With 21-22 Pa. legislative closed, a look back at work by area legislators | Local News

Concealed Carry

HARRISBURG — The 2021-22 Legislative Session closed on Wednesday.

There were more than 4,000 bills and 600 resolutions proposed in the state House and Senate, the two chambers that constitute Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. What follows is a look back at the outcome of legislation proposed by area lawmakers.

Rep. Aaron Bernstine

Rep. Aaron Bernstine represented the 10th Legislative District in his first three terms. It had encompassed parts of Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties.

Legislative redistricting changed boundaries and some district numbers, with the numeric designator reassigned to a district in Philadelphia.

Bernstine ran for and won what’s now known as the new 8th Legislative District.

The new 8th holds southern and eastern Lawrence County along with a larger swath of Butler County extending south and east. Taylor Township in Lawrence County was moved to the new 9th district while Slippery Rock Township in Butler County, once also part of the old 10th, is now in the new 17th.

Bernstine emerged from a three-candidate challenge in this past primary election, winning the Republican nomination by 939 votes. The general election was a decidedly easier experience as Bernstine faced no opposition in the fall.

In 2021-22, Bernstine sponsored 298 bills and resolutions. Of that, just four were his own as primary sponsor. One passed through both the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf — one of 17 vetoes by the governor last session.

Bernstine’s House Bill 146 looked to mandate that inmates convicted of either an obstruction charge or a violent crime would remain in prison for at least an additional 12 months or 24 months, respectively, beyond their court-ordered minimum sentence.

The bill was named Markie’s Law in honor of 8-year-old Markie Mason who was stabbed to death in 2019 following a domestic dispute between the defendant and the boy’s mother. Keith Burley Jr., awaits trial in Lawrence County on homicide and related charges. He had previously been convicted of assaulting another inmate while incarcerated on a third-degree murder charge. Burley was granted parole less than four months prior to Mason’s murder.

The bill received bipartisan support as it passed through both the House and Senate, however, Wolf vetoed the measure in September. The governor, in his veto message, said it was a flawed proposal because it would back-door mandatory minimums, include extended penalties for non-violent offenses like contraband possession, and automatically deny parole to inmates far longer than the stated periods because of potential court delays in the related cases.

Bernstine attempted a veto override but fell just short of the two-thirds majority necessary to do so.

“Had this animal who murdered Markie Mason remained behind bars, he would still be alive today. How does this bill not promote public safety? The legislation is all about keeping criminals locked up so they can’t be harmful to society,” Bernstine said following the veto.

Another measure introduced by Bernstine proposed that Pennsylvania become a constitutional carry state, eliminating the need for a license to concealed carry a firearm. It moved out of the House Judiciary Committee but didn’t receive a vote on the House floor.

Such proposals even if passed through both chambers had no chance of becoming law under Wolf who views them as dangerous and a risk to public safety. That’s exactly the fate met by a constitutional carry bill put forward Republican Sen. Kris Dush. It passed along party-line voting in 2021 and was vetoed by Wolf.

Additional proposals introduced by Bernstine seeking to amend state law on nursing licensure to expand educational opportunities and to allow licensed educators to conceal carry firearms in schools each died in their respective House committee assignments.

Bernstine raised eyebrows in June when he offered an amendment to a Senate bill authorizing annual funding for Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities. The amendment sought to require that Penn State, in order to receive the funding, submit a report to the House and Senate Education committees about the location, storage and protection of the statue of former head football coach Joe Paterno that was removed by the university in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal. The amendment was soundly turned down by a House vote.

Rep. Chris Sainato

Rep. Chris Sainato served his 14th and final term representing the 9th Legislative District in 2021-22.

The few Democrats holding power in rural districts are disappearing, even those like Sainato who govern with conservative ideals. WESA 90.5 news radio pointed out that Sainato was endorsed by the NRA and the anti-abortion LifePAC. But, he lost his re-election bid to Republican challenger Marla Brown by 1,502 votes in the fall midterms.

The redrawn 9th District — the new bounds taking hold in 2023-24 — doesn’t look much different than before. It adds Taylor and Wilmington townships in Lawrence County.

In Sainato’s final term, he sponsored 185 bills and resolutions. He introduced just three bills and two resolutions, one being a corrected version, as primary sponsor.

The bills all stalled in the House. All three were assigned to the committee of which he had served as minority party chair, Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness.

They separately proposed a $1,000,000 allocation to the Veterans’ Trust Fund from the state’s American Rescue Plan funding, a loan forgiveness program for first responders pursuing higher education, and an update of the State Armory Board’s governing rules and powers.

None of the bills made it into law. However, Sainato successfully amended an expansive House bill meant to aid Pennsylvania first responders to include a loan assistance program. That bill, too, didn’t make it into law. But, a different House bill with the same intent included Sainato’s loan assistance language and did pass through the General Assembly. It became Act 104 of 2022.

Sainato’s proposed resolution sought to amend the state constitution to expand eligibility for the disabled veterans’ real estate tax exemption. It gained no traction in the House.

Rep. Parke Wentling

Rep. Parke Wentling enters his fifth two-year term but with newly redrawn district lines, it will be his first in service of Pennsylvania’s 7th Legislative District. Its makeup is radically different compared to Wentling’s former territory in the old 17th.

The 17th had swept north to south along the western edges of Erie and Crawford counties and further south through central Mercer County and the north-central edge of Lawrence County. That district now consists of central and eastern Mercer County and sweeps into the northern part of Butler County. It will be represented by Rep. Tim Bonner.

Wentling takes over in the 7th, which had been represented by Democratic Rep. Mark Longietti, who retired from legislative office. It stretches north to south in Mercer County along the state border and includes Farrell, Hermitage and Sharon, picking up portions north and east of Greenville.

Wentling’s return to the state House wasn’t easy. He defeated his Democratic challenger in the new district by just 741 votes.

In 2021-22, Wentling served on four committees: Aging & Older Adult Services, Game & Fisheries, Local Government, and Tourism & Recreational Development. He sponsored just 26 general bills and two resolutions.

Of those, eight were his own. Four stalled in the House. Four passed on to the Senate but made it no further. The measures varied though several focused on business and development.

He sought to repeal the state’s Frozen Dessert Law, which he said in a legislative memo is rife with redundancies in testing and regulation. He proposed a change to the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority program granting low-interest loans and lines of credit for businesses by adding the level of capital investment as a qualifier in alternative to the number of potential jobs created.

Wentling also proposed measures that would ease qualifications for companies to retain status as a small business enterprises and also consolidate state oversight of workforce development programs.

As to the measures of which he was a co-sponsor, aside from business-related proposals Wentling proved an ally for bills strengthening gun ownership rights as well as restricting abortion access.

Sen. Elder Vogel

Sen. Elder Vogel enters 2023-24 halfway through his fourth four-year term. The next two years will see him representing a new-look 47th Senatorial District.

The district had been made up of all of Lawrence County and parts of Beaver and Butler counties. It retains just the southern edge of Lawrence, with the rest moved into the new 50th represented by Sen. Michele Brooks. The 47th will now also include the southwest corner of Butler and largely the same territory in Beaver.

This year, the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health named Vogel its 2022 Rural Health Legislator of the Year. His efforts to address mental health needs in the agricultural community plus his advocacy for telemedicine — advocacy that began years before the past session — for agricultural and rural communities were cited by Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

Vogel had five committee assignments last session. He served as chair of Agriculture & Rural Affairs, vice chair of Appropriations and belonged to committees on Banking & Insurance, Environmental Resources & Energy and Transportation.

Vogel sponsored 114 bills and resolutions in 2021-22 including 15 general bills and 9 resolutions that he introduced as the primary sponsor.

Three of the bills passed into law.

Senate Bill 434 became Act 62 of 2021. It allows milk processors to seek exemptions through the Department of Agriculture to the 17-day “sell by” and “best by” dates for pasteurized milk. According to Vogel’s legislation, the law allows exemptions via a science-based “open code” format and established varied testing requirements and standards that must be met ahead of potential approval for an exception.

Senate Bill 1236 became Act 52 of 2022. It expanded reimbursement eligibility for the renamed Very Small Meat and Poultry Processor Reimbursement Grant Program. It also clarified necessary reporting and eligible costs to include consulting, employee training and up to 85% of related processing equipment, for example.

Reimbursement caps out at $100,000 for any recipient over a five-year period. Agricultural and youth organizations can apply for up to $7,500. The legislation is intended to boost Pennsylvania’s meat and poultry processing capabilities.

Senate Bill 1237 became Act 97 of 2022. It added three years to temporary horse racing regulations, now expiring in October 2025, allowing further time to incorporate national safety and medication standards from a 2020 federal law to be incorporated into permanent regulations for Pennsylvania.

Vogel introduced a bill to formally define aspects of telemedicine such as remote patient monitoring and provider-to-provider interaction. It also outlined which professionals can provide such services: licensed healthcare workers, licensed hospitals, federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics.

The measure passed through the Senate but stalled upon assignment to the House Insurance Committee.

Another bill introduced by Vogel looked to expand access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. He cited professional shortages in urban and rural areas, seeking to increase access through the expansion of the existing Penn State University SAFE-T Program. It uses telemedicine to remotely care for victims.

The bill passed through the Senate without opposition but lost momentum when it reached the House Health Committee.

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