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Government Outreach -August 21, 2023

Government Affairs & General Updates
August 21, 2023

1. Pa. legislators look to move 2024 primary for Passover - The 2024 primary is eight months away, but both Republican and Democratic politicians are looking to move the date a few weeks earlier. As it stands, the primary is to be held April 23. The Jewish holiday of Passover begins the night prior and, per Jewish tradition, observant worshippers are to abstain from work during the first two and last two days. This work includes voting. "It’s an important holiday, and it’s a holiday where many individuals will be going to services and not working, and certainly voting would be an activity which they would prefer not to do on an important holiday,” said Sen. Judy Schwank from Berks County. Jewish people would be able to vote using an absentee ballot, but it may not be fair that a specific group of people has to vote a certain way, Schwank said. "It doesn’t seem equitable to tell, you know, a certain population, you vote this way because we can’t accommodate you to vote in person,” Schwank said. Schwank is co-chair of the recently formed Jewish Legislative Caucus, which works to add Jewish perspectives into legislation. Both the state House and Senate have legislation in committee that would move the 2024 date up. The bills aim to move the primary to the third Tuesday in April as opposed to the fourth Tuesday. Read More

2. Pennsylvania’s jobless rate has fallen to a new record low, matching the national rate - Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate fell to a new record low in July, and is now at the same as the national rate, according to government figures released Friday. Meanwhile, payrolls hit a new record high, while the state’s labor force shrank. The state’s unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 3.5% from June’s rate, the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The drop was the largest in the nation last month. The national rate was 3.5% in July, as the number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the U.S. fell again last week to remain at healthy levels in the face of high interest rates and inflation. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate normally lags the national rate because of an economy that is less dynamic than some other states and a workforce that is relatively older and slower-growing. Kurt Rankin, vice president and senior economist for the PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said that hasn’t changed. But, Rankin said, it was inevitable that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate would catch up to a national unemployment rate that has remained exceptionally low for so long in a tight labor market. Pennsylvania’s workforce remains relatively stagnant Read More

3. Why some of Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s cabinet picks still have ‘acting’ next to their title Seven months into his first term as Pennsylvania’s governor, two of Democrat Josh Shapiro’s picks for top cabinet posts haven’t been confirmed by the state Senate. In practice, the distinction between an acting and confirmed secretary is minimal. Shapiro’s two acting secretaries, Debra Bogen of the Department of Health and Wendy Spicher of the Department of Banking and Securities, have essentially the same powers as cabinet officials approved by state senators. But Bogen’s continued service in that role has roiled at least two Republican lawmakers who now want to curtail the powers of acting secretaries. Shapiro recalled Bogen’s nomination in late June after it became clear she did not have the votes to be confirmed by the GOP-controlled state Senate. The governor has yet to announce publicly whether he will once again put Bogen before the state Senate for consideration or will nominate someone else to fill the role on a permanent basis. State Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York) and Judy Ward (R., Blair) say that allowing acting secretaries to perform their duties without lawmakers’ approval permits the governor and his cabinet to evade oversight set up in the state constitution. They intend to introduce a constitutional amendment that would limit the powers of such secretaries in September. Read More

4. Philly woes inflate state child abuse death toll. A data point worth noting in new child abuse data is the outsized impact the state's largest city has on those statewide numbers. Philadelphia -- which has 13.3% of the state's under-18 population and 15% of the state's under-5 population - accounted for more than 28% of the 60 child abuse deaths in the state last year. For context, the 17 abuse deaths in 2022 is tied for the most in any year since at least 2015. There were 17 child deaths linked to abuse in 2020. In 2020, there were 73 abuse deaths statewide so Philadelphia's death toll accounted for 23% of the statewide number. There were two child deaths linked to abuse in Allegheny County in 2022, according to the Child Protective Services annual report. Dauphin County, with four child deaths linked to abuse, was second in the state. The areas outside of Philadelphia had fewer deaths attributed to child abuse in 2022 than in any year since 2018.

5. House lawmaker proposes bill to limit nepotism in school districts. A House lawmaker is proposing legislation to crack down on school nepotism by barring school board members from serving in districts in which immediate family members are employed. "This legislation is necessary to prevent the inevitable conflicts of interest that are bound to arise when the directors are tasked with making decisions that directly affect their family members. School directors are responsible for many of the decisions that affect the school building, students, staff, and taxpayers. It is crucial that their vote is based on benefiting these groups and not influenced by benefiting their family member," state Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, said in a cosponsor memo. Gaydos' memo said the legislation would bar residents from serving as school board members in districts where immediate family members are employed.

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