Ryan Brown

Ryan Brown

A sweeping $3.5 trillion Senate infrastructure proposal could include key changes for aging states like Pennsylvania, according to lawmakers and aides.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats discussed their plan to expand government programs – including Medicare and Medicaid – in the coming years as part of a budget package. Including the changes in a budget allows them to avoid Senate rules that would otherwise require Republican support, although their slim majority leaves a difficult path ahead.

While full details aren’t available and changes could be made, senators have boasted of major shifts included in their plan.

Medicare coverage would be expanded to include dental, vision and hearing, senators said. Medicaid, the insurance for lower-income Americans, would expand to cover residents of states where conservative officials have declined additional funding.

Aides also told reporters the plan would expand funding for home-based services for elderly people and for those with disabilities. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, is among the lawmakers who have pushed for more home-care funding.

“These are challenges that families have faced now for years, if not generations,” Casey said on MSNBC earlier this month. “This is the moment to go big and get it done ... and meet the needs of American families, especially the caregiving needs.”

Health insurance and care changes are just a part of the package, which reportedly includes a range of Democratic priorities – including parts of the PRO Act, a bill that would make it easier to organize unions and punish employers for violating labor laws.

While Senate holdouts could shoot down some provisions, Democratic leaders appeared confident major changes are coming, with or without GOP support.

Pa. moves toward pollution group

A vote this week left the state on track to join a regional greenhouse gas plan, despite attempted roadblocks by lawmakers backing fossil fuel industries.

The state Environmental Quality Board voted Tuesday to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program that would apply fees to some carbon emissions. That would raise the cost of emitting pollution, potentially driving the state toward more renewable energy sources.

Gov. Tom Wolf backs the program, which covers states from Maine to Virginia. But legislators, including some in his own party, are still working to stop the initiative before Pennsylvania finishes joining.

A Senate bill would require lawmakers’ approval to join the program. While it didn’t reach a House vote this summer, it passed the state Senate with a veto-proof majority.

Co-sponsors included Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Bradford, Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington/Greene, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Cameron, and Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair.

A similar effort passed both chambers last year, but didn’t get enough votes to override Wolf’s veto.

Lawmakers like Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, have tried to stop the initiative’s progress: Metcalfe threw up objections during a regulatory meeting this week, and he has suggested lawmakers could move to formally stop the process again this fall.

Gun proposals miles apart

Lawmakers may be out of session for the summer, but proposals in recent weeks point to their conflicting priorities on gun control.

Democratic lawmakers have proposed a slew of gun-related bills in the past few weeks, although few have much hope of surviving a GOP-controlled Legislature.

Since June, Democratic lawmakers have sought support for at least two bills to tighten ammunition purchases. One would require a photo ID to prove a purchaser is old enough to buy ammo, while another would require manufacturers to individually mark rounds of ammunition. The second bill includes a 5-cent-per-round tax on ammunition.

“Estimates suggest that Americans buy 10 to 12 billion rounds of ammunition every year,” the proposal’s sponsors, Rep. Stephen Kinzey, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Manuel Guzman, D-Berks, said. “It is time for us to keep track of these lethal weapons and ensure that we have the tools necessary to convict individuals who use their firearms for unlawful purposes.”

Some Republicans, meanwhile, aim to make it easier and cheaper to buy guns – although, with the governor and Legislature divided, their efforts have similarly low hopes for success.

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, proposed a bill last month that would exempt guns and ammunition from state sales tax, putting them in a category with food, clothing and medications. The bill didn’t make it out of committee before the Legislature left Harrisburg for the summer.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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