Legislative Bulletin

See All Issues from September 2018 forward​​​​​​​.

 

 
Number 16
July 31, 2020

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

2020 SUMMER GRASSROOTS TOOLKIT FOR COUNTIES RELEASED    

While it is no question that pandemic-related response has dominated legislative and policy conversations, it is critical to ensure the dialogue is focused on longer-term impacts, including the FY 2020-2021 budget and critical election reforms ahead of the November general election. As what is anticipated to be a summer legislative recess begins, it is a perfect time to continue advocacy conversations and stress the importance of focusing on those issues that matter most not only to counties, but also to Pennsylvania residents.

To help get the conversation started, CCAP has developed the
2020 Summer Grassroots Toolkit, which includes information and talking points on the FY 2020-2021 budget, 2020 county priorities as well as critical election reforms for the November general election. The toolkit also includes a one-stop guide for additional advocacy materials and information, as well as a customizable editorial stressing the important role of counties.

The toolkit and other helpful advocacy resources can be found on the Legislative Action Center page under the Government Relations tab at
www.pacounties.org.      

U.S. SENATE HEALS ACT INTRODUCED  

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a $1 trillion proposal, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protections and School (HEALS) Act, to kick off the next steps of federal coronavirus relief negotiations.

Despite the urgent needs for counties to receive additional financial assistance, the HEALS Act would not provide new funding to state and local governments beyond what was already provided in the CARES Act's $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund. It would, however, provide some additional flexibility, allowing CARES Act dollars to be spent past the original Dec. 30, 2020, deadline and including lost revenue as an allowable use, capping use toward revenue shortfall at 25%.

There are some important public health resources included in the proposal: $16 billion for testing, $25 billion more for the hospital/provider fund, and $15 billion for child care. The bill would also provide some funding for the 2020 Census and workforce training that counties could access within the overall $302 billion supplemental appropriation requested under the plan.

In May, the U.S. House approved Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, introduced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The HEROES Act contains $3 trillion in relief, including $187.5 
billion in direct relief to counties of all sizes, which would address both lost revenue and increased expenditures as a result of COVID-19. Negotiations continue to try to strike a compromise between the two chambers, with Congress's summer recess looming on Aug. 7.

Counties are advocating for additional flexible, direct federal aid to address the enormous economic and public health challenge that COVID-19 has presented.  More on the county impact of federal legislation can be found on the NACo website, www.naco.org

SENATE STATE GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE HOLDS ELECTIONS HEARING 

On July 23, the Senate State Government Committee held a hearing regarding elections reforms. Committee chair Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) set a main objective of determining what changes may need to be considered in advance of the November general election, based on Pennsylvania's experience in the June primary, including pre-canvassing and mail-in ballot chain of custody.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar testified that the Department of State's (DOS) top priority is to extend the pre-canvassing period, still subject to the rules of regular canvassing, which would allow more time for the manual labor process of preparing mail-in ballots for tabulation. Second, DOS is interested in allowing more flexibility in appointing poll workers. When questioned about the security of mail-in ballots, Boockvar and Deputy Secretary for elections and commissions Jonathan Marks emphasized that secure absentee voting has been in place for decades and that the same process has been duplicated for mail-in ballots, including eligibility checks during the application process.

The hearing also included the perspectives of several county commissioners and election directors who discussed what changes they believe are important to make prior to the general election. Suggestions included extending Act 12 emergency provisions regarding polling places and poll workers to November in light of the continuing public health emergency and the need for clarifying language on acceptable and timely return of mail-in ballots.

CCAP submitted written
testimony primarily calling for extending the pre-canvassing period up to three weeks prior to the election, adjusting the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot to 14 or 15 days before an election, clarification on if and how drop boxes may be used and how to handle ballots that have marks on the secrecy envelope or are lacking one altogether. CCAP emphasized that counties will need prompt and clear action by the legislature in consultation with counties in order to be able to effectively implement any changes in the diminishing timeframe available.

MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS HEARD BY HOUSE HEALTH COMMITTEE 

On July 28, the House Human Services committee held an informational meeting on mental health care during COVID-19. Testifiers included OMHSAS deputy secretary Kristen Houser, Berks County mental health and developmental disabilities administrator Dr. Edward Michalik and Beaver County Behavioral Health administrator Gerard Mike, as well as several other medical professionals. While comments among testifiers varied, all remarked on the potential lasting impacts of COVID-19 on families and communities regarding mental health and personal wellness. Michalik noted that counties will be tasked with helping vulnerable residents put their lives back together. With devastation hitting families not eligible for Medicaid, county programs do not have the resources to properly assist the influx of people seeking services. Mike echoed the comments, praising the work of county programs in their pandemic response, including addressing social determinants of health.

Questions from legislators were primarily aimed at the mental health of youth, especially as they adapt to a new personal, social and learning environment. Other questions included those trying to understand the longer lasting impacts and needs of Pennsylvanians. While data is still being collected as communities adjust to the pandemic lifestyle, there were not specific answers, it is clear the pandemic will have lasting impacts on individuals and communities that the commonwealth will need to prepare to address.

Even before COVID-19, counties recognized the importance of increased funding for mental health services and designated it as a 2020 county legislative priority. With services needed now more than ever, adequate funding for counties to provide these services is critical. Read more on the increased funding for mental health priority at
www.pacounties.org.

NEW LAW FOCUSES ON MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS OF EMS WORKERS
Gov. Wolf recently signed HB 1459, introduced by Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), into law as Act 69 of 2020, which creates statewide mental health resources for emergency responders, including county 911 dispatchers. Specifically, Act 69 calls for statewide mental wellness and stress management guidelines, peer-to-peer support and a toll-free helpline for emergency responders. This approach invests in a comprehensive approach to address the mental health needs of our emergency responders, including prevention and intervention services that can assist individuals in dealing with the pressures of working in the emergency response field before they become overwhelming. This effort is consistent with the recommendations in the SR 6 report, as well as CCAP's EMS Task Force.

WOLF ADMINISTRATION UNVEILS 'TRAUMA INFORMED PA' PLAN

On July 27, the state Office of Advocacy and Reform (OAR) released its Trauma-Informed PA plan, an initiative that compliments Gov. Wolf's anti-stigma effort, Reach Out PA, that is focused on mental health.

The Trauma-Informed PA plan seeks to guide the commonwealth and its service providers on what it means to be trauma-informed and healing-centered. It puts forward 43 recommendations under six key topical areas to heal and prevent trauma through such steps as universal training, building and supporting community-based efforts and ensuring that all state agencies' policies and practices are trauma-informed. One key area focuses on recognizing and healing trauma caused by a major crisis, such as COVID-19, while another seeks to prevent and heal from racial, communal and historical traumas.

This work was accomplished through the collaboration of 25 experts chosen to participate from a diverse spectrum of specialty fields of work as well as urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the commonwealth, including several county representatives. The full report is available at the OAR's
website.

NACO RELEASES MODEL TO AID COUNTY COVID-19 MITIGATION EFFORTS

The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently released a customizable model that counties can use in decision-making related to the COVID-19 impact on their communities.

The COVID Response Simulator is a localized, customizable version of the public COVID Act Now (CAN) model, which utilizes case data to predict the spread of diseases and can 
be modified to reflect local situations. Additionally, the model can project the impact of specific Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) for a county, including closing schools, restricting business activities and limitations on large gatherings and events. With specific local information, the model can generate data and graphs to illustrate forecasts with and without NPIs, including estimated case numbers as well as hospitalizations.

More information and access to the model can be found on the NACo website,
www.naco.org.

VOTING MATTERS

In early August, each CCAP member will be emailed a voting matters packet with items to be considered at the Tuesday business meeting of the upcoming CCAP Virtual Annual Conference. The agenda packet will include proposed policy resolutions, along with information on officer elections and site selection for the 2025 Annual Conference. The resolutions will be deliberated during the business meeting on Aug. 18, and then submitted by electronic ballot to the full CCAP membership within 10 days of the conclusion of the business meeting for final adoption.