UM Advocacy March Roundup
Redistricting has been second only to managing COVID-19 as a top issue in Pennsylvania politics these past months. And for good reason. Redrawing both legislative and congressional maps will impact the nature of politics for the next 10 years.
The job of redrawing the maps every 10 years after a U.S. Census falls to the state legislature. But while legislators can propose how the district lines should be redrawn, the governor has the option to veto their proposals. And that’s exactly what Gov. Tom Wolf did to one of them. Gov. Wolf rejected the Congressional map the Republican-dominated legislature sent him, saying it failed “the test of fundamental fairness.”
"The people of Pennsylvania deserve a fair election map that promotes accountability and responsiveness to voters and is drawn in an open and honest way,” he said. “The public deserves a fair map completed in a bipartisan manner; the General Assembly failed to adopt one.”
Wolf’s veto sent the whole matter to the courts to decide, and ultimately, the State Supreme Court left the existing Congressional map virtually unchanged.
And that means Pennsylvania continues to be a battleground state, with a slight tilt toward Republicans.
With the new maps decided, the 2022 midterm election campaigns can now get underway for some major positions, including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and Senate. Primary elections are slated for May 17.
The Pennsylvania general elections will take place on November 8, 2022, meaning we’re heading into a contentious political season that could bring significant changes to state and congressional offices.
Rescue Plan Funds
But there’s good news on the horizon, as well. President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan”
will funnel billions of dollars to state and local governments, and $2 billion of the money is slated to go toward human services, highway construction, nursing homes, and higher education in Pennsylvania. And that still leaves $5 billion in relief money for the state to spend.
You can bet Democrats and Republicans will fight over how to spend it. Democrats want to see the money spent to help economically disadvantaged Pennsylvanians. They want the money used to help those who need it with rental assistance, as well as launching public health initiatives, and worker training programs. Republicans have other ideas. They want to hold the money in reserve to ward off future budget shortfalls from overspending in past years.
Hearings on Legalizing Cannabis
Pennsylvania’s lawmakers will likely consider whether to legalize cannabis for adult use
this year. A Pennsylvania Senate committee has begun holding hearings, and Gov. Tom Wolf along with Republicans such as Sen. Mike Regan, who chairs the committee, have spoken in favor of legalizing it for adult use. The argument in favor of legalizing cannabis notes its wide use throughout society and the windfall in state revenue that could come from taxing the product. Some argue legalizing cannabis would undercut the flourishing black markets and free up police to focus on more serious crimes. However, the American Medical Association does not support legalizing cannabis without further studies into its health impacts.
COVID-19 has been a divisive issue
in the legislature, with Democrats supporting the Governor’s focus on protecting lives and Republicans arguing for personal freedom on masking and vaccinations. The latest figures for Pennsylvania show steadily increasing numbers of adults being vaccinated to protect from serious illness and death. State health officials are pushing for everyone eligible to get boosters and for parents to get their children over 5 years old vaccinated.
The legislature as well as the governor will continue to feel pressure from the political divide over COVID-19 precautions. But as the virus’s lethal potential wanes, so could the political divisions.
In-Home Health Care Wages
Advocates for people with physical and intellectual disabilities
are continuing their pressure on both the governor and legislature to increase the amount of wages Medicare will cover for in-home health care.
Many families have been unable to find and retain trained health care workers for their loved ones with disabilities because of the low wages. Advocates note that people who do the same work in state institutions receive higher wages.
The job of caring for a person with physical or mental disabilities is arduous, advocates argue. They often feed, bathe and care for kids and adults who can’t care for themselves. It’s hard work, and it takes people who are dedicated, caring and compassionate.
Most in-home health-care workers for people with disabilities are employed by nonprofits and are paid under the state Medicaid program, matched by federal dollars. The Wolf administration at the end of December adding $400 million in funding to provide a $1 per hour increase wages for in-home workers. But advocates argue that increase isn’t enough to attract workers, and they predict the care crisis will get worse.
Juvenile Justice Reform
Another major issue looming before the legislature is juvenile justice reform.
Republican and Democratic legislators spent a year studying the issue and found that children as young as 10 years old are being placed in adult prisons, often before they have even been convicted of anything. Many of these children have not been accused of violent crimes, but of petty misdemeanors. They are denied education and exposed to an environment that threatens to harden them into life-long criminals.
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Commission recommended stopping the practice of automatically putting children in adult prisons for some crimes, and it proposed other reforms to eliminate abuse at juvenile facilities. But after all those months of work, legislators had not proposed a single bill by March 2022.
Advocates of children are pledging to intensify the pressure on legislators and the governor to get laws changes to protect Pennsylvania’s children from what is nothing short of human rights abuses as bad as those in the developing world.
It remains to be seen what impact the Russian invasion of Ukraine
will have on Pennsylvania politics, but there are many people in the commonwealth with relatives now facing the horrors of war. Pennsylvania’s elected officials may be called to help ease the path to bringing Ukrainian refugees into the United States, but that is also likely to fuel calls for welcoming refugees from other countries.
The Ukrainian war could push even those opposed to loosening immigration restrictions to rethink their positions, as Americans of Ukrainian descent demand this country help their families in need.