Guest post by David Greineder, PA Government Relations Director
The 2017-18 fiscal year was exceptional for the American Heart Association’s advocacy efforts in Pennsylvania. Through the leadership and dedication of our volunteer advocates, we made significant strides in improving health in the Commonwealth.
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As we celebrate the victories and progress made during this past Pennsylvania Legislative Session, we know that we have much more work left ahead of us. It is only through your engagement and active participation as a You’re the Cure advocate that we can continue to be successful.
- Preserving Local Control: More than two years ago, Philadelphia leaders recognized the need to increase access to early childhood education, repair crumbling infrastructure and improve public health. Locally elected leaders came together to develop a plan that would finance their needs and at the same time reduce health risks associated with sugary drinks by taxing those products. The pushback was fierce, but through your engagement, we were able to defeat aggressive attempts to repeal the Philadelphia tax and prevent local communities from enacting similar policies. We know the beverage industry will never give up, so preserving the tax and preventing statewide “preemption” will remain the top policy priority for the entire association.
- Hands-Only CPR Training in High Schools: We are closer than ever to becoming the 39th state to ensure high school students receive hands-only CPR training before graduation. This year, the House and Senate passed separate CPR bills. Unfortunately, the session expired before an agreed-to bill could reach the Governor. The good news is we have firm commitments from key Legislators to work together in passing CPR legislation next year. Stay tuned for future communications on how you can lend your voice to this important campaign.
- Smoke-Free Air: AHA and our “Breathe Free Pennsylvania” coalition partners have been working tirelessly on legislation that will strengthen the clean indoor air law to ensure all workers have the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air. We were thrilled to learn that the state VFW passed a resolution to support this important work, going as far as encouraging all local VFW Posts be smoke-free. The VFW has participated in many coalition activities over the past year and we look forward to continuing this key partnership.
Healthy Food Financing Initiative: In the state budget, a $1 million investment was made to build or renovate healthy grocery stores in underserved urban and rural communities. While this fell short of our $3 million goal, we are happy state leaders recognized the importance of this initiative and supported efforts to ensure residents have access to healthy and nutritious foods.
- Access to Medical Assistance: AHA is committed to ensuring individuals and families have adequate, affordable, and accessible health care coverage. The Legislature has repeatedly passed a bill that would require Medicaid enrollees prove they work a certain number of hours per week or meet certain exemptions. We are grateful Governor Wolf has consistently vetoed the legislation. We believe a patient’s focus should be on staying healthy, not battling red tape.
- Local Policy – Complete Streets in Millvale: AHA worked with local officials in western Pennsylvania on the passage of a “complete streets” policy that will help the local community become more active through safe and accessible transportation, including access to safe walking and biking paths.
- Local Policy – Sodium Warning Labels in Philadelphia: AHA supported a city-wide ordinance requiring sodium warning labels on chain restaurant menus. The warnings would appear next to items that contain 2,300 milligrams of sodium or more. Philadelphia has the highest rate of high blood pressure among the largest cities in the U.S. This policy will encourage healthier decisions when dining out.
- Local Policy – Preventing the Spread of Tobacco Retail Shops in Philadelphia: Philadelphia has more than twice as many retailers per capita than any other major city, which are heavily concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. AHA and our coalition partners banded together to oppose a proposed ordinance that would have increased the number of stores selling tobacco in low-income neighborhoods and near schools. Thankfully, through our collective advocacy, we learned the retail proposal will not move forward.
- Local Policy – Banning the Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products in Philadelphia: AHA and our coalition partners were working closely with city leaders on an ordinance that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry used a secretive process in the state budget to insert a provision making it illegal for Philadelphia’s elected officials to pass a local ban. AHA is outraged by this action and is committed to undoing the preemption so Philadelphia can make their own health policy decisions without state interference.
The American Heart Association continues to set the bar high in advocating for high-quality, high-impact policies. We believe the policy successes noted above, coupled with our broader services and programs, will bring us closer to fulfilling our mission of being a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.
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