Even with the pandemic, Harrisburg area state representatives were able to gather for an annual Legislators’ Forum, although this time appearing on screens instead of on stage.
Nine PA General Assembly members from Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties discussed topics like political civility, minimum wage and small business struggles and how COVID impacts all of them.
The forum was hosted by the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC and hosted by President and CEO Dave Black.
Panelists included Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88), Rep. Torren Ecker (R-193), Rep. Barb Gleim (R-199), Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-92), Rep. Perry Stambaugh (R-86), Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-105), Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-106), Rep. Patty Kim (D-103) and Rep. Greg Rothman (R-87).
Starting off with the topic on everyone’s minds, Keefer addressed the COVID vaccine rollout in Pennsylvania.
“We are behind other states,” Keefer said. “We can’t get them out fast enough. Some of the areas in our state do not have enough manpower to administer the shots.”
Lewis weighed in as well, saying distribution is not the only issue. According to Lewis, there’s not enough vaccine to go around. He did say there is a single-dose vaccine coming that will help increase the vaccination rate.
Bringing the year full circle, the panelists discussed the minimum wage, as they did at last year’s forum.
Last year, most representatives opposed raising the minimum wage. However, this year, Kim, the Harrisburg area’s sole Democrat in the House, was in attendance to explain her support for reform.
“We need to reset the button,” she said. “$7.25 is an irrelevant number because it hasn’t been raised for 11 years. So let’s raise the floor and bring in the stragglers.”
Kim said that her bill would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage by increments of 50 cents per year until it reached $15 an hour.
“If we are to do it, and I agree with Patty, $7.25 is way too low, but how we get there is where we need to concentrate,” said Mehaffie.
Delozier wasn’t convinced by Kim’s argument, pointing out potential issues with raising the minimum wage, including people possibly becoming ineligible for certain social services like childcare.
“Our businesses can’t afford it, our social services can’t catch up, and people might be worse off than they were,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we need to take into consideration.”
Representatives also took time to focus specifically on how Harrisburg has fared during the pandemic. Kim spoke to some of the concerns that she has, including returning students to classrooms safely, vaccination rates, small businesses and development efforts in the city.
Rothman also discussed the effect on restaurants in the city.
“I’m concerned about the city,” Rothman said. “A very small percentage of state government is actually physically coming into work, which affects our restaurants.”
Closing out the forum, representatives discussed civility during an unprecedented time of political division in the country.
“The approach we need to take, whether we are Republicans or Democrats, is to say, ‘I may not agree, but at least I’m going to respect the person […] and acknowledge they are coming from a place of trying to better their community,’” Lewis said.
To watch the 2021 Legislators’ Forum, click here.
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