By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]

Barletta, Yudichak, Toohil to co-host heroin/opioid forum

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The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

HAZLETON — U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, state Sen. John Yudichak and state Rep. Tarah Toohil will co-host a forum to discuss the growing opioid epidemic facing Pennsylvania communities and efforts underway to combat the problem.

Barletta, R-Hazleton, Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and Toohil, R-Butler Township, invite the public to attend the forum, set for Hazleton Area High School, 1601 W. 23rd St., Hazle Township, from 5 to 7 p.m., on Thursday.

The forum will feature representatives from government agencies, health professionals and treatment advocacy programs.

“The opioid epidemic is one of the most tragic problems we face as a community, as substance abuse is an affliction that affects millions of Americans,” Barletta said. “I consistently hear about opioid and heroin abuse when I am home in my district.”

Expected panelists at the forum include:

• Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis

• Clearbrook Treatment Centers Senior Marketing Representative John Knowles

• Performant Financial Corporation Medical Director Dr. Mary Pascucci

• Hazleton Police Chief Jerry Speziale

Insurance commissioner

urges Congress to promote

private flood coverage

Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller this week urged Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to join Gov Tom Wolf’s administration in fighting for more flood insurance options for homeowners, as Congress considers re-authorization of the federal National Flood Insurance Program prior to its Sept. 30 expiration.

Miller said over the past year and a half, her department has worked to encourage agents and insurers offering private market flood products to sign up for the website. She said her department’s research has found numerous instances where homeowners were able to get comparable coverage through the private market at substantial savings over that available through the NFIP. In the first year of the website’s availability, the number of private flood policies in Pennsylvania more than doubled, to over 3,300.

The federally run NFIP has been offering residential flood insurance since 1968, with significant subsidies going to homes in high-risk areas. Following overwhelming claims from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, the NFIP fell more than $24 billion in debt. Congress passed legislation known as the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012, phasing out the subsidies, causing premiums under the NFIP to rise annually for homeowners until the cost reflects the actual risk their properties pose.

Specifically, Miller recommends Congress consider these recommendations as it debates NFIP re-authorization:

• Require the NFIP to reinstate its rule permitting a policyholder to cancel an NFIP policy mid-term (and receive a partial refund) when the consumer obtains a compliant private flood insurance policy to replace the NFIP policy.

• Require the NFIP to consider a consumer that maintains compliant flood insurance – whether from the NFIP or from the private insurance market – to have met the continuous coverage requirements for purposes of qualifying for subsidies and/or grandfathered rates.

• Require lenders to accept compliant private flood insurance policies as an alternative to coverage provided by the NFIP.

• Require the NFIP to remove its non-compete clause for private insurers participating in the NFIP’s “Write Your Own” program.

Miller also recommended the NFIP be required to provide an annual notice displaying the cost of its coverage, the percentage and dollar change from the policy being superseded, and disclosing that flood insurance may also be available from the private insurance market. And, the commissioner recommends the NFIP be required to share its vast historical flood insurance data in a way that protects consumer confidentiality but also provides meaningful statistical information that the private insurance market can use.

Mullery legislation

to help ease burden

on club licensees

State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, this week introduced legislation that would help ease the reporting and fundraising burdens on club licensees under the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act.

Currently, state law requires clubs with proceeds exceeding $20,000 in a year to submit annual reports. These reports provide information on proceeds from each game of chance and the amount of prizes awarded, itemized weekly.

Mullery said his legislation would change that requirement from weekly to quarterly.

“My bill does not change the information provided to the state — it simply eases the reporting timeline,” Mullery said. “Filling out this necessary paperwork would not be as burdensome for our veteran and fraternal organizations and other nonprofit clubs.”

House Bill 1334 also would increase the fundraising limit from $40,000 annually to $60,000 annually, allowing clubs to satisfy their charitable mission.

Cartwright re-introduces

resolution to increase

bladder cancer awareness

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, this week re-introduced a resolution to designate the month of May as National Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.

Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 79,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer and over 16,000 people will die from bladder cancer in 2017.

When diagnosed and treated early, bladder cancer has a relative five-year survival rate of 98 percent. If the diagnosis and treatment of the disease are delayed, the survival rate can drop as low as 15 percent.

Bladder cancer remains one of the most expensive cancers to treat on a per-patient basis, costing the nation an estimated $4 billion each year.

Auditor General alarmed

by statistics in annual

DHS child abuse report

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week said the Department of Human Services’ annual child-abuse report contained alarming news about the safety of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents — children.

“I am horrified that the number of children who died from abuse in Pennsylvania rose last year to 46,” DePasquale said. “One child dying from abuse is too many; 46 is unconscionable.”

DePasquale also pointed to the 79 substantiated near-fatalities, saying child protective services agencies are struggling to meet demands for services to protect children who are at risk for abuse or may have already been abused.

“There is something systemically wrong if children and youth agencies don’t have the resources to be able to fulfill their primary responsibility of protecting children,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale is in the process of examining Pennsylvania’s child-welfare system for a special report, titled “State of the Child,” scheduled for completion in early fall. The special report will examine the safety of at-risk children and assess the state of children and youth caseworkers across Pennsylvania.

DePasquale said he was heartened by the improved statistics for ChildLine, the state’s child-abuse hotline. In 2016, DePasquale’s audit of ChildLine found that, in 2015, 42,000 calls — or 22 percent — went unanswered because of staffing shortages and other problems at the hotline.

According to the DHS report, in 2016 ChildLine received 166,971 calls, and only about 11,000 calls — 6.6 percent — went unanswered, a vast improvement over 2015.

DHS’ 2016 Annual Child Protective Services Report is available online at







The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.