Op-Ed: There’s Always More We Can Do

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

Reports of murders, robberies, car jackings and property destruction dominate headlines these days as Pennsylvania communities fall deeper into chaos and lawlessness.  Federal statistics show violent crimes reported across the state increased in 2021, outpacing the national average.

According to the 2022 State of Safety report, nearly half of Pennsylvanians say the COVID-19 pandemic affected their personal safety.

It’s a trend that’s repeated in a survey my office recently distributed asking residents to describe their concerns about rising crime. Many told me they feel less safe and blame drug addiction, above all else, for fueling the increase.

We recognize the layered and complex reasons people abuse drugs and commit crimes, though some triggers have been worse than others in recent years. Statistics from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show roughly one third of Americans struggled to cover living expenses last year, while more than 20 million people worried about putting food on the table.

Opioid overdoses also spiked as isolation and desperation from prolonged pandemic restrictions kept families and friends apart. In 2021 alone, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said more than 100,000 people died across the country from fentanyl and opioid overdoses, a 15% increase over the year before. Pennsylvania ranks third nationwide for these fatalities.

The opioid epidemic has laid waste to this nation and Pennsylvania is clearly no exception. Fentanyl-laced drugs spill over our borders and find passage along a network of highways that reach every corner of the country. 

Over the summer, law enforcement in Oregon sounded the alarm over more potent rainbow-colored pills laced with fentanyl that began circulating along the West Coast. The alarming news proves exactly why drug dealers must pay for the lives they take every single day – something for which Pennsylvania’s existing laws fall woefully short.

Under the existing “drug delivery resulting in death” statute, defendants often cut deals for lenient sentencing and little to no jail time. It’s a horrific miscarriage of justice that allows dealers to walk away scot-free for callously profiting off the escalating opioid epidemic.

That’s why I introduced Tyler’s Law in June to impose mandatory 25-year minimum sentences for fentanyl distribution that results in death. It’s a necessary step to save lives and hold dealers accountable for the destruction and pain caused by their ruthless greed.

But it’s not just about punishing those who sell drugs. Thanks to the Overdose Mapping Act, which became law just this month, first responders – including law enforcement and emergency medical services – will now report overdoses into an electronic statewide system.

Standardizing use such a system will help local officials identify emerging trends, mobilize an emergency response and alert law enforcement and EMS to the existence of fentanyl-laced drugs in a particular region.

We can’t put out fires that we can’t see and consistently using a mapping tool like this will give our first responders the visibility they need to act quickly, save lives and make communities safer.

Although overdose mapping will be a game changer for our communities, it’s certainly not the end of what we, as lawmakers, can do to support our first responders on the front lines trying to save lives every day.

That’s why we established the $135 million Law Enforcement Recovery Grant Program in the 2022-23 budget to ensure police departments have the resources and staffing necessary to fight rising crime, tackle the opioid crisis and ease the mental and physical impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I championed the legislation this summer after months of raising awareness about the devastating impact the pandemic and anti-police sentiment had on recruitment, retention and crime prevention efforts. This investment will help our state get back onto a path of safety and prosperity, though admittedly, it will be an arduous journey.

And it’s one law enforcement can’t complete alone. That’s why I recently sponsored the Fighting Chance Act, which would reduce the obstacles individuals convicted for nonviolent offenses face when reentering society.

These people deserve a chance at economic security and freedom, which would reduce recidivism and lower the state’s overall crime rate. Overcoming poverty can end the destructive cycles that often spiral into drug addiction, illegal activity and violent crime.

And while I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to address the systemic links between substance abuse and rising crime, I’m painfully aware there’s always so much more we can, and should, do.

Pennsylvania Cruelty Laws Ignore Test Lab Animals

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

Last week, we learned the strength of Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws rank 15th nationwide – representing a triumphant climb from the bottom 10 just eight years ago.

But we still have a long way to go before we reach the summit – and I intend to make sure we get there.

The cruelty inflicted on lab animals under the guise of medical experimentation, although around for decades, found its way back into headlines last year when members of Congress demanded answers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – and Dr. Anthony Fauci – about inhumane and unspeakable abuse inflicted on puppies and monkeys.

Researchers on South Carolina’s Morgan Island, for example, routinely inject up to 600 monkeys with debilitating viruses and withhold pain medication.

Reports also surfaced that at least 44 beagle puppies suffered and died after lab workers locked their heads in cages and allowed hungry sandflies to eat them alive. Others were injected with experimental drugs and all of them had vocal cords removed so workers wouldn’t be subjected to their pained cries.

This is torture – plain and simple – and Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spent at least $1.68 million in taxpayer money to fund it.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which gave Pennsylvania its esteemed ranking, notes that data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirms just 8% of drugs tested on animals are deemed safe and effective for human use.

The organization also claims research labs experiment on more than 1 million animals across the United States annually. The NIH spends around $14.5 billion in public funding for these barbaric tests – and that figure doesn’t even consider costs borne by other federal agencies and private companies.

So, it’s equally disturbing to me that Pennsylvania’s existing animal cruelty statute exempts medical research labs, so long as they meet a short list of regulations deeming their facilities “lawful.”

Pennsylvania has taken massive strides to protect animals from cruelty, neglect and abuse that culminated in the landmark Libre’s Law in 2017. This comprehensive bill strengthened penalties against perpetrators of these sickening crimes, catapulting Pennsylvania from its dismal bottom 10 ranking at the time to 24th.

Since then, we’ve improved our standing even further. Now, it’s time we take the next big step to protect animals in this state from these torturous lab experiments – especially when safer, more humane options exist. That’s why I will soon introduce legislation banning scientific experiments on live domestic dogs and cats within Pennsylvania.

These painful and deadly procedures inflict unimaginable and never-ending pain on these animals that not even human beings can endure.  

This issue cuts across partisan lies, rises above sensationalism and demands action. Subjecting our domestic companions to this kind of suffering, distress and lasting harm has no place in Pennsylvania.

The Human Cost of the Governor’s Carbon Tax

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

By now, just about everyone feels the squeeze of rising utility bills. It’s an inescapable reality, bolstered by ineffective domestic and foreign energy policies, a deepening economic crisis and mounting distrust in our government here at home.

Legislators warned this was coming. In June, and again in September, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) advised residents that electricity rates across the state would increase by double digits in some regions. This, just as the Commonwealth Court pressed pause on Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), scheduled for July 1.

RGGI, as it’s often called, uses carbon taxes to artificially limit emissions from the power sector in 11 other states in the mid-Atlantic. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration views its hasty entry into the program as the pinnacle of its climate legacy – a flimsy house of cards constructed without any input from the legislators tasked with representing Pennsylvania’s 13 million residents.

And all of this, despite zero concrete evidence RGGI actually reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions in any meaningful way – and plenty of demonstrable negative economic impacts writ-large.

The most obvious consequence of RGGI is increased energy costs. Some electric companies have admitted these additional expenses are already baked into the newest base rates, recalculated every few months to reflect market conditions. Even the Department of Environmental Protection’s initial estimate of RGGI’s cost had to be revised upward by nearly 300% earlier this year.

Roughly 300 of my constituents reported, in a survey administered by our office, they’re struggling to pay their electricity bills, even during what electrical grid operators call a “shoulder season” – a period where milder weather reduces overall demand for heating and cooling.

The pain is borne out by data from the Center for Biological Diversity and the PUC. The latter confirmed the number of residents seeking payment plans for overdue utility bills spiked 158% this year alone.

Just 1% of the roughly 10,700 customers seeking service reconnection got approved for these plans – and only if their credit reports and payment histories passed muster. The process can take as long as seven days, during which time service could remain shut off. Electric companies disconnected more than 108,000 residents through June, representing a 10% increase over 2021.

Even worse, the PUC’s income limits for preventing shut-offs in the colder months mean customers earning more than $14 per hour don’t qualify for relief. That leaves a wide swath of residents on modest incomes choosing between heat and food in the dead of winter.

Many electric companies will soon announce revised customer rates and all signs point to more double-digit increases – and that’s before the court decides the fate of RGGI in Pennsylvania.

We are already paying the administration’s carbon tax and it’s not even officially enacted yet. How much worse will things get?

We must abandon these destructive energy policies built on nothing more than delusions of grandeur. We are losing jobs. We are losing communities. We are losing lives.

When will the human cost of progressive ideology be enough?

Op-Ed: Cash for Seniors? Pennsylvania’s Adult Guardianships Lack Oversight

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

Lately, I’ve heard from distressed constituents who say that, ever year, Pennsylvania courts deem an untold number of senior citizens incompetent, imprison them in far-flung institutions and cut off their communication with the outside world, all for the sake of seizing billions of dollars from the estates they now control.

Don’t believe them? Annually, Pennsylvania collects estate funds worth roughly $2 billion after assuming guardianships for seniors. This, despite state laws and recommendations from the Department of Aging to pursue guardianship “as a last resort.”

The statistics regarding just how many seniors live under guardianships is unclear, according to a 2016 report on elder abuse from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the National Adult Maltreatment Reporting System (NAMRS) to better track instances of abuse and neglect. A NAMRS analysis from 2020 reported nearly 38,000 instances of financial exploitation from across all 50 states. About 16% of those cases were substantiated, according to the report.

Overall, NAMRS investigated nearly 776,000 suspected cases of elder abuse and neglect, of which one-third were corroborated by evidence. About 14% of these victims lived in nursing homes or residential facilities when these investigations were first initiated.

Still skeptical? Take it from Katherine Johnson, the former administrator for the Area Agency on Aging in Westmoreland County, who told a congressional Special Committee on Aging in 2018 she knew of at least one guardianship agency that mismanaged the assets of one of its clients, resulting in the senior’s eviction from a personal care home and $25,000 in lost income over a 22-month period.

Despite this, Johnson testified, the agency continued collecting guardianship and attorney fees, while leaving a balance for life insurance unpaid and ignoring its responsibility to liquidate the senior’s assets.

Worst of all, despite this egregious conduct, this investigation closed after the allegations went unsubstantiated. Johnson said Westmoreland County courts stopped appointing the agency as a guardian, however.

And this is far from the only case of exploitation and neglect. My office has received reports from family members who say the state makes sweeping claims of incompetency, takes control of assets and sequesters the senior in a far-off facility. Some say their family members can’t call home, receive visits or go outside for fresh air.

Courts appear reluctant, or downright refuse, to grant hearings for appeals or appoint attorneys for the families seeking relief. Judges have no obligation to consider expert testimony, review medical records or contemplate other suitable placements for the senior citizen, no matter how hard the family protests.

Johnson, in her testimony, agreed that the state’s guardianship system fails on multiple fronts. We leave incapacitated residents, with few or no family members, “at the mercy of” whatever agency agrees to handle their assets and medical care.

There’s no checks and balances to monitor whether a guardian agency is performing the duties required. State-required reports of financial activity often go unfiled, while many of the agencies themselves operate without performing background checks, establishing minimum training requirements or withstanding oversight from regulators or courts.

While family members routinely abuse, neglect and exploit seniors, Johnson said the risk increases “exponentially” with professional guardianship agencies.

This situation warrants further investigation. Our senior citizens are some of the most vulnerable among us. Who, if not their guardians, will give them a voice?  Who is going to investigate this cruel scheme?

We’ve seen power structures in this state abuse their authority for financial gain before. The infamous “Cash for Kids” scandal revealed that judges in Luzerne County accepted $2.6 million in alleged kickbacks from two for-profit facilities for sending juvenile delinquents – many of whom were wrongly adjudicated – to their care.

Those involved were later found guilty on a litany of federal charges, leaving a scar on the state’s juvenile justice system and instigating reforms at the state level to prevent such an egregious abuse of power from happening again.

Except that it can happen again and maybe, it already has.

Pennsylvania’s Utility Disconnections Spike Amid Energy Affordability Crisis

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

Pennsylvania earned a dubious distinction recently that underscores the economic pain wreaking havoc statewide for millions of residents struggling to make ends meet.

We, along with four other states, account for 69% of all 3.6 million utility disconnections between January 2020 and December 2021, according to a report from the Center for Biological Diversity.

It gets worse.

The number of residents seeking payment plans for overdue utility bills spiked 158% this year alone, according to data from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), amid unprecedented increases in energy costs doomed to climb even higher in the coming months.

Just 1% of the roughly 10,700 customers seeking service reconnection got approved for these plans – and only if their credit reports and payment histories passed muster. The process can take as long as seven days, during which times service could remain shut off. Electric companies disconnected more than 108,000 residents through June, representing a 10% increase over 2021.

Even worse still, the PUC’s income limits for preventing shut-offs in the colder months mean customers earning more than $14 per hour don’t qualify for relief. A Wall Street Journal analysis from December 2020 purports roughly half of families – of whom the report considers “middle class” – make between $26,000 and $122,000 annually.

That means the vast majority don’t fall under the PUC’s automatic shut-off moratorium and must overcome often insurmountable financial hurdles and additional charges to restore service during the dead of winter. It’s a recipe for disaster that will cause an untold number of preventable deaths and seal a fate many lawmakers, including myself, warned of when Gov. Tom Wolf began implementing short-sighted environmental policies via executive fiat.

The worst offender of Wolf’s climate legacy is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s hurried effort to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The program uses carbon taxes to artificially limit emissions from the power sector, awarding the Wolf administration brownie points among the progressive arm of the Democratic party while saddling utility customers with skyrocketing electricity costs during an unfolding economic crisis.

Earlier this year, the Independent Fiscal Office’s analysis confirmed RGGI would cost nearly four times more than the DEP first projected, quadrupling energy costs for utility companies. Despite the pause on Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI amid a legal challenge, electric suppliers said the program’s impact accounted for some of the double-digit rate increases implemented on June 1.

It’s important to note here that the Center for Biological Diversity said this “massive wave” of power shut-offs across the country predated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though the resulting volatility in oil and gas prices only made utility bills more unaffordable.

The report also pointed to a dozen companies that instigated over 3 million disconnections in 2020 and 2021 that then increased shareholder payouts by $1.9 billion. At least two of those suppliers, Exelon and First Energy, operate in Pennsylvania.

Colder weather is right around the corner and so, too, are guarantees that energy costs will keep climbing. Geopolitical instability coupled with skewed energy policies at the state and federal level mean residents will struggle to heat their homes and keep the lights on this winter.

All the while, shareholders will grow richer and their government friends will continue subsidizing tax breaks for greener technologies – like electric cars and solar panels – that few can afford.

It’s unconscionable that electricity rates in Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s top energy producers, have grown so wildly unaffordable that our residents can’t keep up anymore. The Wolf administration owns this policy failure and would rather sacrifice lives than admit its mistake – and that’s not hyperbole

We must abandon RGGI and focus on policies that support Pennsylvania’s energy production, create jobs and raise incomes so Pennsylvanians can thrive – not merely survive – in the years to come.

Senator Doug Mastriano represents Pennsylvania’s 33rd district in Adams and Franklin counties.

Families Want Education, Not Indoctrination, for Pennsylvania’s Kids

By Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33)

Educational choice in Pennsylvania was, at one time, a narrow debate over state funding of charter schools versus their traditional district counterparts.

For the last two years, however, “choice” has encompassed a range of decisions once left exclusively to families. When I began my Senate career four years ago, few could imagine a Pennsylvania where students were forced to wear masks, given access to explicit materials and exposed to advanced gender theory without consent. The relationship between families and teachers, more often than not, enhanced the educational experience, instead of hindering it.

Now, residents across my district tell me the dissolution of their faith in our state-run education system is at an all-time high. Recently, roughly 2,000 people responded to my office’s survey about what concerned them most about our public schools. The vast majority lamented the pervasiveness of political indoctrination and the lack of practical education spreading across our 500 districts like wildfire.

Others worried about worsening teacher shortages, the growing animosity between residents and elected district officials, the lack of support for families choosing homeschooling and the fear of violence leaving their children forever traumatized.

No longer does funding take center stage in our decades-long debate over how best to serve Pennsylvania’s students. Rather, families feel forcibly removed from their children’s educational journey – one they have the right to guide and protect above all else.

That’s why I supported legislation this year to prevent the governor’s administration from imposing regulations on charter schools that would hamstring their ability to serve more students as demand for more choice grows. I also stand opposed to their dogmatic commitment to slashing funding for public charters, most of which serve underprivileged and minority children in our largest cities.

Instead, we boosted funding for disadvantaged families seeking refuge from failing districts by opting for private schools instead. We invested a historic $200 million into school security and behavioral health support to provide a safer learning environment and give families peace of mind. We also made it easier for out-of-state teachers to get certified in Pennsylvania – a crucial step that will ease our shortage and attract more quality educators from across the country.

More must be done.

That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 996 earlier this year, which would establish a Parental Bill of Rights. A dozen other states have enshrined these rights via statutes, though no such protections exist in Pennsylvania.

We need this now more than ever after the constant erosion of parental rights over the past two years. We saw schools shuttered and families left without in-person learning alternatives. Parents have been labeled as domestic terrorists simply for advocating for what they felt was best for their child.

My legislation protects us from overreaching bureaucrats who attempt to silence their voice. When it comes to raising children, families know better than the government.

 

CONTACT: Doug Zubeck

Op-Ed: Pennsylvanians Losing Hope Over Inflation Woes

Empty pantries. Unfilled medications. Depleted savings. I recently poured over hundreds of comments like these from my constituents regarding the issue concerning them most: the growing toll inflation takes on their survival.

Of the roughly 650 people who responded to my poll, 92% said they are worse off today than they were last year. Another 95% said they feel the pain of inflation at the gas pump and the grocery store. Many told me the cost to fill their tank has tripled, while electric bills and food purchases have risen by hundreds of dollars each month.

Others say they’ve dipped into savings and delayed retirement just to handle the worsening economic situation. Parents forgo new clothing and school supplies as their children embark on another academic year, elderly and disabled residents on fixed incomes fret over property tax hikes, small business owners watch sales plummet and income halved, while others consider fleeing Pennsylvania altogether.

This widespread suffering weighs on my mind every day and the responsibility I bear to fix it grows heavier by the minute. I wish I could say the same for my colleagues across the aisle, spurred on by a feckless gubernatorial administration only interested in throwing money at our problems in hopes they’ll just disappear.

Ordinary Pennsylvanians know this tactic only makes things worse. There’s no such thing as free money, especially when it’s our hard-earned dollars the state is using to appease Gov. Tom Wolf’s progressive allies. It’s the same pattern we see at the congressional level, where President Joe Biden just signed the Inflation Reduction Act – a misnomer, at best, to distract from the billions in handouts it awards to green energy.

Even the nonpartisan Congressional Office of the Budget admits the legislation will increase taxes on the middle class – those making under $400,000 annually – by $20 billion over the next decade. This, on top of the $410 million carbon tax the Wolf administration is fighting tooth and nail to impose on electricity ratepayers through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

A bipartisan mix of lawmakers oppose RGGI because it could nearly quadruple energy costs by 2030 with virtually zero reduction in carbon emissions. It threatens tens of thousands of jobs and punishes millions of residents unable to afford greener options, like electric heat pumps and solar panels.

My constituents tell me their electricity bills have already inflated by hundreds of dollars each month, leaving them with difficult choices to make about which bills get paid. If Senate Republicans’ legal challenge to stop RGGI once and for all fails, these costs will skyrocket even more.

But Wolf’s policies don’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, the Biden administration’s ruinous strategies amplify the struggle we all face just to drive to work and keep our lights on. From restrictive gas drilling regulations to the billions in aid we funnel to Ukraine to defeat a war against Russia we swear we aren’t fighting, both Democratic leaders believe the middle class should fund their self-serving ambitions.

That’s why I sponsored Senate Bill 813 to temporarily institute a gas tax holiday that would shave 15 cents off the price per gallon for six months. The legislation also implements registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles to offset the lost revenue from the tax cut to maintain funding for roads and bridges.

We know, however, that energy is just one facet of this spiraling economic crisis. Local governments often lean on property taxes to fill widening budget gaps, a strategy that hits residents surviving on fixed incomes the hardest. With more than 2.2 million seniors living in Pennsylvania, this hardship isn’t limited to my district alone.

Eliminating property taxes for residents 65 and older could benefit as many as 176,000 seniors currently living below the poverty line. Legislation I introduced last year would extend this relief to elderly residents who’ve lived in Pennsylvania for 10 years or longer and make less than $40,000 annually.

Our seniors have spent decades working and contributing taxes to our state. They shouldn’t fear losing their homes because of the inflationary spiral that’s wreaking havoc on our lives.

I’m not the only one taking action to quell this disaster. My Republican colleagues and I have likewise championed legislation to lower taxes on businesses, which will translate into wage growth and economic prosperity.

We’ve dismissed the governor’s proposals to increase personal income taxes, collect higher fees from oil and gas operators and drain our state’s savings account. We’ve sued to block his onerous regulations meant to punish industry and raise prices for all. We’ve asked voters to step in and tell us where they stand on our most fundamental issues, rather than letting the administration dictate to us what they think is best.

In that vein, I’ll conclude with just a handful of the hundreds of comments I’ve received from my constituents about the hardships they face. Don’t just take my word for it:

  • “I have to watch every penny and try to budget even further in the event that inflation gets worse so my family will still be able to afford to pay bills, buy food, and gasoline so I can get to work. It’s scary and frustrating. “
  • HARD decisions have to be made. Pay health insurance or the utility bills? HAVE to go to work, HAVE to use gas, how is anyone coming out ahead? We were barely making even BEFORE inflation hit.” 
  • “I don’t fill my tank up all the way. I put enough in to get me 2 to 3 days. I can’t afford my co-pays to go to [the] doctor. Even when I work 30 hours OT in 2 weeks.”
  • We are on SS and it is almost impossible to make our money take us till the next month. With all the bills going higher, but our checks do not get and higher. We have to make choices if we should pay rent, or go to the doctor and pay the copays, or pay the bills, or get medication, or eat, or use the gas to do any of the above.”
  • We have several kids [and] it’s very hard to even have all the essentials now. It is very hard to have food for all my kids all the time. And gas is so expensive to even go to work. Basically working to pay for gas and food no money for anything else.”
  • Inflation has caused me to put my business up for sale due to a drastic drop in sales. Only form of income so barely getting buy and hoping for the best.” 
  • “All of our utilities are behind or in shut off status. We have been late on our house payment the last few months. We basically go to work and back home because we are trying to conserve what gas we have. Everything has gone up, but our wages.”
  • “Barely keeping our head above water. Depending on the outcome of the midterms, we may have to leave the country. Things are completely out of control.”
  • We can’t save for a new house due to everything else increasing. My husband drives a truck and his fuel prices have almost tripled! We need your help!”
  • The prices of everything are so high we have to sacrifice a lot of things just to eat and provide electric in my household. Whoever reads this please help!”

CONTACT: Doug Zubeck

 

Op-Ed: We can Secure Our Schools without Trading away Constitutional Rights

To no one’s surprise, the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas is being exploited to pressure Americans into accepting a false choice: their rights or their safety. Don’t be fooled.

It’s much easier to confront inanimate objects than human flaws. That is why many lawmakers are quick to demonize guns, even though doing so doesn’t solve the problem. The investigation into this crime is ongoing, but we already know that standard life-saving protocols were not followed.

As elected leaders, we can’t allow the focus to shift from the evil actions of individuals to inanimate objects. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have worked together to provide schools with critical tools to identify potential threats and safeguard classrooms.

The General Assembly established the School Safety and Security Grant Program, which enabled schools to hire police officers, resource officers and counselors. It empowered schools to implement safety plans and violence prevention initiatives and purchase equipment to boost student safety.

In 2019, the General Assembly created The Safe2Say Program, an anonymous school threat reporting system, to help prepare schools and law enforcement for potential violent incidents. This system has generated more than 86,700 tips since its inception, not only for school safety concerns, but also for student safety issues like bullying and self-harm.

Also in 2019, the General Assembly established Threat Assessment Teams to ensure students who could potentially pose a safety risk receive necessary evaluations and treatment, and it established training requirements for school security personnel.

The General Assembly then established regional Risk and Vulnerability Teams to conduct school safety and security assessments at no cost to schools. They created Community Safety Grants for local municipalities, colleges and community groups to boost safety and reduce the risk of violence in their communities.

What can the General Assembly do now? I have called for a $20 million funding increase in this year’s budget that may be used for armed resource officers, metal detectors, door fortifications, emergency response training, security cameras, door-locking technology, and increasingly innovative solutions that will provide more security than taking guns away from law-abiding citizens.

We can also join 29 other states that have added an extra layer of security in the classrooms by allowing school staff to carry firearms. I’m introducing Senate Bill 1288, which will allow Pennsylvania school employees to be armed while on school property.

An employee carrying a firearm on school property will be required to possess a valid Pennsylvania concealed carry permit, complete a rigorous firearms course and be certified as proficient with the firearm the employee intends to carry on school grounds.

To be certified, training must include courses on protection of students, interactions with first responders, tactics for denying classroom entry to intruders, safe handling and storage of weapons and proficiency with defensive weapons under duress.

Additionally, those certified to carry in school would provide their name and photograph to the local municipal police department and the Pennsylvania State Police. This will allow law enforcement to know who is certified to carry should they need to enter the building in an active shooter situation.

Senate Bill 1288 would not be a mandate but would give school staff the ability to be a last line of defense if they choose.

Sadly, there are some who think they shouldn’t have that choice. Rich Askey, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has gone on every network to call this proposal “dangerous and absurd.” He believes that, even if a school employee has been trained, permitted, and certified, they should not have the ability to defend students in a worse-case life and death scenario.

Mr. Askey is dead wrong. Mass murderers are often attracted to “soft targets” where they know victims are not armed. According to the Crime Prevention Resource Center, there has not been a single mass shooting in a school where staff were permitted to carry a firearm. According to the Crime Research Center, there has never been an incident of lost or stolen firearms where school employees are permitted to carry. Overwhelmingly, those with concealed carry permits have proven themselves trustworthy for decades.

All of these school safety best practices are tangible, rational steps we can take to protect our students and protect our constitutional rights at the same time.

It’s also important to note that criminality, violence, violence with guns, and antisocial behavior are pathologies commonly linked to young men from fatherless homes. Confiscating guns does not address this demonstrably significant factor. We need to start a difficult conversation about this cultural disaster.

Citizens across the nation and in Pennsylvania have long been pressured to trade their liberty for security. One cannot exist without the other. We can do better at protecting our kids in schools without infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Pennsylvanians.

Op-ED: “Trust the Science” and Protect Women’s Sports

By Senator Doug Mastriano

Over the past few decades, it has been amazing to observe the growth of female participation in sports.

Once off limits for females, they are now able to gain the same benefits from athletic competition that males have always been afforded. Self-discipline and sportsmanship are just some of the skills that are developed from participation in sports activities.

Since the passage of Title IX, female participation has skyrocketed. College women’s athletic participation has increased from 15% in 1972 to 43% in 2001. High school girl’s athletic participation increased from 295,000 in 1971 to 2.8 million in 2002-2003, an increase of more than 840%.

In 2004, the average number of teams offered for females per college/university was 8.32, up from 2.50 per school in 1972 (Carpenter & Acosta, 2005). In 1981-82, women’s championships became a part of the NCAA program. Today, the NCAA sponsors 40 women’s championships, 38 men’s championships, and three combined championships in all three of its divisions.

Among the 66 medals earned by American female Olympians in the 2022 Tokyo Summer Olympics were gold-medal performances by the U.S. basketball, volleyball, water polo and beach volleyball teams. Eighteen medals were earned by the U.S. women swimmers, 15 by female track and field athletes, and the U.S. women’s softball and soccer teams won silver and bronze medals, respectively.

In the past 30 years of the Olympic Games, the United States has dominated the women’s team sports of basketball (nine golds), soccer (four golds, one silver, one bronze) and softball (three golds, two silvers)—not to mention the untold number of medals in track and field.

But imagine if those female athletes never got that chance to compete for their nation in the Olympics? What if they fell short in a qualifying trial and instead lost their slot to a biological male? Or what if they never even get a scholarship to compete in college because the final spot on the roster was given to a biological male? Sadly, what was once lunacy is now a realistic possibility.

Over the past two years, those of us who questioned the effectiveness of lockdowns and mandates were told to shut up and “follow the science.” But that empty platitude is quickly forgotten when there is a discussion about the biological differences between men and women.

Men produce 570% more testosterone than women do, leading to major differences between the sexes in muscle complexion, bone thickness, skeletal muscle mass, and red blood cell count.

Men produce more Type Two muscle fibers (which are fast-twitch muscles) than they do Type One muscle fibers (which are slow-twitch). This gives men more power than women and helps make men stronger and faster.

There is a myth perpetuated by opponents of this bill who say that transgender male athletes lose any physical advantages after female hormone injections. This is simply not true.

The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study concluding that transgender athletes born male have an “intolerable,” or overwhelming, advantage over biological women in athletic competition. The paper stated healthy male test subjects “did not lose significant muscle mass (or power)” when their testosterone levels were suppressed below the International Olympic Committee guidelines for transgender athletes. Further, it found these biological males could retain their muscle mass through training and that because of muscle memory, their mass and strength could be “rebuilt” through training. The study also found that giving opposite-sex hormones to transgender people post-puberty did not alter the athletic-enhancing effects of testosterone on the male body.

These biological facts are indisputable, and the discrepancies between the two sexes has been very apparent in athletic completion.

Of course, in our own state, we have a Penn swimmer who went from 467th competing against males to first place when competing against females in the 500-yard freestyle NCAA Championships.

Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied with Lia Thomas for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle NCAA swimming championships recently stated that: “The majority of us female athletes, or females in general, really, are not okay with this, and they’re not okay with the trajectory of this and how this is going and how it could end up in a few years,” referring to the NCAA’s unwillingness to change the rules in an effort to protect female competitive sports.

There are many other female athletes who are “not okay with this.” Many are afraid to speak out because they will inevitably be targeted by a woke mob.  

Here are some other examples of the lunacy:

  • Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand powerlifter who used to compete poorly in the men’s division, took first place at the 2019 Pacific Games, beating the female Commonwealth Games champion in both categories.
  • Two biological males recently finished first and second in the 55-meter dash at the Connecticut high school girls’ indoor track championships.
  • A biological man, Craig Telfer, completely dominated the NCAA Division II Women’s Track National Championship in the 400-meter hurdles. Telfer beat the second-place runner by two seconds. The second-place runner bested third place by 0.28 seconds. The year before, Craig had been competing for Franklin Pierce University’s male track team. His ranking that year was 200th out of 390 among the men’s 400-meter hurdles.

It simply defies all logic and reason to infer that a biological male competing in female sports doesn’t have a clear and distinct athletic advantage. A strong majority of Americans understand that this is an unfair advantage.

A March 2022 Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll found that 63% of Americans were against gender-transitioning athletes competing in opposite-sex sporting events.  

As a member of the Senate Education committee, it was a no brainer for me to vote YES on the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” (Senate Bill 1191), which will prohibit male students from participating in athletic teams or sports that are designed for women or girls.

As John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

While it may be inconvenient to acknowledge, it is a FACT that biological males have a clear unfair advantage over females in athletic competition.

Op-Ed: Reshoring Manufacturing jobs to Pennsylvania will help solve supply chain woes

By Senator Doug Mastriano

The arrival of COVID-19 brought to light several underlying issues in America. But perhaps the issue that has been most exposed is our overreliance on products made outside of our borders.

International disruptions such as pandemics, natural disasters, and political upheaval significantly impact our nation’s supply chain of goods. The result of that disruption is stunted economic growth and increased prices for American consumers.

During my travels around Pennsylvania, it has been hard to ignore the abandoned factories and hallowed out towns throughout our Commonwealth. Once vibrant communities were replaced with vacant lots and blight. Parents had to say goodbye to their children as they moved far away to find any kind of stable employment. Drugs usage and welfare replaced prosperity and family building.

It wasn’t always this way. Pennsylvania towns used to be a “keystone” to America’s ability to make products desired around the World. Our iron and steel once built the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, and the Empire State Building.

In 1999, manufacturing jobs accounted for 865,000 jobs in PA. By 2019, that figure shrunk to 575,000.

The transition of jobs from the manufacturing sector to the service sector had a disproportional effect on men without a college degree in our Commonwealth. Their lack of a degree and unique specific skillset made it difficult to find other good paying and fulfilling jobs.   

Fatal foreign policy mistakes by the federal government and the failure of Pennsylvania’s state leaders to replicate pro-business polices implemented in other states were significant factors in the downfall of our manufacturing sector.

Many economic analysists point to the early 2000s as a consequential period that accelerated the decline.

20 years ago, the World Trade Organization made the fateful decision to admit the People’s Republic of China as member nation. The same WTO that oversees the global system of trade rules and regulations. China’s entry also granted them permanent “most favored nation” status in trade with the United States. Prior to its WTO entry, that status had to be approved on an annual basis by US Congress.

The monumental economic and political effects emanating from China’s entry into the WTO continue to reverberate today.

It opened the floodgates for foreign trade and investment into China’s markets. Most significantly, it led to China’s domination in the manufactured goods export market. China’s share of global manufacturing exports went from 4% in 2000 to 15% in 2020.

China’s advantage of an overabundant labor force, lax labor laws, and large government subsidies give them an unfair advantage when it comes to attracting companies to manufacture goods on their shores.

America’s trade deficit with China grew by over 400% from 2001-2018. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, this amounted to the loss of 3.7 million overall American jobs from 2001-2018.

While international agreements, automation, and changes in technology were factors in the decline of manufacturing in PA, our state leaders certainly didn’t do any favors to keep the jobs we had or attract new investment.

While the manufacturing sector largely contracted in northeast states like Pennsylvania, other states adapted their business policies and found ways to attract new investment opportunities.

Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic research conducts a comprehensive nationwide manufacturing industry scorecard every year dating back to 2009. The scorecard examines factors such as tax climate, regulatory environment, and human capital.

Every year, Pennsylvania has received a grade of “C” or worse when it comes to manufacturing health. Conversely, states like Michigan, Kentucky, and South Carolina receive an “A”.

Michigan, Kentucky, and South Carolina all saw an annual average manufacturing growth rate of 2% or more since 2009, according to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s growth was anemic at less than 1%.

How do we make more Pennsylvania more attractive to prospective manufacturers? Let’s start with much needed regulatory reform.

Pennsylvania was rated at #35 in the nation for regulatory environment, according to Forbes Best Business Ratings.  With over 153,000 regulations on the books, we have one of the most burdensome regulatory codes in the country. It would take an individual about 713 hours—or just under 18 weeks—to read the entire Pennsylvania Code.

Review, modification, and rescindment of onerous regulations can be the genesis of a manufacturing resurgence. There is a cost to every regulation. That cost is exacerbated when the regulation is no longer needed. Regulations need to be reviewed on a regular basis to determine if they continue to be needed, require modification, or require termination. By creating a consistent review schedule, the General Assembly can determine whether a regulation should be continued, modified, or terminated.

Additionally, creating a “2 for 1” model (removing 2 regulations for any new regulation) is something we should adopt here in Pennsylvania. 

We also must improve our permitting process. Members of the General Assembly often hear from prospective employers who ask, why does it take so long to get a permit? Where does my permit stand? What is the holdup?

We saw this issue in practice when U.S. Steel decided to pull out of a $1.5 billion investment in the Mon Valley Works in Braddock, PA. After delays in getting approvals and permits, US Steel called it off and the region lost out an opportunity to gain hundreds of good paying, blue-collar jobs.

Passing legislation to create a tracking system for permit applications and permit and third-party review of permit decision delays will go a long way to address concerns of business owners & bring greater transparency to the permitting review process.

We need to make our state a more attractive tax climate.  Our current Corporate Net Income Tax is the second largest in the country at 9.99 percent. For comparison, Arkansas’ corporate tax rate of 5% recently helped them land the most advanced steelmaking facility in North America that is expected to produce 3 million tons of advanced steel per year.

Reducing the corporate tax burden by at least 2 percent here will help us compete with other states to attract prospective manufacturers. Thankfully, it appears that this idea is starting to gain bipartisan support.

But I also believe that a corporate tax reduction should be contingent on employers agreeing to retain or attract a certain number of jobs in the Commonwealth. We must ensure these companies are doing their part to invest in our people.

Will Pennsylvania’s manufacturing employment and output ever return to its heyday? Not likely.

But there are steps that our Commonwealth can take now that will instantly make us a more attractive location for manufacturers to grow and invest. Pennsylvania manufacturing sector once powered America into the Industrial Revolution and helped her become the “Arsenal of Democracy” through two World Wars.

We can lead the way once again in reshoring jobs to America and stabilizing our supply chains in the long run.