Today, Senators Randy Vulakovich (R-38) and Bob Mensch (R-24), the current and past Chairmen of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, introduced legislation that would increase oversight of the statewide radio project. Under Senate Bill 1157, the Auditor General would be required to audit and review issues related to the statewide radio system.
Originally created in 1996, the statewide radio system, (StarNet), was supposed to replace the state’s aging and incompatible systems with state-of-the art communications technology. Now — more than 20 years later — problems remain in achieving interoperability of radio equipment among state and local agencies. The State Police recently began a reboot of the project, implementing the first two phases of their P25 Pilot, which is a set of standards created through joint efforts with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and is aimed at achieving interoperability amongst state and local agencies.
“Over the past two decades, numerous issues have arisen in regard to the statewide radio system and we intend to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely in the future,” said Senator Vulakovich. “Having spent 27 years in law enforcement, I know the importance of interagency communications in emergencies.”
“StarNet has cost well over $700 million.” said Senator Mensch. “We must get this system right and I believe it is essential that the Auditor General be a partner in the process to ensure that state resources are being used properly.”
HARRISBURG – The state Senate today continued its work strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, passing five strong bills aimed at protecting children from abuse.
Today’s action follows Senate passage two weeks ago of six measures to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. The package was based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in 2011.
The Senate approved the following bills today, all with unanimous votes:
Senate Bill 28, introduced by Senator Pat Browne (R-16), will lower the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from 21 to 18. This bill also expands the definition of aggravated assault to include:
- Causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 (second-degree felony); and
- Causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 (first-degree felony).
Senate Bill 28 also will create the new offenses of “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” and “false reports of child abuse” to help further protect the victims, witnesses and reporters of child abuse.
“This bill strengthens Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child,” Senator Browne said. “In addition, this legislation creates the new offense of ‘intimidation’ or ‘retaliation’ in child abuse cases to protect the person filing the report on behalf of the abused child. These changes are important steps to increase the safety of Pennsylvania’s young people, fully prosecute those who prey on children and to protect those who have a responsibility to report cases of child abuse.”
Senate Bill 24, introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-40), will require the Department of Public Welfare to establish a secure, statewide database to include reports of child abuse and children in need of protective services.
“This database will act as a clearing house, allowing various agencies to more easily provide and share information,” said Senator Vulakovich. “The agencies will be able to more easily access information that may be currently missed when reviewing reports of suspected abuses cases. This will benefit law enforcement and social agencies and, especially, the children at risk for abuse.”
Senate Bill 29, introduced by Senator Pat Vance (R-31), will require health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances. Upon receipt of the report, the county agency shall perform an assessment and determine whether child protective services or general protective services are warranted.
“This legislation gives newborns who may be affected by illegal substances the opportunity for early treatment and a better chance for a healthy life,” said Senator Vance.
Senate Bill 1116, co-sponsored by Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), will provide for multidisciplinary investigative teams to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement. The county agency and district attorney will develop a protocol for convening the multidisciplinary investigative teams, which have proven successful in the parts of Pennsylvania where they are already used.
“When a child finally feels safe enough to tell someone about abuse, they often have to relive their experience multiple times, telling their story over and over to medical professionals, county agency investigators, law enforcement and prosecutors,” Senator Mensch said. “A multidisciplinary investigation reduces that trauma by allowing a team to coordinate with all the appropriate individuals in an investigation and subjecting the child to only one forensic interview that can be used throughout the investigation and prosecution of the alleged abuse. This speeds up the process of stopping the perpetrator and helps the child move forward.”
Senate Bill 31, co-sponsored by Senator Mike Folmer (R-48), will close a loophole. Currently, the law provides that if there is a case of suspected child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, there is no requirement to report that abuse unless it rises to the level of a “serious bodily injury.” The bill would amend the Child Protective Services Law to eliminate what is now a separate system for reporting abuse by school employees.
Harrisburg – The Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter and State Senator Bob Mensch (R-24) will hold a town hall meeting to solicit comments and perspectives from stakeholders in the community on what is needed to support people in Pennsylvania who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. This Town Hall will be held on October 17, from 1p.m.-2:30p.m. at St. Luke’s Quakertown Hospital-Taylor Conference Room located at 1021 Park Avenue, Quakertown, PA 18951.
Pennsylvania area residents, including those who live with Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders, their caregivers, representatives from federal, state and local government, the research community, health systems and long-term care facilities are invited to come and share their thoughts about what elements need to be included in a comprehensive Pennsylvania State Plan.
Senator Mensch, Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, is also a member of the Pennsylvania Alzheimer’s Planning Committee. The Committee will develop a comprehensive state plan by February 2014 that prescribes ways to address the Alzheimer’s disease crisis in Pennsylvania. An estimated 280,000 Commonwealth residents are living with Alzheimer’s disease; and the number is closer to 400,000 when adding in those living with related dementias.
The Committee will look at needs and research trends, study existing resources and formulate an effective response strategy to the rising number of those affected by the disease. The Committee is comprised of 26 members from various geographic regions of the Commonwealth, including state policy leaders, legislators, leaders in research and advocacy and those personally affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Harrisburg – The term “welfare” is defined as the general well-being of an individual or group of individuals. However, when used in association with government services, the term has unfortunately developed a negative connotation.
One state agency that suffers from the use of the term “welfare” is the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. Despite its name, 95 percent of the department‘s funding is focused on human services programs, not traditional welfare programs. Amazingly, Pennsylvania is only one of two states in the nation that still uses the term “Welfare” in the name of one of its departments. And it is not even an accurate description since the overwhelming majority of funding from the agency goes to health and human services programs.
Why is this important? Recently, five former Pennsylvania Governors – George Leader, Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, and Ed Rendell – joined together to call on the Pennsylvania legislature to change the name of the department. As they put it, “Words matter. Names matter. Stigma lasts.” They noted that the name would make sense if it describes what the agency actually does.
This is not a partisan issue. This is about doing what is right. We do not want citizens to put off reaching out to a government agency for assistance because they are concerned about the perception that they might be receiving “welfare” benefits.
We represent a number of older Pennsylvanians who worked for years in low wage jobs. Some have outlived their spouses or family members. Now, many in their 80s, need help. For instance, some qualify for in-home care enabling them to can stay in their own home and avoid going into a more costly nursing facility. In order to receive these services to which they are entitled they have to fill out a Department of Public Welfare application. It is at this point that many refuse services to avoid going on the “public dole.” Instead many end up costing the public more by going to a nursing home. Stigma not only hurts, it costs the State money.
The stigma applies to families caring for loved ones with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. It applies to families seeking assistance with the process of adopting a child and families with babies, toddlers and preschoolers with developmental delays who are receiving early intervention services. It also includes women recovering from domestic abuse, receiving breast cancer screenings, or who are undergoing the process of healing from rape.
We are talking about families and individuals who receive services from our Department of Public Welfare. And because we believe that names do matter, that certain words carry an unnecessary stigma, we have joined together in a bipartisan effort to introduce legislation to change to name to a more accurate reflection of the duties of the department to the Department of Human Services.
We believe that is a sound investment so that Pennsylvania’s seniors, families, and other citizens legitimately seeking assistance do not have to live unnecessarily with the stigma of “welfare” or being on the “public dole.”
Senators Bob Mensch and Jay Costa are the joint sponsors of Senate Bill 840 that calls for the name of the Department of Public Welfare to be changed to the Department of Human Services. Mensch represents the 24th Senate District of Pennsylvania, which includes portions of Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton Counties. Costa represents the 43rd Senate District of Pennsylvania, which includes Allegheny County.
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PENNSBURG – State Senator Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery, Bucks, Lehigh, Northampton) and State Representative Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery) announced they will be sponsoring a free breakfast to thank veterans for their service to our country and communities.
The Veterans Appreciation Breakfast will be held on Saturday, November 10th at the Upper Perkiomen High School located at 2 Walt Road in Pennsburg. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m. Major General John Gronski, the Assistant Adjutant General for Pennsylvania, will be the special guest for the event.
The breakfast is free for all veterans. Veterans who would like to attend must RSVP by calling Senator Mensch’s office at 215-541-2388 or registering online at www.senatormensch.com.
Contact: Tim Hennessey