November 19, 2021

The U.S. House this morning narrowly passed President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill and sent it to the Senate, where it may or may not pass, but either way, likely without a single Republican vote. This is where we are in these highly partisan times.

But who says bipartisanship is dead? The PA House passed a bill this week that toughens penalties on repeat DUI offenders. The vote was 168-32, and the measure now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to receive similar treatment. Sentences would become significantly more severe for those who get popped for DUI a third and subsequent times.

Bipartisanship example No. 2 was the signing of a bill that requires the Commonwealth’s district attorneys to hold an active law license for their entire terms. The measure also outlines succession procedures when a DA’s office becomes vacant. Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would maintain the integrity of the office.

Example No. 3: Pennsylvanians and others across country saluted our veterans last week, and – PRESTO! – the General Assembly and governor have now added two more holidays to honor veterans, and a third for first responders. In addition to Veterans Day on Nov. 11, PA will honor Persian Gulf vets on March 6, Global War on Terrorism vets on Oct. 7 and First Responders on Sept. 27. BTW, the new holidays do not come with a day off.

On the other hand, there’s the GOP’s ongoing quest to conduct an investigation of the 2020 election, without an iota of Democratic support, or evidence of stolen or mishandled votes. This week a Senate committee identified a private contractor it wants to hire to re-do the work that the Dems say has already been done.

And, there’s the bill that would end the requirement that gun owners obtain permits for carrying concealed weapons. It passed along largely partisan lines in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and it awaits an inevitable veto from the Democratic governor. Passing and sending legislation to the governor that was doomed to be vetoed from the start is NOT bipartisanship. Just sayin’…

Also, in a couple of nationally watched murder trials this week, one might conclude that giving guns to people whose judgement is not especially sound is not an especially good idea. Again, just sayin’…

Current circumstances and history are converging to make next year’s U.S. Senate race a stiff challenge for Pennsylvania Democrats, according to PennLive columnist John Baer. First of all, there is a strong consensus among the punditry that things are lining up to favor the GOP in the mid-term elections. And, in the last 100 years, PA has had two Democratic senators at the same time only once, for only a couple of years in the 1940s.

How are the casinos doing these days, you ask? They are figuratively rolling in the dough, generating nearly $426 million in October and eclipsing the previous record set in July.

The continuing opioid crisis shows no signs of easing as national overdose deaths have surpassed 100,000 in a year. State officials are advising folks to stock up on overdose reversal drugs, such as naloxone.

On the COVID front, it appears we may be on the verge of a winter surge, as cases are rising again in Philly. The good news is that nearly 6,400 Philly kids ages 5 to 11 have been vaxxed. The bad news is, that’s only 5%.

In other vax-related news, frozen vials labeled “smallpox” were discovered in a MontCo research lab this week as lab workers were cleaning out a freezer. Officials said we probably don’t need to worry. Uh, right. But here’s a public-service message: smallpox was wiped out in 1980, thanks to widely distributed and highly effective vaccines. Hmmm. What other widely distributed and highly effective vaccines might we find out there???

The incessant battle over wearing masks to combat COVID continued this week as a Commonwealth Court judge re-imposed an order for schools and child-care facilities to halt mask mandates by Dec. 4, not on Jan. 17 as had been announced by Governor Wolf.

Bail-bond industry lobbyists and nonprofit groups that free defendants from pre-trial detention are going at it hammer and tongs as the PA House considers a bill that would, according to the nonprofits, put them out of business. The measure was introduced Nov. 3 and has raced through the House in just two weeks, largely under the radar.

Legislation that would block the tolling of nine major bridges across the Commonwealth passed in the House this week. It now goes back to the Senate and finally to the governor, who is likely to veto it. The tolls are intended to pay for the renovation or replacement of the nine bridges, but there are skeptics who worry that the initiative could wind up bleeding revenue from the Motor License Fund the next time that traffic counts and fuel consumption drop.

Former PA House Speaker Mike Turzai this week joined nearly two dozen of his predecessors whose portraits hang in the Capitol. Turzai served as speaker from 2015 until resigning and heading to the private sector in June of 2020.

So, this week’s We Can’t Make This Up segment takes us to Australia, where a down-under zoo has acquired a venomous “mega-spider,” whose jaws are reportedly so strong that they can pierce human fingernails. The zoo says it will “milk” the venom and send it to a pharmaceutical company that will devise an antidote that will save 300 lives per year. (Aside to our colleague, Mike Manzo: sounds like this needs to be your next vaccine, dude. Just sayin’…)

And so, that’s about it for this week’s festivities. We’ll be back next week with more hair-raising tales, preferably about arachnids, which amusingly scare the hell out of our esteemed colleague, Mr. Manzo. Have a great weekend, and be sure to vax up against spiders and COVID.