Lawmakers share Harrisburg insights at breakfast meeting
State Rep. Paul Schemel and Sen. Judy Ward provided an update on issues in the state capitol ranging from legalization of recreational marijuana to raising minimum wage Thursday morning during the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce's legislative breakfast in the conference center at Rhodes Grove Camp.
Schemel represents southern Franklin County's 90th District and Ward's 30th District includes western Franklin County, with both Republicans serving Greencastle and Antrim Township.
The two entered the House of Representatives together, often sat together in Harrisburg before Ward entered the Senate this year and share many points of view.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, is currently on a statewide listening tour concerning the legalization of recreational marijuana.
"He's a nice man and presides over the Senate, but I don't understand why legalizing marijuana is his first priority," Ward said. "He knows I am a hard 'no.'"
"Why do we want to legalize something that makes us fatter, stupider and less able to drive?" asked Schemel.
He said data from states where recreational marijuana is legal shows a rise in DUIs, DUI fatalities, dropouts and work accidents.
He called the listening tour "a sham" and said the governor and lieutenant governor are intent on making marijuana legal.
Ward asked how many employers in the audience are in favor of raising Pennsylvania's minimum wage and not a single hand went up.
The current proposal calls for a starting point of $12 an hour, increasing 50 cents a year until minimum wage reaches $15 an hour.
Ward said that idea is not well thought out and will burden employers who are already struggling with overregulation and other costs.
They will not be able to afford workers, and customers will see more self-serve kiosks and checkout scanners, Ward said.
"We live in a free market economy and wages rise and fall with the market," said Schemel.
He said a very small percentage of the population makes minimum wage, mainly 16- to 22-year-olds who are just learning how to work and be responsible.
Projections indicate Pennsylvania will lose 33,000 jobs if minimum wage goes to $12 an hour, Schemel said.
Pennsylvania State Police
The governor's proposed budget includes charging municipalities that do not have their own police forces a fee for Pennsylvania State Police coverage. The idea has been brought up before and Schemel noted it would cost Antrim Township $2.1 million a year.
A former Greencastle Borough Council member, Schemel said he understands the inequity between municipalities that pay for their own police departments and those that rely on state police, but this is a bad proposal.
"We do need to find better ways to police Pennsylvania, but this is not the answer," Schemel said.
Both lawmakers think public officials who are convicted of a work-related felony should lose their pensions. Ward said she is confident the governor will sign recent legislation to that effect.
"We need to do anything we can to restore public confidence," Schemel said.
During the question-and-answer period at the end of the program, Greencastle Borough Councilman Frank Webster asked for thoughts on radar and speed cameras, as well as Sunday hunting.
Schemel said he has been an advocate for allowing local police in Pennsylvania to use radar since he was on borough council and does not know why the bill to permit it never passes.
There are speed cameras in nearby Maryland and Schemel said he gets a lot of calls about using them in Pennsylvania.
Ward is in favor of both speed cameras and radar for local police.
Neither lawmaker supports Sunday hunting.
Schemel said it is good to have one day off, whether for religious reasons or to allow other people to use the woods for recreation.
Ward said she typical sides with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and has done informal polls which give "a loud 'no' for the 30th District."
Other discussion included financial strains on local municipalities, fire, EMS and police services; costly federal storm water management mandates that affect Greencastle and Antrim Township; and the proposed severance tax on natural gas.
Schemel concluded the program by noting it was being held on Down Syndrome Awareness Day. He deplored that many with Down syndrome "are destroyed before they are ever born," and said those he knows with Down syndrome are happy and beautiful.