Government Affairs & General Updates
August 10, 2023
1. Avian flu relief dollars tied up by impasse over budget-related bills. A $31 million appropriation to help Pennsylvania's poultry industry recover from a costly avian flu epidemic can't be spent until enabling legislation is enacted as part of the unfinished business with the Fiscal Year 2023-24 state budget package, state agriculture officials said. "Details of how these funds can be spent will be determined in legislative language not yet finalized," said Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. The avian flu money is part of $34 million for response to agricultural emergencies - $3 million is for controlling the invasive spotted lanternflies which threaten crops. Speaking at Penn State's Ag Progress Days Wednesday, Gov. Josh Shapiro said the $31 million would help farmers play for testing of flocks and get reimbursed for losses.
2. Lawmaker proposes incentive to reward inmates who study behind bars. A state lawmaker is proposing legislation that would create an incentive for incarcerated people to obtain educational degrees or get vocational training while behind bars. Under the proposal, the amount of time those individuals are on parole following their release would be reduced by three months if they get a high school or college degree or complete vocational training while imprisoned, state Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-Lehigh, said. "Parole allows incarcerated individuals to be conditionally released in order to serve the remaining time of their sentence in the community. Rejoining their community can be difficult, particularly when it comes to securing employment, however, pursuing further education or vocational training can be a vital step in facilitating reentry and reducing recidivism," McNeill said in a cosponsor memo released Tuesday. "This legislation is essential in rewarding those on parole who obtain an educational or vocational certification during the course of their parole. Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation in order to encourage education and vocational training for individuals on parole and to facilitate their reintegration into their communities," she said.
3. New data links teacher shortage to diminished educational outcomes for students. While the state has yet to fully grapple with its obligation to adequately confront the inequities in the way schools are funded and a court ruling concluding that those inequities unconstitutionally shortchange students in poor schools, a researcher this week released dating reaffirming how a shortage of candidates for teaching jobs is aggravating those problems. Penn State professor Ed Fuller used data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education on teacher qualifications from the 2020-21 academic year to examine the extent to which teachers in Pennsylvania schools are under-qualified. While the existence of under-qualified teachers does not necessarily indicate a school has teacher vacancies, the two issues are correlated. Indeed, schools that have difficulty filling teaching positions often resort to hiring under-qualified teachers to fill positions. Among his findings: --
4. Numbers on rise at Palmer Regional - Total number of Spirit passengers since beginning of service in ’11 nearly 3M - In addition to an uptick in the number of passengers flying Spirit Airlines out of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport to reach Myrtle Beach, charter flight services are gaining accolades. “I’m very proud of our people,” Westmoreland County Airport Authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said. “Weare more of a hometown operation, and I think our people show it and they appreciate the customers and passengers that come through.” Inbound and outbound passenger totals at the Unity airport peaked in July at 16,472. The total number of Spirit passengers through the terminal since service began in 2011 is almost 3 million. Authority members believe that mark might be hit in September, if current trends continue. “While these are by no means the record-breaking totals we have seen in past years, which positioned us to reach 3 million, the upward trends we are currently seeing are certainly encouraging,” Monzo said. Monzo said, when Spirit first added the Myrtle Beach flights at the local airport, authority members did not know how long those flights would continue. “We are very happy to see that those flights have lasted through September,” Monzo said. “We’re hopeful that it continues on and maybe develops into more in the future.” On average, the airport’s Myrtle Beach flights reached 90% capacity outbound and 88% capacity inbound in July. Despite those statistics, Monzo said, the success is not just about the numbers. “I think people have realized the advantages of flying out of Latrobe,” he said. “We’re a grassroots airport, providing service to our community. We offer a flight of 175 passengers to Florida nonstop. It’s a huge deal, and I hope people realize that.” Charter flights for Sun Country Airlines, coordinated by Preferred Casino Tours, also are receiving positive reviews. Michelle Miller, station manager at Palmer Airport, reported Preferred Casino officials “are so happy with us, they want a picture of us for their office wall.” “The entire team works very hard to get these flights out on time, safely,” Miller said. “From the shuttle drivers to Special Services, everyone at LBE does an amazing job.”