Town Hall: opioid abuse, Gerrymandering top Roe’s priorities

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By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

State Rep. Eric Roe (R-158) listens to a constituent question, Thursday night.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — First-term Pennsylvania State Representative Eric Roe held his ninth open meeting with a friendly crowd Thursday at the East Marlborough township building.  According to Roe’s staff, postcard invitations were sent to all households in the local area.

The meeting started with a discussion of the opioid crises and services available led by Kathy Collier from the Chester County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services.

2017 saw a 35% annual increase in accidental overdoses in Chester County, with most attributed to opioids.

According to Collier, the uptick began in 2010 and “we are not at a point where the pendulum is swinging in the other direction.”  That equated to 133 deaths last year, but “if it’s one of your own friends or family members, even one death is one too many,” Collier stated.

Collier explained that what makes this crisis different from other drug epidemics is the prevalence of prescription pain medicine.  People may start with prescribed pills for a shoulder injury, then turn to heroin when the supply is exhausted because it is less expensive than pills on the street.  The stigma attached to needle injection no longer exists.  The heroin, widely available in every neighborhood, is so pure that it can be snorted with the same effect.

But help is available.  “We exist as a support and a service to the county,” Collier stated.  She claimed everyone, including the uninsured, has a right to medical care.  Her department works to design the right type of treatment on a case by case basis.  That could include outpatient, hospital, and/or residential treatment.  They work with internal funds and insurance companies to ensure coverage.

She urged everyone to dispose of all unused medication at no charge, no questions asked, via one of the 23 locations throughout the county.  Flushing or burying pills contaminates the water supply over time.  Unionville’s closest location is the Kennett Police Department at 115 North Broad Street, Kennett Square.  The CCDDA website contains all drop-off locations, contacts, treatment, and other information.  Their phone number is 1-866-286-3767.

Roe then quickly summarized accomplishments during his first term in office.  They included keeping the $30 million for infective disease research at the New Bolton Center and obtaining $750,000 for Laurel Road repair in Newlin township.

He was pleased that pension reform for state employees is now law.  Instead of a defined benefit fully funded by the state, future employees will have a 401K-type contribution-sharing plan.  Roe informed that state pensions resulted in a $70 billion debt–$40,000 for every person living in the state.

According to Roe, a change in the way legislative districts are drawn is gaining traction in both the house and senate, with more than 50% of legislators supporting it.  Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Congressional boundaries must be redrawn for this upcoming election (which is under appeal at the federal court level) the bill he co-sponsored would change the process permanently, putting an end to gerrymandering.  In order to become part of the state’s constitution, the bill must be brought to the floor and pass both the house and senate two years in a row.  Then it will go to the voters.

Other questions from residents covered a wide range of topics.

November’s approved property tax referendum, in theory, means that legislators could eliminate school taxes and replace them with increases in the sales and income tax rates.  This would give Harrisburg the power to distribute all school funding as it deems appropriate.  Chester is the highest-income county in Pennsylvania.  “People like us have the most to lose,” said Roe.  And although the proposal is being heavily pushed by legislators in Berks County (where property taxes are among the state’s highest), overall he thinks that “there is no political will to eliminate the property tax.”

Regarding state liquor stores, Roe stated that progress has been made with beer and wine, now available in some grocery stores.  “Sometimes progress is incremental, not monumental,” he explained.  Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states in the country with state stores.  He believes that they should be fully privatized.

In general, Roe is against raising taxes.  But experiencing first-hand how difficult it is to fund a budget, a gas severance tax “has become more appealing as time went on.”  The tax is currently being debated in the house, and Roe is open-minded provided the final bill does not have provisions putting our environment at risk.

He voted against the gambling expansion bill that recently became law, in part because of what it could mean for the horse-racing industry.  The district has a robust horse-breeding business.

A resident pointed out that the state’s gasoline tax is the second highest in the nation (California is first). Roe informed that although that tax was designed to fund bridges and roads, it is now also used for the state police.  There is a movement in the house to fund the state police via a per-household tax, but Roe is against it.

He would like to abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority, which is losing money.

One resident described Pennsylvania as a “senior-friendly state,” with no tax on pensions or 401K’s.  But the inheritance tax is levied on dollar one.  Roe mentioned that because Pennsylvania is “a cash-strapped state,” there is not a lot of movement on tax reduction.  In an email after the meeting, Roe said, “I am open to the complete elimination of the inheritance tax in Pennsylvania, or at the very least, placing a high threshold on it much like the federal inheritance tax.”

In response to a question about the decriminalization of marijuana, he talked about the new law allowing purchase for medicinal purposes.  In an email after the meeting, he stated that he was against the legalization of recreational marijuana.

According to Roe, Pennsylvania has the largest full-time state legislature in the country.  Separate house and senate bills would like to reduce the number.  Roe has significant reservations, citing that though it could save $30 million at face-value, remaining legislators would have to hire more staff and open more offices to serve their larger constituencies.  “When has it ever been a good idea to concentrate power in just a few people?” he asked.  But if it comes to the floor he would probably vote for it, leaving it to his “bosses,” his constituents, to make that decision via a vote on November’s ballot.

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