Campaigns & Elections

Five for Friday: General Assembly edition

We break down some measures approved by Harrisburg lawmakers

The Pennsylvania Capitol building.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. Wikimedia Commons

April showers quickly led to May flowers in Harrisburg, where legislators in both the House and Senate moved several major pieces of legislation during a busy week at the Capitol. Amidst the rallies and press conferences, and debate over what will happen with the state budget, several significant bills made their way out of committee, through both chambers and are on the way to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk. 

With that in mind, City & State has your Five for Friday, breaking down some of the measures approved by lawmakers this week. 

House passes two ‘Momnibus’ bills

The Pennsylvania Black Maternal Health Caucus “Momnibus” bill package is gaining momentum. The omnibus bill package – designed to decrease rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the state – received bipartisan support in the state House this week, with lawmakers passing two bills and sending them to the state Senate for consideration. The bills passed this week include House Bill 1608, a measure that would extend Medicaid coverage to cover doula services, as well as House Bill 2097, which would require Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover medically necessary at-home blood-pressure monitors. The bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. La’Tasha Mayes, said the bill has the potential to save lives. “If we empower more pregnant and postpartum Medicaid enrollees – especially those living at or below the poverty line – to monitor their blood pressure at home during pregnancy, we could significantly reduce complications such as preeclampsia, eclampsia, preterm delivery, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and even death,” Mayes said in a statement. 

Senate GOP pitches major tax cut plan

A GOP-authored tax cut proposal passed the state Senate with support from members of both parties this week. The legislation, Senate Bill 269, would create a tax credit for volunteer emergency medical technicians, while also reducing the state’s personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 2.8%. SB 269, which passed the chamber with a 36-14 vote, would also eliminate a gross receipts tax on electric energy sales. Senate Republican leaders estimate that, altogether, the legislation would amount to a $3 billion annual reduction in taxes – if it eventually becomes law. “As we go through budget negotiations, and the push and pull of wherever we may end up, our Senate Republican Caucus is going to continue to fight for Pennsylvania taxpayers, first and foremost,” state Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said following the bill’s passage. 

Driving down distractions

Shapiro’s office has indicated he plans on signing a bill sent to his desk that would give police the authority to pull someone over with the primary reason being their use of a handheld device. State Sen. Rosemary Brown, a Republican who sponsored the distracted driving legislation, championed the bill in response to a fatal crash in her district that took the life of 21-year-old Paul Miller Jr. in 2010 when a tractor-trailer driver crossed into oncoming traffic. The ACLU of Pennsylvania opposed the legislation, calling it a “thinly veiled attempt to expand law enforcement’s power to conduct and justify pretextual traffic stops.” If signed into law, police would be required to issue only warnings for the first year that it is in effect, with $50 fines being levied following the first year. 

Age-old question for social media

The distracted driving bill wasn’t the only cell phone regulation to pass this week. The state House passed a bill intended to allow parents more oversight over their children’s use of social media. The legislation, introduced by state Rep. Brian Munroe, a Democrat from Bucks County, would require social media platforms to verify the age of new users creating accounts and attempt parental consent of anyone under 16. It would also prohibit social media companies from selling minors’ data to third parties and using it to target ads, and require the platforms to have a clear policy for reporting threats and harassment. Red and blue states alike have attempted to address social media usage and the privacy of minors, but critics of such bills argue policymakers can’t force private platforms to compel speech.  

Senate signs off on telehealth bill

Pennsylvania is one step closer to enacting a law that will establish insurance coverage parameters and protections for telehealth services, after lawmakers in the state Senate approved legislation from Republican state Sen. Elder Vogel that requires health insurance policies to cover “medically necessary health care services provided through telemedicine.” The bill has been in the works for several years, but failed to gain the support of then-Gov. Tom Wolf due to a controversial abortion-related amendment. However, with Democrats in charge of the state House this time around, the bill could face an easier path to the governor’s signature. Vogel, in a statement, thanked colleagues for supporting his bill. “I am pleased that my colleagues can see the value telemedicine brings to the table for Pennsylvanians and our doctors and appreciate their support for my legislation.”