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WILKES-BARRE — As medical experts warn that the coronavirus may be here to stay, other are conjecturing there will be more novel viruses coming.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, this week said she believes pandemic planning must be a central feature of state policy and has offered a plan to conduct an informed, non-partisan after action assessment of Pennsylvania’s capabilities and response.

“If there is anything that has garnered widespread agreement, it is that Title 35 and our health statutes are woefully insufficient for providing direction and guidance for responding to a pandemic,” Baker said. “That is the starting point for legislative action and an intensive undertaking, but still only a part of what we must do.”

Baker’s bill would establish a commission charged with conducting the assessment and applying the lessons learned from our experience since February to design a structure in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

“We all realize that mistakes and misjudgments were made in the midst of uncertainty, but this is not an exercise in fault-finding,” Baker stated. “It is meant to develop recommendations — laws, policies, regulations, proposed constitutional amendments — whatever is necessary so that we move in coordinated and expeditious fashion to protect public health and safety in the future.”

The commission would be constituted of those who are part of the response and those who are economically affected by shutdown orders including representatives of state and local governments, the courts, educational institutions, health care and human service providers, the business sector, tourism, agriculture, community and nonprofit organizations and professional groups.

Because of the friction points that have become evident during the pandemic, Baker said the commission would also weigh how to find the proper balance between the responsibilities of elected and appointed officials and the rights of individuals and the operators of commercial, institutional, and care-giving facilities. This would include distinguishing between mandates and recommendations, and what methods are appropriate for encouraging and enforcing compliance.

“My view is that we should work through the issues now in establishing this commission, so that the framework is in place whenever the moment is reached when its deliberations to identify legislative and regulatory remedies can constructively begin,” Baker added.

“Given the number of cases, the tragic deaths, the folks who are suffering lingering symptoms, the stress on the health care system, the economic losses, and the disruption of lives, we are compelled to modernize our laws before the next crisis strikes.”

Cartwright announces

$1.35 million in funding

• Over $750,000 in assistance to first responders in NEPA

• $600,000 to support survivors of domestic violence

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, this week announced major funding for the region.

Cartwright said seven first responder agencies will be awarded a total of $733,921.38 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Program (AFG) to be used for operations and safety equipment.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Cartwright helped craft legislation that authorized $355 million for the AFG Program in fiscal year 2020.

Additionally, five first responder agencies will receive a total of $24,806.07 through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant – COVID-19 Supplemental Program (AFG-S) to be used for personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies.

“It is my duty to ensure first responders have what they need to keep themselves and our communities safe, especially now when even the most basic call threatens exposure to COVID-19,” said Rep. Cartwright, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I think of these heroes and their families as I press my colleagues to act and provide more support for our public safety infrastructure.”

The following agencies in Northeastern Pennsylvania have received AFG awards:

Pittston Township Volunteer Fire Dept. – $48,809.52

Hawley Hemlock Farms Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company – $117,619.05

City of Hazleton Fire Department – $59,090.91

Harding Fire Company – $61,904.76

Preston Township Northern Wayne Fire Co. Inc. – $32,252.38

City of Nanticoke Fire Department – $260,000.00

Hanover Township Community Ambulance Assoc. Inc. – $154,244.76

The following agencies in Northeastern Pennsylvania have received AFG-S awards:

Borough of Freeland Fire Department – $8,190.48

Roaring Brook Township Elmhurst Roaring Brook Volunteer Fire Co. – $9,028.48

Hawley Forest Volunteer Fire Department – $2,833.33

Preston Township Northern Wayne Fire Co. Inc. – $2,857.14

Childs Meredith Hose Co. – $1,896.64

Cartwright also announced a $600,000 grant to the Domestic Violence Service Center through the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.

The Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program provides funding for civil and criminal legal assistance programs at minimum or no cost for adult and youth victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“The Domestic Violence Service Center and Victims Resource Center are working tirelessly to help people who suffered get justice by guiding them through complex legal systems,” said Rep. Cartwright, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “By connecting survivors of domestic violence to the support and legal assistance they need, we are helping them heal and move forward with their lives.”

The Domestic Violence Service Center (DVSC), with collaborative partner, Victim Resource Center, plan to use the grant to provide legal advice and representation in family law matters such as child support, custody, divorce and housing to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in Luzerne, Carbon, and Wyoming Counties. The funding will support three staff attorneys and three legal assistants, allowing the partnership to increase their service capacity.

For over 40 years, DVSC has offered free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence including 24-hour hot lines for information and referral, crisis intervention, emergency shelter, group and individual counseling, and advocacy.

Rep. Toohil gives update

to Hazleton Rotary Club

Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, this week provided an update on her recent legislative activities and response to the COVID-19 health crisis for members of the Rotary Club of Hazleton as guest speaker during the organization’s weekly meeting, which was conducted virtually.

Toohil said her office and the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce developed a task force for responding to pandemic-related issues in the Hazleton area.

“We immediately got together with the chamber and worked on creating a task force locally so we could address what was going on in our community, when we saw that we were getting hit harder than other parts of the state and county,” Toohil told members. “The demands on our office have really been immense, and the pace of things has continued to be pretty extreme,”

Toohil discussed her concerns related to the pandemic’s negative impact on Pennsylvania families and children, and the poor timing of Gov. Tom Wolf’s renewed call for the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“We’re trying to address the concerns of Pennsylvania families and the troubles they’re going through with drugs, alcohol, and other pandemic-related issues such as domestic violence and depression. Things are very bleak right now,” she said. “The governor’s statement shows a complete disregard for the consequences of marijuana use. I am questioning the timing of his advocacy. We don’t want to go after a revenue source when it’s at the expense of our children.”

Toohil touched on how busy her district office in Hazleton has been handling unemployment compensation (UC) claims.

“The phone just rings of the hook and we are basically a state unemployment office,” Toohil commented. “Response times are taking longer in all government departments since not all workers are in their buildings and the mail is piling up. The system has completely broken down.”

Toohil also said she is working on legislation to remove a voter’s party affiliation from being listed on the outside of mail-in ballots to reduce the potential for tampering.

At the conclusion of her remarks, Toohil took questions from the online audience about nursing home visitation, eviction notices and restaurant restrictions.


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