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State Rep. O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor

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By: burgundy bug

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during her town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) spoke directly to locals at the Radnor Municipal Building about environmental concerns, voting, and other legislation that pertains to Delaware County last Thursday.

“I want to address some of the biggest issues I hear about from constituents in Radnor,” O’Mara began. “Top of the list are PENNDot (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) issues.”

Throughout the winter, she said many pothole concerns were brought forth to her district office, prompting ward four commissioner of Radnor Lisa Borowski and O’Mara to work together and send videos to PENNDot.

“Larry Healy, my office, and I worked really hard to build a relationship [with PENNDot], because at the end of the day, they’re understaffed,” O’Mara explained. “We know that if we want them to come to Radnor to address our concerns in a timely manner, we need to make sure they answer the phone when we call.”

“We’re starting to see progress by building relationships with the state agencies, but please continue to call our office and report any road issues that are happening. We keep track and send everything directly to PENNDot. That kind of data helps build our case.”

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165)

Radnor constituents were happy to have a platform to connect directly with the representative. Many hung around after the town hall to ask additional questions and take photos of O’Mara with her staff.

“I wish more reps would do this, especially here in Radnor,” said a woman after she thanked O’Mara.

Residents of the 165th began to trickle in just before the start of the event at 6:30 p.m.

To the right of the entrance, guests were greeted by pamphlets of useful information. The district office’s chief of staff, Amanda Hammock, and constituent services advisor Healy sat near the tables to assist attendees interested in obtaining their senior Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) passes.

“I’m going to address some of the biggest issues we’ve received phone calls about right off the bat and then I’m happy to take questions,” O’Mara began. “I’m a newly elected rep that has been in office for 155 days and it’s been a wonderful experience.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) introducing herself at the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

O’Mara continued to introduce herself, sharing that her personal life inspired her to run for state representative.

“I was born in Philadelphia,” O’Mara said. “My dad was a firefighter in the city while my mother was a stay at home mom. When I was 13, we lost my father to gun suicide and that changed everything for our family. It’s the reason we moved to Delaware County.”

After her father passed, O’Mara said her family relied on his pension, public schools, and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“My mom was hired as a school bus driver when she was a single mom with a high school diploma and hadn’t worked in 15 years,” O’Mara said. “That was a good union job with wages and benefits that were helpful for us.”

“If it weren’t for all of this, we wouldn’t’ve made it.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

After the presidential election in 2016, O’Mara shared that she felt it was an ugly election where the issues that matter weren’t prioritized.

“[The election] was focused on negativity,” O’Mara said. “Those in office weren’t representing the average, everyday, working class people, and I wanted to do something about that.”

Then, O’Mara delved into some of her experiences as a female legislator.

“To be honest, the people in Harrisburg aren’t used to a young woman being state rep. More than once, I’ve had to say, ‘No, I’m not a staffer or an intern. I’m actually the rep from my own office.'”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

O’Mara added that there are now 54 women serving in the Pa house, which is more woman than had ever served in history. The audience clapped proud and cheerfully in response.

Then, O’Mara took a moment to acknowledge that June 6 was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in which 156,000 Allied Forces landed in Normandy, France, during World War II, according to Portsmouth City Council.

Afterwards, she discussed some of her accomplishments since being elected.

“Since I’ve been in Harrisburg, I’ve been put on three committees,” O’Mara said. “I am on the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee, the Elder and Adult Services Committee, and the transportation committees. I believe these are reflective Delaware County and the district that I represent.”

O’Mara also made note that the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee includes first responders, such as firefighters, police officers, and paramedics.

Additionally, the rep. is the First Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus’ Southeast Delegation, which is their largest delegation, according to O’Mara.

“I also started the Student Debt Caucus, which has convenied 25 members that are almost 50-50 bipartisan,” O’Mara explained. “We’re looking at why Pa has the most student loan debt per graduate in the country.”

“We’re not looking at it as, ‘How do we make college free?’ Instead, we’re looking at why predatory loans are going up, why interest rates are so high, why university costs are rising, and why it takes working minimum wage for 18.5 years to pay off student loan debt right now. In the 1970s, it would have taken 5.5 years of a minimum wage job to pay off college.”

State Rep. O’Mara (D-165)

O’Mara added that the Student Debt Caucus also encourages high schoolers to seek out alternatives to college, because she said we have a lot of great trade jobs that students can enter without a degree. They also suggest students look into enrolling at a community college.

“I’m also the co-chair of the Firefighters Caucus,” O’Mara added. “Right here in Pa, we’re currently facing a crisis with our shortage of volunteer firefighters. In the 1970s, we had about 330,000. Now we have under 38,000 – and that’s counting firefighters who volunteer in multiple departments.”

She said one of the solutions her caucus is considering is student loan debt forgiveness for volunteer firefighters.

“I’m on the Climate Caucus,” O’Mara continued. “In Radnor, I hear a lot of about infrastructure concerns that have to do with the ever changing climate. We’ve met with the governor and our leaders a few times to discuss DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) issues, funding, PENNDot, and other matters we’re dealing with.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

After discussing her and Healy’s meeting with PENNDot’s district six office as well as the hearing in April, O’Mara said that Healy met with residents who were concerned about the Earles Lake dam.

The Earles Lake dam is outside of the Radnor Township, but Radnor residents live on the other side of it, she said.

“Steve, who is from the township, mentioned that for the first time, they’re actually hearing from the DEP,” O’Mara continued.

She then added that PENNDot spends $12 million a year, $5 million in the 165th district, collecting trash from the side of the road.

“We’re working on some initiatives to curb litter because that is a huge issue,” O’Mara said. “[PENNDot] can clean the blue route (I-476) and a week later you can’t even tell.”

Then, O’Mara discussed legislation she requested that stipulates a state road with less than 1,000 cars driving on it should not necessitate state funds, because that money is designated for roads that maintain state commerce.

Afterwards, she talked about Stephanie Miller, who was fatally shot by her ex-husband inside of a Wawa on Lancaster Avenue.

“It was definitely the darkest day I’ve had in office when I was calling chief [Christopher] Flanagan and whoever else I could at 6 a.m. that Friday,” O’Mara said. “But I want you to know I’m doing everything I can to pass laws that would prevent something like that from happening again.”

She then discussed a piece of legislation that passed in the Pa house last year that isn’t in effect yet. She said it’s the Domestic Abuse Law that removes firearms from individuals who have a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order against them.

“HB (house bill) 1075, which is on the docket this session, would create extreme risk protection orders in Pa,” O’Mara continued. “If a person is in crisis, threatening to hurt themselves or others, it would give a family member the option – with a judge – to take away their firearms temporarily.”

Right now, O’Mara said the only option in this situation would be to call 302, which would put the individual in an institution and take their firearms away permanently, regardless of the outcome of the situation.

“This is a way to protect the second amendment, but also protect everyone’s lives.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“This bill would specifically help to curb suicides,” O’Mara said. “In states where they’ve passed extreme risk protection orders, suicides by firearms decreased. Yes, while it’s personal for me, two thirds of death by suicide are caused by firearms in Pa, and we have the highest number of deaths related to firearms.”

The rep. then said HB1075 isn’t the only solution. She believes more funding should be allocated towards mental health and special education in public schools.

Next, O’Mara addressed HB321, which would have implemented an abortion ban if it was believed the child may have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

“I felt like this bill was directly interfering with women and their doctor’s ability to make the best decision for them,” she said. “I will support any measure that comes to the floor to support people with Down Syndrome, or provide benefits to families who decide to continue with their pregnancies to protect and preserve their life. However, I felt HB321 would have caused more harm than good in the end.”

She then added that the overwhelming majority of constituents in the district who contacted her in regards to HB321 asked her to vote no, as well.

“So please, if there’s a bill moving that you feel very strongly about, reach out to me. I do value your opinion.”

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

At this point, O’Mara began answering questions from attendees.

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

“What about the issue of gerrymandering,” a woman towards the back of the crowd called out.

O’Mara said she is also the co-sponsor of two bills on the house that are related to gerrymandering.

“We are going to have new districts no matter what,” O’Mara said. “In 2020, after the Census, the general assembly will be responsible for redrawing new state house, state senate, and federal districts.”

O’Mara proceeded to explain the current law, which appoints two Republican and two Democratic staffers to the board. If they can’t agree on who will be the fifth member, the Supreme Court appoints a the person so the lines can be drawn.

“What we are trying to do is create a new way to draw the districts,” O’Mara explained. “When it’s drawn that way, it’s gerrymandering. That means they draw the districts to support incumbents and voters they want. You can look at Radnor, it’s a great example of gerrymandering.”

She said these two bills would create an independent, nonpartisan commission of lawyers and other professions to draw the districts based on the preexisting lines and what’s best for the communities. One bill would address how congressional lines are drawn, while the other pertains to the house and the senate.

After the constituent asked how they can help the bill move along, O’Mara suggested contacting Fair Districts Pa’s Delaware County chapter. She also recommended contacting Radnor’s other representative about signing onto the bill and other reps throughout Delaware County.

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Another constituent asked her about the cost of local colleges, to which O’Mara said her and other representatives are working on.

“I have a drink over here and it shows you the ingredients,” O’Mara began. “We want to know why colleges don’t do this. We want to know exactly where your tuition rates are going. How much is going towards administrative costs versus actual student costs?”

The constituent then asked her about paper ballots and other voting solutions.

“We are mandating every municipality by the 2020 elections to have new voting machines, and they need to have paper ballots,” O’Mara explained. “Delaware County is on record to change by the next primary. I’ve heard the majority on county council want a machine that would still rely on a barcode opposed to a paper ballot. That is not taking technology out of it in the way that we think we should. I encourage you to talk to the county council about this. They meet Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and often have summer evening meetings, which we will do our best to share on social media.”

O’Mara also discussed the legislation she introduced this week to bring early voting to Pa.

“We actually presented a package of reforms around election day,” O’Mara explained. “Early voting, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to preregister, and automatic registration if you interact with PENNDot at all. Another option is opting [voters] in, instead of out. We all deserve to vote.”

After answering a few more questions, O’Mara concluded the town hall by thanking attendees for joining her.

The rep will continue to hold town halls throughout her districts in the upcoming months, as well as telephone town halls in the winter. All of these events and more will be posted about on her official Facebook page.

State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking during the town hall in Radnor, Pa

Source: State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Radnor | Penelope Peru Photography P³

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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