Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Senate State Government Committee Unanimously Approves, Reports Out Bill Recognizing Eastern Hellbender

On January 29, the Senate State Government Committee voted unanimously to approve and report out Senate Bill 9 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) designating the Eastern Hellbender as the state amphibian and clean water ambassador (sponsor summary).
Sen. Gene Yaw, prime sponsor of the bill and Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, appeared before the Committee to urge its passage. Click Here to watch a video of Sen. Yaw's remarks (Twitter).
“Because the Eastern Hellbender exemplifies what is good about Pennsylvania’s waterways, it is the perfect selection to become the official State Amphibian,” Sen. Yaw said.  “It is an excellent natural indicator of water quality, so, in effect, if you have hellbenders in your water the water quality most likely is very good. The hellbender will be a visible symbol of Pennsylvania’s commitment to clean water.”
Peter Petokas, Ph.D., Amphibian Conservation Biologist at Lycoming College and faculty member of the College’s Clean Water Institute, applauded Senate action.  “Passage of Senate Bill 9 takes the Eastern Hellbender one step closer to the status of official amphibian of the State of Pennsylvania, a designation that it uniquely deserves and which will help promote conservation programs that protect and sustain the unique amphibian resources of the Commonwealth.”
“Even in times of budget crisis and pensions and everything else impacting Pennsylvania, this is something that showed the student sponsors of the bill that their elected officials do, indeed, listen to them.  They had a great idea and I was privileged to present their idea to the Senate on their behalf,” Sen. Yaw added.
“Clean water is important for humans and amphibians, and if we don’t act on making our waterways as clean as they can be, we will all suffer from it,” former SLC President Abby Hebenton said. “So, it’s important to bring awareness to it in a positive way, like with the hellbender, than deal with the repercussions later.” “The students have shown a remarkable amount of determination,” said Lane Whigham, CBF Outreach and Advocacy Manager in Pennsylvania. “Their desire to learn the Pennsylvania legislative process is second only to their sheer tenacity to raise awareness of the hellbender’s plight and the need for clean water. With students who share this level of dedication to Pennsylvania’s environment, I feel certain the future is in good hands.”
The bill easily passed the Senate in 2017, but got stuck in the House and died, disappointing the high school students who worked for 2 years researching the Hellbender and drafting the legislation.
High School students from the 43 counties in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have been pushing to have the Eastern Hellbender designated the state amphibian and clean water ambassador for the last 2 years.  The students are members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA’s Student Leadership Council.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate State Government Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5708 or sending email to: mfolmer@pasen.gov.   Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5970 or sending email to: anthony.williams@pasenate.com.

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