A collective of county commissioners determined their priorities
Pennsylvania county commissioners are outlining a series of policy goals they want state lawmakers to address next year.
At the top of that list is making sure county 911 services are funded — and that’s ongoing The next generation 911 improvement projects have been completed.
“Achieving this priority would ensure that all Pennsylvania residents and visitors to our great Commonwealth will continue to have a quick and efficient connection to 911 operations and services in every situation,” said the County Commissioners Association President of Pennsylvania Chip Abramovic at a press event Wednesday in Harrisburg. .
Commissioners are also pushing for preliminary rules that would allow election workers to process mail-in ballots before the election. They also want to advance the application deadline for the state’s mail-in ballot.
Voters are allowed to submit their application up to one week before the in-person election is held. County workers have said that makes it virtually impossible for latecomers to receive their ballots in time to count them.
“[We] clear rules are needed that enable consistent implementation [of elections] throughout the Commonwealth,” said Joe Kantz, who chairs the Snyder County Board of Commissioners. “Reforms are needed to resolve the ambiguities.”
Despite bipartisan calls, state lawmakers have failed to agree on any of these changes since Act 77 — the most recent update to the state’s election law — took effect four years ago.
Counties also want more state funding for community mental health programs. A WITF investigation late last year found that people with mental health problems are increasingly ending up in county jails, which are often ill-equipped to handle them. The investigation found that those people are routinely subjected to violence by the guards who are trying to maintain order.
“A lack of adequate state funding that has failed to meet demand, along with increasing burdens and cost inflation, has pushed the community’s mental health system to the point of collapse,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick.
“It’s probably one of the most broken systems in all of our human service delivery systems,” he added.
Dauphin County has said about half of those in its jail have a mental health condition. Nearly one in three of the more than 450 uses of force by guards in 25 Pennsylvania prisons during the fall of 2021 involved someone having a mental health crisis or having a known mental health condition.
Hartwick said state lawmakers could use a $100 million pot of money left over from pandemic relief to help improve mental health services. House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) said she favored the idea last fall. Depending on how a trio of special elections set for February 7 it turned out that her party can control the State House by a small margin.
That room was not submitted to the session because it was blocked by the procedural rules. Speaker-elect Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) is chairing a task force aimed at resolving the issue.
Abramovic said his group is working closely with incoming Gov. Josh Shapiro, a former Montgomery County commissioner, to accomplish those things. When asked about pushing these ideas in a nearly divided House, Abramovic was upbeat.
“We see it as an opportunity. We can bring them together on common bipartisan issues,” he said.