About the Children: Policy Updates from Pennsylvania

Good morning again!

Lots of oldies but goodies on the docket for this week.  Also, fun fact, I found a PDF about how a bill becomes a law in PA, which I have found helpful as I’ve been going through the heaps of legislation this week.  Find it here.


HB 1653 – We looked at this bill when it was first introduced back in October.  It passed the house and looked like it had died in the Senate in November, but the Senate Education Committee gave it a second consideration this week and reported it as “Committed,” which is one step before a third and final passage.  Therefore, this bill looks like it’s going to pass.  Just a reminder, this bill wants to include students enrolled in distance education (online classes) in eligibility for state grants for higher education.  Online classes make learning accessible to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take some of their classes, including youth who don’t have permanency or need to work during the day to make money for school.  Our youth often fit into those categories, so it is necessary that online education be an option for them, without disqualifying them from receiving state money for higher education. 

HB 1305 – Similarly, this bill is being discussed by the Senate Education Committee this week after having spent months on the back burner.  I don’t think I was posting these updates back when this bill was first introduced in May of last year, so we didn’t talk about it, but it is an interesting one.  The bill seeks to mandate professional development classes for special education professionals who assist students in “secondary transition services.”  This is a “coordinated set of activities” and a “results-oriented process” that “focus on improving the academic and functional achievement of a student with a disability, based upon the individual student’s needs. These services must be included in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), and, in Pennsylvania, a student’s IEP must address transition services and planning beginning at age fourteen.”  These services should be provided and should be useful for any child who needs them, and many youth in foster care may need even further transition services that CYF may not be as able to handle.  I might suggest you call your senator and ask them about the provisions this bill makes for transitioning youth who do not have stable home environments to support them through this time.

SB 922 – This bill is being discussed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  It was referred to them back in October.  It is a bill to initiate evidence-based treatment and policies for rehabilitation of criminals who are known to be addicted to opiates.  The memo of the bill notes that the current demand, caused by the opioid crisis, is putting serious strain on the other drug treatment programs that already exist, so these newer programs will be designed and implemented in order both to better serve the community that requires them, but also to relieve the non-opiate-specialized programs of some of their increased demand.  Depending on the viability of these programs, this could help our youth who have been removed from their parents due to drug use.

HB 1952 – This bill has passed the House and is moving to the Senate.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has it on their schedule for this week.  This legislation seeks to address “the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Muniz. In that case, the court held that the Commonwealth’s sexual offender registration act, commonly known as Megan’s Law or the Adam Walsh Act, could not be applied to defendants who committed their crimes before the enactment of the Adam Walsh Act in 2012 based on both the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution. If left unaddressed, this case may require more than 10,000 sexual offenders to be removed from the state sexual offender registry.”

SB 1011 – This bill was introduced beginning of the month.  This is actually a joint resolution that proposes an amendment to the PA constitution, which seems big.  “The intent of this legislation is to ensure that victims are allowed to be an integral part of the system. The constitutional amendment requires that, for the criminal and juvenile justice systems, the enumerated rights of victims are to be protected no less vigorously than the rights afforded the accused. It stipulates that there be notice of hearings and other proceedings, protection from the accused, notice of release or escape, full and timely restitution, proceedings free from delays and with prompt conclusion, the ability to confer with the government’s attorney and information on all of these rights.” The rules for passing an amendment in PA are as follows, from the Ballotopedia website:

  • Either chamber of the Pennsylvania General Assembly can propose amendments.
  • If a simple majority of both chambers approves of a proposed amendment, that amendment must be “published three months before the next general election, in at least two newspapers in every county in which such newspapers shall be published.”
  • In the next session of the legislature, the amendment must be considered again. If it is approved a second time by a simple majority of both houses, the amendment goes on a statewide ballot. This can be at any election date as determined by the state legislature.
  • “…no amendment or amendments shall be submitted oftener than once in five years.”
  • Separate amendments must be voted on separately.


S534 – This is another one that has shown up before.  It passed the Senate in November and was sent to the House.  The House Majority Leader indicated that it would be on the schedule this week.  It passed the House with changes so is going back to the Senate…again.  This  bill aims to “prevent the sexual abuse of minors and amateur athletes by requiring the prompt reporting of sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities.”  This is obviously a very timely bill at this point, given the Dr. Larry Nassar case in the past few weeks, so I will be watching its process through the legislature and will hopefully keep you updated as to whether it stands to make any difference, or if it is more legislative hot air that doesn’t actually get at any of the real issues at hand.

HR. 695 – This one we’ve also seen before; it aims to allow service agencies who work with children to have access to the FBI’s national fingerprint and criminal background check database.  It prioritizes speed and efficiency and adapting the infrastructure that is already available.  Versions of this bill have been introduced in several previous congressional sessions, starting in 2008.  This bill passed in the House and the Senate, but the Senate made changes and sent it back to the House in October.  The House Majority Leader said that it would be on the schedule for this week. Skopos labs gives it a 60% change of passage.

Uplifting News

Our uplifting new story this week comes from just down the road in Sewickley!  A quietly wealthy local engineer left $37 million to the Pittsburgh Foundation after his death in 2014.  “The new gift of $37.1 million will be allocated in annual amounts of $1.5 million with yearly grants of $500,000 apiece made to the library, the hospital, and to the Pittsburgh Foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh initiative.”  This is a really heartwarming story of a man who lived well beneath his means, donated money to causes he believed in throughout his life, and still had millions left over in his estate that he gave back to the community where he had lived for so long.  The Pittsburgh Foundation gives large grants to nonprofits all across the metro area, and it’s hard to imagine a life this money won’t touch in some way.  According to the article, this is only the second largest single contribution to the foundation, the largest having been $50 million by yet another engineer who died in 2010.  With all of the engineers coming out of Pittsburgh these days, it’s a beautiful thing to see this dedication to the most vulnerable in our area.

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