Home > Senator Fontana's News & Views: March 1, 2016

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Two New Pennsylvania Laws

Act 5

lawsA new state law will allow individuals who have served a sentence for a nonviolent second or third degree misdemeanor to petition the court to completely erase their criminal history from public view.  In order to be eligible for the expungement, the offender would need to have a clean record for at least 10 years.  Furthermore, a district attorney may file objections to the petition, in which a hearing on the petition would take place. Otherwise, the court may grant the petition without a hearing if no objections are filed and all the requirements have been met. Second and third degree misdemeanors include crimes such as criminal trespassing, vandalism, or indecent assault.   

Before passage of Act 5, those convicted of summary offenses could petition for expungement after five years with a clean record.  This courtesy was also granted when an individual reached 70 years of age and had been free of arrest for 10 years or had been dead for at least three years.  More recently, a number of states have expanded their expungement laws to reduce the period of time in which a minor criminal record can punish an offender. 

Lawmakers found this legislation necessary to help past offenders get back on their feet, especially when applying for employment.  A low-level misdemeanor is often a barrier when looking for a job.  Many employers see a second or third degree misdemeanor from many years ago and are reluctant to hire an individual.  Although this law means one’s criminal history would no longer be available to potential employers, the information would still be available to law enforcement.  In addition to getting people back into the workplace, studies have shown that employed individuals are less likely to commit another crime. 

The law will take effect in November. 

Act 6

Under Act 32 of 2008, all active duty military pay was inadvertently changed to taxable as earned income unless it was received from the U.S. Government for active duty outside Pennsylvania as a member of its armed forces or from the U.S. Government or the Commonwealth for active State duty for an emergency within or outside Pennsylvania. 

Act 6 was recently signed that would exempt all active duty military pay, regardless of where it is earned, from having to pay a local Earned Income Tax (EIT). The new law took effect immediately and is applicable to EIT levied and collected after December 31, 2015.

Voter Registration Deadline

Vote PA Voter RegistrationAnyone not registered to vote who wishes to vote in the April 26 Primary Election must register by March 28.  Remember, voter registration can now be done online.  Simply visit www.votespa.com to get started.  In addition to registering to vote, current registered voters can also use the online system to make updates to their voter record, such as a change of name, address, or party affiliation.

Anyone wishing to register with a paper application can obtain an application from any of my district offices, or by downloading one at www.votespa.com.  Completed applications can be returned by mail to the Allegheny County Division of Elections and must be postmarked by March 28 in order to be processed prior to the April 26 Primary Election.  You can also register by completing an application in person at the Division of Elections office.  The location of the Allegheny County Division of Elections office is listed below.  For any questions related to registering to vote, please contact 412-350-4510.

            Attn: Voter Registration Services
            Allegheny County Division of Elections
            542 Forbes Avenue, Room 609
            Pittsburgh, PA  15219

Did You Know…

Did you know that since online registration began in Pennsylvania in August 2015 that more than 97,800 people have either registered to vote for the first time or made updates to their registration?

Lawrenceville Mobile Office

I am pleased to announce that on March 31, I will open a mobile office in Lawrenceville.  The mobile office will be open each Thursday, beginning March 31, at the Carnegie Library - Lawrenceville, located at 279 Fisk Street, from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.  This office will replace the Strip District mobile office at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

Below is an updated schedule for all of my district offices including satellite and mobile offices.

Brookline
932 Brookline Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA  15226
Phone – 412-344-2551
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Beechview (satellite office)
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA  15216
Phone – 412-343-2080
Tuesdays, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza, 500 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp., PA  15136
Phone – 412-331-1208
Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Northside Mobile Office
Carnegie Library
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15212
Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Lawrenceville Mobile Office (BEGINNING MARCH 31)
Carnegie Library
279 Fisk Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15201
Thursdays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Completing the FAFSA

FAFSAI want to again remind high school seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible.  The FAFSA is the federal form that all college-bound high school seniors must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans for the 2016-17 academic year.  Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of a higher education more manageable.

The FAFSA became available on January 1 and now is the time to complete the application.  Students and families are able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and will need the following information when beginning the application process:

  • Social Security Numbers
  • Student’s driver’s license
  • Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
  • W-2 forms
  • Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
  • Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
  • Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds and other investments

It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary.  Once again in 2016, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across Pennsylvania where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing help in completing the FAFSA.  You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions.  PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are added in the coming weeks.

I also want to encourage students and families to only complete the FAFSA on the FAFSA.gov website and to avoid any dot com sites, which often charge a fee for what can be accomplished for free.

Heating Assistance

LIHEAP LIHEAPThe Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to accept applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  The program helps low income families pay their heating bills.  You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website.  You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website.  Completed paper applications should be returned to one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.

Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.  The income limits for this season are as follows:

Household Size Income Limit
1 $17,655
2 $23,895
3 $30,135
4 $36,375
5 $42,615
6 $48,855
7 $55,095
8 $61,335
9 $67,575
10 $73,815
For each additional person add $6,240

After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive.  Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account.  Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat.  For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

Scholarships for Northside Students

I want to make all high school seniors living on the Northside aware of a scholarship opportunity provided by theNorthside Leadership Conference Scholarship Program.  The program is available to any Northside resident in the 12th grade, who performs volunteer service in their community and who plans to attend a college or training program after high school.

The scholarship awards are for $1,000 and the deadline to apply is Friday, March 18.  For more information on the scholarship program and how to apply please contact Kelly MacKay at 412-231-4714, ext. 201 orKelly@pittsburghnorthside.com.

Brookline Volunteer Opportunity

Brookline Teen OutreachBrookline Teen Outreach is hosting a volunteer opportunity day at their facility, located at 520 Brookline Boulevard.  The event will run from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Saturday, March 5.  Brookline Teen Outreach is a non-profit in South Pittsburgh that provides teen support in a myriad of ways, and provides valuable resources to those in need.  They have adopted a holistic approach to serving youth by offering high-quality and modern licensed counseling services, free tutoring, community service opportunities, and dynamic programming.  The center’s innovative and comprehensive programming provides something for everyone who walks through their doors and volunteers are an integral part of achieving their goals and strengthening their impact in the community.

Anyone interested in learning more about Brookline Teen Outreach and in becoming a volunteer, stop by on Saturday.  Anyone with questions or who needs more information, please send an email to info@brooklineteenoutreach.org.

Pittsburgh Home and Garden ShowFontana Fact

Later this week begins the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show presented by Duquesne Light at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.  This annual event, in its 35th year, is the largest home event in Pennsylvania featuring over 1,700 exhibits covering over 10 acres.


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