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State Representative Justin Simmons Report

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The Weekly Roundup
Friday, October 6, 2017  The latest news from the State Capitol

Fight Continues for Responsible Budgeting

Lawmakers were back in Harrisburg this week continuing the effort to bring the 2017-18 state budget process to a close.

The main component still outstanding is a bill to complete funding of the $32 billion spending plan. While the governor has pushed for higher taxes and the Senate approved a plan to impose nearly $600 million in new taxes – more than $400 million of which would come in the form of new and increased taxes on consumer utility bills – House Republicans are fighting for a more responsible, less burdensome solution.

Unable to gather support for any of the various funding proposals he agreed to, the governor stepped away from negotiations. In place of legislation, he has unilaterally decided to leverage the state’s liquor system for a lump sum payment. Lawmakers will begin to review the proposal and its legality.

The question needs to be asked: If the governor intended to borrow against the liquor stores, why didn’t he do this before to prevent Pennsylvania’s recent credit downgrade?

While negotiations on a revenue plan continue, lawmakers did approve two important measures that will help save taxpayer dollars in the long term. House Bill 785 would enact substantial debt reduction and responsible debt management policies that would save taxpayers an estimated $3.14 billion in debt service over the next 20 years. The bill now heads back to the Senate for consideration.

The House also approved a key welfare reform measure that could ultimately require physically and mentally able adults to meet work requirements in order to receive benefits. Under the bill, the state Department of Human Services would seek approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to implement the requirement. House Bill 59 now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Northeastern Extension Bridge Closure Rescheduled for Oct. 13-16

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission warns motorists to change travel plans or brace for a long detour from Oct. 13-16 during a planned weekend closure of the Northeastern Extension (Interstate 476) in Lehigh and Carbon counties as workers replace a 60-year-old bridge.

The detour will occur from 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, through 4 a.m. Monday, Oct. 16. The detour exits are the Lehigh Valley Interchange (#56) for northbound traffic and the Pocono Interchange (#95) for southbound traffic. The authorized detour route directs motorists to Route 22, Route 33 and Interstate 80. Learn more here.

Focus on the Drug Epidemic

Thanks to everyone who came out for our recent Opioid Awareness Seminar in Center Valley, and to the panelists, who provided lots of helpful information about addiction and the drug epidemic in our community.

Better Consumer Protection in a Data Breach

Two new House bills are designed to further protect consumers who are victims of data breaches that open them to possible identity theft. The proposals were introduced following the Equifax data breach, which exposed the personal information of at least 143 million Americans, including 5.4 million Pennsylvanians.

The first bill would require notification of a breach from the entity where it occurred to the affected consumer within 30 days and to the state attorney general. The notification would include when it occurred, the type of information that was compromised, a toll-free number and the address of credit reporting agencies. The entities must also develop policies to safeguard and discard personal consumer information.

The second bill would waive the current credit freeze fee, which charges up to $10 per account. In the instance of a data breach, consumers would be provided with three months of free credit monitoring and up to three free credit reports for one calendar year after the date the breach is reported. None of these would apply to a credit reporting agency that has not experienced a breach.

The bills are expected to advance in the House in the coming weeks.

‘Right to Try’ Bill Heads to Governor

In giving hope to individuals facing terminal illnesses, legislation is now on the governor’s desk that would allow eligible patients to use investigational drugs, biological products and devices not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Under House Bill 45, if these patients want to try medications that have not completed the rigorous FDA testing and approval process, they should be permitted to make that choice. As part of the bill, a manufacturer would be permitted to make these products available to eligible patients once the products successfully complete the first phase of clinical trials.

Physicians would not be held liable for recommending experimental products to their terminally ill patients, nor would the bill create a private cause of action against the manufacturers that make the drugs. While the bill does not require insurers to cover these products, they may do so at their own discretion.

“Right to Try” laws are in effect in 37 other states.

Raising Awareness of Breast Cancer

This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to honor those who have fought the disease or are fighting it now, the fountain at the state Capitol has been turned pink. It also serves as a reminder to all women of the importance of mammograms and early detection.

Every day, 37 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Pennsylvania, and more than 2,000 Pennsylvania women die each year from the disease. However, more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors are alive today in the United States.

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Email: jsimmons@pahousegop.com

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