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State Rep. O’Mara Addresses Pressing Issues in Delco at the Morton Borough Hall

By: burgundy bug

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Morton Borough Hall on May 29th, 2019

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Pa State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) addressed recent concerns of Delaware County residents at the Morton Borough Hall on the evening of May 29.

“I’ve heard a lot about the medical marijuana dispensary [that opened a few weeks ago] in Morton,” O’Mara began. “I know constituents were really concerned about it, so my staff and I made sure there were good communications surrounding the dispensary so people in the community know what’s going on.”

Read: Herbology’s Grand Opening in Morton, Pa

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Constituent services advisor Robert Yannuzzi and O’Mara also went on a tour of the facility, Herbology, before any products were on site.

“We were really impressed with how much security is there,” O’Mara continued. “In order to be on the premises, you need a medical marijuana card. Even if you’re going with your spouse, you can’t go in without a [medical marijuana] card because there is someone at the door checking your ID. You also need a state issued photo ID every time you go, even if you’re a patient who has been there more than once.”

The service area of Herbology is behind a locked door, and the majority of the product is kept within a vault that only the employees have access to, O’Mara said.

Towards the end of O’Mara’s presentation, an attendee towards the back of the audience could be overheard discussing his satisfaction with the state representative.

“She has a lot of really bright ideas,” the attendee said. “She’s really great. I like her.”

Other attendees expressed a similar sentiment, as one said they appreciate everything O’Mara has done for the district so far.

“It’s so refreshing to have a young woman representing our district,” another attendee said. “I don’t usually care about politics, but I found the information covered tonight very interesting.”

Attendees began signing in and taking their seats in the Morton Borough Hall towards the beginning of the event at 6:30 p.m. Rain battered on the roof of the hall as winds roared outside amidst the storm, which was severe enough to warrant tornado warnings throughout the southeastern Pa area.

Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26)’s table at Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Along the perimeter of the hall, there were tables lined with informational pamphlets from both O’Mara as well as Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26)’s offices.

Amanda Hammock and Robert Yannuzzi ready to assist with Senior SEPTA key passes

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Across from the sign in table, Yannuzzi and the Chief of Staff of O’Mara’s district office, Amanda Hammock, were equipped with the tools to help seniors obtain their Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Association (SEPTA) Senior key passes, which allows seniors to board public transportation in the area for free.

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165) alongside Thomas App, the Mayor of Morton

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

“Thank you all so much for joining me and hopefully we get out of this without a tornado,” O’Mara said after being introduced by the Mayor of Morton, Thomas App. “I’m here to introduce myself, share an update on what I’ve been up to in what is almost my 150th day in office, address some of the issues that we’ve heard a lot about at my office, and then we’re going to take your questions.”

Then, O’Mara proceeded to share her background as well as what inspired her to run for her position last election.

“I was pushed over the edge during the 2016 [Presidential] Election,” O’Mara began. “No matter where your politics fall, I think that election was very ugly. Both candidates ran very negative campaigns, which lead me to look at who was electing us and what our values are. I was motivated to run because of my personal story.”

Although she presently lives in Delaware County, O’Mara grew up 10 minutes south in Prospect Park. Early in her adolescence, she lost her father to gun suicide, prompting her family to rely on programs such as her father’s pension as a union firefighter and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) until they got back on their feet.

“I had to grow up early and help my mom raise my brothers,” O’Mara said. “I ended up being a first generation college student at West Chester University, where I got my teaching degree in social studies. When I graduated, that was the first time state politics really impacted me.”

At the time, Tom Corbett was the governor of Pennsylvania and education funding had been slashed.

Due to a lack of jobs available as a social studies teacher, O’Mara began working at the University of Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant for seven years.

“Around May 2017, I began to run for office,” O’Mara continued. “I ran for 18 months, knocking doors. I probably knocked on many of your doors – and if it wasn’t me, it was one of my volunteers.

“I believe State Representative is a position that belongs to you. The People’s House in Harrisburg is where we have a chance to make our voice heard, and for a long time, I felt that wasn’t happening in our district.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

One party had been serving in the 165th district for longer than O’Mara had been alive, she explained. We also hadn’t had a women in office during her lifetime.

After O’Mara introduced the audience to her district office staff, she discussed some of her additional roles in Harrisburg.

“I serve on the Veterans and Emergency Responders Committee, Transportation Committee, and the Aging and Adult Services Committee,” O’Mara said. “I requested most of those committees because I felt those were issues that were reflective of our district.”

In the Democratic Caucus, O’Mara is also the First Vice Chair of the Southeast Delegation, which consists of nearly all counties west of Harrisburg to Philadelphia and south of Delaware County.

“It’s exciting as a freshman [legislator] to serve as the First Vice Chair,” O’Mara said.

The caucuses O’Mara is apart of include: climate change, mental health, parks and recreation, and the Young Men Christian’s Association (YMCA). She is also the co-chair of the firefighters emergency preparedness and student debt caucuses.

“My goal as state representative was to make it so I was the first person you called when you need help, whether it has to do with Harrisburg, your township or municipality, or federal government. I may not be able to fix the problem, but I will take you as close as I can to finding that solution.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

Outreach has been one of O’Mara’s priorities in order to keep the district as involved as possible. So far, her office has held twenty events including monthly senior breakfasts, telephone town halls, and Real I.D. town halls. They will continue to hold events throughout the summer and rest of the year.

O’Mara then proceeded to address some recent concerns her office has heard about from locals.

“One of my other mottos is that I will always be honest. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I will always tell you how I feel and why.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

After addressing concerns surrounding Herbology, O’Mara shared that she had attended Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s marijuana tour to gage how the people of Pennsylvania feel about the idea of legalizing adult use marijuana.

“While I can tell you that people were frankly very much for it, I only attended to listen,” O’Mara said. “I was very surprised to hear everyone there had to positive stories to share about medical marijuana and how it’s helping people that are struggling. If you have any questions or concerns about it, please let us know.”

Although representatives with Herbology were unable to attend last night, O’Mara said they have offered to do more community town halls.

Read: Herbology’s Town Hall in Morton, Pa

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Then, O’Mara explained Sabold Elementary School’s decision to remove “God Bless America” from the end of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I found out the way that you did; when people started calling my office,” O’Mara explained. “The school board and superintendent had never contacted my office. They also never told us they were encouraging people to call our office about it.”

O’Mara expressed her concern about the lack of communication to with her office and the residents within the school district to Sabold’s superintendent.

“Many people felt they wanted to have a meeting where they had a chance to share their opinion with the school board of directors,” O’Mara said.

Sabold’s school board of directors made the decision after being threatened with a lawsuit if they hadn’t stopped saying “God Bless America,” she explained.

“This decision was made to protect our taxpayer dollars,” O’Mara explained. “I think they would have lost that lawsuit, and we would’ve had to pay those taxes. I think this was a sound fiscal decision, but I’m disappointed with the way they communicated it with us. I will continue to share your thoughts and feelings about it, so please call [my office] and let us know.”

Next, O’Mara addressed the behavior of State Rep. Brian Sims (D-182), who was filmed berating a woman at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia.

“I agree with you,” O’Mara said. “That was a poor decision and very poor behavior. I was disappointed and told him how many constituents called my office. He did issue a public and private apology, which is the first time I’ve seen him apologize, so I genuinely believe he means it.”

“When I conduct myself, I believe I’m representing you and the institution of the Pennsylvania house. His behavior did nothing but tarnish our reputation, and I hope all of my colleagues do a better job.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

Afterwards, O’Mara explained her position behind house bills 800 and 321.

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

“HB800 would have added $100,000,000 to the EITC (education income tax credit) program, which provides scholarships and benefits to the corporations providing those scholarships and students in private schools,” O’Mara began. “While I don’t oppose the EITC program, this piece of legislation had a lot of problems with it.”

HB800 would have put $100,000,000 with a clause to add more money to the program annually without the general assembly having the right to access that information, she explained.

“These schools are also able to tell students they can’t attend based on their gender or disabilities, and I don’t think that’s fair,” O’Mara continued.

Ultimately, HB800 passed and is now being voted on in the Senate. She then added that her office could help constituents track the bill, if they were interested.

“The last bill we heard a lot about was HB321,” O’Mara began. “This was the Down Syndrome abortion ban that was voted on in Pa two weeks ago. While I will support any piece of legislation that we put forward to help people with Down Syndrome, I felt this bill was standing between women, their doctors, and their ability to make the best decision for their bodies.”

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Then, O’Mara began fielding questions from attendees. First, she was asked to explain the curbside voting bill.

“Right now in Pa, there is no law that mandates polling places to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities) accessible,” O’Mara said. “One of the potential solutions could be the curbside voting bill.”

If this bill passes, it would allow someone to bring a ballot to the car of an individual who needs ADA accessibility.

Afterwards, O’Mara was asked about the status of tax reform for seniors.

“Everyone is very aware that we need to do something, but what we haven’t agreed upon is what we’re going to do,” O’Mara said. “One solution I’ve seen is to eliminate all property taxes and come up with alternative ways to fund public schools.”

Currently, there are proposals that would allow seniors to volunteer for tax credits. Another proposal would grant tax credits to seniors who are having work done to their home to increase ADA accessibility.

“One of the suggestions I’m looking into is for Pa to model what has been implemented in Md,” O’Mara said. “[In Md], if you have lived in your house for a certain number of years, you’re then exempt from property taxes. I was told that’s not possible, but I’m not going to take that as an answer yet.”

Then, an attendee asked about the congressional ethics reports.

“This was the first year we created a new ethics board in The House that consists of members of both sides of the aisle,” O’Mara said. “We will be able to investigate members [of The House] if an accusation is brought against them. It’s also the first year every member of The House and their staff had to undergo sexual harassment training, which is shocking that 2019 is the first year, but it happened.”

A gift ban is also in the works, which would limit how many gifts legislators can accept from lobbyists, she said.

“The sad reality is lobbyists are all over Harrisburg and they try to influences legislators through gifts, letting them stay at their vacation homes, taking them to dinner,” O’Mara explained.

Currently, no legislator is safe from lobbyists. O’Mara shared that she has also had to deal with them, and avoids some lobbyists altogether.

“I do try to hear everyone out at my office, but you’re not going to schmooze me at dinner.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“If someone thinks they’re going to take me to dinner and change my vote, they’re sorely mistaken,” O’Mara said. “But not every legislator is like that.”

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

At that point, O’Mara continued by expressing her support of term limits.

“There is someone who has been working in Harrisburg for 42 years,” O’Mara said. “I’m sorry, but that’s too long to do this job. You become complacent and forget what your purpose is as well as what brought you here in the first place – so I love term limits. They hate hearing it, but I love saying it.”

Another attendee brought up the issue of student loan debt, to which they suggested credits be granted based upon the graduate’s field of work. O’Mara thought it was a wonderful idea and said she would pass it on.

Next, O’Mara addressed the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), which is a bill she supports that would allow someone to report a loved one in crisis to have their firearms removed.

Within 10 days, the individual that was reported would have to go before a judge, who would then determine to withhold their firearms for three to 12 months. The firearms of other individuals within the household would not be jeopardized, so long as they are safely secured, according to O’Mara.

“Right now, if something happens to a loved one and you want to get them help, you have to 302 them,” O’Mara continued. “If that happens to someone, their gun rights are permanently taken away. [ERPO] is a way to make it so you don’t permanently lose your rights, but we are also trying to do something about the fact that two-thirds of gun deaths in Pa are suicides and Pa is above the average national rate of suicides.”

As the bill is still currently in the works, O’Mara encouraged attendees to forward their ideas and concerns about the bill to her email, repomara@pahouse.net, so she can share them with other legislators.

Lastly, an attendee asked about protecting Roe v. Wade, the historic Supreme Court case that ruled the women’s right to an abortion is substantiated by the Fourteenth Amendment, according to Oyez.

“Right now, there are two bills out there that have to do with early abortions,” O’Mara said. “The next one up is a six week abortion ban, commonly known in other states as the ‘heartbeat bill.’ I’m going to be honest with you, I’ll also vote no on that bill and I can share a very personal reason as to why.”

O’Mara shared that her sister has a rare heart condition and was told by her doctors that she would need open heart surgery if she ever wanted to bare children.

After her sister became pregnant unexpectedly, she was told she would have an 80 percent chance of not surviving and didn’t find out she was pregnant until she was beyond six weeks pregnant.

Ultimately, O’Mara’s sister decided not to have an abortion and was able to work with her team of doctors to safely deliver her daughter.

“I believe she had the right to make that decision,” O’Mara said. “I’m hopeful that my colleagues will feel the same way.”

Attendees at the Morton Borough Hall

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara at the Morton Borough Hall in May | Penelope Peru Photography P³

O’Mara began to wrap up the town hall with an overview of her time serving as the State Rep. for the 165th district.

“I’m very excited to announce I had my first bill move through the finance committee, and now we’ll see how it does on the floor,” O’Mara said. “It was a Veterans Trust Fund bill that would allow direct contributions of state taxes.”

In the last five months, O’Mara said her office has issued 320 SEPTA passes and had over 700 different correspondence with constituents.

“I’ve also been working on the Springfield trail, which is a four and a half mile trail that connects most of the town’s parks that not many people knew about even though it’s been here for 50 years,” O’Mara said. “We’ve had two clean up events so far, we’re having a 50th anniversary event on June 18th, and we are also working to apply for a grant, which would go towards more trailheads and markers. We’re also trying to get some Eagle Scouts to adopt the trail.”

O’Mara’s office also restored the Hayti Cemetery in Marple, the township’s second cemetery, which primarily consists of African American veterans. The restoration inspired her to create the holiday, “Forgotten Cemetery Day,” on May 4 in Pa.

“Now we are starting a countywide cemetery committee to identify other abandoned cemeteries with state representatives in Delaware County,” O’Mara added.

The Shorter African American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Morton has also partnered with O’Mara to begin their Community Hunger Garden this summer.

Read: Gardening is Giving: Shorter AME Church Grows Produce for Those in Need

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“We are going to start planting this Friday,” O’Mara shared. “A local company has donated all of supplies and tools. [The church] is doing the garden with volunteers from Morton and Springfield, who will maintain it all summer long. When they harvest the garden this fall, all of it will be distributed through Shorter AME’s food pantry.”

After sharing the success of her recent policy hearing in Radnor, O’Mara invited attendees to contact her office about their ideas for policy hearings.

“Thank you all so much for coming,” O’Mara said as she began to wrap up her presentation. “I believe this kind of interaction and discourse is so important whether we’re on the same sides of the aisle or not.”

“This is what our government is about and how I believe our founders intended it to work, so please make sure you get in touch with us.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

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burgundy bug

https://burgundyzine.com/about/#burgundybug

The bug behind the blog… A cynical optimist, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug's work embodies a wide variety of topics including: ecology, biology, neurology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. If you are interested in learning more about the bug behind the blog or working with her, please visit our contact page.

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