What are your top three legislative priorities in 2023? My top legislative priorities mirror what our Democratic caucus is pushing for, and that is better jobs, better schools and safer communities. There are so many ways to achieve these goals, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House, Senate and our new Gov. Josh Shapiro to make that happen.
What are the important issues facing your district? The three most important issues facing our district would be the quality of education, decreasing gun violence and home affordability.
Where do you shop locally for food? I shop at the Fresh Grocer on Grays Ferry Avenue in the Grays Ferry Shopping Center in my district, which is not far from my home.
What is your favorite vacation destination? It’s actually not a vacation destination, but a mode of vacation. I enjoy cruises. We could cruise to anywhere; I just enjoy the experience of going on a cruise.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? I think getting and maintaining quality products, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and doing so at an affordable cost has been a problem for grocers in my community in the past. I think additionally, like most industries, grocers also have a need to train and grow a workforce, particularly a workforce that looks like and reflects the community the grocery store is serving.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? My biggest challenge has been not being able to always help everyone who needs help. Understanding that what I can do and what my office can do has limitations is difficult. While my heart wants to help and solve every problem, it’s hard to not always be able to accomplish that.
My biggest success has been the collective work of our caucus to be united and stick together over the last few years as well as the bipartisan success of our Clean Slate legislation and the fact that Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law has become a national model that has led to second chances in numerous other states.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? I make a really good parmesan chicken. It is by far my favorite meal to cook, but I also make an amazing seafood mac and cheese.
What do you like to do for fun? I’ve grown up loving and I continue to love music. A lot of people don’t know that I grew up playing the piano in my church. I have a love for music, both listening and playing in my free time. Additionally, I’ve found myself more and more interested in writing. Not for any particular purpose or genre, but just writing out my thoughts.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? Reforming the way we pay for our education system. In my district we are far too reliant on property taxes and do not get our fair share from Harrisburg through the funding formula. This needs to change. Our homeowners are hurting and our students are getting shortchanged. I am also looking forward to helping get statewide investment in a very successful First in Math Program to help students in K-8 improve their math skills. And while the clock ran out on this last round of redistricting, I remain committed to changing the system to ensure that the voters choose their legislators and not the politicians choosing their voters.
What are the important issues facing your district? The No. 1 issue facing my district is property taxes. Not a day goes by where I don’t get phone calls or emails asking about reforming the system.
We need to continue toward strengthening our supply chains and producing food products in Pennsylvania to help keep costs low for grocers and customers.
Where do you shop locally for food? I love farmers markets. When it comes to grocery stores, I usually go to Redners or Shop Rite. Both are well run stores with great employees and a great selection.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I love the beach. I love to swim in the ocean and relax in the sun.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? I think the two biggest challenges for grocers across Pennsylvania are the same: inflation and finding good quality employees. We need to continue toward strengthening our supply chains and producing food products in Pennsylvania to help keep costs low for grocers and customers. We also need to help our job creators invest in their employees, by pursuing policies that help them cut costs, so they can retain the dedicated staff representing our community grocers.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? My biggest challenge has been trying to find a solution to the property tax issue in Pennsylvania that can move through the legislator and to the governor’s desk. I have had quite a few recent legislative success: my snow and ice bill requiring people to remove snow from trucks and vehicles became law this year, as did my bill to get Pennsylvania into the nursing compact. I also was prime sponsor of the legislation that brought us no excuse mail-in voting.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Tomato sauce with pork brasciole and meatballs.
What do you like to do for fun? In the summer, I enjoy swimming, being out in the sun relaxing. Over the winter, I am taking bowling in a league with my husband, Ed, which has turned out to be a lot of fun.
Legislator spotlight: State Sen. Lisa Baker
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, my top legislative priorities are advancing the reforms recommended by the Juvenile Justice Task Force, pushing comprehensive changes to Pennsylvania’s probation system, enacting comprehensive reform of guardianship laws and prioritizing passage of a constitutional amendment opening a window for adult victims of child sex abuse.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? My biggest motivators are cutting red tape, making government more accountable and eliminating unnecessary barriers to deliver positive results for individuals, organizations and communities. My staff and I work very hard to help to solve problems, answer questions, and respond to concerns about state issues and legislation and connect people with available services, resources and assistance.
Where do you shop locally for food? My husband Gary and I shop at various local supermarkets, including Weis Markets, Gerrity’s, Mountain Fresh, Wegmans and Price Chopper.
What is your favorite vacation destination? We enjoy vacationing in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina, taking in the scenery, riding bikes and fishing along the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Sea Shore.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Like many employers, local grocery stores have experienced challenges with recruiting and retaining workers as well as the lack of availability of products due to supply chain issues. The pandemic has also shifted the way consumers shop, and the growing demand for curbside pickup and other online features has placed an added burden on the industry.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? Because of my responsibilities as chair of a key committee, and as someone who spends a lot of time negotiating complex legislative solutions, time is always a challenge. The 20th District encompasses all or parts of five counties, representing 116 communities and 22 school districts, so there are unique challenges in the physical distance that must be covered. I often have conflicting requests to attend events, but one of my fundamental commitments as a legislator is to be visible and accessible in all parts of the district.
I am proud of my record of service in the Senate and have worked collaboratively to enact 73 laws, including ensuring victims and families have the opportunity to provide in-person testimony at parole hearings; establishing the Veterans’ Service Officer program to make sure veterans have access to promised benefits, creating the Veterans Trust Fund to provide emergency assistance to needy veterans and their families and implementing ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts to allow disabled individuals to save for their futures. I have also advocated on behalf of residents and local officials to secure the funding necessary for job creation, transportation improvements, and important community-identified projects, such as the newly announced Vosburg Neck State Park in Wyoming County.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Gary and I love to cook and entertain friends and family in our home. One of the most requested dishes that we make is Maine lobster macaroni and cheese, which features five varieties of cheeses. However, my favorite meal to cook is Thanksgiving. I always look forward to enjoying my father’s homemade stuffing recipe with our turkey and all the trimmings.
What do you like to do for fun? When I’m not restoring and repurposing antique furniture, I enjoy walking with our English Setter, Finley, spending time with our grandchildren, Bryce and Blair, and relaxing on the deck with a good book.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? My priority is properly funding our public schools. For decades, Pennsylvania has failed to provide schools the funding they need for success, which leads to gross inequities between districts and communities that can afford to fill the void through local taxes and those who cannot.
We just passed a budget that invests a record $1.1 billion in K-12 schools, including $850 million for basic and special education and $200 million for school safety, school-based counseling and other mental health services. When the commonwealth works to meet its obligation to adequately fund schools at the state level, it not only helps our students and educators succeed—further supporting our growing economy—but it also saves homeowners from the burden of skyrocketing local property taxes.
Next, I have long stood up for the best interests of hardworking Pennsylvanians and their families, so many of whom have struggled with job instability and soaring prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to say the budget we just passed provides vital funding for families in several areas including significant childcare investments to help providers hire and retain great teachers and to help families afford the high cost of childcare through a new state tax credit.
We also leveraged our remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to make targeted investments to address the housing crisis, assist with utility bills and property taxes and afford the high cost of a college degree.
Finally, I am committed to protecting our communities and our school children from the uniquely American gun violence epidemic. The recently passed budget invests significantly in local law enforcement grants, community violence protection initiatives, mental health services and school security.
Additionally, I will continue fighting for common sense and reasonable gun safety measures, most importantly universal background checks, in the upcoming legislative session.
What is the biggest concern you hear from your constituents? I recently hosted a series of constituent breakfasts in my district and one of the biggest concerns I hear about are high property taxes, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.
For too many years to count, Pennsylvania has not been living up to its obligation to fully fund public education at the state level, and this inevitably leads to higher property taxes for families and seniors in districts at the local level. Thankfully, the historic funding we secured in this year’s state budget will help to some degree to stabilize costs for districts, and in some cases, even allow them to lower local taxes.
Additionally, we are using a portion of our remaining ARPA dollars to provide one-time bonus payments for those eligible for the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. I will continue advocating for increasing the income threshold for this program so that more homeowners can become eligible.
Where do you shop locally for food? Talluto’s in East Norriton for authentic Italian, Merrymead Farm in Worcester for delicious local milk and ice cream and of course, Collegeville Bakery for baked goods and a variety of prepared foods including pizza, pasta, hoagies and wings.
It’s been amazing to see how these stores—both small, locally owned shops to regional and national chains—have adapted to the demands of their shoppers and worked around the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is your favorite vacation destination? My family and I are headed out soon on a trip to Cape May. I will also never turn down a trip to Clearwater to see the Phillies Spring Training with my baseball obsessed family!
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The pandemic certainly laid bare the challenges of keeping food on the table. From supply chain issues to rising prices to maintaining a strong frontline workforce, our grocers have certainly had more than their fair share of challenges over the last couple of years.
It’s been amazing to see how these stores—both small, locally owned shops to regional and national chains—have adapted to the demands of their shoppers and worked around the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, online ordering and curbside pickup is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity to stay competitive in this market.
Getting this infrastructure up and running takes a significant up-front investment in technology, but it also requires a long-term investment in the workforce to keep shelves stocked while serving customers in a variety of new ways.
What I see in my district is likely no different than what is happening in stores across the commonwealth—a complete commitment to innovation and the workforce to carry it out, all with the goal of ensuring everyone has the food they need to keep their families fed and healthy.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? Divided government is an important part of our democracy, but it certainly doesn’t make things easy in Harrisburg! Being in the minority, it is frustrating to come up with great ideas for helping people and investing in our future but facing huge challenges in getting that legislation to the finish line because the majority party controls the bill calendar. Unfortunately, Pennsylvanians are often held hostage when meaningful legislation is gridlocked. That’s my biggest frustration.
Successes include several important initiatives that we have been fighting for years, and were able to achieve in the budget we just passed. These includes historic state funding for education, support for workers and families through initiatives like the new childcare tax credit and tax relief as part of a long-term vision for economic growth across the commonwealth.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Anything on the grill, especially steak.
What do you like to do for fun? I am diehard fan of all Philly sports! The Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and of course, my alma mater, Villanova Basketball.
But more than anything I like to spend time with my family. Most weekends are spent cheering on my four kids in their many activities and shuttling them to practices and games—watching them play sports they love is my happy place.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? Right now, my No. 1 priority is Senate Bill 690, my open primaries bill. We potentially lost some very good legislators in the House and Senate in this primary cycle, and I believe this Senate Bill 690 would have prevented that. Having a legislature that has the extremes of both parties trying to run the show does not result in good government.
My next top priority is Senate Bill 473, that’s the Bill that Sen. Sharif Street and I have co-sponsored that would allow for adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania. It’s kind of funny, I’m not a fan of the product. A Republican that’s become the face of legalization, that might sound odd. But from my standpoint, between the medical program and the thriving black market, virtually anybody in Pennsylvania that wants access to cannabis already has it. I look at this as the adult approach to regulation. Might as well catch it, put it in the stores so people know what they are buying and move on.
And this might come as a surprise to you—I’ve worked pretty hard in the Sunday hunting space, and I got a win there, but that’s not what I’m going to list as my third spot. Senate Bill 1042 would reduce the size of the legislature, specifically reduce the size of the House to 150 members. I know somebody always runs a bill that does that, but what makes this unique is that it would put three House members within each Senate district, and that is where I think there is significant change. So, 10 years from now when we go through the redistricting process, the Senate lines would be drawn first, then the House lines would be drawn within that. It would create what I would consider more of a team approach for these regions.
I’ll give you an example: currently, I have six State House reps within my district. Everybody’s all over the place. I really believe, whether they are Republican or Democrat working together, too, if we have three State House representatives within each Senate District, it would create more of a team approach down in Harrisburg for your region, people would be able to get more done, and quite frankly, it would foster some bipartisanship. If they are on your team whether they are Republican or Democrat, I think you’d have more of a tendency to work together.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? I ran a very successful business before I decided to run for office. It was my frustration with how Pennsylvania was being run that finally got me to throw my hat in the ring.
My frustrations continue. When I first ran, I was a little naïve about how our state government worked. But now that I’ve been there for almost six years with an insider’s view on this, I’m still frustrated by how long it takes to get something done, especially when you have something that’s polling at 75 to 80 percent from the populace, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to get done. It seems like with all these competing interests, it’s quite an effort to try and get something together, even when it makes sense for almost everyone’s constituents. I continue to remain frustrated about that.
When I was in private industry, I could literally make a decision on Friday, and on Monday, that’s what we were doing. And now, if I want to get something done, no matter how mundane it seems, it’s typically a two-year battle, sometimes longer, and I really don’t think it needs to be.
Where do you shop locally for food? I’ve become a pretty big fan of Wegmans. I like the layout of their store. It’s pretty close to my home, and their selection is pretty robust. I think they do a good job within the community as well.
It’s a good company, you can tell it’s well run. I’ve never had a bad experience at their store.
We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What is your favorite vacation destination? My wife and I went to Maui back in 1999, and it’s been on my to-do list ever since. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I’ve traveled a fair amount. I like to tell people, with Lake Erie and Presque Isle, I call Presque Isle the Maui of Pennsylvania. I have the experience, I’ve been to both places, and I think they share a lot of similarities. We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Right now, they are all having some supply chain issues and rising costs of everything. The inflation rate has to be difficult for our grocers, to try to keep the cost down for their folks. They also are having trouble finding enough employees.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? There are two things that come to mind. One of them was a personal goal for me, and that was cracking that old blue law about Sunday hunting. I was able to get that done. I realize in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t a huge issue for all Pennsylvanians, but it certainly affected about a million of us. On a personal level, I’m really pleased about that.
The other thing that was a legislative victory, when I ran in 2016, the Erie School District was on the verge of financial collapse. It had gotten so bad that they were considering closing all of their high schools and just educating the kids through 8th grade. That’s still a state law, believe it or not, that’s all you have to do. We were literally on the brink of collapse here.
As you are probably aware, if you don’t have a functioning school district, it’s extremely difficult to try and do any economic development, because why would someone come here, right? With the help of Sen. Mike Braun, I was able to secure an additional $14 million a year for basic education funding, which was the largest per-student increase in basic education funding in the history of Pennsylvania. I’m really proud of that, it literally changed the dynamics up here. They’re not rolling in cash, but we have a functioning school district and things are getting better.
There are roughly 11,000 children in that school district. Hopefully in the grand scheme of things, it changed the trajectory for those kids.
I think one of my biggest frustrations legislatively, Sen. Braun and I put out a co-sponsorship last year that would have raised our minimum wage to $10 an hour. It included an escalator built into it for inflation, which in my opinion is part of the reason we have such a disparity with our minimum wage sometimes. We’ll go years and years and then we’ll do an increase. But if it had been tied to inflation, notwithstanding this past year, it would’ve gone up 10 to 12 cents a year, nobody would’ve noticed, but we’d probably be at $10 or $12 an hour. Now, since it’s taken so long to get any movement on that, the $10 minimum wage is almost a joke. Private industry has gone well beyond that. I don’t think anybody would dispute that. So I’m kind of frustrated about that. I think it would’ve been a good thing to get done last year.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? This might not come as a surprise for your readers, but one of my favorite things is to cook a venison tenderloin over a fire down at my camp. Kind of makes sense, right?
What do you like to do for fun? I like to go out on my boat in the summertime and fish on Lake Erie. I’m a very avid archery hunter. I prefer beach vacations. If I’m sitting on a beach with my wife in a lawn chair with a margarita in my hand, I’m a pretty happy cat.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? My top three legislative priorities include health equity and increasing access to care, including improving maternal health outcomes, education and workforce development and affordable housing.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? My constituents are my biggest motivator. Sitting on the opposite side of City Avenue from Lower Merion while serving a diverse district, where on one end of the district houses are selling for over $1million and on the other end of the district residents are losing their homes and facing extreme poverty, I am aware of the possibilities that could exist for the most underserved communities. And I am committed to using my seat at the table to make improvements for all Pennsylvanians, no matter their zip code.
Where do you shop locally for food? Unfortunately, I am forced to shop at grocery stores and farmers’ markets either outside of my district or on the border. While I try to keep business in my district and within the city limits, I often find myself in one of our neighboring counties because of the simple fact that communities in my district are real-life food deserts.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I like any place with a vibrant culture, warm weather and a slow-paced environment.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? I’d say the biggest challenges for grocers in my district are county competition and non-union operations. With residents being in such proximity to Delaware and Montgomery counties, they often wander to those areas to do their grocery shopping while running other errands and daily tasks. I must add that the Philadelphia Beverage Tax did not help. We often hear that Philadelphia residents cross county lines to purchase sugared beverage items in bulk.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? The biggest challenge as a legislator is knowing the length of time it takes to get a good idea to the governor’s desk. You see issues in your community that need to be resolved, but you know that even if you can get a law passed that would help solve it, it can be months or years before that vision becomes a reality.
I’d say my biggest success as a legislator is building relationships with advocates for issues that need to be addressed. I’ve done well at being intentional about having people most impacted by issues at the table with me as I craft and advocate for laws in Pennsylvania.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? I love to cook salmon. It’s so easy to flavor up in different ways and pop right in the oven with my busy schedule.
What do you like to do for fun? I’m chill. I like to hang out with my family. A day trip to visit my sisters or a night out on the patio make for a good time for me.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? My legislative agenda is focused on creating new job opportunities for Pennsylvanians, improving education and empowering parents and protecting our communities. We made progress toward all these goals in 2021 by passing bills supporting educational choice and parental involvement, supporting businesses impacted by the pandemic, promoting new business development and strengthening services for crime victims.
What are the biggest concerns you hear from your constituents? Many of the concerns I hear from community residents are focused on the problems people experience every day: rising costs for basic necessities, concerns about potential tax increases and issues pertaining to schools or other branches of government. That’s why these issues drive my legislative agenda in Harrisburg.
Where do you shop locally for food? We primarily shop at our local Weis or at the Wegmans in State College if we need something specific. Centre County is also lucky to have many farm markets that feature some of the best products our local agriculture industry has to offer.
What is your favorite vacation destination? For me, the destination really doesn’t matter so long as I get to spend time with my family. Having that time to relax and reconnect with the people I love is what matters most.
Inflation and supply chain issues have created new burdens on grocers locally and statewide. These are concerns that were unimaginable a few years ago, but now need to be confronted to prevent disruptions in the lives of all Pennsylvanians.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Inflation and supply chain issues have created new burdens on grocers locally and statewide. These are concerns that were unimaginable a few years ago, but now need to be confronted to prevent disruptions in the lives of all Pennsylvanians.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? Partisanship always creates challenges because it often impedes the ability of lawmakers to work together toward meaningful solutions.
However, despite those challenges, I am proud to have worked to address some of the biggest problems our state has faced over the past 20-plus years, including historic reforms to our state’s pension system and our transportation infrastructure funding.
One of our biggest and most recent successes was the creation of a tax credit program that brought a $6 billion investment into Pennsylvania. A new lower carbon gasoline manufacturing facility will create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent positions to our commonwealth.
What is your favorite snack on a long session day? I am not much of a snacker, but if I need something quick, I usually grab pretzels.
What do you like to do for fun? I am never happier than when I’m spending time with my wife and kids. I love watching my kids play sports, and as a family, we have many talks about what is going on in each other’s lives. This allows us to always stay connected.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? If you follow the actions of the legislature, early 2022 will be dominated by conversations and actions around redistricting. The legislature must approve a new Congressional map, which will feature one less district after the census, and the legislative reapportionment commission will produce districts for the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives. Additionally, the budget process will start in February. Those big-ticket items are important, but they are not our only important priorities right now.
We must also continue our efforts to help the commonwealth recover and rebuild from the effects of COVID-19 and the shutdowns. There is still so much to do in terms of both public health and the economic future for Pennsylvanians.
Along those lines, we will continue our efforts to grow workforce opportunities. Every person deserves the opportunity to find good paying, family sustaining careers. We have shown that commitment through increasing funding for trade schools and other high performing institutions and pursuing the kinds of investment in Pennsylvania that can have a multi-generation impact. That includes, for example, the ethane cracker plant in Beaver County and a natural gas plant planned for Northeastern Pennsylvania. These are investments in our existing resources that have and will employ thousands and thousands of people.
Finally, we must protect and grow the financial well-being of the commonwealth. We made significant strides in our current budget, depositing $2.5 billion in our state’s rainy day fund. It is now our responsibility to take our significant savings and help provide stabilization going forward, particularly for small businesses most impacted by the pandemic. Plus, we can be in a better position to pay down debt after years of neglect.
What are the important issues facing your district? You don’t have to look very far in my district before you will find a ‘help wanted’ sign. There are many jobs available, and frankly, not enough qualified people to fill them. We have openings across trades, and employers offering family sustaining careers do not have applicants with the relevant training and certifications to do the jobs. So, it goes back to the workforce development goal; we must continue to create pathways for people to find the training that employers need. Additionally, my district is dominated by the agriculture industry—it is really the backbone of our community. Farmers of all types are concerned with meeting the federal testing requirements related to Chesapeake Bay run-off while keeping their farms in a position to prosper and support our local economy.
I look back on our time in the leader’s office, where it is your job to set the legislative calendar, and I take great pride in our efforts. In that legislative session we passed 650 bills, 96% of which had bipartisan support and 64% were passed unanimously by the House.
Where do you shop locally for food? We are fortunate to have countless local farm stands and markets in our community, so I try to frequent those when possible, depending on what is in season. However, you are most likely to see me doing my shopping at the Giant Food at the Buck (outside of Quarryville). It’s in the same shopping center as my District office!
What family holiday tradition can you not live without? When it comes to Christmas, we always watch A Christmas Story. Some years, we start it the night before and then have it on throughout Christmas Day. One of my kids usually tries to talk us into starting a new tradition, but it doesn’t take long before we’re all laughing and quoting our favorite parts. We also make sure to watch Die Hard, which I remind my family is a Christmas movie!
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The grocers are facing the same challenges as other industries in our area; they are struggling to find staff to adequately run their businesses. It is an issue up and down the supply chain and that can be noticed when you’re walking through the stores in terms of what is on the shelves. However, the “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs are easy to see in markets of all sizes. As I mentioned, our community has a number of local produce markets and producers, so that helps us avoid some challenges consumers may see in other parts of the commonwealth, but staffing and training are still an issue.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? The challenge is the very process of how we change laws, and it’s challenging by design. It is convincing 253 lawmakers (the House and Senate combined) and the Governor that what you believe is an issue is something that truly is a problem. Once that is accomplished, you then have to convince them all over again that your idea is the best way to fix it—and that takes time, regardless of what issue you are trying to solve.
As for successes, I’ve been very fortunate. I look back on our time in the leader’s office, where it is your job to set the legislative calendar, and I take great pride in our efforts. In that legislative session we passed 650 bills, 96% of which had bipartisan support and 64% were passed unanimously by the House. Those stats do not include resolutions, either. It did include things like the statewide health insurance exchange, which has turned into a major success story, cutting out-of-pocket costs down more than 5% for health care consumers. It also included an agriculture package of bills to assist our farmers, a package of bills to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and other first responders, and most recently I am very proud of our efforts to make the largest deposit in the history of our state’s rainy day fund, a decision that looks more prudent as time goes on and we get a better idea of what challenges we may face in the years to come.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? My favorite thing to cook is actually something I bake. I make my mother’s, completely from scratch, homemade chocolate zucchini cake. She made it for us as kids and it’s just so dense, moist and delicious it’s a big hit in our house. I also love making breakfast. I’ll get up early and make omelets, bacon and pancakes. And I love spending time with my grill—firing off steaks and burgers.
What do you like to do for fun? I try to get outside as much as possible. Hiking and backpacking or riding mountain bikes. In the past few years, I’ve also taken up CrossFit. It’s very early mornings, but I love the challenge and the competition. Along those lines, when I’m healthy enough I love to compete in triathlons and running races.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? One thing I want to do is help the airports and create an incentive for properties around the airports (so that) for every job they create they get some sort of tax break. It doesn’t cost us anything. If they don’t create a job, they get nothing at all. This is a bill that is in the homestretch. We did talk to the Governor’s Office and negotiated what they would support.
I also have a radar bill. It can be difficult to explain, especially in a district like mine where you have small boroughs and people are crossing the street with these cars speeding by. We’ve lost a couple of people hit by vehicles in Stroudsburg Borough and in Mount Pocono. The police cannot set up their Lidar or VASCAR because you need to have visibility, and with parked cars you don’t get it. In the Mount Pocono instance, they set up outside the borough, figuring that if you are speeding there, you were speeding through the borough.
That doesn’t work. I don’t want them speeding through the borough where there are pedestrians. People know that now you have to be careful because you have radar. That’s where we want them to stop and protect residents. The goal for me is to get the bill to the finish line. We’re the only state in the United States that doesn’t have radar for local police. All we want to do is slow people down in the populated areas.
I have a variety of different bills, but those are my two focuses right now.
I’m hoping I can get this to the finish line, too. Our seniors, especially in the growing school districts, are being taxed out of their homes. We’ve tried different plans to help seniors in a certain income bracket stay in their homes… They don’t want to leave their houses. So, raising the state sales tax a half percent, but taxing nothing else, will generate enough money to give seniors who are 65 years and older with an income of $60,000 or less about a $5,000 credit on their school taxes. We have to do something for the seniors because they are really hurting.
What are the important issues facing your district? We’re doing tremendous infrastructure work right now. We’re planning for the widening of I-80, and that needs to happen. The highway was built for about 12,000 vehicles a day, and it gets as many as 78,000 a day now. Especially the Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg areas of my district, the most accidents in the whole 320-mile stretch of I-80 from New Jersey to Ohio are in those boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg. Road improvements and safer roads are important to me.
School property tax is a big issue. When you’re in growing school districts, you build buildings. And every time you build a building, the debt services goes on the backs of the people who live in those communities.
School property tax is a big issue. When you’re in growing school districts, you build buildings. And every time you build a building, the debt services goes on the backs of the people who live in those communities. I’ll give you an example. Today, you build a high school and it’s about $125 million. An intermediate school is about $75 million and an elementary is about $45 million. So if you’re growing, that’s your problem. Somebody has to pay for it, it’s going to be born by the taxpayers. The last couple of years, it’s been an escape from New York and New Jersey to the Poconos. We grew by about 3,000 in the last two years, and unfortunately it came after the census was taken, so we don’t get credit for them.
Where do you shop locally for food? Giant is the closest one to me, or ShopRite.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I used to have a house in Bethany Beach. The problem is, I couldn’t take the sometimes five-hour ride on a Friday night. Sunday night coming back was even worse. So I ended up selling it and buying a house in Punta Gorda, Florida, for half the price of the house in Bethany Beach. I can get a plane in either Harrisburg or Allentown. I get there in 2 hours and 5 minutes. I get off the plane, and I walk 17 minutes to the house.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Well, you’ve got a tremendous amount of competition. You’ve got Weis, ShopRite, Giant. And with those, competition actually keeps you sharp, especially when things are bad. People will check pricing and service.
To me, the supermarket that shines out is the one that sticks out of the box and will do services that normally you don’t find in a supermarket. I notice they are now doing call in your order, we’ll put it together for you. Those are the types of things, especially with working families and with kids, that work much better. Whomever take that challenge and is good with what you want to see in a store—freshness, quality and service—will do well.
It’s a challenging business, the supermarket business, it really is.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? I was at an event when I saw this young man take an artificial limb off, and he’s jumping on the other one. I said, “Why’d you take the limb off?” He said, “Because it’s bothering me.” I said, “Why haven’t you told your parents and returned it?” He said, “We tried, they won’t take it back.”
There were no protections. And that’s a $35,000 leg. They’re not cheap. So I looked into it and saw anyone can measure for that. And yet once you have it, it’s yours. So I put a bill in and moved it to the finish line. You had to be certified, and if it didn’t fit properly the consumer is not responsible, it’s the company.
Basically we’ve gotten the people out of the market who weren’t certified. That bill saved a tremendous amount of people. That young man was hurting himself even more. He was up on one leg, and he was hurting his body. That was, for me, a challenge.
Then, when you buy a house and you sell a piece of real estate, there’s a real estate tax that’s collected at closing: it’s 2 percent of the sales. It’s collected then it’s given to the county. The county disperses those dollars. One percent goes to the state, a half percent goes to the school district and a half percent goes to the local municipality.
Quite often, the state checks those numbers and finds they didn’t collect enough taxes. So, what the state would do is go after that 1 percent. Once the state collects their money, they send a letter to the county that there are more taxes due. But there’s a two-year window to collect your money, and many times the municipality and school district never receive it.
What my bill does is when the state makes a determination that there weren’t enough taxes collected, they collect the full 2 percent. Instead of sending a letter to the county, they send 1 percent back to the county for the county to distribute to the school district and local municipality. … It’s reciprocal. If there is a problem, the state will collect. And that has meant big money in my county, in many counties, especially when you have a tremendous amount of real estate being sold. It saved tax payers dollars.
I moved the property tax bill twice to the finish line—moved it out of the house—but the senate didn’t take it up. This is something I want to see, and I’ll keep working on it, to get school property taxes addressed, especially in the growing areas.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Lasagna! I make a mean lasagna. I take sausage meat and chopped meat and mix it together, and it gives it a great taste. I do it just like my mom did. My mom never put anything down (in a recipe), but I always watched her.
One of the most important things with lasagna is Locatelli cheese on every layer.
What do you like to do for fun? You know, I’m blessed! My wife’s a baseball fan, I’m a baseball fan. We go to as many games as we can. This particular year, we were down in Florida and the Mets were down there. We went to the whole series. And the prices were half that of the prices in New York.
The other thing my wife and I enjoy is going to see the grandkids play. My granddaughter will be 9 shortly, and my grandson will be 11. One plays baseball and football, and he is so fast. My granddaughter plays soccer, she’s five years ahead of her time. She is amazing… And they’re the two oldest, we’ll see what the younger ones do. Both very athletic and bright!
You know what? It’s all about family.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? My top priority remains closing Pennsylvania’s digital divide by bringing high-speed broadband internet to every home across the Commonwealth. I’m also focused on protecting our energy jobs in the coal and gas industries and fixing our broken property tax system so we can fairly fund education.
What are the important issues facing your district? As highlighted in the most recent Census data, the rural and industrial areas of Pennsylvania are losing population. It’s imperative that we find a solution to grow our tax base and keep people here with good paying, family sustaining jobs. We can do that by investing in our infrastructure, expanding broadband service and running new water and sewer lines to keep the next generation here in older portions of the Commonwealth that once relied heavily on the coal and steel industries. It starts with keeping the coal and steel jobs we still have, and then diversifying our economy to include new business growth.
Where do you shop locally for food? My family has shopped at the locally owned Giant Eagle in Dry Tavern, Greene County, for many years. The Throckmorton family owns two Giant Eagle’s in my district, and my family sometimes makes a stop several times a week to pick up what we need. I grew up in the Dry Tavern community and having this grocery store here is a major asset to all of us.
What is your favorite vacation destination? The beach! My husband Jack and I love to take our kids and grandkids to the Carolinas in the summer for a family vacation. There is nothing more relaxing than a quiet afternoon listening to the waves and a giggle or two from the grandkids. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have canceled our vacations, but we are itching to get back to the water next year.
I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The grocery store owners are quick to tell you that they need employees. Most people know that it has been difficult for many small businesses to find employees to run their stores over the last several months. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, grocery stores were slammed as restaurants closed and people were afraid to dine out. Those essential workers are now facing fatigue and burn-out, and there isn’t a line of workers waiting to relieve them. I’m hopeful, as we continue to conquer the pandemic and the economy recovers, that people will be looking for work and can fill these roles.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? I have several achievements of which I’m proud, but I’m particularly proud of my legislation for corrections officers. My district contains two state prisons that employ thousands of corrections officers and staff. On a tour of SCI-Fayette, the corrections officers asked me to get them a pepper spray mechanism to combat violent prisoners. We passed legislation that gave those officers that spray and they say it’s made their jobs safer, protected them, and curbed violence inside the walls.
The biggest challenge remains the partisan politics that haunt the Capitol. I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue. Too often, my colleagues get caught up in talking points, speeches and what plays best on social media for them back home. I wish we could turn the cameras off and just get some work done. That’s what the people who elected us sent us here to do.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? My husband Jack is the cook in our house. The man can whip up just about anything, but his chicken and noodles from scratch are to die for! I’m thankful that with my schedule, he makes sure there is dinner on the table. I love to make my mother’s homemade bun recipe. You can use those buns with just about anything. At Christmas time, the family can’t wait for my peanut butter balls and nut rolls.
What do you like to do for fun? We live on my husband’s century-old family farm. Our daughters have built houses on the property and have raised their kids there. We just love having them so close, spending time with them and our grandchildren whether in the barn or in the pool.
Liz Kemmery, director of communications