In this Update:
Addressing the Closed, Sloppy Process Behind the Wolf Administration’s Bridge Tolling Scheme
I took to the floor of the Senate this week to speak out against the new tax that the Wolf Administration is preparing to impose on Pennsylvania motorists: the requirement that drivers pay tolls to cross nine interstate bridges across the commonwealth, including the Canoe Creek Bridges on Interstate 80 in our region.
It’s a tax imposed without legislative approval and a tax that breaks the decades-old implicit promise in the very name of our “freeway” system.
I will have more to say on the Senate floor about this topic. On this occasion, I focused on the flawed process that brought about the bridge tolling scheme. It was mired in a lack of transparency, lack of citizen input and lack of legislative oversight – a sloppy, closed process that threatens to set the precedent of more and more tolls in the future.
In addition to my comments above, you can find more on the tolling plan here.
Hutchinson Bill to Improve National Guard Health Care Approved by Committee
Senator Hutchinson urges Senate Appropriations Committee approval of Senate Bill 927.
The Senate Appropriations Committee Approved legislation I’m sponsoring that would allow more health professionals to participate in the Medical Officer Health Incentive Program.
The Medical Officer or Health Officer Incentive Program was created in 2014 through legislation I authored to provide a tuition reimbursement to those who qualified through their time in the armed service. This incentive program began to provide a solution for what the Pennsylvania National Guard saw as a lack of healthcare providers within its ranks. Even though the program was successful in attracting healthcare providers into Guard service, some health professionals, such as dentists and physician assistants, were inadvertently left out of the program.
Senate Bill 927 would expand the definition of health professional to capture those left out of the original program. It would also create reimbursement tiers based on the participant’s education level, so that physicians and physician assistants would get a higher reimbursement to help pay down their high tuition debt. I look forward to this important bill passing the full Senate as a step toward enactment.
Senate Passes Package to Strengthen Cybersecurity, Protect Victims of Data Breaches
The Senate approved a package of bills this week to improve cybersecurity in Pennsylvania and require timely notifications to citizens of government data breaches. The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 482 consolidates administration and management of the Commonwealth’s information technology operations under a new Office of Information Technology.
The measure would replace the current, uncoordinated approach that led to cases of costly mismanagement, including delayed implementation of a statewide police radio system and bungled upgrades to Unemployment Compensation Call Centers. Other problems included data breaches experienced by the departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Education, which exposed the names and personal information of thousands of individuals, including citizens and state employees.
Senate Bill 726 ensures Commonwealth agencies have strong safeguards in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until money is paid. Senate Bill 726 would set state penalties for the possession, use, or threatened use of ransomware and prohibit state agencies from paying ransom.
When data breaches do occur, Senate Bill 696 would require state and local governments to notify potential victims within seven days. The requirement applies to any state agency, county, school district, municipality or third-party vendor experiencing a breach.
Transition to 5G Service Will Cause 3G Cell Phones to Stop Operating in 2022
Residents with older cell phones are being urged by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania State Police to prepare for the phase-out of 3G cellular networks and service, which could come as early as next month.
If your mobile phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device before your provider shuts down its 3G network and you lose service – including the ability to call 911. You should contact your cellular service provider to determine if your devices are compliant to ensure you don’t lose connectivity.
The nation’s three major wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) have announced plans to shut down their 3G networks to accommodate more advanced services, including 5G, as early as February. That will cause many older phones to be unable to make or receive calls and text messages or use data services. It could also affect other devices that rely on 3G connectivity, such as medical alert devices, tablets, smart watches, home security systems, and in-vehicle safety, security and roadside assistance systems.
Low-income individuals concerned their 911-only phones will no longer be supported can apply for service through the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Tax Form Arriving Soon for Pennsylvanians Who Claimed Unemployment Benefits in 2021
According to the Department of Labor and Industry, 1099 tax forms will be mailed no later than Jan. 31 to Pennsylvanians who claimed unemployment benefits in 2021 and need the form to file their federal income taxes.
Claimants of all unemployment programs offered during 2021 will receive a 1099 tax form detailing their benefit payments. This form will be available online soon and viewable in the same system where claimants file their weekly claims. All claimants also have the option to view 1099 tax forms from previous years, if applicable.
The receipt of a 1099 form by a person who didn’t file for unemployment may indicate a case of identity fraud. If someone who didn’t file for unemployment receives what looks to be a 1099 tax form in the mail, they should report this suspected fraud immediately so the department can correct their income with the IRS and prevent any issues with the victim’s taxes.
Federal Government Launches Website to Provide Home COVID Tests
The federal government has launched a website to order at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits.
Each household is eligible to order four tests. According to the website, orders will usually ship in 7-12 days and there is no cost.
These are rapid antigen at-home tests, also referred to as self-tests or over the counter (OTC) tests. They produce results within 30 minutes and no lab drop-off is required.
To place an order, provide your name and residential address. You don’t have to provide ID, credit card or health insurance information. You can find answers to frequently asked questions here.