As we begin another year, I’d like to take time to briefly look back on some highlights of 2023 and my first year in the Pennsylvania Senate. This past year has been challenging but I believe we have made a real difference in several critical areas that help Pennsylvanians.
2023 marked a giant leap forward in the battle against cancer as we enacted a first-in-the nation comprehensive breast cancer screening bill, which I was proud to co-prime sponsor. This new law, the first bill signed (Act 1) by the governor of the new session, eliminates out-of-pocket costs associated with BRCA-related genetic testing and counseling as well as supplemental screening such as breast MRI and ultrasound for women and men at high risk.
Undeniably, early detection saves lives. By eliminating the cost barriers associated with cancer screenings and testing, more women and men will have the opportunity to receive these lifesaving procedures.
One of the biggest developments last year was enactment of the 2023-24 state budget which held the line on taxes, promotes job growth, continues historic support for schools and sets aside money to prevent future tax hikes.
The final budget and related bills took an important step toward reducing the tax burden, ensuring healthy and safe communities, providing mental and behavioral health support, expanding workforce development and job opportunities, funding our schools and providing education empowerment and access for more Pennsylvanian families.
One of the reasons my colleagues and I worked to build the state’s Rainy-Day Fund to historic levels, and resist new recurring spending, was to strengthen the commonwealth’s fiscal position. Because of this sound financial management, one of the nation’s leading credit rating agencies, Fitch Ratings, upgraded the state’s bond rating. Earlier this fall, Moody’s Investor Services and S&P Global Ratings both upgraded Pennsylvania’s long-term financial outlook.
These upgrades will lead to lower debt service costs, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. It’s great to see that our efforts are paying off for taxpayers and setting our state on a better fiscal course.
Recognizing the challenges health care providers face and the importance of meeting these needs immediately, I worked to ensure residents across Pennsylvania continue to receive access to needed health care services.
EMS systems face extremely serious financial and workforce challenges. The budget process addressed the needs of the EMS community by increasing reimbursement rates for services and ensuring providers are compensated for all loaded miles. These changes will drive $63.1 million of new revenue and new resources into the statewide EMS network beginning in the new year.
Another bill I was proud to sponsor aims to reduce the educational challenges faced by children of National Guard and Reserve members. Senate Bill 209 was unanimously approved by the Senate in June and awaits action in the House of Representatives.
Military families face frequent reassignments, posing educational challenges for children transitioning between schools in different states. Senate Bill 209 will give children of National Guard and Reserve members the same help provided to those of active-duty military families through the Military Interstate Children’s Compact. The compact provides a consistent set of policies that make getting started in a new school, joining extracurricular activities, facilitating enrollment and meeting graduation requirements as easy as possible for military children.
I raised four young children during my military service and know firsthand the challenges military families can face. I’m eager for the House to pass this bill and get it signed into law.
I was especially proud to sponsor legislation that will create the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care in Pennsylvania, which will study the unique health care and access issues facing women veterans and make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly for action.
There are more than 63,000 women veterans in Pennsylvania. By 2045, it is estimated that women will make up approximately 18% of our nation’s veterans.
My work as chair of the Senate Communications and Technology Committee produced several pieces of important legislation. We held a public hearing examining government cloud-based cybersecurity and passed legislation to improve the cyber security footing of state government, requiring new purchases of computer hardware to meet National Institute of Standards and Technology best practices for computer security.
The committee also approved legislation I sponsored to provide citizens affected by a data breach a free credit report and a year of credit monitoring while they recover. The Senate passed the bill as well. Our committee also approved social media protections for minors and is planning to tackle more pressing topics in the year ahead, such as artificial intelligence.
There is plenty of work to be done in 2024 and I look forward to continuing to advance measures that benefit Pennsylvania taxpayers and families. I hope you have a wonderful and prosperous new year.
Sen. Tracy Pennycuick represents the 24th Senatorial District, covering portions of Berks and Montgomery counties.
CONTACT: Matt Szuchyt (215) 541-2388