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911 Funding, Mental Health Headline Pa Counties’ Legislative Priorities in 2024

News Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2024

CCAP Press Conference
The 2024 priorities were selected by CCAP members as the issues with the greatest significance and most potential for positive impact to counties in the coming year.
County leaders across Pennsylvania unveiled eight key legislative priorities Wednesday morning at the State Capitol, led by a call to increase 911 funding in the state.

See full press conference here. 

“At a surcharge of just $1.95, counties, and ultimately county taxpayers, are still shouldering 25-30% of the cost of the 911 system.” said CCAP President and Berks County commissioner Michael Rivera. “With just two years until the next reauthorization, Pennsylvania counties urge the General Assembly and the Governor to begin having real conversations about proper 911 funding immediately, so this life-saving service does not become a perpetual backburner issue."

The 2024 priorities were selected by CCAP members as the issues with the greatest significance and most potential for positive impact to counties in the coming year.

“By announcing these priorities at the state Capitol, we are signaling the need for a strong partnership with the Shapiro administration and with the General Assembly to advance these issues and achieve real, meaningful reforms,” Rivera said.

In addition to 911 funding and reauthorization, counties have also prioritized:
•    County Mental Health Base Funding Increase 
•    Addressing Inmates with Mental Health Issues  
•    Increasing the Prevailing Wage Threshold 
•    Right-to-Know Law Reforms
•    Vote-by-Mail Reforms 
•    Broadband Access and Development 
•    Juvenile Detention Capacity Crisis 

On County Mental Health Base Funding Increase 
Counties are asking for substantial investment of state dollars to rebuild and strengthen community crisis services, residential mental health programs, and other locally provided care that will stabilize mental health services and assist hospitals with capacity concerns. Sustainable, annual investments in the state’s mental health community-based system will help counties maintain and rebuild the existing safety net of services.

“Capacity within the available services falls far short of community needs.  For instance, community members frequently report wait times of at least 6 months, and often times, much longer,” said Northampton County Councilmember Lori Vargo Heffner.  “These services must be properly funded to ensure that residents are able to access the care that they need.”

On Addressing Inmates with Mental Health Issues  
Unmet community behavioral health needs continue to drive the population of county jails. Both the number of individuals with mental health needs and the severity of those needs have consistently increased year by year. County jails struggle to locate and retain qualified mental health professionals sufficient to meet these increasing needs. Counties must be able to work closely with all branches of government to build community behavioral health and crisis capacity.

“All too often, individuals battling behavioral challenges are committed to jails that are not equipped to address the needs of people who need mental health treatment,” said Vargo Heffner. “This repeatedly results in poor outcomes for those individuals and for their communities.”

On Juvenile Detention Capacity Crisis 
Pennsylvania counties are working to ensure that justice-involved youth receive timely community-based services when appropriate and are cared for and protected in detention settings when necessary for their own safety and that of the community. Removing barriers that inhibit adequate staffing of detention facilities can help move that process along. 

“Counties have been forced to resort to extraordinary measures, such as contracting secure detention beds and sending youth out of state,” said Clinton County commissioner Jeff Snyder. “It's becoming a highly-troubling trend that youth charged with violent crimes are being placed in inappropriate settings, including nonsecure shelters where additional crimes may be committed in the community.”

On Vote-by-Mail Reform
Counties are calling for increased precanvassing time and adjustments to the mail-in ballot applications deadlines.

In addition, counties are asking for a resolution to the ambiguities in the Election Code, including provisions related to drop boxes, ballot curing and undated or misdated ballots.  

“Specifically, two areas counties are focused on is pre-canvassing and addressing unrealistic mail-in ballot application deadlines. These remain two of the most important changes that would significantly improve the election experience for both counties and voters, without sacrificing ballot security or access to voting,” said Union County commissioner Jeff Reber. “While counties are fully confident in their ability to administer run fair, secure, and accurate elections, we need the state’s support to become as efficient as possible.”

On Broadband Access and Development
Counties support prioritizing efforts to connect rural and hard-to-reach areas while aligning focus to digital equity, literacy, and access initiatives. Every Pennsylvanian should have the ability to access the internet adequately, safely and affordably, regardless of income, geography, or individual circumstance.

“Today, Pennsylvanians can perform their job, further their education, grocery shop and complete just about any other important task with the click of a button. Unless, of course, they happen to live in an area with limited or no broadband internet access,” said Clearfield County commissioner Dave Glass. “For too long, access to broadband for Pennsylvania residents has depended on where they live. In 2024, that simply cannot happen.”

On Right-to-Know Law Reform
Under the current RTKL, counties are required to spend staff time and resources to comply with requests for records from commercial entities and individuals seeking copious amounts of records with the intent to burden and bog down the records request process. Counties support addressing loopholes in the current request process without hindering transparency.

“Counties believe that government has a responsibility for maintaining records of its actions, and records of the broad range of public transaction,” Butler County commissioner Kim Geyer said. “However, there is a balance that must be maintained among access, privacy, and security concerns. The unrelenting number of Right-to-Know requests continues to increase workloads for county governments, who must deal with both repeat requesters and requests for voluminous amounts of information.”

On Increasing the Prevailing Wage Threshold
Counties favor increasing the prevailing wage threshold to meet the changes in inflation since the 1960s and to apply an index that will ensure the threshold keeps pace with inflation going forward.

“By achieving this, counties increase their flexibility to spread limited financial resources across more projects and dedicate more resources to critical county-provided services, thereby reducing the burden on taxpayers and government budgets at all levels in Pennsylvania,” said  Geyer.