Berks lawmakers discuss minimum wage, education and welfare to work at legislative breakfast - 6/14/2019
Minimum wage, welfare to work and charter cyber schools were among the topics touched on Friday at the legislative breakfast hosted by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing.
The Berks County state delegation was invited to participate in a panel discussion, and most did, including senators Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat; Katie Muth, a Montgomery County Democrat; Bob Mensch, a Montgomery County Republican; and David G. Argall, a Schuylkill County Republican, and representatives Ryan E. Mackenzie, a Lehigh County Republican; David M. Maloney Sr., a Pike Township Republican; Jim Cox, a Spring Township Republican; Jerry P. Knowles, a Schuylkill County Republican, and Barry Jozwiak, a Bern Township Republican.
Around 160 people, mostly in the business community, attended.
Moderator Gail A. Landis, senior vice president in charge of government and community relations at the chamber, asked questions and gave participants an opportunity to share what initiatives have their attention in Harrisburg.
Schwank shared details about her bill that would require parents who choose to send their children to a private cyber charter school to pay tuition on their own when their school district has a cyber school. This is similar to parents who pay tuition to send students to parochial school.
"In Berks County, our school districts are sending $17 million to cyber charter schools that are not based here in Berks County, and who are not performing to the level we would want for our children and grandchildren," Schwank said, adding that she is not opposed to cyber education or school choice.
Schools in different districts pay different rates per student for the same service.
"If we want to reduce school property taxes, we've got to look at some of our costs," Schwank said.
Muth talked about the need for affordable housing and advocated for raising the minimum wage.
"In Berks County, we know that 21% of households live on less than $25,000 a year," Muth said. Having recently gone on a poverty tour around the state, she said it was heart breaking to hear the struggle of people who can't afford to live in some places.
Mensch said the solution to affordable housing is to expand the economy by helping businesses to hire more people.
"Government doesn't create economy. We enable the economy, and we do it mainly through tax policy," Mensch said. "What continues to inhibit us in Pennsylvania is our tax structures and over regulation." He recounted a recent policy meeting with the state Department of Environmental Protection where someone suggested a new regulation that would cost builders more to do businesses. He said there needs to be compromise between regulations and and what works for businesses.
Argall promoted his welfare-to-work plan. It is a mandate to encourage able bodied people on certain welfare programs to go out and do more for their education, work a defined number of hours a week to maintain their benefits, or do volunteer service in the community.
"We are looking for common ground," Argall said. Similar welfare-to-work bills have passed twice in previous sessions but the governor vetoed the bills both times.
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A brief look at updates from Berks House members at the legislative breakfast hosted by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.
Rep. Ryan Mackenzie promoted House Bill 1170, which would require employers in the construction industry to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure they don't employee people not authorized to work in the United States.
Rep. David M. Maloney Sr. said that more audits should take place within government to see how state money is being spent.
Rep. Barry Jozwiak said that despite Gov. Tom Wolf's talk of charging a fee to fund state police in municipalities that don't have local police forces, the proposal is out of the budget as of Friday.
Rep. Jim Cox is retooling House Bill 1005. In the case of an opioid overdose, naloxone can be used to revive a patient. The law that allows for the administration by an emergency responder or family member also requires the patient be transported to the hospital for treatment. The bill would require that, at that time, the administration of the naloxone should be added to the patient's record so a doctor can address it.
Rep. Jerry Knowles said that there is a gray tsunami coming as electricians, plumbers and welders retire. Pennsylvania needs to do more to promote trade schools.