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Wrapping up 2020: House, Senate enter into late session budget talks

By Rep. Anita Kulik

-Harrisburg Updates-

In a typical election year, neither the State House nor Senate would return to session until the start of the new year. However, 2020 has been anything but typical. COVID-19 cases continue to rise and issues associated with it continue to exist.

Whether it is unemployment, utilities, rent and mortgage assistance, childcare or support for small businesses, issues continue to stand out as we enter what should be the happiest time of the year.

The House and Senate returned to session in Harrisburg on Nov. 16 to deal with the unfinished budget as well as other concerns from various stakeholders and constituents. This article is being prepared prior to the conclusion of the budget negotiations and under publishing deadlines, so information on the budget will be left for future articles.

Senate Bill 835 came back to the House for a concurrence vote and passed unanimously.

This bill makes an appropriation of $5 million from the general fund to the newly created High-Speed Broadband Funding Program Account.

Applicant companies seeking grants to provide high-speed internet access, particularly to underserved areas throughout Pennsylvania, must go through a specific application process and scoring system as well as other rules and restrictions. This will continue the process of making sure proper internet access is available to all our residents.

Drug and substance abuse remains a priority for the legislature, even considering the current COVID-19 health crisis has taken much of the light this year. House Bill 616 passed through the House, addressing the list of Schedule II drugs.

Carfentanil was added to the list as a drug with a high potential for abuse. In addition, House Bill 1662 amends the Methadone Death and Incidence Review Act to establish the Medication Death and Incident Review Team to include deaths and incidents related to the use of medications used to treat opioid addiction as well as those associated with methadone in the annual report.

Medicaid drug pricing was also addressed this week, through House Bill 941. Basically, Managed Care Organizations will be required to contract with any willing pharmacy and allow the Department of Human Services to audit those businesses involved in ensuring medical assistance beneficiaries get their medications.

Further, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee will perform an analysis of Prescription drug pricing in Medicaid, including information on how drugs are paid for and distributed and how pharmacies are paid for their services.

As you may know, I believe in the importance of awareness for many issues. My colleagues and I frequently take action, to bring important social issues to light. These actions have included designations such as Distracted Driving Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness months, and ones relating to various diseases, such as my co-sponsorship of a resolution designating November as Pancreatic Cancer Month.

As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I have spoken with many veterans, or the family members of veterans, and have a particular concern about issues facing those women and men who have sacrificed for our country.

I co-sponsored a resolution designating Nov. 22 as Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day. Many of our veterans suffer from the memories of what they experienced and what they saw. Many of them do not reach out for assistance. If you know of a veteran that is in need of assistance of any kind, please encourage them to contact the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

This has been a very trying year for all of us and the current spikes in COVID cases have many of us regretfully reevaluating how we will be spending our holidays. I am truly thankful for how well everyone in the district has handled the crisis this past year. I know that better times are ahead for us and I wish everyone a truly blessed Thanksgiving.



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