Firefighter Cancer Presumption Legislation Heads to Governor


The state Senate has given approval to the Firefighter Cancer Presumption legislation and it’s heading to the Governor for his signature.

House bill 797 won unanimous approval from the state Senate on Monday.  It would cover firefighters who contract cancer on the job under the state’s Workers Compensation Act. 

State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia), chair of the Labor and Industry Committee, says the House sponsor, Representative Frank Farry, is a firefighter.

Senator Gordner says a lot of work went into the bill and they have municipal groups on board.  But he says most importantly, they’re doing this for the firefighters. He says they never know what type of facility or dwelling or business that they might go in to, and they do not know what harmful chemicals may be in there when they go to fight a fire.

Similar legislation passed in the last session but was vetoed by Governor Rendell. Some small changes have been made this time. Senator Gordner says Governor Corbett enthusiastically supports the legislation.  

Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Senate Minority Chair, commended the work of Senators Gordner and Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), saying it’s another example of two committee chairs working very cooperatively together to address significant issues that impact the lives of working men and women in this Commonwealth.

Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill), who introduced the senate version of the bill, supported the house version, calling it an example of cooperation on a lot of fronts, bipartisan and bicameral.


Capitol View from East Wing

House Members Introduce Their Own School Choice Measures

With no action expected on Senate Bill 1 this summer, some state House members are introducing their own school voucher legislation.   Representative Curt Schroder (R-Chester) has introduced two measures as alternatives to the Senate bill.

HB 1679, the “Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act”, will offer $5,000 opportunity scholarships to all students.  Representative Schroder calls it true school choice. It would include a public-to-public school option and would also expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, offering that credit to home school families.

HB 1678, called the “Failing Schools Student Rescue Act”, would offer a $5,000 voucher to all students who attend or live within the attendance boundary of a persistently low achieving school. Representative Schroder says where Senate Bill 1 established income limits for voucher eligibility in its failing schools option; all students would be eligible under his bill.

Representative Schroder says if a school is failing to educate students, all students are endangered regardless of family income and must be given the opportunity to get out of the “failure factories that some of our schools have become.”

Don Adams of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association has concerns about Senate Bill 1.  He says the concepts behind it are so complicated, that the bill is difficult to promote.   Sharon Cherubin of UNITEPA and the Grassroots Coalition for Real School Choice also favors Representative Schroder’s bills, saying the legislation would empower all parents.

Representative Schroder says they’d anticipate passing only one of those bills.  He says they were offered as  alternatives to Senate Bill 1.

Meanwhile, another house Republican, Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), has introduced a bill that would limit vouchers to low income families in under-performing districts while expanding the EITC for middle income families.

HB 1708 is called the “Students and Schools Rescue Act”.  The bill also has some bipartisan support. Representative Tony Payton Jr. (D-Phila) is a cosponsor. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny) has also signed on to the bill, which would incorporate the language expanding the EITC program as passed earlier in HB 1330.

PA School Districts

Bill Aimed at Preventing Teacher Strikes Would Not Include an Outright Ban

One package of bills has been introduced to ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania.  But   there’s another plan that would not go that far.  The “Back to Educating Our Kids” act would require negotiations between teachers and school districts to start earlier, dividing the process into negotiation, fact finding, mediation and arbitration. 

 If talks move to arbitration under the proposal, a decision would come well before the start of a school year and both sides would have ten days to accept the decision or reach an agreement. If there’s no final deal, Representative Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) says there would be penalties. Teachers could lose the right to strike and school districts could have state funding put in escrow until a deal is reached.

The measure, HB 1660, would also prohibit strikes and lockouts from the beginning of the negotiation process through the 10 day post-arbitration decision period.

Santarsiero, a former teacher, says  the act is designed to provide incentives for both sides to settle teacher contract disputes.  He says the problem with simply outlawing teacher strikes, is that it does not resolve what can be a festering contract dispute.

Representative Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks) was a special education teacher in a district where he was once locked out in a contract dispute.  He supports the bill, saying he thinks it’s fair and puts responsibility on both sides of the aisle.

Representative Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery) is a former teacher and a former school board member.  Having seen the situation from both sides, he told Representative Santarsiero the bill is a step in the right direction. Murt said prolonged collective bargaining negotiations and strikes can cripple a child’s educational progress.  He says the act would address the situation by requiring teachers and school districts to begin negotiating sooner.

Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Ban Teacher Strikes in Pennsylvania

Legislation has been introduced to make Pennsylvania the 38th state to ban teacher’s strikes.   The Strike-Free Education Pact would ban teacher strikes and lockouts in Pennsylvania and sets penalties for illegal work stoppages.  Representative Todd Rock (R-Franklin) says teacher strikes produce no winners. He says the biggest losers are always the children.

Rock says it’s not about punishing or taking rights away from teachers, it’s about restoring to every Pennsylvania child the legal right to a strike-free uninterrupted public education. He has proposed House Bill 1369 to ban strikes at the statutory level.

As part of the package, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) has introduced  House Bill 1640 to amend the state constitution to specifically ban strikes or lockouts of employees of public education. The line addressing strikes would be added to Article 3, Section 14 which now says the General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.

Representative Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), chair of the state house Education Committee, says government agencies play an important role that should not be interrupted by the collective bargaining process.

Representative Dan Truitt (R-Chester) says this is not about punishing teachers. He says he doesn’t blame teachers for taking advantage of the current system. Truitt believes the unions are too willing to use the strike option to gain an unfair advantage.  He believes the legislation is needed to level the playing field between the school districts and the teachers unions for the sake of the students, taxpayers and the teachers.

Representative Daryl Meltcalfe says the General Assembly is responsible for providing for a thorough and efficient system of public education.  He says allowing for teacher strikes as our current law does, creates inefficiency.

Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Remove Ban on Teachers Wearing Religious Garb, Symbols in the Classroom.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states that still ban teachers from wearing any type of religious garb or symbol.   A bipartisan effort is underway to lift that ban. Representative Eugene DePasquale, a York Democrat, says it’s about ending religious discrimination in the public.  He says statutes banning teachers from wearing any religious garb or symbols were implemented in a time of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments at the turn of the last century.

Representative DePasquale says Pennsylvania and Nebraska are the only states that have not repealed their religious garb statutes. He says it is not about having teachers proselytize in the classroom; it’s simply about allowing them to wear an emblem of faith as they teach.  

House bill 1581 would amend Section 1112 of the Public School Code to remove the prohibition on teachers wearing any religious garb, mark, emblem or insignia while in the performance of their duties.

Representative Will Tallman, an Adams County Republican, is cosponsor of the bill.  He says it’s a freedom of expression issue and will not be disruptive to the educational process.

Under the current law, a teacher could be punished for wearing any type of religious garb or symbol in the classroom, even if their faith required it.   A public school director can be held criminally liable for not enforcing the law.

Representative DePasquale says the bill would not block teacher dress codes.  

Sandra Strauss, director of Public Advocacy at Pennsylvania Council of Churches, says it’s far past time to repeal this ban.  She says the council has always supported religious expression in terms of dress.   

The lawmakers discussed the bill Tuesday at a capitol news conference.

Advocates Hope Legislation Can Sound the Alarm on a Silent Killer

Advocates hope legislation can sound the alarm on a silent killer — carbon monoxide (CO). SB920 would require that most homes be equipped with CO alarms at the time of sale. It would also mandate CO alarms in most multifamily homes and apartment units within one year, if it becomes law. CDC statistics show that from 2000 – 2006 about 600 Pennsylvanians died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire & Emergency Services Institute, Don Konkle, adds that CO alarms only cost $20 – 40-bucks. “We think it is a very cheap price to reduce those deaths.”

The prime sponsor Patrick Browne (R-Northampton) recently addressed a Pennsylvania Safe Homes Coalition rally, and shared the story of three people in his district who were hospitalized last month, because they were unaware that a space heater was seeping the deadly gas. Konkle tells us CO is called a ‘silent killer’ because it is colorless, odorless and builds up over time. Specifically, SB920 would apply to homes with fossil fuel-burning heaters or appliances, a fireplace, or an attached garage. It’s been referred to the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.