Issues

Government Reform

I am running to pull our state’s government into the 21st century and squash the 19th century party machines running it. PA is ranked in the bottom 5 for corruption; not where we want to be. The reason is simple: our laws encourage corrupt behavior. And ultimately it’s the people of Pennsylvania who pay the price for corruption. It’s 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 taxes. How can these for-profit education firms get away with it? Their lobbyists wrote the law.  

It’s best summed up by adapting a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “At roll call in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, most Senators do not know whether to answer “Present” or “Not Guilty.” In Pennsylvania politics, bribery is not a “dirty secret”: it’s an institution. And it’s one I’m running to smash.

It’s time to tackle the ingrained corruption once and for all. We need to ban gifts to legislators over $50 – no cash or jewelry in any amount. Yes, in Pennsylvania you can currently give legislators unlimited gifts including cash, gold bars, rubies (or rubles), you name it. This madness must stop.

Same thing goes for a lawmaker’s per diem. 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. I will not take a flat per-diem until the system is made accountable to taxpayers.

Legislating should be the #1 priority for anyone in a full-time elected office. Yet in Pennsylvania many legislators draw large salaries from elsewhere in addition to their government pay – a salary often paid for by organizations with lobbying interests. Think about that – our laws allow legislators to sell themselves to the highest bidder. That is institutionalized bribery, open and unashamed, and it’s not a problem confined to one party.

The people’s business shouldn’t be for sale through unlimited campaign contributions either. It’s time to set some sensible limits for state and local elections. Right now in Harrisburg your voice is only as loud as your wallet is heavy. That will never change unless we check the tide of special interest money that is choking our government. As part of that effort, we must create strong disclosure requirements for SuperPAC’s – you have a right to know who is paying for ads. 

But money in elections is only half of accountable government; the other half is transparency. Our Right-to-Know-Law (RTKL) doesn’t make it easy to keep tabs on government, and it provides way too many exemptions. During 2016-17, in my own free time, I spent hundreds of hours investigating the Delco GOP’s pay-to-play and self-dealing ways. 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 until the RTKL, and to require routine disclosure of vital information without a request.

Education

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. 

My students taught me that they are the bedrock of our future, and a community can succeed only when we invest in their success. Over 90% of my students qualified for free-lunch and 100% were students of color. 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

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.

  • Restore the state’s share of education funding to what it was before the Corbett-era cuts, and 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.
  • Require charter schools to be accountable for how they spend public dollars and their track record with students. Halt all new approvals for cyber charters, and prohibit current charters from spending your tax dollars on billboards and other advertising.
  • Give the decision over charter approval to the community and local school board, not the broken and corrupt system in Harrisburg.
  • Pass Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta’s bill titled 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.

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.

LGBTQ

LGBTQ Pennsylvanians

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 most of the over 400,000 people in Pennsylvania who identify as LGBTQ -3.1% of the total population. We can legally be denied housing or public accommodations simply for being who we are. Little surprise therefore that there has never been an openly gay candidate elected to our State Senate.

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.

In the State Senate I will fight for:

  • Amend Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to ban discrimination against LGBT individuals.
  • Increased access to mental and behavioral health for all children, with specialized programs at every school to address the needs of the LGBTQ students.
  • Extend hate-crime protections to LGBTQ individuals, which were eliminated over a decade ago.
  • Increased funding for HIV testing and prevention (PReP).
  • Coverage of transgender healthcare needs by insurers.
  • An outright ban on conversion therapy

 

Mariner East 2 Pipeline

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.

Sunoco has trampled on more than just our land and open space – it has trampled personal rights to peace and property that are as old as America itself. To paraphrase JFK, the rights of all are diminished when the rights of some are threatened. And we all have a vested interest in preserving open space and the integrity of our landscape. Sunoco is considering new pipeline construction, and sees 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.

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.[1]

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


[1] https://www.delcopa.gov/publicrelations/releases/2019/pipelineresolution.html

More Issues

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 accidently go to the wrong poll if it’s within their home municipality. 

 Heathcare

Good health in body and mind are essential to an individual’s wellbeing and a community’s prosperity. 

Modern healthcare changes and evolves as rapidly as the technology around us. Our laws have failed to keep up, and as a result healthcare becomes less affordable and patient care suffers. We know that our healthcare system is failing because the symptoms touch all our lives in one way or another, from skyrocketing drug prices, to increasing rates of asthma and preventable diseases in low-income communities, to the rapid rise in overdose deaths, to the growing epidemic of suicide, especially among those under 18. Healthcare, especially prescription drugs, is increasingly unaffordable for far too many Pennsylvanians. We must do better. 

In order for Pennsylvania to meet the challenge of affordable, personalized healthcare for all, we need policymakers who understand the unique dynamics in healthcare. Having worked throughout the healthcare field – with both providers and payers – I’ve developed a 360 degree view of the industry.  

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.  

I’ve crafted the policies below as a way to make personalized patient care affordable for everyone. I believe we must treat healthcare as an investment in our society. The cost of doing nothing – personally, economically, spiritually – is far, far higher than sound reforms.  

Some of what I’ll Fight For in Harrisburg: 
  • Medicare and Medicaid pay less for care than private insurers. We should allow individuals, families and small businesses to buy into those savings through the state’s HealthChoices plans, if that’s what makes sense for their health and finances. 
  • Much of the profit made in prescriptions isn’t by manufacturers in pharmacies – it’s 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 while claiming to save us money.  
  • Pennsylvania should start directly negotiating drug prices for Medicaid instead of paying PBM’s to do it. Employers and other payers would have the option to buy in as well. 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.  
  • Protect the patient-provider relationship: All too often insurers are getting in between patients and their physicians. Overly burdensome networks and prior authorization requirements have stifled care-delivery. Physicians are often unable to secure the prescriptions, treatments, or provider-care they know is best. In the long run patients suffer, and there is little evidence these measures save money over a patient’s lifetime. It’s time to reform our insurance and prescribing laws to prohibit shortsighted insurance requirements instituted by accountants, not care providers. 

Mental Health Care

Our mental health care system is in crisis. We are seeing arapid rise in overdose deaths and agrowing 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.

 Organized Labor 

Having been a proud member and local Delegate in the United Federation of Teachers, I fully support our brothers and sisters in labor. As a UFT member I learned firsthand how unions can empower workers, uniting their voices toward a common purpose. Unions are not the enemies of prosperity – they’re the engines that drive the American dream.  

 I believe that collective-bargaining and union organizing are sacred rights that must always remain available to workers in a free and fair country. In the state Senate I will always be a No vote on “right-to-work laws” and stand in solidarity against the right-wing anti-union agenda.   

 Proactive changes are also necessary. When a for-profit hospital cuts nurses to boost profits, it’s patients who ultimately suffer most. I will fight for laws to improve the wages and working conditions in the service jobs we all rely on, from nurses to custodians. That starts with supporting a Fair Wage for PA – and laws that protect workers and the public from those looking to cut corners. 

Smart Gun Reform 

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 gunshow 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. If parents can be held liable for providing alcohol to kids, the same should apply to weapons. 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.