By Rep. Anita Kulik
As I sit in my office at the Capitol, I can see the sun shining on the lawn and can feel that spring has arrived. With the Capitol back open to the public, it is nice to see at least a small contingency of visitors, bringing some life back to this magnificent building.
I hope that you consider taking a trip to come to see your Capitol building. I will be scheduling a bus trip again for a tour of the Capitol. If you ever do come to visit, I hope you will stop by my office to say hello.
Several critical bills have moved through the House, some in response to the pandemic, and some others dealing with more common issues. All-in-all, I am happy that it has been a productive couple of weeks for the House of Representatives.
Many of us have been waiting months and months to have in-person visits with family members residing in nursing care facilities. Not having personal contact with family and familiar caregivers has been detrimental to the physical and mental health of the residents in these facilities, and to our own mental health as well. When you are used to being with loved ones and being able to simply hold their hands or give them a hug, the lack of such interaction is unfortunate and often devastating. My family has experienced these issues and I know first-hand what so many families have gone through.
These shutdowns have prevented family members from viewing the conditions under which these residents have been living. While I am fully confident that most facilities have remained well kept and safe, it is still unnerving not to actually see how your loved one is living.
Being in this position personally, I eagerly co-sponsored House Bill 649, which has successfully passed through the House. It directs the Department of Health to create protocols to allow family members or other designated caregivers entry into care facilities during a disaster declaration, regardless of other restrictions on visitation. Under this bill, a resident can choose a caregiver to provide in-person support, so long as they follow protocols designed to protect the residents. If passed into law, nursing care residents will no longer be without the direct support of family and loved ones.
We have a large number of veterans in our communities and I have been proud to work with my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to help further the causes of those who have served their country. House Bill 491 overwhelmingly passed through the House to make amendments to Title 51 of our statutes dealing with military affairs. If finally passed to the Governor’s desk, an addition will be made to the Veterans’ Benefit Payment Exclusions under Chapter 99. This would mean 100% of veteran’s compensation benefits for service-connected disabilities and other benefits provided by the Commonwealth would be excluded from income calculations for any programs administered by the state that would require inclusion of income as a condition of eligibility. This would also include unmarried surviving spouses.
House Bill 196 also amends Title 51 by offering protections to members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces against employment discrimination.
Living in the Pittsburgh area, we all see more and more people utilizing bicycles as their preferred mode of transportation. House Bill 140 seeks to provide further protections for cyclists by establishing guidelines for pedalcycle lanes. The legislature also passed bills regarding substitute teachers, motorcycle processions and training school personnel on seizure recognition, among other matters.
The house will return to session after Easter and will be taking up bills that address the needs of our bars and restaurants, including the license safekeeping language I proposed, as well as bills and issues that address the pandemic crisis and other matters of concern to Pennsylvanians. I continue to work with my colleagues from adjoining districts on the matter of the tolling of the I-79 bridge at the Bridgeville interchange, and I will keep residents informed of any progress made in stopping this "tax."
It is encouraging to see community activities resuming as we enter warmer weather months, including several community clean-up days, children's Easter events and live performances. I am grateful to all the local organizations, libraries and local governments that have helped keep us engaged through the pandemic.