2020 Leg. Candidate Questionnaire: Tom Killion, 9th Senatoral District

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Tom Killion

Editor’s Note: As has been our tradition, The Times sent our its annual questionnaire to all Chester County legislative candidates, via their respective party. We publish these responses entirely unedited and unfiltered to give readers an honest assessment of the candidates and their positions. They will be published as candidates return them to us.

  1. Although there are many major challenges facing Pennsylvania, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is currently front and center. There is stark disagreement in the current legislature on Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the Pandemic. What, if anything, would you do differently and why?

I am proud to have helped create Pennsylvania’s $2.6 billion COVID-19 Impact Recovery Plan. This bi-partisan plan is providing critical funding for nursing homes, schools, childcare services, food banks, community programs, first responders, small businesses, county governments, rent and mortgage assistance and for many other urgent needs related to the pandemic.

But as an independent-minded legislator, I have had differences with fellow lawmakers and Governor Wolf on some issues. Like most Pennsylvanians, I supported Governor Wolf’s actions in the early days of the pandemic. As we learned more about COVID-19, protecting the elderly and other vulnerable citizens should have been a higher priority for the Administration. The Administration’s decision to mandate the return of COVID-positive individuals to nursing homes was a serious mistake. 5,548 of the 8,344 COVID-19 deaths in PA as of October 7th were those of nursing home residents. Utilizing the alternative medical care sites such as the one readied but never used at Glen Mills School would have been a wise use of those facilities.

Meanwhile, grocery stores and big box stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s were able to operate safely throughout the pandemic, yet small businesses selling the same products were forced to remain closed for months. More businesses should have been allowed to safely resume operations by adhering to CDC and Department of Health guidelines earlier than was done. In addition, the Governor’s waiver process – which drew sharp criticism from the Democratic Auditor General – was sloppy, arbitrary and lacked even the appearance of transparency.

Finally, I am deeply disappointed by unilateral decisions made by the Administration without input from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. We are a diverse state. What works in Kennett Square may not be best suited for State College, Johnstown or Williamsport. Governor Wolf vetoed a series of pandemic-related bills that passed the House and Senate with bi-partisan support. Representative government should allow for all voices to be heard especially during a prolonged crisis.

  1. Although Pennsylvania was facing a fiscal shortfall before the pandemic, now it is expected to range between $3 and $5B. How would you close that budget gap? Cuts, taxes? Be specific, what programs/funding would you cut or what taxes would you raise (or work to create new revenue streams)?

The current legislative session will be the first in more than a decade when the General Assembly meets in “lame duck” session – the period between Election Day and the constitutional expiration of the session on November 30th – as we pass a final budget for much of state government covering the remaining seven months of the state’s fiscal year.

In terms of generating additional revenue for our state, I support imposing a severance tax on natural gas drillers. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that does not tax drillers, something that would have minimal impact on residents as most of the natural gas extracted in Pennsylvania is sold out of state, meaning a severance tax would be passed along to non-residents.

For the final state budget, I will continue to strongly oppose cuts to programs vital to our seniors, the disabled and the disadvantaged.

  1. Public school funding and property taxes continue to be a concern in Pennsylvania — state funding of public schools as a percentage of budget continues to slide, a trend that is more than 30 years old. With litigation for fair funding in process, how would you change how the state funds its public schools.

Direct responsibility for school property tax rates lies with our locally elected school boards. Indirectly, state government can mitigate property tax increases by making sure the state’s financial commitment to public education is as robust as possible. As your state Senator, I am dedicated to fighting for just that.

While COVID-19 has dramatically affected state revenues, I voted for historic levels of funding for our school districts for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. This appropriation was identical to the record level of state funding provided for the 2019-2020 school year. The last two years have seen our largest-ever state investments in public education.

I am also a co-sponsor of other property tax relief and reform measures, including Senate Bill 826, the Property Tax Rebate Expansion and Relief Act; Senate Bill 92, providing property tax relief for disabled veterans; and Senate Bill 347, providing an exemption from property taxes for spouses of those killed in military action.

  1. Following on, Pennsylvania is 47th by some measures in funding higher education — many other state schools charge less for out of state students than Pa. schools charge for in state students. Is the state underfunding our higher education institutions?

Pennsylvania has increased funding for our state-owned and state-related institutions of higher learning and will continue to do so to enhance their affordability. As we recover from the COVID-19 economic disaster, we will again be able to invest additional resources in these vitally important schools as revenues allow.

  1. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have come out strongly for legalization of marijuana for adults (and expunging records for those with possession convictions). Where do you stand on this issue?

As mentioned before, the budget challenges we face are enormous. Adult-use marijuana could generate significant tax revenue, and I will not rule it out. Should legalization advance, it must include strict language to keep it out of the hands of minors and a streamlined expungement process for those with convictions for simple possession.

  1. Policing and its funding have been part of a national conversation of late. Should local municipalities be expected to pay more of the costs of State Police if they do not have local police? Additionally, does the state need to find a new funding mechanism for law enforcement funding, either locally or statewide.

Representing a number of communities served by the state police, I do not support legislation that would charge a fee to those municipalities.

  1. Fracking and the Mariner East II pipeline are increasingly becoming controversial in Chester County. Has the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) properly supervised the pipeline construction? Also, where do you stand on fracking? Should it be halted in the state?

I live in what is commonly referred to as the “blast zone” of the Mariner East pipelines. The safety of my family and all others in the shadow of these pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids is of great concern, which is why I have worked to protect our pipeline communities as a Senator.

I have sponsored a number of pipeline safety bills. Most prominent is Senate Bill 284 which would require pipeline operators to provide Emergency Response Plans to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) so the plans may then be shared with county emergency services agencies for the purpose of coordinating a response to a pipeline incident.

I am also a party to Flynn et al v. Sunoco Pipeline, the leading PUC pipeline safety complaint in our state. I am the only legislator in Pennsylvania who is currently an intervener in a PUC pipeline safety complaint initiated by fellow citizens.

Knowing of the strong support for fracking by legislators in both political parties from western Pennsylvania, it is likely that fracking will continue. That said, it’s unconscionable that our state does not levy an excise tax on natural gas drillers regardless of the means used.

  1. What changes, if any, do you support in terms of gun safety in Pennsylvania?

I am the author of Senate Bill 90 which would establish a “Red Flag” law in Pennsylvania. Also referred to as Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) legislation, the law would allow family members or police to petition the court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are a danger to themselves or others. This non-criminal process allows the individual against whom the petition has been filed to be represented by counsel, cross examine witnesses and submit testimony and evidence. Red Flag laws are working in 17 other states and the District of Columbia to help prevent gun suicides and shootings.

In addition, I am a co-prime sponsor of Senate Bill 88, legislation that expands background checks on firearm purchases in Pennsylvania.

During the last legislative session, I proposed a bill that passed the Senate unanimously and was later incorporated into Act 79 of 2018 requiring domestic abusers to relinquish their firearms within 24 hours of having a final Protection From Abuse (PFA) order filed against them. Act 79 also requires those subject to a PFA to surrender firearms to police, sheriffs, attorneys or licensed gun dealers rather than with friends or family members.

  1. With the nomination and likely confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, it is possible that Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S., will be overturned, returning the issue to the states. Where do you stand and how would you vote if there was a bill banning abortion in Pennsylvania?

Regardless of future actions taken by a conservative or liberal majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, I believe Pennsylvania’s decades old Abortion Control Act should remain in place as originally decided by the Court in 1992.

  1. Are Pennsylvania’s protections for the LGBTQ community adequate? If not, what would you change?

Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ citizens are our children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and parents. They are our family. They are us. And they deserve the full protection of Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination statutes and to be protected under the Commonwealth’s hate crime laws.

We must stand in clear support of those targeted for discrimination or violence because of their personal characteristics or beliefs.

  1. Is there an issue in Pennsylvania you feel does not get enough attention that you plan to highlight if elected?

Ending the cruelty of Pennsylvania’s puppy mills is something I feel strongly about and on which I have worked with colleagues from both parties. In early 2019, I met a beautiful German Shepherd named Victoria. A puppy mill survivor, Victoria was mercilessly overbred and passed on a debilitating disease to countless puppies which were unwittingly purchased by consumers. She passed away last year from the disease. I proposed Senate Bill 44, Victoria’s Law, in her memory which would prohibit Pennsylvania’s retail pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits who were bred in puppy mill style facilities.

The way in which we treat animals is a direct reflection on us and our values. Often operating in the shadows and staying a step ahead of humane enforcement officers, puppy mills consider these animals to simply be another agricultural product. They are a black mark on our state, and I am committed to stamping them out.

  1. Getting personal, can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise people (ie, unusual hobby or pet, brush with fame, etc.)?

To stay fit, I bike every day. I am the chair of the Bicycle Caucus and previously ran 15 marathons. I also participated in three Iron Man half-triathlons for the benefit of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I am proud to have received the Helen Sigel Wilson Volunteer Recognition Award in recognition of my philanthropic efforts from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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