Pennsylvania counties ask lawmakers to keep mental health, 911 services and elections front and center

A collective of county commissioners set out their priorities

  • Sam Dunklau

Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association President Chip Abramovic, surrounded by other county commissioners, speaks during a press conference in Harrisburg on January 25, 2023.

Sam Dunklau / WITF

Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association President Chip Abramovic, surrounded by other county commissioners, speaks during a press conference in Harrisburg on January 25, 2023.

Pennsylvania county commissioners outline a handful of policy goals they want state lawmakers to tackle over the next year.

Top of the list is making sure county 911 services are funded — and keep it going. next generation 911 upgrade projects are complete.

“Achieving this priority would ensure that all Pennsylvania residents and visitors to our greater Commonwealth will continue to have a quick and efficient connection to 911 operations and services in all situations,” said the Association of Pennsylvania president. Pennsylvania County Commissioner Chip Abramovic at a Wednesday news conference in Harrisburg. .

While everyone in Pennsylvania with a phone is regularly charged an additional $1.65 to pay for the 911 call network, the State Law which set up this funding stream expires next January.

The commissioners are also pushing for pre-canvassing rules that would allow election workers to process mail-in ballots ahead of the election. They also want the state’s mail-in ballot application deadline to be earlier.

Voters are allowed to submit their candidacy no later than one week before an in-person election is held. County workers said this makes it virtually impossible for latecomers to receive their ballots in time to have them counted.

“[We] need for clear rules allowing consistent implementation [of elections] across the Commonwealth,” said Joe Kantz, who chairs the Snyder County Board of Commissioners. “Reforms are needed to resolve the ambiguities.

Despite bipartisan pressure, state lawmakers have not agreed to any of these changes since implementing Law 77 — the latest update to state election law — four years ago.

Counties also want more state funding for community mental health programs. A WITF survey late last year found that people with mental disorders are increasingly ending up in county jails, which are often not equipped to handle them. The investigation revealed that these people are regularly subjected to violence from the guards who try to maintain order.

“The lack of adequate public funding that has failed to meet demand, coupled with increasing workloads and cost inflation, has pushed the community mental system to the point of collapse,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick.

“It’s probably one of the most broken down systems of all our human service delivery systems,” he added.

Dauphin County said about half of the people in its jail have a mental health condition. Nearly one in three of more than 450 uses of force by guards at 25 Pennsylvania prisons in the fall of 2021 involved someone experiencing a mental health crisis or who had a known mental health issue.

Hartwick said state lawmakers could use a $100 million pot of pandemic relief money to help improve mental health services. Democratic House Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) said she favored this idea last fall. According to how a trio of special elections scheduled for February 7 Turn out, his party can control the State House by a very slim margin.

This chamber did not give in to the session because it is deadlocked on the rules of procedure. Newly elected President Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) is leading a task force aimed at solving this problem.

Abramovic said his group is working closely with incoming Governor Josh Shapiro, formerly Montgomery County Commissioner, to get those things done. When asked to push those ideas in an almost evenly divided House, Abramovic was optimistic.

“We see it as an opportunity. We can bring them together on common bipartisan issues,” he said.


Pennsylvania counties ask lawmakers to keep mental health, 911 services and elections front and center

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