Issues

Healthcare

In order for Pennsylvania to meet the challenge of affordable, personalized healthcare for all, we need policymakers who understand the unique dynamics in healthcare. The cost of doing nothing is too high. Having worked throughout the healthcare field I have a prescription for how to make us all healthier :

  • Medicare and Medicaid pay less for care than private insurers. We should give individuals, families and small businesses the option to buy into those savings through the state’s HealthChoices plans.
  • Protect reproductive rights and end the requirement that women purchase abortion coverage separately in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania must have comprehensive protections for reproductive rights and women’s health issues.
  • Pennsylvania should mandate paid sick leave for all salaried employees.
  • Pennsylvania should start directly negotiating drug prices. By passing on all the savings to the people of Pennsylvania, rather than corporate shareholders, we can save over $1 billion in a single year.
  • Much of the profit in prescription healthcare is made by unregulated middlemen called Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBM’s). We need laws requiring transparency and accountability for PBM’s, who are colluding with manufactures to milk the system to take your money.
  • Pennsylvania must reform our insurance and prescribing laws to prohibit shortsighted insurance requirements instituted by accountants, not care providers. Insurers are getting in between patients and their physicians with overly burdensome networks and prior authorization requirements. Patients suffer and there is little evidence these measures save money.

Healthcare, especially prescription drugs, is increasingly unaffordable for far too many Pennsylvanians. We must do better.

When insurance and big pharma lobbyists come to influence Harrisburg, we need leaders who can respond to and analyze their claims, not just swallow them. I’ve done just that for years – fighting in Harrisburg and Washington against an impersonal system in order to empower patients. I have testified before the Federal Trade Commission against anti-competitive, anti-patient practices by insurers and drug companies.

Mental Health Care

Our mental health care system is in crisis. We are seeing a rapid rise in overdose deaths and a growing epidemic of suicide. In my work with Child Guidance Resource Centers, I have witnessed the power of a holistic, community-based approach to mental health. It is one of many PA nonprofits that offer exceptional care at little to no cost. Public funding, however, has remained nearly flat year after year. The time has come to reinvest in established, community-based providers.

  • Increase funding to the mental health programs administered by counties, which haven’t seen an increase in over a decade despite an epidemic of drug abuse and suicide.
  • Pass Phillips Law, which would equip our schools with the counselors and mental health resources our kids need. Childhood troubles aren’t uncommon or a reason to be ashamed – and the failure to identify or address such issues can have lifelong consequences, including higher risks for depression and drug addiction.

Addiction Care

While funding for addiction treatment has drawn increasing attention, there has been very little scrutiny about the quality of care we are paying for. Treatment outcomes are by nature difficult to assess or even track. As a result there is no “gold standard” treatment regimen, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all equal.

A crucial lesson I learned in specialty pharmacy is that good patient care and efficiency aren’t always mutually exclusive – in fact they often go together, and nowhere more than here. Ineffective drug treatment isn’t only a waste of money: it’s dangerous for the person seeking recovery. The same goes for poorly operated and under-supervised recovery residences.

The best providers use treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that have a strong clinical track record. Unfortunately, addiction is the one field in medicine where the public still routinely pays for treatment models that are either unproven, outdated or both. It’s time to require proven treatment administered by licensed professionals.

Policy Priorities

  • Ensure that all treatment centers and halfway-houses receiving public money are operated using safe, clinically-proven treatment models like CBT. Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can be a vehicle to recovery for many people, but they are not a viable replacement for proven clinical care.
  • We should mandate that all inpatient facilities offer the option of “medication assisted treatment” for relapsing opiate addicts. Medications like Vivitrol and Suboxone cuts these patients’ death rate by 50%. Unfortunately, this option is still not offered at many facilities, usually for ideological reasons.
  • Provide grants to counties that establish programs designed to collect and analyze statistics on addiction and drug use. Understanding the problem better will enable state and local government to respond more effectively.
  • Educate families on addiction. Pennsylvania should guarantee families dealing with addiction access to education on addiction, treatment, and the industry itself. Families, particularly parents, share in the pain of those with mental illness, including addiction. No surprise that patients and addicts do best when their families share in recovery. Yet seeing a loved one struggles with addiction is often as bewildering as it is painful. Empowering families to support recovery is inexpensive and essential.
  • Require counties to offer “Drug Court” programs to all qualifying offenders, rather than artificially limiting enrollment. Prison is not a treatment facility, and abstinence behind bars is not recovery.

Environment

In order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, we need comprehensive energy reform that will create green union jobs. Protecting open space and the environment is critical for the health and safety of our communities.

  • No new pipelines.
  • Complete moratorium on all existing pipeline operations (see below).
  • No more fracking or environmentally destructive energy plants.
  • Strengthen regulations regarding clean air and water, with increased funding for the Department of Environmental Protection and increased regulatory powers.

 

The Mariner East pipelines were approved without residents’ consent, and most elected leaders stood by and did nothing. As your State Senator, I will fight for laws that prohibit pipeline operations without comprehensive and credible safety systems – paid for entirely by Sunoco. I will not settle for less.

I call for a complete moratorium on all pipeline operations, until and unless all of the following are accomplished:

  • Require comprehensive leak detection and notification systems, paid for entirely by Sunoco.
  • Training and planning for first responders, paid for entirely by Sunoco.
  • Pass a law allowing municipalities to tax pipeline contents.
  • Require pipeline operators to pay property taxes, which would give municipalities upwards of $500 million.

This issue affects all of us as Americans. Sunoco has trampled on our personal rights to peace and property. To paraphrase JFK, the rights of all are diminished when the rights of some are threatened. We all have a vested interest in preserving open space and the integrity of our landscape. Sunoco is considering new pipeline construction, and sees our open space as prime real estate. 

Those of us near the pipeline have watched as this company has damaged land and landscape, disrupted our lives and even livelihoods, and contaminated our waterways and water supplies. Sunoco has racked up violation after violation of state law and permit conditions. Yet regulators – often rife with conflicts of interest – have failed to take meaningful action. In most cases, they levy trivial monetary penalties. Sunoco doesn’t care, because no one in Pennsylvania’s government has forced them to yet.

Sunoco has uprooted more than the landscape to build these pipelines: they’ve uprooted the lives of families. I have seen families across the 9th District who were taken to court by Sunoco to seize their properties. Properties that Sunoco does not pay taxes on. The only people paying municipal taxes on pipeline property are the homeowners whose very lives are imperiled. These families have been expected to pay for this privilege with construction that drove them from their homes for weeks at a time. This project has caused home values to drop, preserved open space to be destroyed, and municipal, school district, and county tax bases to be permanently impacted across our area. 

Sinkholes have opened. Leaks have already occurred.

Worst of all, Sunoco has sought to place the Mariner East Pipeline in recklessly unsafe proximity to that which we value most: our schools. We know that these pipelines can and have leaked their colorless, odorless, heavier than air vapor, yet we have been left with no credible plan for protecting our schools, let alone our homes. The accident this past June at Sunoco’s former refinery in Philadelphia provided a real-time view of a delayed-ignition accident involving these materials. 

No credible evacuation planning has taken place, and there is no safe shelter if a major explosion occurs. In that event, everyone within 1 ¼ miles would be incinerated.

And I have been dismayed that many elected leaders – including Democrats – have not consistently stood with the safety of residents. That is why, after my election to State Committee in 2018, I fought for a clear stance from the PA Democratic Party on the Mariner East 2 Pipeline, and all pipelines. Even after months of resistance from special interests, I refused to give up.

In June 2019, I forced the state party to take a strong public stance with my resolution: Safety Comes First! The Resolution called for a pipeline moratorium until the safety of all could be assured. The message was clear, and so was its impact. Just days later Delaware County Council passed a unanimous, bipartisan resolution joining my call for an immediate moratorium on the Mariner East pipelines’ operation.

Bottom line: You don’t want to live next to a ticking time bomb and I don’t want to represent a crater.

Corruption

Pennsylvania is ranked in the bottom 5 for corruption because our laws encourage corruption. It is the good people of Pennsylvania who pay the price. This is why PA’s state funding for K-12 education is the lowest in America, while many charter school operators are allowed to line their pockets with your tax dollars. Their lobbyists wrote the law, so they can get away with it 

I am running to smash this system and end bribery in the state legislature. 

We need to ban gifts to legislators over $50 – no cash or jewelry in any amount. In Pennsylvania, you can currently give legislators unlimited gifts including cash, gold bars, rubles, etc. This madness must stop. 

I will refuse to take the flat per-diem pay until this system is accountable to you, the taxpayer. In Pennsylvania, a legislator can claim a $183 per diem with no receipts or accountability—they are allowed to pocket any money they don’t spend, even use it to pay a second mortgage. If private businesses demand receipts for expenses, so should the people’s business. 

Right now, in Harrisburg your voice is only as loud as your wallet is heavy. The people’s representatives should never be for sale. It’s time to set some sensible limits for state and local elections.  As part of that effort, we must create strong disclosure requirements for Super PACs. You have a right to know who is paying for ads.  

In order to keep Harrisburg accountable, I will fight for transparency and strengthened Right-To-Know Laws. Throughout 2016 and 2017, I spent hundreds of hours investigating the Delco GOP’s pay-to-play schemes and corruption. This required filing dozens and dozens of Right-to-Know requests, filing appeals when they were denied, and learning about all the loopholes in the law. I will push for to strengthen your rights to hold your government accountable and require routine disclosure of vital information. 

Gerrymandering

Pennsylvania currently lets legislators to pick their voters strategically – commonly referred to as gerrymandering. This system allows politicians to manipulate boundaries of legislative districts in order to reward their friends while harming their opposition. Republicans in Pennsylvania have gone one step further, using 21st century technology to germander with surgical precision. Few requirements exist to ensure fairness, and they are often ignored.

 For example, the law requires districts of similar population – but PA’s largest Senate district has 60,000 more people than the smallest. The resulting maps unfairly empower GOP voters while diminishing the voice of Democratic-leaning groups, especially people of color.  Top leaders from both parties reward themselves with safe, uncompetitive districts, keeping them in charge year after year.

 The solution isn’t gerrymandering from red to blue: it’s removing partisan politics from the process in the first place. Instead the responsibility would lie with an independent redistricting commission. I am proud to be the only Democrat in this race to fully support the aim of Fair Districts PA to eliminate gerrymandering in PA once and for all.

Voting Rights

Over 10% of eligible voters in PA are not registered. I support automatic registration at the DMV so everyone is accurately registered unless they explicitly opt-out. I also support provisional ballots for voters who accidentally go to the wrong poll if it’s within their home municipality.

Education

My students taught me that they are the bedrock of our future, and a community can succeed only when we invest in their success. When I asked to be placed in one of the city’s toughest schools, I knew that meant less money in the budget for supplies and books compared to wealthier schools. But I quickly learned that getting more classroom materials wouldn’t be enough – it is just as important that we invest in the support structure outside the classroom, from after-school to at-home.

  • Restore the state’s share of education funding to what it was before the Corbett-era cuts,
    • Distribute that additional funding through the Fair Funding formula. 
    • School districts that aren’t financially distressed would be required to use half of their additional funding for long-term property tax relief, unless a voter referendum approves a lower amount, preventing funding disparities.
  • Require charter schools to be transparent for how they spend taxpayer dollars and their track record with students.
  • Increase transparency for cyber charters.
  • Prohibit charters from spending taxpayer dollars on billboards and other advertising.
  • Give the decision over charter approval to the local elected officials and families.
  • Pass Phillips Law to make sure no child suffers without the mental health support every kid deserves.
  • Reward districts with additional funding for instruction when they follow best practices for capping average class size.
  • Raise the teacher minimum wage to $50,000
  • Protect and strengthen teachers’ collective bargaining and advocacy power.

Pennsylvania ranks last in the nation when it comes to state support for our schools.

As a former public school teacher, I know how important it is to fund both academics and the support programs that allow students to thrive.

Those programs must include comprehensive support for the mental wellbeing of all students – it is essential to their success in school and later in life. 

With no reforms to funding, over the next five years nearly half of school districts will face the prospect of financial insolvency. A lack of state support is the biggest reason why Pennsylvania has one of the largest funding gaps between wealthy and poor districts. Year after year the state imposes more and more mandates on schools without paying for them, driving up their budgets and your property taxes. 

Yet the biggest budget buster for many districts is the rising payments they are forced to make to charter operators. Charter schools can play a role in educating our children, but should never come at the expense of public schools and their students. The current system allows unscrupulous operators to profit at public expense, with little accountability, and gives Harrisburg the final say over approving charter applications.

It is time for Pennsylvania to invest in students by restoring state funding of districts that has been eroded over the past two decades. By using the Fair Funding formula, which accounts for factors like median income and poverty, to boost education dollars across every district, we will make our schools better and provide property tax relief to homeowners everywhere.

Supporting Our Teachers

When we support our teachers, we support our students.

I’ve stood at the front of a public school classroom, and seen firsthand that a teacher needs to have knowledge, patience, determination, and strong leadership skills. While that’s true of most professions, few jobs demand all of them every day in order to succeed. In short, teaching is difficult even under the best of circumstances. Teachers are our most vital public servants.

As individuals, we owe teachers our respect and admiration.

As a community, we need policies that acknowledge teachers as skilled professionals, and compensate them like those with similar qualifications in other fields. If good education is the foundation for a better future, teachers are the masons who build that foundation and that future. It’s up to policy makers to make sure they have the right tools and enough materials. 

That’s why I was proud to represent my school in our teacher’s union, and why I will fight to protect teachers’ rights to unionize and push for better education policy. I will always oppose any efforts to undermine collective bargaining or to diminish a union’s advocacy for its teachers and their students.

Gun Control

The inaction on gun violence is a moral outrage. In the past decade we have lived through mass shooting after mass shooting that was enabled or exacerbated by our lax gun laws. And while shootings get the most media coverage, over half of gun deaths in Pennsylvania are either accidents or suicides. The Second Amendment does not prohibit the exercise of common sense. Every day we delay, more will needlessly die.  

  • Halt the sale and importation of assault rifles, including parts and clips. These are weapons for war, not personal protection.  
  • Pass the Emergency Protective Order (aka “Red Flag”) bill that the GOP has repeatedly blocked in Harrisburg. 
  • Eliminate the concealed carry loophole that allows people to legally carry a gun even after becoming ineligible to own one. 
  • Phase out the use of hunting rounds made with lead, a major source of lead in our ecosystem.  
  • Eliminate the gun-show loophole. We must require background checks on all gun purchases, no exceptions. 
  • Invest in our state’s mental health capabilities, starting from a young age. 
  • Child Access Prevention and Safe Storage: Pennsylvania has no laws requiring safe storage of guns around children, and adults who allow children to gain access to weapons aren’t criminally liable – even when the gun is used to commit a crime.

I will fight to keep our children safe at home by making gun owners responsible for securing their firearms if they live with minors or adults ineligible to own a firearm. 

LGBTQ

Elected office is one of the few jobs in Pennsylvania from which I couldn’t be fired for being gay. Our Commonwealth does not extend that protection to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. We can legally be denied housing or public accommodations simply for being who we are.

As Pennsylvania’s first openly LGBTQ+ elected State Senator, I will fight to:

  • Amend Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to ban discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
  • Ban conversion therapy.
  • Extend hate-crime protections to LGBTQ individuals, which were eliminated over a decade ago.
  • Ease the process of changing identification documents to reflect gender identity.
  • Increase specialized programs at every school to address the needs of the LGBTQ students.
  • Increase funding for HIV testing and prevention (PReP).
  • Mandate coverage of transgender healthcare needs by insurers.

The current Republican leadership in Harrisburg has refused for three consecutive years, to even allow a vote on resolutions recognizing Pride Day in PA. The open bigotry that is tolerated in the republican party is reflected in the lack of protections for LGBTQ individuals.

The same goes for their culture of silence on addressing healthcare needs of the community. Rates of depression, drug abuse, and suicide are roughly four times higher for LGBTQ individuals, including teenagers. High rates of HIV are left unaddressed by state policy, as are the unique healthcare needs of transgender Pennsylvanians.