A Recap of the 2021-22 Legislative Session
The 2021-22 legislative session, heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and disputes over emergency powers, resulted in fewer bills being passed focused on substantive policy change, including ones to improve the lives of children and families in Pennsylvania. Only 100 bills were signed into law in 2021, and so far, just over 100 have been signed by Gov. Wolf in 2022. This number of bills tracks well behind previous legislative sessions.
Some of the bills of interest to PPC and our campaign partners that passed during the 2021-22 legislative session include the following:
- SB 522 – Act 150 of 2022 (Baker): Creates the Childhood Blood Lead Testing Act. PPC has been actively advocating for this bill. While we are disappointed testing requirements were weakened via last-minute amendment, this bill is a great first step in addressing the scourge of lead exposure in Pennsylvania.
- SB 324 – Act 1 of 2022 (Langerholc): Creates a uniform statewide process for school districts to help youth who have experienced educational instability. PPC signed a letter of support for this bill in June of 2021.
- HB 253 – Act 2 of 2022 (Owlett): Establishes a task force between the executive and legislative branches studying the impact of the opioid epidemic on children. The act also provides $200 million in remaining federal stimulus dollars to hospitals and health care workers.
- HB 2426 – Act 131 of 2022 (Hickernell): Moves the stand-alone Resource Family Act passed in 2005 into Title 67 of the Human Services Code, prompting DHS to promulgate compliance regulations.
- SB 1235 – Act 94 of 2022 (DiSanto): Prohibits DHS from limiting CHIP MCO plans from bidding to allow for more consumer choice.
- HR 119 (Boback): Directs the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study and make recommendations on developing an integrated information system for child welfare programs under the purview of OCYF. The results of the study can be found here.
Advocates viewed the 2021-22 state budget as disappointing and short-sighted. Though the commonwealth was flush with federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, legislators decided to stash $2.5 billion in excess state revenue in the rainy day fund and flat-fund or provide lackluster increases for programs adversely impacted by the pandemic. The omnibus code bills also did little to improve the lives of children, with the Fiscal Code primarily focused on driving out federal stimulus funds for new programs; these one-time funds were necessary to ease pandemic woes but did little to solve systemic problems in the early childhood education system.
Conversely, this year's state budget made historic early care and education investments. After two cycles of flat funding, we were thrilled that policymakers invested $15 million in the DHS budget for evidence-based home visiting to serve an additional 3,800 pregnant women, children, and families. In addition, $1 million was earmarked for the Nurse-Family Partnership line item to serve 200 more families. For pre-k, the budget included $60 million in new state funding for PA Pre-K Counts and $19 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. In K-12 education, we were disappointed that career and technical education received only $6.1 million in the spending plan, particularly considering the context of the historic increase of $750 million for Basic Education Funding.
Decennial legislative redistricting shook up Harrisburg early in 2022. After Gov. Wolf vetoed a proposal passed with only Republican votes, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission was formed. Consisting of legislative leaders of both parties in the House and Senate and independent Chair Mark Nordenberg, the commission approved new maps by a vote of 4-1, with House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff voting in the negative. The new House and Senate maps have withstood multiple court challenges, and the updated districts were used in the May 2022 primary elections.
Primary election results were surprising as primary challengers defeated 11 incumbent lawmakers. Most impactful was the defeat of House Appropriations Majority Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) to Wendy Fink and Senate Appropriations Majority Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) to opponent Jarrett Coleman. With an additional 32 House members and 5 Senators announcing their retirement, the General Assembly will be full of new members in 2023.
PPC has worked hard to advocate for children and families over the 2021-22 legislative session. We look forward to educating new members and building new champions for children's issues in the General Assembly in the 2023-24 session.