WILKES-BARRE — Local legislators addressed about 50 area residents gathered at King’s College on Saturday for an annual breakfast sponsored by the Wilkes-Barre chapter of the League of Women Voters.
State Senators Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and state Reps. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, and Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, answered questioned on issues that ranged from gerrymandering to education to spending.
Legislators were provided with written questions posed by the event’s moderator but also took opportunity to speak on issues of special interest to them and their constituents.
Kaufer, known for his commitment to human services, encouraged the efficient spending of state funds in regard to the elderly and those with behavioral health issues.
“If an elderly person leaves the hospital and needs care, they’re presumptively qualitied for a nursing home, but not for in-home care,” said Kaufer. “Even if they want to be home and it’s more cost efficient for them to be there.”
Kaufer also advocated for streamlining the process of licensing Behavioral Specialist Consultants, who assist young clients with autism.
These specialists now need one year of experience before being licensed.
“It’s like they have to volunteer for a year in order to be licensed,” said Kaufer.
Pashinski, in response to a question about state expenditures, encouraged re-thinking the current model of education.
“Many of our parents were coal miners,” he said. “They didn’t want their children to go into the coal mines, instead they wanted them to go to college.”
But, Pashinski said, there are now other options beyond a four-year degree.
“Students may be better served by going to a trade or technical school,” he said.
He also emphasized the importance of funding public education.
“When we were young, we would bring a brown bag lunch to school,” he said. “Today schools are serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our schools are now havens.”
Redistricting ‘important reform’
Baker, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, emphasized the necessity of efficiently funding services for the elderly.
Baker said the state’s elderly could be best served by a transition from fee-for-service to managed care as a method of payment for medical services.
A discussion about redistricting and gerrymandering, in which all participating legislators emphasized bipartisanship, provided a chance for Carroll to encourage communication between both sides of the aisle.
“It’s high time we have a discussion about redistricting and campaign financing,” he said. “We need those two parts of the puzzle in play.”
The state’s congressional districts have come under scrutiny lately due to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that said the districts show too much of a partisan bias and should be redrawn. But that ruling is being challenged.
Yudichak, who served as a state lawmaker for over 15 years, called the redistricting issue “the single most important reform.”
“I’ve seen the impact of attempts at bipartisan redistricting,” he said. “And it wasn’t by Republicans, it was by Democrats who didn’t think I was democratic enough.”
Yudichak said voters need to be familiar with their legislators.
“Appropriate redistricting will empower state residents to select leaders from their own communities,” he said.
Mullery said redistricting goes beyond awkwardly shaped districts. Such districts can feature different parts of the same municipality being represented by different people.
“Gerrymandering ultimately means the inability to govern properly,” said Mullery. It encourages “the ability to legislate from one side of the aisle, with no need for compromise.”
Susan Ferentino, longtime board member of the League of Women Voters, said the annual event provided opportunity for voters to come together with legislators to exchange ideas and get to know each other.
The league is a non-partisan organization with chapters across the U.S. Its mission is “to create democracy for all citizens and let their voices be heard,” according to the group’s literature.