Legislative Bulletin

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Number 17
August 16, 2019

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

COUNTIES TESTIFY ON RURAL BROADBAND PRIORITY   

Indiana County commissioner Rod Ruddock testified on the need to expand broadband capacity, a top county priority, during a Senate Communications and Technology Committee hearing on August 7.

With the hearing focused largely on the logistics and strategy for improving broadband service in the commonwealth, Ruddock was able to share the innovative ways counties have been trying to develop their own local solutions to provide internet connectivity and better bandwidth capacity for their residents, especially in rural areas. However, he also noted that despite counties' best efforts, they struggle to see success due to a lack of funding, installation obstacles and stalled partnerships from industry.

Ruddock also suggested a more holistic look is needed at the work in which different stakeholders are engaged so best practices can be developed. He further advocated for a partnership between the state and counties and emphasized the need for collaboration among all stakeholders for resources and input. Ruddock's full comments can be found by clicking Legislative Testimony on CCAP's
Legislative Action Center.

Other testifiers at the hearing also provided perspectives from the local government and industry points of view. The hearing was the first in a larger series on improving access to high-speed broadband internet across the commonwealth, with upcoming hearings to be held throughout September in the northeast and southwest parts of the state, as well as the state Capitol.

Counties have identified rural broadband expansion as a county priority for 2019, recognizing that broadband is the backbone of business, and a critical tool for education, health care and emergency services, among others.

DEPT. OF HEALTH GIVES OPIOID UPDATE AT CCAP ANNUAL

Pennsylvania has made progress in fighting the opioid epidemic, but much work remains to be done, a state Department of Health (DOH) official recently told county delegates at the CCAP Annual Conference.

Ray Barishansky, Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection, offered an update on the state's efforts during the Conference closing general session, noting that Gov. Wolf renewed his opioid disaster declaration, originally issued in January 2018, for a sixth time in June 2019. The declaration allows certain statutory and regulatory waivers to be enacted, and created the Opioid Command Center, a multi-agency coordination group staffed by personnel from 17 state agencies and spearheaded by the departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs.

In addition, Barishansky shared that the state has been able to provide more than 37,000 naloxone kits to first responder agencies throughout the state, and as of July 1 the standing order signed by DOH Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has also allowed EMS to leave behind nearly 1,110 doses of naloxone. Birth certificate fees have been waived for almost 2,400 individuals with opioid use disorder who need the certificates to seek treatment, while a new online resource, the Drug and Alcohol Referral Tool, has been used by more than 1,400 individuals seeking treatment for themselves or another person. The Department of Corrections has also seen success with its Vivitrol program and with the implementation of body scanners at state facilities.

The combined effort of state, federal and local partners led to an 18% decline in overdose deaths from 2017 to 2018, although the presence of fentanyl and carfentanil are playing an increasing role in overdose deaths, causing additional concerns in fighting this battle. Barishansky said the state will be continuing its efforts, including announcing a new hotline through the Department of Human Services to support grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, as well as grants to substance use disorder health care providers to pay for training and education.

HHS AWARDS $400 MILLION FOR OPIOID CRISIS       

On Aug. 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded nearly $400 million to combat the nation's opioid crisis. Of that, HRSA provided $200 million to community health centers to increase access to high quality, integrated behavioral health services, with 36 centers in Pennsylvania receiving more than $6 million. Another $111 million was granted to rural organizations across 37 states as part of the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program initiative to strengthen capacity for prevention, treatment and recovery services, including $5.7 million to Pennsylvania. Four commonwealth higher education institutions also received nearly $5.3 million of the $70 million awarded to Opioid Workforce Expansion Programs, which will support training across the behavioral health provider spectrum.

These investments back into community services support HHS's Five-Point Opioid Strategy, introduced in 2017, to address better services, better data, better pain management, better targeting of overdose reversal drugs and better research. More information about the initiative can be found at
www.hhs.gov/opioids.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AWARDS GRANTS TO MODERNIZE 911

The U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced more than $109 million in grants to 34 states and two tribal nations as part of the 911 Grant Program, which will help 911 call centers upgrade to Next Generation 911 capabilities. Grants were available to states that successfully submitted a state 911 plan and project budget, designated a 911 coordinator, and certified that they did not use funds designated for 911 systems for other purposes in the past 180 days. As part of the award, Pennsylvania is set receive $4.88 million to power basic improvements such as providing digital and IP network capabilities to 911 emergency call centers and assist implementation of advanced mapping systems that will make it easier to identify a caller's location. For further information on the 911 Grant Program, visit 911.gov and NTIA's NG911 website.

LOCAL WATERWAYS APPRECIATION WEEK

Gov. Wolf has proclaimed Aug. 24-31 as Local Waterways Appreciation week on Pennsylvania, recognizing the efforts the commonwealth has taken to protect and preserve its 85,000 miles of streams and rivers. The week is also an opportunity to educate residents about the ways in which they can assist in improving water quality. Counties have a vital role in managing storm water runoff, planning for flood mitigation and working with farmers on nutrient management efforts through their planning offices and conservation districts.

More information about Local Waterways Appreciation Week, including social media resources, can be found at
www.dep.pa.gov under Residents, then My Water.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY CREATES WORK GROUP ON SCHOOL PROPERTY TAX REFORM

Media reports indicated that a bicameral, bipartisan group of legislators will once again attempt to find a path forward on school property tax reform, with legislative leaders appointing members from each caucus to work together toward a plan of full elimination. Senate members include Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), former CCAP member Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Sen. John Yudichak (D-Carbon). In the House, Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne), Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny), Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) and Rep. Perry Warren (D-Bucks) were also named; members from the House Republican caucus were not immediately available.

Counties have advocated for local taxing options like local earned income, personal income or sales taxes to offset
their reliance on the property tax, which is their exclusive local source of general fund revenue. In order for Pennsylvania to consider real, comprehensive property tax reform, the commonwealth must look at the entire local tax system, which means counties must be at the table as part of these discussions as well.

NACO/CCAP COMMITTEE NOMINATIONS OPEN

CCAP members who want a voice in shaping NACo and CCAP policy are encouraged to submit their name to be considered for appointment to a policy committee. The committees, which cover a broad range of issues related to county government, give members an opportunity to offer input on policy matters at the state and federal levels. For more information and to complete the form for a CCAP committee, go to www.pacounties.org and select Boards and Committees under the About Us tab, then click "Committee Interest." To be considered for a NACo steering committee, visit www.naco.org and select Policies and Committees under the Advocacy tab, then "Get Involved."

AUGUST PRIORITIES STATUS REPORT AVAILABLE

Counties selected six priorities for 2019, including election equipment and voting systems, forensic services for seriously mentally ill county inmates, human services funding and system reform, rural broadband expansion, assessment reform and preventing substance abuse and drug overdose. An update on counties' progress on these priorities has been posted at www.pacounties.org, by selecting Priorities under the Government Relations tab.

VOTING MATTERS

On Aug. 13, each CCAP voting member was emailed an electronic ballot containing the proposed policy resolutions for 2019 that were reviewed by the delegates at the Aug. 6 business meeting of the CCAP Annual Conference. The member vote taken by electronic ballot will constitute final action on each resolution. Under the CCAP bylaws, the electronic ballot remains open for 10 days, and so will close at 9 a.m. on Aug. 23. Questions can be directed to PACountiesGR@pacounties.org.