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HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Wednesday, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) was at the State Capitol to outline legislative priorities for 2023. From broadband to election improvements, commissioners are looking for action from both chambers of the legislature this year.
They say the wide-range of improvements are sought by all 67 counties.
“To ensure that the critical duties we provide, as partners with the state, are properly structured and funded,” said Venango County Commissioner and CCAP President, Albert Abramovic.
CCAP and its members, including Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller, developed a list of priorities they wish to see gain traction in the legislature.
“There are six of them that we’ve highlighted through the membership to try to advocate to the administration and to the legislature that are critical things to county functions,” said Miller, who also chairs the CCAP Board.
The six categories are: “911 Funding and Reauthorization, County Inmates with Mental Health Issues, County Mental Health Base Funding Increase, Address the Needs of Children and Youth Who Have Complex Behavioral Health Issues, Broadband Access and Development, and Promote Election Integrity.”
Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick chairs the CCAP Human Services Committee. He says mental health is a serious concern right now in every corner of the commonwealth.
“Pennsylvania counties are responsible for providing critical mental health services to our residents of all ages and backgrounds,” said Hartwick.
Hartwick says too often, individuals with behavioral health challenges are placed in county jail, where they will not find mental health support.
“Mental illness is not a crime. When unmet behavioral health challenges lead to criminal charges, individuals are often committed to jails that are not equipped to address the needs of people who need mental health treatment,” said Hartwick. “Achieving this priority would mean individuals with mental health issues would have access to services and diversion programs to keep them out of jail,” he added.
Commissioners also advocated for election improvements and ways to prevent delayed results, like an extended pre-canvasing period. Under Act 77, the opening of mail ballots and preparation for processing and tabulation, also known as pre-canvasing, cannot start until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
“Some smaller counties might be able to handle it on Election Day. A lot of larger counties where you’re getting hundreds of thousands of ballots in the mail in and absentee process, as you can imagine, takes a lot of time,” said Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz, adding the sooner counties can pre-canvass, the better. “We’ll be at the table asking for whatever we can get because we need something more than what we have now,” Kantz added.
Kantz says county election offices, and voters, would also benefit from an extended application deadline for mail in and absentee ballots.
“In addition, counties support moving back the deadline for absentee and mail in ballot applications to 15 days prior to an election, so that voters can be confident there is plenty of time for their county to process the application and for the ballot to be mailed from the county, to the voter, and back again,” said Kantz.
Developing a funding formula ahead of the Jan 31, 2024 sunset of the state’s 911 statute is another major goal. Miller says making sure counties are funded and prepared for the future of public safety is crucial.
“Technology is changing very, very rapidly, and we need to be able to keep up with that technology to be able to serve our counties,” said Miller.
“Achieving this priority would ensure all Pennsylvania residents and visitors of our great Commonwealth will continue to have a quick and efficient connection to 911 operation and services in any situation,” said Abramovic.
Commissioners said today that their priorities are bipartisan, and will hopefully bring lawmakers, especially in the divided House, to reach an agreement.
“We have an opportunity for a bipartisan effort to bring the House, potentially divided, but we can bring them together on common bipartisan issues. Many of our 2023 legislative priorities depend upon a strong partnership with the Shapiro Administration and the General Assembly to move forward with meaningful reforms,” said Abramovic.
The House has yet to agree on rules, which means they can’t conduct business or vote on any legislation until those rules are finalized. Earlier this week, House Speaker Mark Rozzi gaveled the chamber out of session until Feb. 27, essentially leaving the chamber at a stalemate for a month, unless called to order before then by the Speaker.
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