2019 Year-In-Review: Progress on Voting, Criminal Justice, Education & More
December 23, 2019
From the largest expansion of voting rights in 80 years to establishing a state-based marketplace to reduce health care costs to a sweeping executive order targeting gun violence, Pennsylvania continued its comeback in the first year of Governor Tom Wolf’s second term, including the implementation of many of his top priorities and expansions of his key initiatives.
In 2020, Gov. Wolf will continue to fight to invest in infrastructure, reduce climate change, raise the minimum wage, tackle poverty, reform our probation system, expand gun safety laws, and even more to improve education, reduce health care costs, and enhance the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.
Highlights from 2019 include:
Major Reforms and Progress
Voting: Gov. Wolf signed the most significant reforms to Pennsylvania’s election law since it was established more than 80 years ago. Pennsylvanians can now vote by mail, and they have more time to register and submit mail-in and absentee ballots.
Climate Change: Governor Tom Wolf took action against climate change by signing an executive order that begins the steps necessary for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program that limits carbon dioxide emission. He also acted to reduce air pollution, including methane, from natural gas wells and pipelines with the approval of changes to the state’s air quality regulations that are part of his Methane Reduction Strategy.
Criminal Justice Reforms: Building off Pennsylvania’s nationally recognized criminal justice reforms like the Clean Slate Law, Gov. Wolf signed two Justice Reinvestment Initiative bills that make major reforms to probation and other areas that will save money by cutting red tape and investing in programs proven to reduce recidivism.
Supporting Military Families: Gov. Wolf introduced the PA GI Bill, a first-of-its-kind program that provides family of military members with assistance paying for college, which he signed into law in June. Pennsylvania National Guard members can now apply for the program.
Boosting PA Agriculture: Gov. Wolf made historic investments in Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry through his PA Farm Bill. The program is based on the governor’s six-point plan to protect the longevity of agriculture, and the rollout of its grant programs is already underway.
Licensure Reform: Gov. Wolf signed legislation that cuts bureaucratic red tape to make it easier for new Pennsylvanians, including military spouses, with an out-of-state occupational license to work.
Rainy Day Fund: Gov. Wolf announced a $317 million deposit into the commonwealth’s Rainy Day Fund, the largest transfer in nearly two decades.
State-Based Exchange/Reinsurance: Gov. Wolf signed a historic reform that will move the online health insurance marketplace from the federally hosted HealthCare.gov to a state-based exchange, as well as create a reinsurance program. The new programs will save money for people purchasing plans through the Affordable Care Act while increasing access to health insurance.
Rural Health: Gov. Wolf continued to work to ensure Pennsylvanians in every part of the state have access to health care within a reasonable distance by signing a bill establishing the Rural Health Redesign Center Authority and the Pennsylvania Rural Health Redesign Center Fund, which support the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model.
Youth Tobacco Use: The governor signed legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and expanded tobacco laws to include e-cigarettes and other vaping products.
Vulnerable Populations: Gov. Wolf moved to overhaul the commonwealth’s programs to protect vulnerable populations by signing an executive order directing state agencies to work together to identify areas of improvement and create a plan to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to the care and services they need. The executive order established the Council on Reform, which delivered recommendations on changes that should be made so the commonwealth is better serving vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
Childhood Sex Abuse: Gov. Wolf signed three bills that mirror the Grand Jury’s recommendations after its investigation into child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The new laws abolish Pennsylvania’s criminal statute of limitations on childhood sex abuse and extend the timeline victims have to file civil action against their abusers, as well as increase penalties for failing to report child abuse by a mandated reporter and make conversations with law enforcement agents exempt from non-disclosure agreements.
Campus Sexual Assault: Gov. Wolf has been a steadfast supporter of campus safety and nearly three years ago established It’s On Us PA, the nation’s first statewide campaign, and this year enacted two major legislative changes sought for years. One encourages students to report sexual assault by providing them immunity for violating drug, alcohol, and other minor student conduct policies. The other change requires postsecondary institutions to offer students online, anonymous options to report a sexual assault or misconduct.
Rape Kit Backlog: In April, the Pennsylvania State Police announced they cleared the backlog of forensic rape kits. Pennsylvania also made improvements to the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act, including establishing timelines for submitting, testing, and storing rape kits.
Public School Funding: Since taking office in 2015, Gov. Wolf has made good on his promise to fight for our schools and now secured more than $1.2 billion in public education funding since taking office. With this year’s funding increase, Pennsylvania has doubled investments in early childhood education during Gov. Wolf’s time in office.
PAsmart: Pennsylvania continued to build Gov. Wolf’s STEM and career readiness initiative, PAsmart, and the governor secured a $10 million increase to $40 million for PAsmart, where the governor secured a $10 million increase for a total $40 million investment in 2019. In the inaugural year, the administration awarded nearly $10 million in PAsmart grants to 765 schools to expand computer science classes and teacher training. The administration has added thousands of registered apprenticeships and increased CTE students earning industry certifications by 50 percent.
Reform: Kids in Pennsylvania will stay in school longer because the legislature approved Gov. Wolf’s plan to raise the school dropout age from 17 to 18 and lower the required age to start school from 8 to 6.
Higher Education: Over the past five years, funding for higher education has increased by $188 million. Pennsylvania foster kids can also now attend college tuition-free, thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Wolf.
Gun Violence Reduction: Gov. Wolf continues to fight to combat gun violence in communities across Pennsylvania. A law signed by Gov. Wolf that requires domestic abusers to turn in their guns took effect in April. In August, he signed an executive order calling upon state agencies to target the public health crisis of gun violence. The governor continues to fight for increased gun violence reduction measures, including universal background checks, safe storage legislation and Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
Anti-Choice Legislation: The governor continued to uphold the rights of Pennsylvanian women by vetoing anti-choice legislation, following through on a steadfast vow to support women and their ability to decide the healthcare that is best for them. He also fought back against federal anti-choice legislation, denouncing national efforts to take away the right for women to make their own healthcare choices.
Equality: Gov. Wolf continued to push for equality for all Pennsylvanians. He called for the legislature to expand non-discrimination laws to include LGBTQ citizens. He spoke out against decisions by the White House to reduce transgender and LGBTQ protections.
He also advocated for immigrants and refugees, repeatedly reminding Pennsylvanians that our commonwealth was founded on inclusivity.
Pennsylvania officially recognized Juneteenth, the day honoring the announcement of the abolition of slavery reaching the furthest point of Texas. “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” will now be held June 19th each year in Pennsylvania.
Recreational Marijuana: Gov. Wolf supported Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has he embarked on a listening tour to gather opinions on recreational marijuana legalization. Lt. Gov. Fetterman produced a report on the feedback he heard while visiting all 67 counties. In response to the lieutenant governor’s report, Gov. Wolf called for several actions, including for the General Assembly to seriously debate and consider the legalization of adult-use, recreational marijuana.
Acts of Kindness: Gov. Wolf also encouraged Pennsylvanians to participate in “1-4-3 Day” by committing acts of kindness in honor of Fred Rogers, who used the numbers 1-4-3 to represent the letters in the words “I love you.” Across the state, Pennsylvanians heeded the call and filled the day with kind words and good deeds.