News Releases

Lawmakers’ Plan Offers Middle Class Tax Cut, Ensures Wealthiest Pay ‘Fair Share’

HARRISBURG, March 22, 2017 — State Sens. Art Haywood and Vincent Hughes, along with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, today announced a plan to generate additional revenue to address the commonwealth’s deficit by ensuring that the wealthiest Pennsylvanians pay their fair share in taxes, while reducing or leaving untouched the tax burden on 84 percent of all taxpayers.

The “Fair Share Tax” plan would divide the state’s Personal Income Tax into two parts: a tax on wages and interest, which would be reduced from 3.07 percent to 2.8 percent; and a tax on income from wealth, which would increase from 3.07 percent to 6.5 percent.

Income from wealth would include dividends or net income from a business, profession, or farm; capital gains; net income from rents, royalties, patents and copyrights; gambling and lottery winnings and income from estates or trusts.

Under the plan, 58 percent of taxpayers will see their taxes go down and another 26 percent will see no change in their taxes. It is expected to bring in $2 billion in new revenue to balance the commonwealth’s budget.

Hughes and Haywood said they will sponsor the legislation that would implement the Fair Share Tax plan.

 

“Under our state’s current tax structure, the Personal Income Tax is the same, whether you are wealthy, middle class or struggling, which means average Pennsylvanians bear the tax burden. It’s time for those at the top to pay their fair share,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This plan would ensure more fairness in our Personal Income Tax structure, provide a break for many taxpayers and bring in much-needed new revenue to Pennsylvania.”

“Our taxes are rigged against everyday people. Moderate and low income Pennsylvanians pay more of their income in taxes than the high income,” said state Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “The Fair Tax proposal is a solution to having the deck stacked against us.  The Fair Share Tax plan also provides money for schools, state troopers and new jobs in distressed cities and towns.”

Pennsylvania’s Uniformity Clause prohibits graduated tax rates, resulting in a flat-rate income tax. This is inherently regressive because a flat rate means state and local taxes take a higher proportion of income from lower-income families than high-income families. Currently, the 20 percent of taxpayers with the lowest incomes pay 12 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay only 4.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

“We will never have the resources we need to invest in education, infrastructure, human services and the protection of clean air and water if we don’t fix our upside-down tax system so that everyone pays their fair share,” said Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “The legislation being announced today is a huge step in that direction.”

“Too many kids in our cities are all breathing dirty air and too many kids in our rural areas don’t have access to safe drinking water but, year after year, Pennsylvania has slashed the budgets for clean air and water and laid off a whole generation of environmental protectors,” said Josh McNeil, executive director of the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “If our wealthiest citizens can put us back on track to a healthy environment, every citizen will benefit.”

“Pennsylvania needs to have a budget that is fair and equitable for all of its citizens, especially the most vulnerable among us and those that are struggling,” said Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate at Just Harvest. “We need a revenue and tax system that does not overburden low and middle income households and requires the wealthy to pay their fair share.”

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s annual state budget address, Pennsylvania currently faces a $3 billion structural deficit. As budget negotiations continue, the lawmakers said this new revenue would provide a stable source of funding without burdening average Pennsylvania families.

Editor’s Note: A copy of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s report is available online: https://pennbpc.org/fair-share-tax-support-public-investment-pennsylvania

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Media Contacts
Elizabeth Rementer (Sen. Hughes): 717-787-5166, erementer@pasenate.com
Michelle Welk (Sen. Haywood): 215-242-8171, mwelk@pasenate.com
John Neurohr (PA Budget and Policy Center): 724-903-0077, neurohr@pennbpc.org

Hughes: ‘Turn Anger into Action’ at Upcoming Community Forum

 
PHILADELPHIA, February 22, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes invites the public to participate in an upcoming community forum that will focus on public engagement on legislative issues in Harrisburg and Washington, DC.

The community forum will take place on Wednesday, March 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Science Center Theater at Montgomery County Community College, located at 340 Dekalb Pike in Blue Bell.

“People are engaged in democracy and want to take the next step and get more involved. It’s important for folks to know that their voice can and should be heard, and this forum is an opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns, and meet individuals and groups who are actively involved in the community,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “Let’s turn our interest into engagement, our passion into policy, and our anger into action by coming together to for a lively discussion on the matters that affect all of us.”

For more information or to register for the event, contact Omar Sabir in Hughes’ office at 215-879-7777 or osabir@pasenate.com. More information is also available at senatorhughes.com, on Twitter @SenatorHughes and @SenHughesOffice and on the senator’s Facebook page.

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Lawmakers Announce $357,000 for Philadelphia School District from Rideshare Revenues

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) highlights the benefits of a new law regulating ridesharing companies during a Feb. 16 news conference at Philadelphia School District headquarters. Revenues collected from the ridesharing companies will benefit Philadelphia public school students. With him are (left to right) State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), state Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and Philadelphia School District Superintendent Dr. William Hite.

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 16, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes today joined fellow lawmakers and officials from the School District of Philadelphia to announce that the school district has received its first installment of state funding — more than $357,000 — as a result of a new state law regulating rideshare companies in the City of Philadelphia and across the commonwealth.

“Today’s announcement is a result of a comprehensive effort to regulate rideshare companies statewide and ensure that they pay their fair share for conducting business in a major city,” said Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “In just a short time, revenue has been generated that will directly benefit our schools. This funding is expected to continue to grow as rideshare companies become a more popular transportation choice for consumers, and that’s good news for our school children.”

Two measures were enacted last year to secure this new source of funding for the school district.

Act 164 of 2016, which was signed into law last November, extends the regulation of Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to include the City of Philadelphia. Under the law, the ridesharing companies are required to pay 1.4 percent of their gross receipts of all fares charged to customers for prearranged rides originating in the city. The revenue collected would be distributed 66.67 percent to the Philadelphia School District and 33.33 percent to the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Additional revenues were collected with the passage of Act 85 of 2016, in which the state temporarily authorized the legal operation of rideshare companies in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention, collecting 1 percent of gross receipts.

The $357,593.31 represents the revenues collected during the temporary authorization, but it is estimated that the School District of Philadelphia will receive $2 million in revenues from the assessment this year.

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Hughes: Governor’s Budget Plan Invests in Jobs, Working Families

HARRISBURG, February 7, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) who serves as Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 budget invests in jobs and working families and is a good fiscal blueprint to begin budget deliberations.

The $32.3 billion budget plan eliminates a $3 billion deficit while making $2 billion in budget cuts and a 1.8 percent increase in spending, all without a broad-based tax increase.

“The governor is in a difficult position of dealing a massive $3 billion deficit. His budget plan takes positive, creative steps in balancing the budget. He made tough choices, and we’ll have to continue to make tough choices, but today’s address represents a good start,” said Hughes “We must be responsible about addressing the deficit while investing in critical areas like job creation, education, and social services.

Republicans have had control of the legislature for years and have never taken such an approach to balancing the budget, instead relying on slash-and-burn policies that decimated education spending and social safety net programs, he said.

Hughes highlighted key investments in job creation and retention programs in the budget proposal, including a minimum wage increase.

“The governor’s plan places an important emphasis on the crucial issue of job creation and retention for working-class families, which must be a priority in Pennsylvania,” Hughes said. “Raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour will not only lift up low-wage workers and their families but also boost state revenues. The budget also includes investments in job training and apprenticeship grants, economic development grants, and an initiative to invest in the manufacturing industries — all of which will help our economy and our workforce.

“For too long, some corporations, especially the shale drilling companies, have not paid their fair share, so we need to take steps to make sure they are investing more and we must provide the means to help lift up working families and rebuild communities,” Hughes said. “I look forward to a robust discussion on the governor’s jobs initiatives in the budget so we can level the playing field for working families.”

 

The budget plan also calls for an additional $100 million in basic education, $75 million for high-quality early education and $25 million for special education.

“I support the governor’s continuing commitment to education. We must make investments in education, starting with preschool, to ensure that our children have all the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond,” Hughes said.

“We are faced with the challenging and complex task of ensuring that the state budget is balanced, while maintaining crucial programs and services, and today’s budget address is just the first step toward achieving those goals,” Hughes said. “My colleagues and I on the Senate Appropriations Committee will thoroughly examine all aspects of the governor’s budget plan during budget hearings in the coming weeks.”

Senate budget hearings begin Feb. 21.

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Senate Democrats Call for Special Session on Property Tax Relief or Elimination

 

Harrisburg – February 1, 2017 – State Senate Democrats said that Gov. Tom Wolf should call a special session of the General Assembly to ensure that legislation that results in significant property tax relief or total elimination is passed and signed into law this session.

At a news conference today at the state Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said taxpayers of Pennsylvania have waited too long for relief from escalating tax bills.

“We believe there should be a full, complete and transparent discussion of any and all tax relief or elimination proposals,” Costa said.  “A special session provides the kind of platform that is needed for citizens and lawmakers to understand specifics about each proposal.”

Leading the call for the special session, state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said, “Relief from property tax needs to be addressed without delay.”

In the letter to the governor, the Democrats stated, “Our taxpayers have waited far too long for action on this important issue.  They want lawmakers to set aside partisan agendas and enact a significant property tax reform or elimination measure–NOW.”

Working families are struggling to pay mortgages and save for college for their children while seniors have to scrape resources together to make ends meet; property taxes add to their burden, the letter said.

Boscola, who has been a long-time advocate of property tax elimination and relief, said that “my goal is to pass legislation that will eliminate the property tax and replace it with a better system to fund public education. Our homeowners deserve it and our children need it.”

Another strong proponent of calling the special session is Senate Democratic Whip Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware).

“Addressing property tax relief or elimination needs to be a top priority, but is critical that we look at all the plans closely and find common ground,” Williams said.  “A special session will force the General Assembly to focus on the issue, act assertively and come forward with a proposal that is balanced and equitable.

“Our property taxpayers have waited long enough.”

Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) endorsed the call for a special session.

“The issue of property taxes has been a top priority for Pennsylvanians, many of whom have seen significant tax increases over the past few years,” Hughes said.  “This special session would serve as an opportunity to thoroughly examine how we can provide the sustainable property tax relief that Pennsylvanians want and deserve while ensuring that our school districts are still properly funded.”

Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said that a special session will allow lawmakers to fashion a plan that strikes a balance between property tax relief and reliable state support for public education.

“For many Pennsylvanians – particularly our seniors and lower income property owners – there is a very real school property tax crisis. I remain committed to a responsible solution that can significantly reduce and, if possible, eliminate the property tax burden on these lower income property owners,” Blake said. “I believe strongly that a special session on property tax reform can finally allow the legislature to strike the appropriate balance between property tax relief and the assurance of sufficient, predictable and reliable state financial support for public education.”

Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) said he hoped a special session will spur lawmakers to act.

“For too long our taxpayers have watched while the General Assembly has tried to deal with reducing property taxes,” Brewster said. “There are many plans now being drafted or considered and lawmakers need to come together on a plan that provided real relief or elimination.  Taxpayers have waited too long.

“A special session is an excellent forum for all plans to be discussed, including the plan to totally eliminate property taxes.”

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) said that there are several approaches to address tax reform, but lawmakers need to be thoughtful about how tax elimination impacts schools.

“If we’re going to get serious about providing property tax relief or elimination, we must do it thoughtfully. We certainly can’t hastily approve an elimination plan at the expense of our public schools,” Street said. “There are several approaches to addressing property taxes, so a special session would provide us with a clearer path toward true relief.”

Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who has long been an advocate of property tax elimination, said school property tax is a complicated issue.

“One large source of revenue for school funding must be replaced with multiple other sources, and we must do this fairly and uniformly,” Schwank said.  “Let’s use this special session to strike a balance between relieving the heavy burden property owners face, while also providing our schools with a reliable source of investment.”

Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) said that property tax reform is a complex issue, but one that must be addressed.

“Property taxes remain an important issue to address. I still maintain that the appropriate solution will prove complex. We must dedicate time and effort to ensure the solution is successful,” Haywood said.

“The property tax is no longer sustainable as the sole source of funding for public education. It is high time for us to come together in the spirit of bipartisanship to develop and enact new and lasting solutions to the ongoing burden of rising property taxes on Pennsylvania homeowners,” Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee said. “This is a process that must involve both school districts and direct input from taxpayers and homeowners.”

The governor is empowered to call a special session of the General Assembly under the provisions of Article II, Section 4 and Article IV, Section 12 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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Senator Vincent Hughes Calls for Immediate Negotiations on Statewide Paid Sick Leave

Harrisburg – January 27, 2017 – Senator Vincent Hughes issued the following statement calling for immediate negotiations to create a statewide paid sick leave policy for employers:

“Earlier this week, the Republican majority on the Pennsylvania Senate’s Local Government Committee voted down my amendment to create a statewide sick leave policy which would have allowed workers to earn time off for medical reasons. I offered my amendment to a bill that will preempt paid sick leave policies that are already in place, including taking away benefits from over 200,000 workers in Philadelphia.

“Proponents of the preemption bill claimed at the hearing that employers need a unified policy. Therefore, I am calling for immediate negotiations for a statewide sick leave policy that will work for both employees and employers. Lawmakers, members of the business community, advocates, and labor must come together to address this issue.

“We know that the folks who are most directly impacted are workers at the bottom of the economic ladder. They deserve to have the opportunity to earn sick days, so that they can protect their health and productivity. It is time for all of the players to come together and work to make this a reality.”   

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Download Letter Sent to Leaders and Gov. Wolf →

Senator Vincent Hughes Announces $125,000 in State Grants to Address Lead Crisis in Philadelphia

Philadelphia – December 22, 2016 – Senators Vincent Hughes today announced two grants totaling $125,000 to combat lead poising in Philadelphia. The grants come from state funded programs earmarked for job training and community revitalization.

Senator Hughes also announced that he would reintroduce legislation to create over $250 million in dedicated funding for lead remediation across Pennsylvania.

“We know that lead poisoning is a serious problem in both Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania,” said Senator Hughes. “Today’s grant announcement is just the start of the important work at the city, state, and federal level that must be done to address this issue. I want to especially thank Governor Tom Wolf for his support to help make these grants a reality.”

A total of $35,000 will be awarded to the Overbrook Environmental Education Center for a training program that teaches lead safety measures necessary to protect inhabitants during renovations, repairs, and painting projects in pre-1978 housing and pre-1978 child occupied facilities such as daycare centers where lead based paint will be disturbed by their work. The remainder of the funding will be awarded to the City of Philadelphia’s Lead and Healthy Homes Program, which conducts lead remediation for contaminated properties.

 

“For inner city children to be prepared to run the race in life they must start out on equal footing,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones, who participated in the press conference. “Overcoming lead paint poisoning starts our kids off in the race with combat boots.”

The grants, which are supported by Governor Tom Wolf, comes primarily from the Department of Economic and Community Development. It is part of a multifaceted approach by elected officials at the local, state, and federal level to address widespread exposure to lead in Philadelphia.

“In light of the long-term decrease in federal funding for lead remediation, I commend my colleagues for identify funding and introducing legislation to tackle such an important issue,” said State Representative-Elect Morgan Cephas. “Widespread exposure to lead has had a devastating effect on so many of our families and an overall long-term negative impact on our communities.”

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes both Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Senator Vincent Hughes & Senator Christine Tartaglione Call for Pennsylvania Senate to Reconvene to Extend Funding for Labor & Industry Service Call Centers

Harrisburg – November 18th, 2016 – Senators Vincent Hughes and Christine Tartaglione issued the following statements on the failure of the Pennsylvania Senate to extend funding for Labor & Industry service call centers:

Senator Hughes: “I am outraged by the failure of the Pennsylvania Senate Republican leadership to hold a vote to extend funding for unemployment compensation service call centers. Because of this inaction, nearly 600 working people will lose their jobs just one week before Christmas. It also means that thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will experience longer wait times when seeking assistance while applying for benefits.

“We must be clear that was a choice made by Senate Republicans for political reasons. They control the Senate calendar and Governor Wolf and Senate Democrats made it clear throughout the fall session that this bill was a priority.  The bill should have been voted on October 26 but it was delayed when the Republican pension plan fell apart.  Then, on our final session day Wednesday, the bill was marked for a vote but was pulled again after their plan to further limit a women’s right to make her own health decisions failed.  Because they twice didn’t get what they wanted, Senator Scott Wagner decided to play Scrooge to 600 workers who will lose their jobs just one week before Christmas. 

“The inconsistency in public statements by Senate Republicans is clear proof that this failure to act is pure politics. First, the Senate Republicans tried to blame Governor Wolf even though they control what bills we consider in the Senate. Then, Senator Wagner openly admits that he wanted to cut funding to these call centers and see them shut down. They can’t have it both ways.

“Republicans also cannot simultaneously claim to be the champions of the working class and force the closure of facilities that help people who are unemployed. I call on the Senate Republicans to immediately reconvene the Senate to pass an extension of funding to unemployment compensation service calls centers.”       

State Senator Christine Tartaglione, Democratic Chairwoman of Senate Labor & Industry Committee, offered the following statement:

“I join my colleague in calling for Senate Republicans to move on this important issue. I have been calling for the funding to be restored to these calls centers as one of my top priorities for the entire legislative session and offered my own bill, Senate Bill 1335 that would have reauthorized this funding for an additional four years. It is important to realize that this money is available, it simply needs to authorized. There is no reason that the Senate should not have acted to prevent these layoffs. Now, nearly 600 workers will lose their jobs and thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians will see diminished services.”

State Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Christine Tartaglione represents the 2nd Senatorial District and is the Democratic Chair of the Senate Labor & Industry Committee.

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Senate Democrats Announce Leadership Team

Harrisburg – November 16, 2016 – Senate Democrats today elected leaders for the 2017-18 legislative session. State Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) was re-elected Democratic Floor Leader.

“It is an honor and a privilege to once again be chosen to serve the caucus as Leader,” Costa said. “We face many challenges moving into the new session but our members are focused and determined to address key issues and provide for the needs of all Pennsylvanians.”

Costa was elected to the Senate in 1996 and was elected into leadership in 2006, serving first as Caucus Chairman and later Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Costa will be joined in leadership for the 2017-18 legislative session by:

  • Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Phila./Montgomery), Democratic Whip. Williams has served in the state legislature since 1988 and was elected to the Senate in 1998. He has served as Democratic Whip since 2011.
  • Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery), Democratic Appropriations chair. Senator Hughes was elected to the Senate in 1994 and served the caucus previously as Caucus Chairman. This will be Hughes’ fourth term as Democratic Appropriations chair.
  • Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Caucus Chairman. Fontana was elected to the Senate in 2005 and was appointed to the leadership team in 2011 as Caucus Administrator where he served for four years.
  • Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), Caucus Secretary. Sen. Farnese has represented the First Senatorial District since 2009 and has served on the Democratic leadership team as Caucus Secretary since 2014.
  • Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), Policy Committee Chair. Boscola has served in the legislature for more than 20 years and was chosen to serve in 2010 as Caucus Administrator and elected in 2011 as Policy Committee chair.

The leadership positions are effective Dec. 1.

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Senator Vincent J. Hughes Calls for Pennsylvania Senate to Begin Proceeding to Remove West York Mayor

Harrisburg, October 7th, 2016 – Today, State Senator Vincent J. Hughes sent a letter to Senator Joe Scarnati, President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate, calling for him to appoint a special committee to investigate the potential removal of Charles Wasko, Mayor of West York Borough, pursuant to Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Mr. Wasko has received international attention for repeatedly posting threatening, racist, misogynistic, and religiously offensive images on social media. Some of the posts even appear to threaten the life of the President of the United States and denigrate the First Family.

“This is simply unacceptable,” said Senator Hughes. “Federal law makes it a crime to threaten the life of the President of the United States. I do not take the removal of an elected official lightly, but clearly Mr. Wasko is unfit to hold office and this very serious step must be taken.”

Mr. Wasko has repeatedly posted content that compares African-Americans to orangutans and gorillas. He has also posted photos that attack Muslim-Americans and even suggested that President Barack Obama should be lynched. Numerous organizations have called for him to resign, including the West York Borough Council and Pennsylvania NAACP.

“We know from Mr. Wasko’s social media posts that he holds contemptable attitudes towards many of his own constituents,” said Senator Hughes. “His removal is something that ought to be supported by all good thinking people in West York and across Pennsylvania.”

Article VI, section 7 of the Pennsylvania constitution provides a vehicle for the Pennsylvania Senate to remove Mr. Wasko from office. That action would require a full investigation and an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Pennsylvania Senate.

“I do not believe that Mr. Wasko can perform his duties as mayor,” said Senator Hughes. “His behavior is unacceptable, especially since public officials must be held to a higher standard. It’s time for the Pennsylvania Senate to take action and consider taking the step of removing him from office.”

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Costa, Hughes Support Budget Becoming Law; New Funds for Education, Opioid Treatment

Harrisburg, July 10, 2016 – Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) released the following comments in support of Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that he was allowing the state budget bill (Senate Bill 1073) to become law without his signature.

The governor said that he will continue working on a bipartisan revenue package to fund the $31.53 billion state spending plan for Fiscal 2016-17. The spending measure that cleared the Senate with a bipartisan 47 to 3 vote includes $200 million in new dollars for basic education, $20 million more for special education and additional fund for early childhood education.

Sen. Jay Costa:

“In letting the budget become law and keeping the dollars flowing for key programs, the governor is appropriately moving the state forward. The state spending plan is solid budget that includes new funds for basic education, special education, early childhood education and dollars for opioid treatment. Work must continue on a bipartisan basis to find the resources and revenues that are needed to fund these key initiatives.”

Sen. Vincent J. Hughes:

“The state budget was developed in a bipartisan way and it passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support. While we all have differing priorities, I am pleased that the measure will go into effect so important social service programs and funding initiatives are not interrupted. Revenues are tight and choices hard, but we must continue working in a bipartisan way to find sustainable revenues and balance the state spending plan.”

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Senator Hughes Statement on Passage of State Budget

Harrisburg, June 29th, 2016 – State Senator Vincent Hughes today voted with the majority of the Pennsylvania Senate to pass a $31.53 billion General Fund budget. The bill offers an on-time budget that contains a modest increase funding for public education and makes other investments. The bill, which passed the Senate 47 to 3, will now be sent back to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for concurrence.

 
“This budget represents a bipartisan compromise that delivers an increase in funding for education in a very difficult fiscal and political climate,” said Senator Hughes. “There were many people who wanted to do nothing for our public schools. That is why I have joined with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make this on-time budget a reality.”

The $31.53 billion budget contains a $250 million increase in funding for education. This includes $200 million for basic education, $30 million for Pre-K and Head Start, and $20 million increase for special education. This represents the beginning of restoring more than $1 billion cut from public education under the previous administration.

 
“This budget also increases funding for higher education, while others sought a spending agreement that contained no increase,” said Senator Hughes. “I have been steadfast since the beginning of this process that I would only support a budget that contained increased funding for education. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, but this budget represents a step forward.”

The budget passed by the Senate also includes new investments in social programs and human services. It contains $15 million to combat opiod abuse, $1.4 million for Zika Virus prevention, $506,000 increase for services for victims of domestic violence, and a $289,000 increase for rape crises centers. There is also a significant increase of $630,000 for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

“The spending plan passed by the Senate makes modest and sensible increases,” said Senator Hughes. “This stands in contrast to others who sought a more austere state budget.”

The budget agreement passed the Pennsylvania Senate one day before the deadline of June 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year. This is a major improvement over the previous year, which saw the longest budget standoff in the history of Pennsylvania. The on-time budget means that school districts, social service agencies, and non-profit organizations will be able to provide vital services without any disruption.

Senate Democrats Call for More Funding for Human Relations Commission

June 22, 2016 − State Senate Democratic Whip Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) today said that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has been devastated by recurring state budget cuts and that the state spending plan now under consideration needs to address agency funding shortfalls.

“The PHRC has an incredibly important job to do and it cannot function properly if its funding is slashed year in and year out,” Williams said today.

Williams was joined at a news conference at the Capitol by his Democratic colleague from Philadelphia Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), Senate Democratic leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) other Democratic senators and advocates.

 

“The agency’s ability to ensure that civil rights protections are upheld has been compromised by chronic underfunding,” Tartaglione said. “We are here to request that additional funds be included in the appropriation for the commission so it has the resources to do its important work.”

The state appropriation for the PHRC has fallen from $10.6 million in 2008 to $8.7 million last year. The total agency budget was reduced from $14.1 million to $10 million over the same time span.

“Incredibly, at a time when we should be doing more to protect civil rights, the agency dedicated to this purpose has had to dramatically cut staff and is under pressure to close cases without proper investigation,” Williams said.

The lawmakers are seeking an additional $2 million in state funding in this budget to bolster operations at the PHRC.

“I am pleased that my Senate Democratic colleagues and those representatives that have been touched by the work of the PHRC have come out today to support the call for more funding,” Williams said. “It is important that those of us who are committed to preserving this agency as a protector of civil rights stay united and put pressure on budget negotiators.”

Williams said that staffing at the commission is at a crisis point. According to the senator, the historical complement of investigators and professional staff has been just under 200 employees. Today, there are only 76 investigators and professionals to handle the agency’s responsibilities.

“Values like equality, service, integrity, excellence and teamwork were once associated with the commission and its operations,” Williams said. “The PHRC was once recognized as a preeminent protector of civil rights.

 

“We can get the agency back to that position of being a nationally-recognized leader, but it has to be funded properly.”

The call for more funding and for making systemic repairs at the commission follows media reports about upheaval at the agency over the last several years. Allegations of long-time staff being forced out, hostile working conditions and discriminatory hiring practices have been cited in news reports.

The operations of the commission were recently examined at a Senate State Government Committee hearing requested by Williams earlier this month.

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State Senate Roundtable in Philadelphia Focuses on the Dangers of Lead Exposure

Philadelphia – May 19, 2016 – At the request of state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion today on the health impact of lead exposure.

“The effects of lead exposure are indelible, dangerous and deadly,” Hughes said. “There is no cure. Whether it’s lead from old pipes or peeling paint that still clings to aging homes and school buildings, this problem will only get worse if we do nothing to help now.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee, added, “From my standpoint, we need to get a better understanding of lead exposure levels in Pennsylvania – and we then need to do what’s necessary to limit and prevent exposure.”

The lawmakers pointed to the water lead poisoning tragedy in Flint, Michigan, as a wake-up call for states and cities across the country. While state Department of Health officials claim Pennsylvania’s lead exposure threat is more due to pealing and cracking lead-based paint, a February report by the Department on childhood lead surveillance revealed that Pennsylvania has at least 18 cities with higher lead exposure rates than Flint.

Pointing to data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a February 3 Vox.com article (www.vox.com/2016/2/3/10904120/lead-exposure-flint-pennsylvania) warned that the rate of lead exposure in Pennsylvania is “incredibly alarming.” The study revealed that nearly 10 percent of the more than 140,000 kids tested had levels of five or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in the blood. Five micrograms per deciliter is the threshold government uses to identify children with dangerously elevated blood lead levels.

Held at the Karabots Pediatric Care Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, today’s roundtable discussion also focused on a package of bills introduced by Hughes and fellow Democrats. The measures include:

  • Senate Bill 14 (Hughes) would create a “SuperFund for Lead Abatement” that could be used by schools, day care centers, and other organizations to defray lead remediation costs.
  • Senate Bill 16 (Yudichak) would create a task force to study the scope of the lead issue, including an accounting of the age of the state’s housing stock, pipelines, school buildings and day care centers. It would also study best practices and make recommendations.
  • Senate Bill 17 (Haywood) would require every school building to be tested (water, paint, soil) for lead before a school year begins. Test results would be sent to parents of every enrolled child and posted on school district websites. If a school tests at lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control’s acceptable amount, it would be required to submit a remediation plan to the state Department of Education.
  • Senate Bill 18 (Kitchen) seeks to require lead testing (water, paint, soil) in day care centers licensed by the PA Department of Human Services. DHS would be prohibited from issuing a license to a day care operator if lead levels are higher than CDC recommended readings.
  • Senate Bills 19 and 20 (Fontana) would enable homebuyers to request that a home be tested to determine what level of lead is in the water; and require that known lead paint within a home build before 1978 as well as any contamination in drinking water be disclosed on a seller’s property disclosure statement.

Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia (CHOP), called lead exposure “brain poison” in describing the devastating consequences of elevated lead levels in the human body.

Dr. Marsha Gerdes, a senior psychologist in the Policy Lab, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that additional funding will be necessary to clean up both water sources and homes. She also said that prevention needs to be the primary form of intervention.

“An important opportunity to clean up lead poisoning occurs at prenatal visits and at the time of birth,” Gerdes stated. “Asking mothers about where they are living and linking them with services that can reduce lead in their home is a way to reduce exposure from the beginning of life.”

Dr. Carolyn Johnson, who serves as Philadelphia’s interim deputy health commissioner, urged legislators and health agencies to place greater emphasis on preventing lead exposure.

“We need to do more to provide secondary prevention for the thousands of at-risk kids who don’t have elevated lead levels yet,” she said.

Boscola said, “This is a very critical and timely issue – and I commend Senator Hughes for insisting that we have this discussion right now — and right here in Philadelphia.”

Hughes and Boscola were joined at the hearing by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Phila/Delaware) and Sharif Street, the unopposed candidate to fill retiring Sen. Shirley Kitchen’s (D-Phila.) senate seat, also attended the hearing.

The following also participated in the roundtable discussion:

  • Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, Medical Director, Poison Control Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Marsha Gerdes, Senior Psychologist, Policy Lab, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Dr. Caroline Johnson, Interim Deputy Health Commissioner, Philadelphia Department of Public Health
  • Collen McCauley, Health Policy Director, Public Citizens Children & Youth
  • Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science & Occupational Safety & Health, PA Federation of Teachers – Health & Welfare Fund& Union
  • Roy Christ, Director of Building and Housing, City of Harrisburg
  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney, Education Law Center
  • Daniel DeLellis, Office of Medical Asst. Programs, PA Department of Human Services
  • Michelle Figlar, Deputy Secretary, Office of Child Development & Early Learning, PA Department of Human Services

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Senate Democrats Outline Legislation to Combat Opioid and Heroin Crisis

Harrisburg, May 18, 2016 – With drug overdose deaths reaching epidemic levels, Senate Democrats unveiled legislation today to address the opioid addiction crisis from prevention through recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and there is no easy solution to fix the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said. “When addiction finds its way into a family, it can nearly paralyze them for fear of what the future may hold.”

 

Recognizing the need to provide support at all levels, the Senate Democrats’ legislation focuses on providing new opportunities for education and treatment as well as expanded support options in the community for addicts, professionals and families.

“We cannot address this problem in a vacuum and must work to provide the necessary services and support to everyone involved,” Costa said. “Families are being affected and communities torn apart as a result of opioid abuses and heroin addiction.”

Opioids are a class of drug that include heroin as well as the prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. According to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14 fold between 1979 and 2014.

“We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis said. “It will continue to take a collaborative effort among many partners to effectively address this crisis.”

The package of legislation includes:

Emergency Addiction Treatment Program – Charging the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs with establishing a comprehensive program that includes new addiction treatment facilities for those drug users that are currently going without care; new intake methods to provide information to those with addiction problems or their family and friends; advice and assistance in accessing treatment; and data collection to help identify patterns of addiction.

School Aged Children Opioid Awareness Education Program – Requiring the Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, and Education to work cooperatively to design an opioid awareness education programs to be delivered in schools.

Addiction Treatment Professional Loan Forgiveness Program – Require the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to develop an addiction treatment professional loan forgiveness program.

Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Assessment – Impose a 10 percent assessment on the first sale of an opioid into the state. Revenues from the assessment will be used to support the purchase of naloxone for local law enforcement and emergency management personnel in addition to supporting addiction prevention and treatment programs.

Responding to the Senate Democratic proposals to the drug and alcohol problem, Deb Beck from the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania said that the drug and alcohol problem “has reached epidemic levels in the state and these proposals will be life saving in impact.”

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Senator Hughes Responds to the Auditor General’s Audit of the Philadelphia School System

HARRISBURG, May 11, 2016 − Senator Vincent Hughes released the following statement on the Auditor General’s audit of the School District of Philadelphia:

“I commend the auditor general and his team for their thorough review of the School District of Philadelphia’s finances. With the auditor general reporting that the Philadelphia school district has a structural deficit of $500 million, it’s clear the state’s broken charter school funding law is causing major damage to the Philadelphia School District and most likely to any public school districts across Pennsylvania which have a significant number of charter schools. The real question is how many more reports do we need to make the obvious conclusion?

“What’s also clear from this report is that this significant public institution cannot be operated halfway. It’s no surprise that the district had trouble tracking attendance after school secretaries were laid off. The same is true of keeping track of library books after massive layoffs of school librarians, with just 11 for 240 schools. We see this pattern repeated again and again.

“We can no longer accept an approach that running our schools with a financial and academic deficit is sufficient. Enough is enough. As long as our schools are underfunded, operate with a financing law that bleeds limited resources, and tolerates broken facilities as safe places for the education of our children, we are violating their rights and dropping the ball on our responsibilities.”

The children in low income school districts, like Philadelphia, are just as important as all of the other children in Pennsylvania. We should treat them as such and provide for them the education they deserve.”

Senator Vincent Hughes represents the 7th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. He is also the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Democratic Senators, Community Leaders Call for State Tax Reform

HARRISBURG, May 11, 2016 – At a news conference held at the state capitol today, State Senator Art Haywood joined Senate Democratic colleagues and community leaders calling for tax reform to protect middle and low-income Pennsylvanians. At the event, Haywood introduced legislation – Senate Bills 1257 and 1258 – that would reduce the tax burden for everyday Pennsylvanians.

“At a time when our state and nation seem rigged against working people, when our minimum wage remains outrageously low, when schools and social services have been drained of funds – it is a crime that our commonwealth’s tax system is also stacked against everyday citizens,” Senator Haywood said. The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy placed Pennsylvania on the “Terrible Ten” list of states for unfair taxation in 2015. The researchers found that low-income Pennsylvanians pay three times the tax share of the wealthy in Pennsylvania, while middle-income earners pay twice as much as the well-off.

 

Senator Haywood introduced a two-part legislative package at the press conference, noting that he was open to additional suggestions for inclusion in the reform effort. First, SB 1257 would amend Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for graduated taxation of income. The amendment would make it possible for Pennsylvania to tax middle income families at a lower rate than those who are high-income. All of the states surrounding Pennsylvania have graduated taxation according to data from the Tax Foundation.

Second, SB 1258 would impose a 4% tax on non-wage, non-interest income classes that are concentrated among the most affluent. The tax would apply to net profits; dividends; net income derived from rents, royalties, patents and copyrights; gambling and lottery winnings; and net gains derived through estates and trusts. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, this legislation could add up to about $1.2 billion in revenue by the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“While Pennsylvania is struggling to manage a more than $1 billion deficit, we cannot afford to continue requiring low and middle income families to pay double or even three times as much as the wealthy,” Haywood said. “What we need is a balanced tax system.”

SB 1258 complies with the Pennsylvania Constitution’s uniformity clause. In Aldine Apartments, Inc. v Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the uniformity clause requires all taxes to be uniform “upon the same class of subjects” so long as a reasonable, non-arbitrary distinction exists relative to classification. Additionally, the bill’s impact on small businesses would be limited. Under current Pennsylvania law and regulations, if owners of small businesses classified as “S” corporations are employees of the corporations, their income could be classified as “compensation,” and would not fall within the classes of income impacted by SB 1258.

Joining Haywood in support of the legislative reform package were Senate Democratic leadership Jay Costa and Vincent Hughes. Senator Larry Farnese also voiced his support in a statement. “By ‘fair tax reform’ we mean taking the pressure off the people who can least afford to pay for the corporate welfare handouts that have increased under Republican leadership,” Senator Farnese said. “Fair is fair. The people and businesses at the top must stop depending on the people at the bottom to keep them afloat.”

Community leaders representing Pennsylvania’s Choice, a newly-formed non-partisan coalition for a balanced state budget, advocated for the legislation. Marc Stier of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and Susan Spicka of Education Voters PA, both member organizations of Pennsylvania’s Choice, said the bills could bring important changes to the commonwealth: “Pennsylvania’s uniformity clause has made it difficult to adequately fund services like education while protecting everyday people from high taxes. By amending our state’s constitution, we can ensure middle-class and working people are not unfairly burdened with high taxes,” said Stier. “At the same time, implementing a tax on classes of income concentrated among the wealthy would create a more balanced tax system for all of us without any constitutional changes.”

As 2016-17 state budget conversations focus on addressing the structural deficit facing the commonwealth, dozens of community organizations across the state have joined Pennsylvania’s Choice to advocate for sustainable new sources of revenue as an alternative to continued cutbacks. Senator Haywood has supported Pennsylvania’s Choice, and says his legislation would soften the impact of tax increases on middle and low-income families.

“My hope is that this reform package opens up a responsible revenue discussion in Pennsylvania that looks at the real impact of our budget on everyday people,” Haywood said. “We must lay the groundwork to pay for schools, troopers, nursing home care and other state government services by protecting both the middle-class and those living paycheck-to-paycheck from shouldering the heaviest tax burden in our state.”

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Contact: Melissa Ostroff

Phone: 717-787-1427

mostroff@pasenate.com

Sen. Hughes to Propose Council on Jazz to Promote, Preserve Jazz in PA

PHILADELPHIA, April 28, 2016 – After meeting with jazz educators, musicians and experts today at the iconic Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts about steps to take to better promote and preserve jazz’s legacy in the commonwealth, Sen. Vince Hughes said he will work to establish the Council on Jazz.

The vehicle for making the council a reality: Senate Bill 1234.

“We have great organizations throughout Pennsylvania that work to promote jazz, like the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts has done for 50 years,” Hughes said today following his meeting with the music genre’s experts and caretakers. “But their efforts would flourish and more people would learn about jazz in Pennsylvania if a state organization helped to direct each effort.

“Whether big band, contemporary or ragtime; Dixieland or cool, Pennsylvania has played a key role in the history of jazz.”

Under SB 1234, the five-member Council on Jazz would mirror the PA Council on the Arts. Council members would be appointed by the governor and the General Assembly.

It would be responsible for promoting, marketing, encouraging, educating, protecting and preserving jazz in the commonwealth.  The council would award grants that fulfill the responsibilities of the council, and it would get administrative support from the Council on the Arts.

Sen. Hughes said it is important to introduce his new bill now because April is Jazz Appreciation Month, or JAM.

“Jazz is cool. Doing what we can to ensure its legacy is even cooler, cats,” Hughes, a jazz aficionado, said. “Let’s put Senate Bill 1234 ‘in the mix’ and get this done.”

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Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Contact: Mark Shade

Phone:  717-787-9220

mshade@pasenate.com

To Promote Jazz in PA, Sen. Hughes to Meet with Music Genre’s Experts

PHILADELPHIA, April 27, 2016 – State Sen. Vincent Hughes will meet with jazz educators, musicians and experts tomorrow, April 28, in Philadelphia to talk about crafting a plan to promote, preserve and teach people about the music genre.

Hughes will then talk to reporters about the ideas of the group at 2 p.m.

“Whether big band, contemporary or ragtime; Dixieland or cool, Pennsylvania has played a key role in the history of jazz,” Sen. Hughes said. “I want to make sure people learn about jazz’s history in the commonwealth and take steps to support, preserve, and grow it.”

The meeting before the discussion with reporters is by invitation, only.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, or JAM.

Media coverage of the 2 p.m. news conference is invited.

WHAT: Sen. Vince Hughes to talk to reporters about jazz in Pennsylvania

WHEN: 2 p.m., Thursday, April 28

WHERE: The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, 738 S. Broad St. Philadelphia

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Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Sen. Hughes Welcomes AG’s Audit of Philly School District; Promises Legislation to Reform Cyber Charters, Give School Boards Greater Oversight

 

HARRISBURG, April 12, 2016 – Saying the state auditor general’s new investigation of charter schools in the School District of Philadelphia underscores his belief that Pennsylvania’s charter school financing system is “broken,” Sen. Vincent Hughes today promised legislation that would restore local control to school boards.

“Since 1997, billions in taxpayer dollars have been siphoned away from public schools to charter and cyber charter schools due to the charter school law’s inequitable funding provisions,” Hughes, the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee chairman, said following Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s press conference. “It’s time to fix the funding formulas before billions more are lost.”

Under Sen. Hughes legislation, changes to the state’s charter school law would be made to allow a local school board to consider financial impact as part of the charter school authorization process, allow a local school board to set student enrollment targets at any time during a charter school’s existence, and limit the state charter appeal board’s role solely to affirming the local school board’s decision related to a charter authorization or renewal.

The biggest problem in the charter school financing law, Sen. Hughes said, is how cyber charters are funded.

“One of the state’s largest cyber charter schools receives tuition payments from 478 different school districts,” Hughes said. “The amount of those payments varies widely – from $6,628 and $17,182 per student – but not one of those payments is related to what the cyber charter actually spends.

“The average, per-student expenditure for the state’s cyber charters is $10,145 per student. When the cyber charter provider receives more than necessary to educate the student, the provider pockets these taxpayer dollars.”

Once overdue changes are adopted, Hughes said school districts could save $100 million, and cyber charters would be forced to do a better job educating their students.

According to the PA Department of Education’s most recent School Performance Profile, the average score – out of 100 – for the state’s 13 cyber charters is 48. Not one has earned an SPP score above a passing grade of 70.

Another change that would benefit school districts and ensure the proper education of students is in the area of special education.

“Charter schools receive about $19,000 per special education student,” Hughes said. “But they only spend about $10,000 of that on services for those students.”

Once changed, Sen. Hughes said school districts could annually save $180 million.

To read a copy of Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s audit of the School District of Philadelphia’s charter schools, click here.

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Follow Sen. Vincent Hughes via Twitter, Facebook or his website.

Contact: Mark Shade

Phone: 717-787-9220

mshade@pasenate.com

District Office

4950 Parkside Avenue
Suite 300
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Phone: 215.879.7777
Fax: 215.879.7778

Conshohocken

400 Fayette Street
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Satellite Office Hours:
Wednesday • Noon – 4 p.m.

Harrisburg Office

545 Capitol Building
Senate Box 203007
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3007
Phone: 717.787.7112
Fax: 717.772.0579

Whitemarsh

616 Germantown Pike
Lafayette Hill, PA 19444
Satellite Office Hours:
Thursday • Noon – 4 p.m.

Upper Dublin

801 Loch Alsh Avenue
Fort Washington, PA 19034
Satellite Office Hours:
Friday • Noon – 4 p.m.

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