Robert Swift: Capitol Matters: Debate continues over voter ID
HARRISBURG - While a state Supreme Court decision is awaited on the validity of Pennsylvania's controversial voter photo identification law, debate continues over whether the Corbett administration is doing enough to help individuals obtain the requisite photo ID for voting purposes.
The state Transportation Department announced last week it's adding Thursday evening hours at five driver licensing centers in Philadelphia to handle requests. The vast majority of photo IDs issued since the law was enacted last March have been in Philadelphia, officials said.
The centers are designated to issue both non-driver photo IDs and new IDs provided for voting purposes only by the Department of State.
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said his agency will monitor customer flow at licensing centers statewide to determine if hours should be extended elsewhere before the Nov. 6 election.
That didn't satisfy House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County.
He called on Gov. Tom Corbett to designate Voter ID days at the 71 licensing centers across the state. This would involve designating one or two days each month before the election where centers would be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. On those days, there would be staff and at least one customer service line dedicated solely to serving voter ID requests.
This action is needed because nine counties lack a driver's licensing center and 20 counties have centers that are only open three days a week or less, said Mr. Dermody.
"By any objective standard, there simply is not adequate access to voter ID services from the commonwealth," he added.
Mental health services
One of the issues in the debate over state funding of mental health services involves the future of community-based programs that provide services to individuals who are former residents of state institutions.
The community programs have taken on larger importance over the years with the closing and downsizing of state hospitals and centers.
The House Human Services Committee heard testimony last week from advocates concerned that these programs will lose out in the competition for funding under the new state block grant for county-run human services. "With the closure of each state institution or downsizing..., promises were made to individuals and communities that the commonwealth would maintain these services and supports," said Anne Leisure, director of legislative services for the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association. "Communities across Pennsylvania were repeatedly promised that care would be provided and individuals would not be "dumped" into the streets, the jails or the emergency rooms in community hospitals."
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org