered by school security experts as the most effective method of deterring acts of violence, and that is putting an armed, trained, and vetted officer in every building. The time to fix that is now, before another school falls victim to a heinous act of violence,” Regan said.

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PENNYCUICK: It’s Not Too Late to Save the State Budget Agreement

Once again, it’s summer, and Pennsylvania is without a new state budget. It’s a story we hear all too often in our state’s capital. I want to take the opportunity to explain why I am a firm supporter of the 2023-24 spending plan that passed the Senate in late June.

The $45.5 billion spending proposal that passed in both chambers has a lot to like. It contains no broad-based tax increases, fully funds state government’s core responsibilities and obligations, and puts money away to prevent future tax increases. It is an expression of our priorities that puts Pennsylvania in a strong position.

The budget provided more funding to help law enforcement keep our communities safe, funds four new State Police cadet classes, and places State Police funding on a more stable footing by moving it from Transportation to the General Fund. This move will free up additional dollars to be devoted to our state’s roads and bridges – nearly $500 million more by 2026.

Equally as important, $500 million was added to our state’s Rainy-Day fund, which is crucial for funding vital services and preventing tax increases during economic downturns. It wasn’t long ago that the Rainy Day fund balance stood near zero, putting our state’s financial future at risk.

But above all else, I firmly support this budget because of the significant new funding for schools. The budget includes more than $1 billion in new funding for public education, including historic levels for basic education, special education, and early learning programs. It also contains significant new funds for career and technical institutes, which play an invaluable role in preparing young people for promising in-demand careers.

These investments build on the previous General Assembly increases for basic education, which increased by $1.05 billion over the last two fiscal years.

This budget puts Pennsylvanians first and was a product of robust negotiations with Gov. Josh Shapiro and included bipartisan compromises on both sides of the aisle on key priorities important to Republicans and Democrats.

Unfortunately, the agreed-upon budget passed by the Senate ran into opposition from special interest groups, which led to Gov. Shapiro announcing he would line-item veto a key budget provision, one he highlighted in his campaign for governor.

That is the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program. This $100 million program, representing 0.2 percent of our budget, is designed to provide a lifeline for students trapped in Pennsylvania’s worst-performing schools. The program is simple: a student attending a school performing in the lowest 15 percent of achievement and living in a household 250 percent or below the federal poverty level ($75,000 for a family of four) can qualify for a scholarship to go to another better-performing school.

The program levels the playing field and gives families the ability to decide what is best for their children. But best of all, it allows thousands of children to escape failing schools and the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

Most importantly, the program does not take a single dollar of state support away from public education.

Every day that passes is one less day a child in a failing district has to receive a high-quality education. It is time that we provide hope for these families.

This is a concept that Gov. Shapiro has repeatedly supported and was a central element of his campaign message to the people of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, his reversal on this important educational program leaves the previously reached budget compromise in jeopardy.

House Democrats followed his lead and only passed the spending plan part of the budget, with the promise from the Governor that he would veto the PASS program.

The PASS program is worth fighting for because it has the potential to provide hope and lift children out of poverty without impacting state funding for education.

I agree with the governor when he said Senate Republicans must “give more than they’re used to,” and House Democrats cannot “expect to get everything they’ve wanted over the last decade in one budget.” I believe the Senate Republicans have lived up to their side of this equation, having compromised and included many programs, such as indigent defense, whole home repair, and level-up funding, important to Democrats.

It is my hope that Gov. Shapiro will change course and again support this pivotal program so that we can finish the 2023-24 budget. We have an obligation to ensure that this budget works for all Pennsylvanians, especially for those left behind in failing schools.

Pennycuick Vows to Keep Fighting Against PA Puppy Mills

The Delaware Valley is home to two kennels listed on the Humane Society of the United States horrible 100 puppy mills.

The HSUS says 10,000 puppy mills are active, with 500,000 dogs kept solely for breeding. Once their useful lives are over, those dogs are often killed or abandoned. Some 2.6 million puppies sold each year come from puppy mills.

But state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) wants to take a bite out of the puppy mill business through Victoria’s Law. It would ban pet stores from buying puppies from puppy mills.

Pennycuick, who introduced the bill in 2021 when she was a state representative, is now backing the legislation in the legislature’s upper chamber. She previously said Victoria’s Law would help ensure that reputable breeders can continue operating but would end “the deplorable conditions, overbreeding, and perpetuation of poor health traits for which puppy mills have become known.”

Pennycuick said recently, “I still have Victoria’s Law and will possibly introduce it in the fall.”

“I am also sponsoring a predatory financing bill so pet stores cannot charge up to 151 percent financing of a dog or cat,” said Pennycuick. “People who need to finance a dog or cat often cannot afford the vet bills required to care for a pet. Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) has a bill that would rework some of the current dog laws to bring the costs in line with today’s cost of living. This would allow for more inspectors for kennels.”

Grace Kelly Herbert, president of Finding Shelter Animal Rescue, had owned Victoria, a German Shepherd bred for 10 years by a puppy mill and passed down a genetic disorder to more than 100 puppies.

“This is something we have to fix,” said Herbert. “I am so thankful for every single legislator who is stepping up.”

The annual HSUS Horrible 100 report seeks to increase awareness of puppy mills and to stop buyers from purchasing dogs bred there, where there are diseases, a lack of sanitation and food, and mistreatment of the animals.

“In puppy mills, mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages with little personal attention. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are abandoned or killed. Due to poor sanitation, overbreeding, and a lack of preventive veterinary care, the puppies frequently suffer from various health issues, creating heartbreaking challenges for families who should be enjoying the delights of adopting a new family member.”

Neither Blissful Paws in New Providence nor Woodland Puppies in Honey Brook, listed in the HSUS report, could be reached for comment.

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Pennycuick Unveils Capitol Display Commemorating PA Women Veterans

From a press release

Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) unveiled a display at the state Capitol commemorating women veterans as Pennsylvania prepares to observe the first official Women Veterans Day on June 12.

The event in the East Wing Rotunda paid particular tribute to the heroic women of the Commonwealth who, after their time in the military, continued their commitment to serve in the state legislature and administration.

“Next Monday will mark the first time the Commonwealth will observe this important day since Act 129 of 2022 was signed into law,” said Pennycuick. “As a U.S. Army combat veteran, I authored the legislation establishing June 12 as Women Veterans Day in Pennsylvania because I thought it was past time to recognize this burgeoning category of patriots.”

While women have served in the American military since before the United States was established as a nation, it was not until 1948 that women were recognized as military members or veterans. Until then, only women nurses and secretaries received full veteran benefits.

(From left) Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity, Command Sgt. Maj. Shannon Cullen, McHugh, Col. Robin Hightower,Sen. Tracy Pennycuick and former state Rep. Karen Beyer.

President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act on June 12, 1948, allowing women to serve as permanent, regular members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

By 2040 it is estimated that women will make up roughly 17 percent of the total veteran population.

“That’s why I’m sponsoring bipartisan legislation to establish the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care in Pennsylvania,” said Pennycuick. “The task force will study health issues facing women veterans and make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly for implementation.”

The honorees today included PA Treasurer Stacy Garrity, former state Rep. Karen Beyer, Rep. Nancy Guenst, Rep. Natalie Mihalek, Adj. Gen. Jessica Wright (Retired), PA Civil Service Commissioner Pam Iovino, Brig. Gen. Laura McHugh, Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl (Retired), Col. Robin Hightower (Retired) and Command Sgt. Maj. Shannon Cullen.

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DelVal’s Pennycuick Introduces Kratom Consumer Protection Act

Since the 1960s, Americans have consumed a lot of mind-altering substances in an effort to, as Timothy Leary said, “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

The latest mind-altering craze is kratom, a lightly regulated hallucinogenic substance used in the Delaware Valley and elsewhere.

Radnor Township fought a court battle to keep a CBD Kratom shop from opening at a former Starbucks on Lancaster Avenue in the heart of Wayne. Residents loudly objected to the store, located near two schools, which flaunted a giant marijuana leaf on its window. That litigation continues after Radnor won the first round and CBD Kratom appealed.

“We are still engaged in litigation with Radnor Township but are hopeful for an amicable resolution down the road, especially with the changing perception and education regarding kratom and hemp-derived cannabinoids,” a store spokeswoman said.

John Rice, Radnor Township solicitor, said, “The court denied their preliminary injunction request last October, but they are pursuing a final hearing. They are also attempting to open without selling the two restricted products, Kratom and Delta-8.”

Now state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) has introduced the Kratom Consumer Protection Act (Senate Bill 614) to prohibit the sale of kratom to children. She calls kratom a “hallucinogenic and potentially addictive substance.” This bill provides a regulatory framework to protect consumers.

“Kratom is a legal substance that is readily available and commonly sold as a pill, capsule, or extract in many convenience stores across Pennsylvania,” Pennycuick said. “There are very few laws currently on the books that govern this potentially dangerous substance. The commonsense measures I am proposing will help to put regulatory guardrails on this substance, prevent purchases by minors and ensure that consumers know exactly what is in the product they are buying.”

Kratom is derived from a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) native to Southeast Asia. The leaves contain compounds that can cause hallucinatory effects and can be addictive since the results are similar to that of opioids and stimulants.

Kratom can be deadly if abused, critics say. A West Chester family sued a company that distributes kratom after the 2019 death of their 25-year-old son. Advocates have since called for imposing greater restrictions and regulations on the drug.

Pennycuick’s legislation would prohibit the preparation, manufacture, sale, or distribution of kratom products mixed with unsafe ingredients and the sale or distribution of kratom products to people under 21. Kratom product packaging must also include adequate consumption directions, including a recommended serving size.

“CBD Kratom is proud to support the efforts being made by Sen. Tracy Pennycuick regarding SB 614 to regulate the sale and production of kratom products in the state of Pennsylvania. This language will ensure that kratom products on the market are held to safety and purity standards while simultaneously keeping these products out of the hands of minors. This legislation will support the kratom industry and provide much-needed transparency and confidence to kratom consumers in Pennsylvania,” said Spencer Owners, government affairs specialist with CDB Kratom.

Kratom does not fall under the Controlled Substances Act, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve it for medical use. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently listed kratom as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern.”

“Kratom is garnering national attention for its potential for abuse,” Pennycuick said. “Now is the time to put guardrails in place to help ensure that the public is protected.”

Pennycuick’s bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for consideration.

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PA Senate Committee Demands Answers on East Palestine Derailment

Pennsylvania state senators hammered Norfolk Southern Railway’s chef executive Monday over his company’s recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. It also affected Pennsylvania residents just across the state line.

The Senate Veteran’s Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) and Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery), asked Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw a battery of questions about the decision for a controlled burn of rail cars that carried toxic chemicals at the East Palestine derailment site.

“Who specifically in unified command said to do this?” Mastriano asked. “You’re blaming it on the fire chief in East Palestine. Your cars are on fire, it’s your railroad, and you’re going to leave it to the local fire chief who never had to deal with such a catastrophe before? Who said, ‘We’re going to this’?”

Shaw said the decision was made by “unified command” and that “ultimately, the decision falls on the incident commander under consultation with unified command.”

Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) claimed the committee was “kind of glossing over” the seriousness of the situation in East Palestine just after the derailment.

“I personally think that the fire chief did the right thing,” she argued. “I’ve seen a helicopter explode, and I’ve seen the injuries when we didn’t do a controlled burn and let the fuel out.”

“I’m just trying to see if you can paint a picture for us of what that might have looked like if you had not done a controlled burn,” she said, calling it “important that we all understand what it would have looked like because I think (that) would have been catastrophic in life and property.”

Shaw responded that “the very real concern” at the time “was there would have been an uncontrolled, catastrophic explosion which would have shot vinyl chloride gas which, as you know, is denser than air, throughout the community along with shrapnel.

“So, all the relevant parties got together and modeled the dispersion, the government authorities modeled the dispersion with inputs from a number of sources,” he said.

Shaw added post-burn testing in the area indicated that “it was a success. It worked.” He said Norfolk Southern would compensate residents and businesses for their losses and reimburse them for medical care.

Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil, environmental, and ecological engineering at Purdue University, argued before the committee that the EPA and state agencies are not testing for all the toxic chemicals that might have been released in the incident.

Whelton, who has been studying soil, water, and air samples of the area with a team of volunteer researchers, said if a test is not done for certain cancer-causing chemicals, investigators won’t find them.

“The numbers don’t matter,” he said. “It matters what you test for.”

Mastriano, at one point, claimed that when he visited the site with his staff, their upper respiratory tracts burned and they developed rashes. Residents have told him about various health problems stemming from the wreck, he said.

The committee also heard briefly from railroad accident investigator Robert Comer, who said the railcars that carried the toxic chemicals did not belong to Norfolk Southern but to private companies. He speculated as to whether the railroad had checked those cars for problems before it added them to the train.

A bearing that caught fire is being blamed preliminarily for the derailment. Previously, the National Transportation Safety Board said the train continued running with an overheated bearing for 20 miles before it derailed, despite warning indicators.

Comer said poor track conditions with old, wooden railroad ties could also have played a role in the accident.

Shaw promised to help the residents and clean up the area affected by the derailment.

“I am determined to make this right,” said Shaw. “Norfolk Southern is determined to clean the site safely. We’ll get the job done and help these communities thrive.”

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