Bills to grow and retain volunteer responders advance to Senate
HARRISBURG – As communities across Pennsylvania face a growing crisis in attracting volunteer first responders, the House took action this month, passing more than a dozen bills that help recruit, retain and show respect for those willing to put their lives on the line for their friends and neighbors.
“When the alarm sounds in a fire house across our Commonwealth, it is often answered by volunteers,” House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said. “However, the number of volunteers answering that call is shrinking more and more each day. It was crucial for the House to act on these bills, and we encourage the Senate to act just as quickly as their responders would for 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.
“In the 1970s, there were nearly 300,000 Pennsylvanians who volunteered at their neighborhood firehouse,” Cutler added. “Today, we are down to roughly 37,000. We are forever grateful to those volunteers willing to sacrifice time with their own family and loved ones to help complete strangers. We also owe to them to do everything in our power to grow their ranks to ensure responders will always be there to answer the call.”
The bills were based on recommendations made by the SR6 commission, a group of first responders, policy makers 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:
• HB 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 (VLAP).
• 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 (VLAP) 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 re-authorize 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 (EMSOF).
• HB 1869
(Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter): Would provide Basic Life Support (BLS) staffing waivers for certain counties.
More information is available at pahousegop.com/helpersandheroes
Representative Bryan Cutler
100th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Mike Straub