WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf this week signed an executive order to make sweeping changes to executive branch agencies and programs to better target the public health crisis of gun violence.
The executive order is the result of months of work by Wolf and his administration to focus on substantive steps that can be taken to reduce gun violence and make communities safer.
The nearly two dozen new initiatives and reforms directed under the order fall into four primary categories:
• New oversight and data sharing;
• Reducing community gun violence;
• Combating mass shootings;
• Addressing the rising number of gun-related domestic incidents and self-inflicted shootings, including suicides by gun.
“Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence. We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens,” Wolf said. “The action I am announcing includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”
The governor’s executive order names Charles Ramsey, chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), as a senior advisor charged with coordinating and facilitating gun violence reduction. Ramsey will lead a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the PCCD, and the office will contain a Special Council on Gun Violence tasked with meeting within 60 days to begin developing a plan to reduce gun violence in our commonwealth.
The executive order also creates the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health. The two new offices will work together to tackle gun violence from both the gun safety and public health perspectives. Together, they will establish new oversight and data sharing, reduce community gun violence, combat mass shootings, and halt domestic violence-related and self-inflicted shootings.
“The opportunity to explore gun violence in its totality is a unique challenge, but I am confident that the Council, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at PCCD, and the Division of Violence Prevention at DOH will be up to that task,” Ramsey said.
More than 1,600 people died in Pennsylvania from gunshot wounds in 2017, a rate above the national average. While all types of violence must be addressed, guns account for the weapon used in 74 percent of all homicides and 52 percent of fatal suicides in Pennsylvania. The spikes in gun violence have led to billions of taxpayer dollars going toward efforts to increase security in schools and other public places and provide medical care to survivors, while families and communities have suffered invaluable losses when loved ones die of senseless gun violence.
Wolf said he recognizes that executive action alone cannot end gun violence in Pennsylvania. In addition to his call for a federal assault weapons ban, he will also call upon the General Assembly to pass safe storage legislation to reduce the number of accidental shootings, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the red flag law, lost and stolen gun reporting, and universal background checks by the Pennsylvania State Police on all gun purchases.
Mass shootings to be addressed
Wolf’s executive order will immediately begin to address combating mass shootings. Some of the actions include:
• Charge state police with expanding their monitoring of hate groups, white nationalists, and other fringe organizations and individuals, and conducting investigations, online and in communities, related to any threats of violence by these groups or individuals.
• Expand the “See Something/Send Something” program to receive reports of suspicions of mass shootings by text and use a campaign to raise awareness of the ability to contact police by text.
• Coordinate PSP and MPOTEC with local first responders to develop training on how to facilitate and handle warnings of suspicions of potential mass shootings.
• PSP and PA Capitol Police will coordinate with agency secretaries to offer active shooter/incident management training to all employees, not just management.
• Enroll Pennsylvania in the “States for Gun Safety” coalition, a multistate partnership charged with combating the gun violence by sharing information and establishing the nation’s first regional Gun Violence Research Consortium.
• Direct the Office of Homeland Security to launch an awareness campaign regarding the local, state, and federal resources on safety planning and preparedness.
Wolf said the executive action taken Friday will provide greater protection for all Pennsylvanians by targeting various types of gun violence with both preventative and proactive programs.
Wolf said he recognizes the Second Amendment, but believes all Americans and Pennsylvanians have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that also must be protected.
“It is my honor and my duty to guide our commonwealth to a place where residents are not dying from gun violence while also upholding rights,” Wolf said. “By finding the right middle ground, we can create the best Pennsylvania; one of freedom without fear. The conversation of where this middle ground lays is ongoing, and I look forward to continuing it with the legislature as we move into the start of the fall session.”
PA ABLE assets have grown by
more than $9M since July 2018
Treasurer Joe Torsella last week announced the PA ABLE Savings Program (PA ABLE) has more than doubled its assets in just one year.
PA ABLE currently has more than $18.4 million in assets, up from $8.6 million in July 2018. The program continues to be one of the fastest growing members of the National ABLE Alliance, with more than 2,500 PA ABLE accounts opened since the program’s beginning in 2017.
“The fast growth of PA ABLE demonstrated by these numbers shows just how important a program like this is to members of the disability community,” Torsella said. “PA ABLE allows those with disabilities and their families a way to save without losing access to government benefits they have come to rely on. Giving our friends and neighbors access to PA ABLE allows them to plan for the future, build real wealth, and live more independently. Saving for expenses like modified vehicles to get to work, or assistive technology to enhance independence was once considered impossible for many for fear of losing necessary benefits — now with PA ABLE, more things than ever are within reach for those with disabilities in the commonwealth. I’d like to thank the Pennsylvania General Assembly for its continued support of this growing program.”
PA ABLE provides a tax-advantaged way for Pennsylvanians with disabilities and their families to save. Saving with PA ABLE does not jeopardize access to state and federal programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (savings up to $100,000) and Medical Assistance. Funds saved in PA ABLE accounts can be used to pay for any qualified disability related expense including housing, education, and healthcare costs.
PA ABLE launched in April 2017 after the passage of the PA ABLE Act.
Advances in animal health
highlighted in Senate, House
Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees last week highlighted advances in animal health and bio-security during a public hearing that was held in conjunction with Penn State’s Ag Progress Days 2019.
Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Elder Vogel, R-Rochester, noted the importance of the additional funding in the 2019-20 budget to protect the health of the agriculture industry. The new budget boosts funding for the Department of Agriculture by more than $19 million.
The Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission, which is responsible for investigating and addressing diseases in farm animals, received $2 million in this year’s budget. An additional $4 million was also dedicated to the Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness initiative to facilitate the state’s response to public health threats, such as avian influenza, or invasive species that threaten the industry, such as the spotted lanternfly.
The hearing featured testimony from Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, Penn State Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences Dr. Richard Roush, state Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services State Veterinarian and Director Kevin Brightbill, and Dr. Ernest Hovingh Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.