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McClinton Proposes Election Day Voter Registration, Two Weeks of Voting

State House Speaker Joanna McClinton unveiled legislation at a Capitol news conference Tuesday to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote.

McClinton’s bill would allow registered Pennsylvania voters to vote early, in person, during the two weeks before Election Day. It would also allow same-day voter registration at polling locations the day of the election.

“Voting is at the core of our national identity and among our most valued rights as Americans,” said McClinton (D-Philadelphia). “Rather than spur distrust in our system and attack our dedicated election workers, we should look for ways to make the system accessible to more Pennsylvanians so their voices can be heard.

“Measures like these add convenience and security and have already been adopted in dozens of other states, including states with historic records of voter suppression like Florida and Georgia.”

However, her bill is likely to meet opposition from Republican lawmakers.

“We cannot properly register people to vote and administer elections on the current timelines in the law,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “This proposal does nothing to increase Pennsylvania’s election integrity and once again injects more partisanship and mixed messaging during a presidential election year.”

But Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) suggested a compromise could be on the horizon. “A lot can happen if we get Voter ID as a constitutional amendment.”

J. Christian Adams, founder of the Election Law Center and general counsel for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, is skeptical.

“Same day registration doesn’t provide enough time to validate eligibility,” said Adams. His organization promotes ballot security and is currently suing Pennsylvania to obtain information regarding the registration of foreign nationals at PennDOT offices for more than two decades.

McClinton said same-day voter registration would allow eligible Pennsylvanians to register when it’s most relevant and convenient—on Election Day. It would also enable real-time corrections to inaccurate voter rolls, strengthening the safety and security of the election system.

It seems to be working in New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary in the nation every four years.

“New Hampshire has had election day registration since 1993. It has worked well in our state, and has resulted in consistently high voter participation rates,” New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan told DVJournal.

McClinton says allowing two weeks of early in-person voting on machines would give Pennsylvanians with demanding work schedules or family responsibilities an opportunity to cast their vote at a time that works best for them. It would also decrease congestion at the busiest polling locations. Also, it would help seniors, especially those who use wheelchairs or walkers, allowing more time to accommodate their needs.

Pennsylvania Voice Executive Director Salewa Ogunmefun support these new voting rules.

“These commonsense reforms will not only make it more convenient for all Pennsylvanians to make their voices heard at the ballot box, they will also help make our elections more secure,” said Ogunmefun. “We couldn’t be happier that Speaker McClinton has decided to make this a priority and look forward to working with her to get them passed into law.”

“I vote. I want to vote. I believe it’s my civic duty to vote. But when life becomes challenging, so can voting,” said Angela Madera, a voter from Allentown. “There are so many people like me who have to overcome barriers simply to cast our ballot. It shouldn’t be that way. Voting is our right. Pennsylvanians are busier than ever. Work schedules and family commitments vary. Our voting system needs to accommodate these new realities and reflect the needs of today’s citizens. I’m so grateful to the speaker for standing up for voters like me.”

“In order to have elections that are fully accessible to all, the Commonwealth must implement policies that are mindful of the challenges people with disabilities encounter when trying to vote. The changes proposed are welcome expansions to voting access in Pennsylvania and individuals with disabilities will especially benefit from more flexible opportunities to vote,” said Jennifer Garman, director of government affairs for Disability Rights Pennsylvania.

McClinton’s legislation compliments voting changes implemented by the Shapiro administration in 2023, including automatic voter registration when people get their driver’s licenses or state identification cards and redesigning mail-in ballots.

Spokesperson Manuel Bonder said, “Gov. Josh Shapiro is supportive of these priorities and expanding voting opportunities for eligible Pennsylvanians as we continue working to ensure our elections are free, fair, safe, and secure. The Shapiro administration looks forward to continuing to work alongside Speaker McClinton on these priorities.”

“As the birthplace of American democracy, it’s time we offered Pennsylvanians more options to vote safely and conveniently, reduce the time people wait in line to cast a ballot and guarantee that every voter has enough time to exercise their right to participate in our elections. Every voice matters.” McClinton said.

The primary is on April 23. The last day to request a mail-in or absentee ballot is April 16.

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New Bucks County State Rep. Jim Prokopiak Sworn In Monday

Monday, the state House of Representatives welcomed its newest member, state Rep. Jim Prokopiak (D-Levittown).

Prokopiak won a special election last month to serve the communities of Falls Township, Tullytown, Morrisville and parts of Middletown Township. He replaces John Galloway, who was elected in November as a district judge.

“Swearing in a new member is always a special occasion in the state House of Representatives,” said Speaker Joanna McClinton  (D-Philadelphia). “As a longtime public servant, Representative Prokopiak brings with him valuable experience from his time in local government and will be a strong advocate for his neighbors in Bucks County.”

McClinton added that Prokopiak is joining the Democratic caucus at a busy time. The House returns to session having recently completed Appropriations Committee hearings that examined the initiatives in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s 2024-25 state budget proposal.

The $48.3 billion budget is due to be adopted by June 30.

In the coming months, the House will take up measures to reform school funding, cut costs for working families, help seniors thrive in their communities and strengthen public safety, McClinton said.

“We’ve sent more than 260 bills to the Senate so far, but we’re not done,” McClinton added. “The House will continue to advance meaningful legislation to strengthen our communities and schools, and help all Pennsylvanians thrive.”

Prokopiak served on the Falls Township Board of Supervisors from 2002-2009 and as a member of the Pennsbury School District board from 2021-2024. An attorney, Prokopiak earned his undergraduate degree at West Chester University. He then graduated from Temple University Beasley School of Law.

He and his wife, Gail, have three children and reside in Falls Township. Prokopiak could not be reached for comment on Monday.

With the addition of Prokopiak, the state House now has 202 members. There is a vacancy in the 139th Legislative District in Pike and Wayne counties that will be filled by a special election on April 23, the same day as the state primary.

Propopiak bested Falls resident Candace Cabanas, a Republican, for the seat. Cabanas plans to run against Prokopiak again in the November election.

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Just in Time for Christmas, Legislature Passes Tardy PA Budget

Better late than never.

The state legislature on Wednesday passed the final “code” parts of the $44.4 billion 2023-2024 budget due June 30. Gov. Josh Shapiro signed it around 11 p.m.

Shapiro called his first budget “commonsense.”

The bills that make the spending work were delayed after Shapiro first signed the overall budget, and then used his line-item veto to block a $100 million plan to provide school choice vouchers to students in failing school districts—something he had promised to support while campaigning for governor.

The budget bills did include a $130 million increase in the private school tax credit program, bringing it to $470 million. That program allows businesses to help pay the tuition of needy students.

“I’m proud to stand here with leaders from both chambers and both parties to celebrate the investments we’re making together in repairs to school buildings, mental health resources for students, childcare, the first-ever statewide funding for indigent defense, and more. Today, we’re showing that when we come together, we can get stuff done for the good people of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.

Some highlights include $175 million for environmental repairs and upgrades in Pennsylvania schools, $100 million for student mental health, and $10 million for student-teacher stipends.

Other items are $7.5 million for public defenders, extending the 911 surcharge, and increasing the amount per line to $1.95. It includes budget deposits of $898 million into the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the balance to over $6.1 billion by the end of fiscal year 2024.

“Today, the General Assembly took the necessary final steps to conclude this year’s state budget and moved several bipartisan bills to help Pennsylvanians. We were able to increase the childcare tax credit and secure funding for community colleges while maintaining the fiscal solvency of the Commonwealth. We must all continue to work better together to ensure that Pennsylvanians have the certainty to chart a prosperous path forward,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland).

House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) thanked her colleagues and staff members.

The budget is “most importantly a pathway forward to all the things that we can achieve next year,” said McClinton. “It’s not lost on me, as the first woman to be speaker of the Pennsylvania House, that every single day and every single bill, I’m writing a legacy for all of the women to come.”

She pointed to additional public school funding in the wake of the 10-year funding case. Money for law enforcement and public defenders “means both public safety and changing the way justice is sought and served in our commonwealth.”

“Public schools constantly balance their obligation to provide a high-quality education to students with their responsibility to be financial stewards of local tax dollars,” said Pennsylvania School Boards Association CEO Nathan Mains. “The investments in education made in this year’s budget can reduce districts’ reliance on local property taxes and direct more resources into classrooms, rather than to costly charter school tuition and pensions.”

Americans for Prosperity-PA Deputy Director Emily Greene said, “Six months late, just before the House chamber’s two-and-a-half-month break, we’re encouraged to see that both chambers, alongside the governor, have come to an agreement on how the 2023-24 general appropriations will be spent.

“The budget included a $150 million increase in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which signals a step in the right direction toward much-needed school choice right here in the commonwealth,” Greene said. “However, it’s going to take swift and transformational action to bring Pennsylvania’s students the choice and freedom they so deserve, which is why we continue to urge the legislature to consider universal school choice measures when both chambers finally return to Harrisburg in mid-March.”

Matt Brouillette, CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, said, “House Democrats single-handedly blocked the state budget for five-and-a-half months over their refusal to rescue kids from failing and violent schools. They knew they were  wrong, which is why they flip-flopped and joined Republicans in supporting a historic expansion of tax credit scholarships. Now, with 2024-2025 budget season almost here, I hope Democrats will stop their partisan games at kids’ expense and join Republicans in supporting universal educational opportunity for all Pennsylvania students.”

Separately from the main budget bill, a $33 million bill for the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed to pass the House.

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said he opposed releasing those funds because of “concerns about the way that institutional culture is.”

Even though Penn’s former president, Elizabeth Magill, resigned over her handling of antisemitism on campus and her testimony to Congress about it, “the fact that she has returned to tenured faculty actually speaks to the fact that it’s a culture problem. You can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s still got issues, and they need to fix them.”

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House Welcomes New Legislators Heather Boyd, Michael Stender

The state legislature welcomed its two newest members on Monday, Rep. Heather Boyd (D-Delaware) and Rep. Michael Stender (R-Montour/Northumberland).

Boyd and Stender were elected to serve their communities in special elections on May 16.

“Swearing in new members is always a special occasion in the state House of Representatives,” said Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Phila./Delaware). “As longtime public servants, Reps. Boyd and Stender both bring valuable experience to their new roles and will contribute greatly to the policy debates in Harrisburg.

“I’m confident that the more than 120,000 Pennsylvanians they collectively represent will benefit from having such dedicated elected officials as their voice in Harrisburg.”

Rep. Michael Stender and family

McClinton added the new members are joining the state House at a busy time, having advanced 44 bills – all with bipartisan support – in just three weeks in late April and May. Additionally, the legislature is currently debating the state budget, which is due by June 30.

“The state House has been advancing legislation to strengthen our communities and help Pennsylvanians of all ages at an ambitious pace,” McClinton said. “I’m proud of the work the House has been able to achieve so far this legislative session and am hopeful about what we’ll continue to accomplish.”

“I look forward to working with all my colleagues on important matters that affect the lives of all Pennsylvanians. A lot of important conversations need to happen within our state legislature, especially as we begin drafting this year’s budget, and it’s my honor to serve as a strong voice for the people of Delaware County,” Boyd said.

Boyd will receive her committee assignments in the coming weeks.

After last year’s reapportionment process, the 163rd District consists of Darby and Upper Darby, Aldan, Clifton Heights and Collingdale.

Stender said on Facebook, “Thank You!! I am humbled by your support! I will work hard for the 108th District.”

With the addition of Stender and Boyd, the state House is now at its full 203-member complement.

Democrats spent $1 million to elect Boyd, who defeated Republican Katie Ford. The seat was vacated by former Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat, who faced allegations of sexual impropriety from female colleagues and a lobbyist.

Stender was elected to fill the seat formerly held by Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, who was elected to the state Senate in the 27th District, which includes parts of Luzerne, Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, and Snyder counties.

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Bill To Improve Breast Cancer Screening Will Go to Full House Wednesday

Like many women, Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore  Kim Ward delayed getting her annual mammogram in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And when she did that November, her doctor told her she had Stage 1 breast cancer.

“I kept thinking, jeez, if I had my mammogram on time, would they have seen it because they did not offer me an ultrasound or an MRI even though I had fibrous breast tissue? Or if I just waited until it was due again, it would probably have been Stage 2,” said Ward (R-Westmoreland).

“As it is now, many women have to pay a co-pay for an MRI or ultrasound, depending on their insurance,” she explained, noting that could cost $600 to $1,000. In talking to women, some told her they even have to pay out of pocket. And that cost can be huge if they need to pay their rent or feed their family, she said.

Ward decided to do something about it. Senate Bill 8, which passed the Senate last year and again this year, would require insurers to cover 3D mammograms, ultrasound, and MRI testing.

“One lady said, ‘I cried that day it passed because my mother had breast cancer twice. They didn’t test her for it, and they would not pay for her to have an MRI.’”

“These are the people we’re trying to ensure get the care they need,” said Ward.

SB8 is the first-of-its-kind in the nation comprehensive breast cancer screening and testing bill that eliminates all costs associated with genetic testing and counseling. It also covers breast MRIs and ultrasounds for Pennsylvanians with high-risk conditions like dense breast tissue, a personal history of breast cancer, a family history, a genetic predisposition, or prior radiation therapy.

While undergoing treatment, Ward also learned she had the BRCA gene, meaning she was among those with an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer. But she had to pay for that test out-of-pocket because her insurance would not cover it since her mother and sister had not had breast cancer, although her grandmother and great-aunts did.

“I had the lumpectomy,” she said. “I started chemotherapy. About my third chemo treatment, my oncologist said, ‘I’m going to order you that (genetic test). And then they wouldn’t pay for it. And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to pay for it.’”

When it came back positive, she had mastectomies because, with the BRCA gene, that is the only way to be sure the cancer would not reoccur.

“It’s truly preventive,” she said about the test. Her sons and grandchildren can be tested to be sure they don’t have the gene, which can lead to an increased risk of prostate cancer. It also increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

If SB8 is passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania will become the first state to require coverage for 3D mammograms at no cost to the patient. SB8 is expected to be acted on in the House on Wednesday after being unanimously passed by the House insurance committee Monday. It would include requirements that insurers pay for the testing when prescribed.

SB8 is also the first bill of its kind to require coverage of genetic testing and counseling and breast MRI and ultrasound at no cost to women at high risk.

Ward is working with House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) toward advancing the bill. If it becomes law, it will help 14,000 Pennsylvania women who get breast cancer each year.

“Breast cancer is a terrible disease,” said McClinton.  “The statistics are sobering with roughly 264,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women and 2,400 cases in men.  For Black women, the statistics are even more alarming, as it is the number one cause of cancer death for Black women at an alarming rate of 31 percent.

“Still there is reason for hope. Due to advances in research and science, testing and genetic counseling is now available to anyone with a family history of cancer.  This will help in the fight to early cancer diagnosis.  That said, no one should have to forgo a lifesaving important screening because they cannot afford a co-pay, deductible, or co-insurance payment.   I applaud my Senate colleagues and Senate Pro Tempore Ward, herself a survivor, for introducing this legislation and I am pleased to prioritize this bill’s movement in the House,” said McClinton.

DVJournal asked Ward if she is getting pushback from health insurers.

“Maybe a little at first,” she said. “They weren’t all the way thrilled, but they’re okay now. They’re working with us.

“This is not a red or blue issue. It is a pink issue, and we need to encourage other states to follow and ensure that women are getting regular breast examinations as ‘early detection saves lives,’” said Ward.

State Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) said, “The overwhelming support this first-in-the-nation legislation is receiving, and its swift, unanimous passage shows just how important and prevalent these issues are in Pennsylvania. There isn’t a person in our commonwealth who hasn’t been touched by breast cancer, and, like so many others, my family knows the devastating toll this disease can have. Thank you to the House insurance committee chairman and members for their quick consideration and passage of Senate Bill 8.”

“I think that all of the proposed measures will increase access to valuable tools to preserve women’s health,” said Dr. Robert Michaelson, a retired gynecologist in Montgomery County.

Ward said she is well now and cancer free since her cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes.

“Thank God it was not in my nodes,” Ward said. But the oncologist said it was on the way to spreading, she added. If she had been tested for the BRCA gene, she would have had the mastectomies, not undergone a lumpectomy first.

Women House Members Have Message for Zabel: Resign.

Sixteen female state representatives presented a letter to House leadership Monday asking accused groper Rep. Mike Zabel to resign.

The lawmakers—all Republicans—led by Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) hand-delivered the letter to Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Zabel.

Zabel (D-Drexel Hill), first elected in 2018, sent a letter to House Democratic leadership Friday saying he would resign from committees and seek treatment for an undisclosed illness. However, he refused to give up his $102,844-a-year job.

Multiple allegations of Zabel’s mistreatment of women have surfaced in recent days, though his inappropriate behavior was an open secret among House members, legislators have since confirmed.

“Women have spent generations breaking down barriers to hold positions of public trust and confidence, but the disgusting unwanted sexual advances by people like Rep. Zabel have continuously held women back or slowed the progress they have made,” the letter said. “Too often, the behavior of such men and the silent complicity of others has, sadly, prevented others from even believing the truth.

“Knowing Rep. Zabel will not be serving in the halls of the Capitol is the only way women who have had to deal with the grotesque and repeated conduct from this serial harasser will be able to feel safe,” the letter said.

Marcell, a first-term member of the House, has been outspoken in her calls for Democrats to set aside partisanship and stand with Zabel’s alleged victims.

“What makes this situation even more intolerable is that House Democratic leadership, which has at times consisted of several different women, covered up these actions and remained silent until Rep. Zabel was finally caught. The timeline of how his identity was kept quiet – despite his identity being reported as ‘an open secret’ by the news media in the weeks preceding– is there for everyone to see.”

“The speaker’s call for a vote to shut down the mention of Rep. Zabel’s name during the House rules vote is there for anyone to see. How can we allow Rep. Zabel to continue to hold the title and position of trust he abused – especially when he has yet to deny any of the accusations made against him? How can any party prioritize its political power and voting margin over women’s safety?” Marcell asked.

During a podcast with DVJournal, Marcell said she had been warned by a “number of female colleagues to avoid being around” Zabel.

Zabel has refused to respond to Marcell’s story and has ignored repeated requests for comment. In a sign Democrats are even more on the defensive as this scandal unfolds, a McClinton spokeswoman said Monday she was a ” no comment” as well.

“As disturbing allegations continue to mount against Rep. Zabel, it’s clear that Speaker McClinton and Democratic leadership will not address these allegations in an effort to protect their razor-thin majority,” said Republican Senate Leadership Committee Deputy Communications Director Mason Di Palma. “Rep. Zabel is no longer able to serve the people of his district effectively and should resign immediately. Democrats’ silence on this matter shows that they are only concerned with holding onto power and not standing by victims of sexual abuse.”

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