State reps host rally for disabled

A bipartisan group of legislators rallied to prevent individuals with disabilities from being forced to sit in the community and leave day programs and sheltered workshops where they attend.

By Tom Waring

State Reps. Gene DiGirolamo and Frank Farry were among a bipartisan group of legislators from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who rallied to prevent individuals with disabilities from being forced to sit in the community and leave day programs and sheltered workshops where they attend.

Following the rally, the House Human Services Committee conducted a hearing on the topic to gather more information.

“Many of the individuals who attend day programs or participate in sheltered workshops find so much importance in them, and families want to be able to make the choice that best meets their situation,” said DiGirolamo, chairman of the House Human Services Committee.

The state Department of Human Services proposed changing how it administers its home- and community-based waivers. To be eligible, individuals with disabilities would be required to spend time in the community away from sheltered workshops and day programs where they go. The initial proposal would have required individuals to spend 75 percent of their time in the community, rather than being at day programs or sheltered workshops.

This requirement left many day programs and sheltered workshops wondering how they would continue to operate if individuals can participate, essentially, only one day out of five. While an alternate proposal to have individuals spend 25 percent of their time in the community has been advanced, lawmakers have some unanswered questions.

“I’ve had the chance to meet with many of the individuals and parents who benefit from the great work being done in these facilities,” Farry said. “I think it’s vital they have a choice in where they work so they can continue to thrive and live as independently as possible.” ••

In other political news:

Fitzpatrick joins hearing on cyber defense mission

By Tom Waring

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th dist.) joined the Homeland Security Committee in a hearing on the cyber threat landscape and the Department of Homeland Security’s civilian cyber defense mission.

“Whether it is state actors from North Korea to Russia, hacktivists or cyber-criminals targeting consumer and personal data, cybersecurity is a complex and serious national and economic security issue that our country will continue to face over the decades to come,” Fitzpatrick said following the hearing.

“It is the responsibility of DHS to work with public and private sector stakeholders to secure networks to protect critical U.S. infrastructure – 85 percent of which is owned and operated outside of the government. Today’s hearing is an important first step to ensure this committee has the information it needs to address this challenge on every front, and is prepared to equip DHS with the tools it needs to carry out this mission. To that end, it is my belief that we must establish a cybersecurity agency at DHS so it can most effectively carry out civilian cyber defense statutory authorities.”

In 2016, digital threats included American election systems targeted, 500 million Yahoo user accounts hacked, hospital IT systems frozen with ransomware and the IRS breached.

Among those testifying at the hearing were officials from IronNet Cybersecurity, the Cyber Threat Alliance, the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and the EastWest Institute.

••

In other news, the House unanimously passed a Fitzpatrick-sponsored bill, the DHS Multiyear Acquisition Strategy Act.

The legislation is intended to streamline the Department of Homeland Security’s acquisition process to promote strategic investment as well as cost-savings for taxpayers while enhancing the national security apparatus.

The DHS Multiyear Acquisition Strategy Act requires DHS to develop a strategy to guide the overall direction of its acquisitions, while also allowing flexibility to deal with threats and risks. Fitzpatrick believes the bill, if enacted, will help the industry better understand, plan and align resources to meet the future acquisition needs of DHS.

The Government Accountability Office considers DHS acquisition management at a high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

“Rep. Fitzpatrick’s bill is critical to ensuring the Department of Homeland Security better manages vital acquisition programs. His bill puts important safeguards in place to reduce waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement at the department,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican. “We are in dangerous times, and the United States faces significant threats. The tools we provide our frontline personnel working to protect our homeland need to be delivered on time and properly designed to meet their needs. This bill will improve the efficiency of DHS and better protect the American people.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. ••

Free shredding event

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo will host a free shredder event on Saturday, April 29, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at his office at 2424 Bristol Road in Bensalem.

The event is for individuals, not businesses. They are invited to bring their personal and financial documents in loose form.

Among items not accepted are magazines, books, trash and binders.

For more information, call 215-750-1017. ••

Bills will help veterans

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick supported passage of a series of bills impacting veterans’ health care.

The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 would institute necessary reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs by providing the secretary with the authority to expeditiously remove, demote or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for performance or misconduct.

H.R. 1367 would improve the authority of the secretary of veterans affairs to hire and retain physicians and other employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“What our veterans deserve is a VA willing to truly serve and hold itself accountable; this legislation empowers the agency with the flexibility to do so,” Fitzpatrick said. ••

Legislation introduced for toll tax credit program

State Rep. Perry Warren introduced legislation to establish a commuter and commerce toll tax credit program.

House Bill 926, which is similar to a bill introduced in 2015-16 by former state Rep. Steve Santarsiero, would offer an annual state income tax credit of 50 percent of tolls paid, with a $500 cap per filer. Eligible tolls would include those on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and bridges across the Delaware River. Individuals, corporations and small businesses with tax liability would be eligible.

“Many of our working families and local businesses use tolled routes frequently and would benefit from the relief this tax credit would bring,” Warren said. “Due to recent shifts in tolling rates and routes that remain un-tolled in Pennsylvania, commuters in the southeast wind up disproportionately paying for the rest of the state’s transportation infrastructure spending. This bill seeks to remedy that situation.”

The tax credit would also be extended to Pennsylvania residents and Pennsylvania-based companies that shoulder additional costs when accessing the toll bridges operated under the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, the Delaware River Port Authority of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the Burlington County Bridge Commission.

“This is a reasonable tax credit that local residents could use to purchase more products locally and our businesses could use to expand their business locally,” Warren said.

To qualify, all tax credit filers would be required to submit valid EZ Pass documentation.

••

State Rep. Frank Farry voted for a bill that would require pawn shops and kiosks in malls that purchase precious metals to keep records of the seller’s proof of identity and photograph each item.

“As the commonwealth is still fighting the opioid epidemic, burglaries and stolen items are becoming more frequent. Unfortunately, it’s far too common that stolen jewelry is melted down and sold, often before victims even realize it is gone — especially when it was stolen by a family member,” Farry said.

House Bill 41 would also require all precious metal items to be kept for 10 business days after the sale is reported for potential inspection by law enforcement. Violations of the bill would result in a second-degree misdemeanor, an increase from the current third-degree misdemeanor.

“By prohibiting the sale to or purchase from minors, another positive effect of the bill may be that children have fewer resources available that can be used to fund a drug habit,” Farry added.

After passing the House, the bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. ••

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