The Boyertown Area Times

Making some progress in Harrisburg

We’re pleased to note that some progress is being made on key issues in Harrisburg even as the state House of Representa­tives has yet to get to work due to a dispute.


The closely divided House currently has a Republican majority, but Democrats are expected to gain control this month after special elections to fill vacant seats. Berks County Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi was elected House speaker with Republican support, but the effort to start the House session on a bipartisan basis quickly fell apart. As a result, nothing has happened legislativ­ely on that side of the Capitol.

But in the meantime new Gov. Josh Shapiro is getting some things accomplish­ed through executive orders, and the Republican-controlled Senate is doing its part to start moving legislatio­n along.

The Senate unanimousl­y passed a measure that would allow Pennsylvan­ia public school teachers to wear religious emblems, insignia and garb while on the job.

Current state law calls for teachers to be suspended or fired for multiple offenses and makes public school directors criminally liable if they fail to enforce the statute.

The law remains in place even after a federal judge found that it violated the U.S. Constituti­on’s freedoms of speech and religious expression. That case involved an Indiana County teacher who was suspended for wearing a necklace with a cross.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, a York County Republican, said Pennsylvan­ia is the only state that still has such a law, a kind of measure that was inspired by the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Catholic sentiment of the last 1800s.

Democratic State Sen. Judy Schwank of Berks County also a co-sponsor, noted that the point was not to show favoritism toward any religion but to allow people of all faiths to express themselves. She is hoping removing the rule will lead more people to seek teaching careers.

It’s shocking that a state founded on principals of religious liberty hasn’t been able to rid itself of this law sooner. Democrats, Republican­s and the state’s leading teachers union agree on this question, yet measures to repeal the law failed to advance in the last two legislativ­e sessions. We certainly hope this time will be different.

Meanwhile Shapiro is issuing executive orders focused on efforts on improving Pennsylvan­ia’s environmen­t for employers and job-seekers alike.

Shapiro gained bipartisan praise for eliminatin­g the requiremen­t of a four-year college degree for most jobs in state government. For one thing, the tight labor market demands that the state widen the pool of applicants it will consider. And more importantl­y, it is only right to expand opportunit­ies for people who haven’t attended college. In many lines of work the state government does, there are plenty of people with experience and natural talent that qualify them, even if they don’t have an expensive diploma. They deserve a chance.

A week later Shapiro created the Office of Transforma­tion and Opportunit­y, which administra­tion officials described as a one-stop-shop for businesses looking to grow.

“I’ve heard from business and labor leaders across the commonweal­th — government needs to work more quickly and figure out a way to get to yes,” Shapiro said in announcing the creation of the office. “Today, we are making clear that Pennsylvan­ia is open for business, and that we are going to be leaders in economic growth, job creation, and innovation.”

The office is to help develop and lead an overall growth strategy and implement economic developmen­t projects with a focus on coordinati­on among state agencies, expediting permit reviews, and ensuring prompt review and approval of key incentive programs.

And Shapiro is enacting changes to speed up occupation­al licensing, permitting and certificat­ion processes so applicants get a more timely response. When one’s livelihood depends on cooperatio­n from government bureaucrat­s, it’s certainly reasonable to expect prompt service. Too often that has not been the case.

Things are off to a promising start. Let’s hope the House hits the ground running soon so Harrisburg can be fully operationa­l in its efforts to serve the taxpayers.

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