A three–pronged effort by Sen. Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and state Sen. Dominic Pileggi could lead to a safer and more efficient rail and road transit network.
Casey recently sent a letter to the Obama Administration appraising it of the situation and requesting federal dollars and oversight to address the issue. He said he was concerned with the number of rail spills and derailments in Philadelphia and other counties in the state.
“Train derailments threaten the health and economic well-being of communities across Pennsylvania,” Casey said. “New safety requirements by the Department Transportation are a step in the right direction but more must be done to protect vulnerable communities and our first responders. Pennsylvania has borne the brunt of many of these derailments.
“It’s important for residents to have the peace of mind in knowing that the necessary actions are being taken to improve safety on our nation’s railways.”
In his letter, Casey noted crude-oil shipments by rail have increased drastically over the past several years, largely due to the rise of oil production in North Dakota, and that large quantities of this oil travel through Pennsylvania and other states on a daily basis and are shipped by older rail cars that are prone to rupture.
The increase in shipments by rail, Casey wrote, “has unfortunately led to an alarming number of train derailments in Pennsylvania and put communities” at risk.
Separately, the transportation department recently publicized its Transportation Update Report on its website, www.TalkPATransportation.com.
The report is a combined effort of the State Transportation Commission, the State Transportation Advisory Committee and PennDOT. The report reviews the system’s status, performance within current resources, and opportunities for progress. The report rated most highway safety focus areas and travel information as well as resource sharing, innovation and cost-savings initiatives as “good” and improving.
“This report shows that additional resources are allowing us to improve the state of our transportation system, making it safer and improving mobility,” said acting PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “I encourage Pennsylvanians to review the report to see how we’re working for them and understand the challenges and opportunities we face.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Transportation Committee recently passed state Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s bill that clearly codifies the ability of private entities to develop properties and other enmities at mass transit hubs.
Piileggi’s bill advances the Pennsylvania Transit Revitalization Investment District Act, which passed in 2004 but has been bogged down ever since.
“The goal of the original [bill] law is admirable: encouraging private development at mass transit hubs,” Piileggi said. “Unfortunately, since the law’s enactment, only one [development] has been created. It has become clear that the law needs to be streamlined and strengthened and Senate Bill 385 makes the changes needed for [developments] to become real engines for economic growth.”
Pileggi’s bill now goes before the full Senate.
Job training tax credit plan
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has introduced a bill that would provide a dollar–for–dollar tax credits to businesses that contribute to job training programs. Johnson said the idea partially grew from a recent report on the merits of attaching tax credit to job creation.
Businesses who apply for the program and contribute $60,000 to a qualified scholarship organization will qualify for the tax credit. Examples of skilled positions include welding professional, nursing assistant, and HVAC repair technician.
“This bill will make skilled labor positions more available by encouraging businesses to invest in low-cost skill certification programs,” Johnson said. “This will employ folks with higher paying jobs, increase our tax base and is the exact type of investment government should be making in our workforce.”
Mandating probation for sex offenders
Legislation requiring courts to impose a mandatory three–year probation to immediately follow the convictions of serious sex offenders unanimously passed the judiciary committee and now heads to the House floor for further consideration.
The bill would specifically require the courts to impose a mandatory three–year probation period consecutive to any term of total confinement for a person convicted of a Tier III sex offense under Pennsylvania’s Adam Walsh Act.
Under existing law, the court has the flexibility to order supervision by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, or county probation. If a person is paroled and adequately adjusts to freedom under parole supervision, current law permits the court to modify, or even terminate, probation supervision.
“These people pose a serious risk to public safety when they are released back into the community without a level of supervision to monitor their transition, said bill author state Rep. Ron Marsico. “Megan’s Law, which requires registration as a sex offender, may provide law enforcement and the community with information about their residence, work and school locations. But without parole or probation supervision there is little way of knowing whether a serious sex offender is making an appropriate adjustment from incarceration to freedom, and there are no consequences for failing to engage in positive efforts to turn their life around unless the person commits another crime.”
Bipartisan career training efforts
A four–legislator, bipartisan effort has created the select subcommittee on technical education and career readiness, which will focus on secondary and post-secondary education and career training, while conjuring best plans to match graduates with well-paying occupations.
House Education Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, co–chairman state Rep. James Roebuck, state Rep. Seth Grove and Majority Leader Dave Reed, jointly announced the creation of this committee.
“I have been very impressed by the performance of our STEM and technical schools, both with their graduation rates and ability to quickly place graduates in good paying careers,” Saylor said. “When we see schools performing in this manner, we should seek to maximize their success because it results in stronger communities and Pennsylvanians employed in careers with family-sustaining incomes.”
Roebuck concurred, noting that success is not only in a four-year education, it’s also in “the opportunities offered by career and technical training” that might be less than four years.
“Those are opportunities that students should consider,” said Roebuck, “and in many cases, those opportunities may be the ones they need for success as they move into adult life.”
Senate passes bill to expunge minor criminal records
Now, making a criminal mistake as a youth won’t follow the doe through his or her adult life, as long as there are no other criminal charges and no further interactions with police.
State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf’s bill would allow individuals who have served a sentence for nonviolent third and second degree misdemeanors to petition the court for expungement of their criminal records after at least seven years without a new offense. The legislation is expected to help counter high rates of recidivism, relieve an overburdened pardon system, and provide more opportunities for ex–offenders to join the workforce.
“A low-level misdemeanor in one’s past is often a barrier when seeking employment, long after they have completed their sentence,” said Greenleaf. “A number of states are expanding their expungement laws to reduce the period during which a minor criminal record can punish people.”