Legislation would help recruit, retain and show appreciation to volunteers.
HARRISBURG – The state House of Representatives sent more than a dozen bills to the state Senate this month to address a growing statewide crisis in attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters and EMTs. The package of bills, which garnered bipartisan support, is intended to aid in recruiting and retaining volunteer first responders, and also to show respect and appreciation to current volunteers who put their lives on the line for their friends and neighbors.
“Pennsylvania is blessed to have so many volunteer fire and emergency organizations that save taxpayers millions of dollars annually,” said Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) “Our communities would be in big trouble without their selfless, reliable service.”
“These volunteers sacrifice precious time from their families, careers and busy lives, and willingly put themselves in harm’s way for our community. Unfortunately, these organizations that we all rely on in our greatest times of need, are at risk of closing. We need to help them.”
The legislation addresses a multitude of issues from tax relief for fire companies and first responder family members, modern recruitment expansions, freeing up existing resources, providing education and loan assistance for volunteers, and much more.
“These individuals are often the first on the scene of an emergency. They serve and protect the taxpayers and citizens of this Commonwealth without asking for a thing in return. As far as I’m concerned, we, as a Commonwealth, cannot do enough to support them.”
The bills were based on recommendations made by the SR6 Commission, a group of first responders, policymakers and advocates who spent months examining the landscape and challenges facing responders.
The House passed the following bills as part of the coordinated effort on behalf of our helpers and heroes:
• House Bill 269
(Rep. Michael Driscoll, D-Philadelphia): Would amend the Tax Reform Code to provide an exemption from the Realty Transfer Tax for the surviving spouse/children of a first responder.
• HB 732
(Rep. Chris Quinn, R-Delaware): Would amend the Tax Reform Code to provide an exemption from the Realty Transfer Tax for volunteer service providers.
• HB 1673
(Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks): Would expand the types of programs that volunteer fire relief monies can fund, such as Length of Service Awards, which are programs that provide tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteers of a fire service.
• HB 1705
(Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield/Elk): Would authorize school districts to offer a property tax credit for volunteer first responders.
• HB 1773
(Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana): Would establish the Tuition Assistance for Active Volunteers Program.
• HB 1780
(Rep. Lee James, R-Venango/Butler): Would exempt volunteer fire, rescue and ambulance companies from portions of the Right-to-Know Law.
• HB 1786
(Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence): Would establish the First Responder Loan Forgiveness Program under the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
• HB 1816
(Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland/Snyder): Would increase the loan amounts under the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program.
• HB 1839
(Rep. Bob Brooks, R-Westmoreland/Allegheny): Would authorize counties to offer a property tax credit for volunteer first responders.
• SB 146
(Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford/Erie/Mercer/Warren): Would establish online training programs where applicable for firefighters.
• HB 1448
(Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster): Would add a ballot referendum to expand the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program to include paid (career) fire departments.
• HB 1758
(Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny/Washington): Would exempt volunteer fire and ambulance companies from the vehicle accident report fee.
• HB 1834
(Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence): Would reauthorize the Fire and EMS Grant Program.
• HB 1838
(Rep. Martin Causer, R-McKean/Cameron/Potter): Would increase the funding for and enhance the use of the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund.
• HB 1869
(Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter): Would provide Basic Life Support staffing waivers for certain counties.
More information is available at pahousegop.com/helpersandheroes
Representative Kerry Benninghoff
171st Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Morgan Wagner