HARRISBURG (AP) – Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a performance audit critical of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s regulation of the natural gas industry. The audit hits the DEP for failing to adequately monitor well safety or to provide clear and timely information to citizens. In a cover letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, DePasquale says the DEP is underfunded, understaffed, and lacks the infrastructure to meet the demands it faces amid the fast-growing industry. In a written response included in the report, DEP Secretary Christopher Abruzzo notes that the audit covers a four-year period ending in 2012. He says many of DePasquale’s recommended reforms have been implemented or are currently under consideration.
READING – The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative group looking at issues affecting rural areas of the Commonwealth, held a public hearing today at Reading Area Community College examining current policies and practices related to heroin and opioid addiction, including prevention, treatment, and law enforcement efforts. Berks County Sen. Judy Schwank hopes information from the hearing can be used to develop legislative and regulatory action that may help to curb the use of these dangerous narcotics impacting rural Pennsylvania. This was the second of four hearings held across the state. In PA, the number of fatal heroin overdoses has been steadily increasing. According to a 2014 report from the PA State Coroners Association, there were 45 reported heroin deaths in 2009 and 124 reported heroin deaths by mid-2013. Officials say the increase in heroin use is occurring as addicts are shifting from more costly prescription opioids to cheaper alternatives.
HARRISBURG – If you’re interested in becoming a notary public there is a new state law that has taken effect. Until now, Pennsylvania was one of only four states that required a state legislator’s signature in order to become a notary public. Lebanon County Sen. Mike Folmer explained that his Senate Bill 1001 simply speeds up the process by removing the need for the lawmaker’s signature. The new law also allows the Department of State to require notary applicants to submit a record of their criminal history.
WEST HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP - Authorities have released the name of a York County motorcyclist killed in a Lancaster County crash that also critically injured another motorcyclist over the weekend. Both motorcyclists were struck by a car shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday along westbound Route 30 at Malleable Road in West Hempfield Township. Coroner Stephen Diamantoni identified the deceased as 29-year-old Stephen Elicker of Thomasville. The other motorcyclist,26-year-old Jarod Counts of Seven Valleys, York Countyis hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. Police say a car driven by 31-year-old Joel Newcomer of Dover struck the two motorcycles causing them to crash. The car rolled onto its roof. Newcomer is hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. An SUV driven by 52-year-old Hung Tran of York struck one of the motorcycles and the car when he was unable to stop for the crash in front of him. He was unhurt. The crash remains under investigation.
BALTIMORE (AP) – A hearing is scheduled in federal court on Maryland’s gun-control law, which took effect last year. The hearing today on court motions is in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake is hearing the case. The lawsuit contends Maryland’s ban on specific rifles and gun magazines with more than 10 rounds violates the Second Amendment. The Maryland law was approved last year in response to the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
HARRISBURG (AP) – Moody’s Investors Service is slapping a lower rating on Pennsylvania’s debt for the second time in two years, as state government grapples annually with built-in budget deficits. Monday’s downgrade of $11.1 billion general obligation bonds from Aa2 to Aa3 means Pennsylvania is ranked among the six worst states in Moody’s ratings for the 47 states with general obligation debt. Moody’s cited the state‘s growing structural deficit and weak reserves. It also says the state’s modest economic growth is unlikely to keep up with its growing pension liabilities. Fitch Ratings downgraded Pennsylvania last year, and Standard & Poor’s warned it could downgrade Pennsylvania if it didn’t see significant strides to address deficits and pension liabilities.
MOUNT JOY – A retired Ephrata, Lancaster County school teacher is biking 1,500 miles for food. 67-year-old Tony Fritz has been a volunteer with Global Aid Network for years. The avid cyclist decided to depart on his bike from GAIN’s headquarters in Dallas, TX on June 30th and ride to the GAIN Distribution Center in Mount Joy. Along the trek, called the “Tour De Meals,” he is raising money and awareness for the need for food in disaster and refugee situations around the world. As he passes from state to state, he’s been telling people that for only a quarter, they can give a meal of rice and beans to those in need. His biking travels can be seen on a blog that he’s created. Fritz is to arrive at the GAIN Distribution Center at 1506 Quarry Road in Mount Joy at 2 p.m. on July 30th. You can follow his journey or make a financial contribution by going to www.TourDeMeals.org.
LANCASTER – Sprint wireless customers in Lancaster County can now send a text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call. The service is available to active Sprint customers within the wireless coverage range of cell towers in Lancaster County. Text-to-911 is intended primarily for use in two emergency scenarios: for an individual who is hearing or speech impaired and for a person who is unable to make a voice call, for example during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion, or abduction. Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said the safety of residents and visitors in Lancaster County is our number one concern. Martin congratulated Lancaster County-Wide Communications for their work in establishing the service and for setting an example for other 911 centers.
HARRISBURG – A measure addressing Pennsylvania’s pension crisis is now before the state House Finance Committee for consideration. Before adjourning for the summer recess, the PA Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 922, which creates a defined contribution or 401(k) type retirement plan for elected officials, including legislators, the governor, attorney general, auditor general, and state treasurer upon re-election, and the judiciary upon retention. The bill’s prime sponsor, Lancaster County Sen. Mike Brubaker said that although his original proposal contained broader language, Senate approval of a compromise bill was a good first step. The original Brubaker proposal included language altering the future benefits of current employees and placed new hires in a defined contribution plan next year.
HARRISBURG – Rep. Mike Regan of York & Cumberland Counties has introduced legislation that would, if enacted, prevent persons convicted of drug distribution crimes from receiving Pennsylvania welfare benefits. The lawmaker said during his time in federal law enforcement, many individuals were arrested for drug trafficking crimes and were found to have large sums of money and were receiving welfare benefits. Regan said this is unfair to our residents who are in true need of assistance. House Bill 2413 is another component in the continuing effort to curb waste, fraud, and abuse in the welfare system. Earlier this year, Regan’s legislation prohibiting non-compliant Megan’s Law sex offenders from receiving welfare benefits was passed by the PA House unanimously. That legislation contained in House Bill 1951 is awaiting state Senate action. House Bill 2413 is to be assigned to a committee for consideration.