New Pa. leg­isla­tive ses­sion is clean slate

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Wag­ner State Sen. Scott Wag­ner is a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents por­tions of York County.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s next two-year state leg­isla­tive ses­sion of­fers new op­por­tu­ni­ties for pos­i­tive changes.

The his­toric 2016 elec­tion is be­hind us, and a new year awaits us. That in­cludes a new two-year state leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gin­ning in Jan­uary. Just as you may look at a new year as a chance to make pos­i­tive changes through res­o­lu­tions, I am look­ing at the new ses­sion as a clean slate for the leg­is­la­ture to ef­fect real change for Penn­syl­va­ni­ans.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties that await us are nu­mer­ous. I re­main fo­cused on im­por­tant re­forms like rein­ing in spend­ing, ad­dress­ing the pen­sion cri­sis, and ul­ti­mately, elim­i­nat­ing prop­erty taxes. How­ever, there are ad­di­tional ways to re­form Penn­syl­va­nia and set us on a more suc­cess­ful path.

One area of op­por­tu­nity and a con­tin­ued pri­or­ity for me is work­force de­vel­op­ment. While we of­ten hear about job cre­ation ef­forts, we can­not for­get that plenty of jobs are go­ing un­filled be­cause em­ploy­ers can­not find work­ers with the nec­es­sary skills. As a busi­ness owner, I am very aware of the ev­er­grow­ing skills gap in the la­bor force be­ing cre­ated by re­tir­ing baby boomers, the push for stu­dents to pur­sue four-year col­leges rather than trade schools, and ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy.

A strong work­force re­sults in a strong econ­omy, which re­sults in Penn­syl­va­nia head­ing down a more suc­cess­ful path. Since com­ing to Harrisburg in April 2014, I have ad­vo­cated for mak­ing stu­dents aware of ca­reers that are in high de­mand, pay well, and can be ob­tained with a two-year de­gree from a trade school or com­mu­nity col­lege. Not ev­ery high school grad­u­ate is meant to go to a four-year col­lege, and we need to change the mind­set that one has to go to such a school to be suc­cess­ful.

We also have to ac­knowl­edge another group of in­di­vid­u­als that could fill the skills gap be­ing faced by Penn­syl­va­nia’s em­ploy­ers — those with a crim­i­nal record. Too many peo­ple have made a mis­take in their past, and they are still pay­ing for it by not be­ing able to ob­tain em­ploy­ment or ad­vance in their ca­reer due to their crim­i­nal back­ground.

Just as we all seek a clean slate in a new year, I aim to give in­di­vid­u­als who com­mit­ted cer­tain non-vi­o­lent of­fenses and have been crime-free for a pe­riod of time the chance to start fresh — to get a job or an apart­ment — with­out be­ing judged for a crime they com­mit­ted years ago.

Act 5 of 2016 went into ef­fect Nov. 14. This pro­vides in­di­vid­u­als with cer­tain of­fenses the op­por­tu­nity to pe­ti­tion the court for an or­der of lim­ited ac­cess. Mean­ing, the crimes would not be erased from the record, but they would be re­moved from pub­lic view, and there­fore, would not ap­pear in em­ployer and land­lord back­ground checks. In turn, the per­son would not have to dis­close them on an ap­pli­ca­tion. My leg­is­la­tion is sim­i­lar but calls for the process to be au­to­matic, sav­ing peo­ple from hav­ing to pe­ti­tion the court.

Another op­por­tu­nity for us is to ad­dress school man­dates. Ev­ery year we hear cries for more ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, but in­stead of in­creas­ing the amount of money, let’s look at ways to spend the money more ef­fi­ciently. We all know that pen­sions are a ma­jor cost driver, as are salaries and ben­e­fits. But over the years the state has handed down plenty of un­funded man­dates on our schools — pre­vail­ing wages on con­struc­tion projects be­ing a ma­jor one.

Elim­i­nat­ing un­nec­es­sary costs is key to di­rect­ing more dol­lars into the class­rooms for our stu­dents in or­der to pre­pare them for suc­cess­ful ca­reers — ca­reers that not only call for tech­ni­cal skills but soft skills. These are ba­sics like show­ing up to work on time and look­ing pre­sentable, mak­ing eye con­tact and shak­ing hands when meet­ing some­one, and sim­ply work­ing hard.

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