HARRISBURG – Throughout the summer and fall, Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature are joining forces to attempt to tackle the state’s opioid crisis. Led by House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Kerry Benninghoff of Centre/Mifflin Counties and House Minority Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla of Lancaster County, members of the House of Representatives and state Senate will be traveling the state to gather testimony from law enforcement, medical professionals, treatment centers, employers, educators, advocates, and everyday Pennsylvanians about the state’s drug epidemic and how it is impacting communities. Testifiers will discuss the effectiveness of current strategies being used to combat addiction and what other tools, resources and services may be needed. At the conclusion of the tour, the joint committee will make legislative and policy recommendations for the House and Senate to consider when they reconvene this fall for a special legislative session.
HARRISBURG (AP) – Former PA Treasurer Barbara Hafer is facing federal charges in a long-running pay-to-play investigation. Hafer is charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents. Prosecutors say Hafer concealed payments of $500,000 from a businessman who had shared in fees charged by private asset managers contracted by the state Treasury Department while she was in office. Prosecutors say the payments began within weeks of Hafer leaving office in 2005, when she was working as a consultant, and didn’t require her to achieve any particular result. The maximum penalty under federal law is five years of imprisonment on each of the two counts. Hafer won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1990, but lost to Democrat Gov. Robert Casey in the general election.
HARRISBURG – Legislation which requiring doctors to offer hepatitis C screening to patients born between 1945 and 1965 has been signed into law. House Bill 59 is now Act 87 of 2016. Baby boomers would be offered hepatitis C testing when receiving health services as an inpatient in a hospital or when receiving primary care services in an outpatient department of a hospital, health care facility or physician’s office. Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, with an estimated 4 million individuals infected and half of those being not diagnosed. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control released guidelines recommending those born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C. Active screening for hepatitis C, as opposed to waiting for symptoms and more serious diseases to arise, results in major cost savings for taxpayers.
HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation into law to allow victim restitution to be intercepted from a debtor’s state tax refund. House Bill 1167, now known as Act 93 of 2016, was introduced as a part of a package of bills recommended by the Office of Victim Advocate’s 2011 Restitution in Pennsylvania Task Force. Supporters of the measure say restitution is a core component of any justice system and it’s one of the most important things we can work to guarantee. While it can be difficult to ensure that perpetrators fulfill their legal obligations to victims, tax-refund interception is a common sense tool.
HARRISBURG (AP) – A new law is on the books that could eventually lead to the return of the production of industrial hemp in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill on Wednesday that would let the Agriculture Department and institutions of higher education grow the plant for research purposes, directly or through approved contractors. It also sets up a board to work on regulations. The bill’s sponsor, Lebanon County Rep. Russ Diamond says large scale production could occur under the law’s research provisions. Industrial hemp does not contain levels of the cannabis plant’s chemicals that are sufficient to produce intoxication. Wolf says one of the first laws passed by the General Assembly in 1683 encouraged growing hemp. Pennsylvania once led the nation in industrial hemp production, and the plant was widely grown nationwide for use in many products.
HARRISBURG – Two area senators are looking at ways to curb welfare fraud by increasing staff responsible for investigating claims regarding misuse of public benefits. Lancaster County Sen. Ryan Aument and Sen. David Argall of Berks & Schuylkill Counties are proposing a measure to hire additional staff within the Office of Inspector General with a sole focus of investigating claims about welfare misconduct. Sen. Aument says each welfare fraud investigator saves taxpayers approximately $1.28 million. Aument added that under the proposal, the additional investigators would focus entirely on welfare fraud, abuse, misconduct, and misuse. The lawmakers point to the success of a fraud hotline that was recently established as part of an overhaul to the state’s welfare laws. The hotline removed 3,000 individuals from receiving public assistance who were not entitled to it.
HARRISBURG (AP) – State regulators are giving their OK to new parameters for distributing and prescribing opioids in Pennsylvania. The Board of Pharmacy and the Board of Medicine approved two sets of voluntary guidelines for prescribing opioids following a closed-door executive session. PA Physician General Rachel Levine said at the meeting that an overemphasis on pain reduction coupled with the development of more powerful opioids and the influx of cheap heroin has caused the state’s current overdose crisis. Officials say a record 3,383 Pennsylvanians suffered fatal overdoses in 2015. Figures for the first quarter of this year suggest that 2016 will be even worse. Gov. Tom Wolf said he’s proud of his administration for approving the guidelines.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane, saying any comments she made weren’t damaging enough to warrant litigation. The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed last year by five former Pennsylvania prosecutors and investigators. They said Kane released information about pornographic videos and images in their state email accounts out of spite to tarnish their reputations because they had criticized her public statements and decision not to prosecute certain high-profile cases. The judge noted that any untrue comments didn’t lead to job losses or discipline. Kane awaits trial next month on charges she violated grand jury secrecy rules, allegations she denies.
LANCASTER – Members of the Citizens Advisory Council to the Department of Environmental Protection, along with legislators, local, state, and federal environmental officials, toured eight innovative projects in Lancaster to learn how the city has addressed environmental challenges such as stormwater management through the use of green infrastructure. Green infrastructure uses natural materials such as soil and plants to help increase the amount of water that’s absorbed when it rains. It is particularly beneficial in cities or towns that often have more impervious surfaces and fewer natural areas. Similar to the projects on the tour, DEP earlier this month awarded a $200,000 Local Stormwater Best Management Practice Implementation Program grant to the city for a water quality improvement project at Long’s Park. The project involves the installation of vegetative swales and floating wetlands to cut down on sediment and nutrient runoff.
EPHRATA – Police are investigating a robbery at the Turkey Hill at 3585 Rothsville Road in Ephrata, Lancaster County. Around 2:45 a.m. today, a male suspect entered the store and demanded money from the register. The clerk handed over an undisclosed amount of cash and the suspect fled on foot. A weapon was not displayed or mentioned during the robbery. A surveillance photo of the suspect can be seen below. Anyone with information is asked to contact Ephrata Police at 717-738-9200.