Candidate Q&A: Harry Lewis Jr., 74th State House District

Harry Lewis Jr.

Harry Lewis Jr.

Editor’s Note: Once again, we posed the same nine questions to our legislative candidates and offered to publish them without edits or modification to allow our readers to get an unfiltered view of their positions on some of the top issues of the day in Pennsylvania. We will run the answers of all of the candidates for a given race at the same time — assuming all have responded.

1. There seems to be universal agreement that the state continues to face lower revenues than expenses. How would you address this issue — by additional cuts in spending (if so, where?), raising taxes or some combination of the two?

We need to be open to all options to ensure that our schools, infrastructure, human services and other state government services have the funding needed to provide the very best services to Pennsylvanians. However, I will always endeavor to hold the line on taxes and cut wasteful government spending where identified.

2. School funding continues to be an issue for many folks — and litigation over fair funding is now working its way through the courts. Does Pennsylvania provide enough funding for local public schools and is it fairly distributed? Also, Act 1 of 2006 is beginning to put some school districts in a bind — thanks to a combination of lowered real estate values, skyrocketing pension, health care and special education costs — is it time to revisit the act and rework some aspects of it?

I’m happy to report that our state government is providing more funding to our schools than during any other time in history. Our local school districts are directly benefitting from the increase in funding, and it is vital that we continue to ensure our schools have the resources they need for student success. Our youth are our greatest resource. However, property taxes are of great concern to many families and seniors in the 74th district. I am not in favor of removing Act 1, but as with any legislation, I am open to considering changes.

3. Although Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax in the nation, it continues to struggle to pay for road and bridge maintenance. How would you address this issue?

The transportation funding bill which passed prior to my election as State Representative is generating $2.3 billion annually to put towards improvement of our roads and bridges. Local, county, state and federal authorities must work together to prioritize and strengthen our infrastructure. I will continue to work to bring the 74th district its fair share of transportation funding. If more funding is needed, I will open to solutions on how to generate it whether through savings elsewhere or new revenue streams.

4. There have been at least five gun-related homicides in the county this year — four in the last few weeks — in addition to a number of non-fatal shootings this year. What would you do to stem gun violence?

Our law enforcement officers do an excellent job for us in Chester County. I’m honored to have their endorsement for re-election, and I look forward to continuing our work together to make our communities safer. To stem gun violence, we must look at existing laws and determine where penalties should be increased for offenders. In the State House, we passed laws that did just that. HBs 1496 and 1497 are awaiting Senate action, but if enacted, they would increase penalties for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and enhance penalties for prohibited possession of a firearm by a person adjudicated of a felony offense as a juvenile.

Even more important is working with our youth to keep them from being involved in violence and illegal activity in the first place. That’s what I did as a high school principal, coach, teacher and non-profit leader and that’s what I am fighting to do as State Representative. Quality education and job opportunities are vital to this end.

5. As the opioid crisis grows, what efforts do you support both to curtail new addictions and help those already in the grip of addiction?

The opioid crisis hits home all across Pennsylvania and our country. It’s hard to find a person who is not affected in some way by this epidemic whether through a family member, friend, or personally. My colleagues and I took action this session by urging the Governor to call a special session, and we have been leading the way by holding hearings throughout the Commonwealth in preparation for it. We also passed the following legislation that included millions in funding: HB 1698 (Awaiting Senate Action) which would require insurance plans to cover abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drugs. HB 1699 (Awaiting Senate Action) which prohibits a health care practitioner from prescribing more than seven days of any opioid drug at a hospital emergency room or urgent care facility unless absolutely necessary. HB 1737 (Awaiting Senate Action) which allows drug companies to destroy pharmaceuticals through waste-to-energy facilities to ensure the safety of our drinking water and prevent further unintended access to said medication. And, HB 1805 (Awaiting Senate Action) would require dispenser and prescribers to receive increased education on the issue.

6. Land use continues to be front and center in Chester County — from the development of farm lands to housing developments to needed redevelopment in our urban areas. In terms of your district, what should the state being doing now to better preserve open space and target development to areas with existing infrastructure?

I support open space preservation. Chester County is an excellent and beautiful place to live. I believe the role of the state in open space preservation is to empower and support the local and county governments. The preservation of land should be a decision made locally not by Harrisburg bureaucrats. However, the state government can assist through grants and legislation that aids in the preservation of open space.

7. Do you support efforts by some to take state legislative and congressional redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it into the hands of an independent commission? If so, why? If not, why not?

I haven’t seen a specific plan regarding this change. However, as I said earlier, I am open to reviewing any and all legislation, especially those aimed at preserving the integrity of our elections. Every vote matters.

8. What issue do you feel that the media/public fails to discuss enough in terms of state government?

The media focuses a lot on partisan divide in government, and believe me, it is there. However, there are plenty of instances where through bi-partisan efforts, good things are happening in state government. Our work on the opioid epidemic is one example. And, certainly, providing the highest level of education funding in Pennsylvania history is another.

9. Can you tell us something mildly surprising about yourself (hobbies, unusual past jobs, etc.) that the public might find interesting?

During the civil rights movement, college administrators threatened to take away my track scholarship due to concerns that my friends and I would incite a riot on campus.  With everything going on across the country at that time, we were ready to take on the entire system to force change!  Word about the situation got back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and he paid us a visit, and boy did my friends and I get a lecture!   Dr. King made clear to us the incredible significance of the civil rights movement, that violence would solve nothing and how one incident could derail everything.  By his words and deeds, Martin Luther King personally taught me to focus on the positive and the simple fact that hard work and perseverance can truly change the world!  This was one of the most defining moments in my life.


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