Wendi Thomas with Sparky the Fire Dog.

HARRISBURG >> When lawmakers return to Harrisburg on Oct. 21, they will be taking up a package of bills, including legislation co-sponsored by State Rep. Wendi Thomas, to aid the state’s 37,000 volunteer emergency responders, including those in Bucks County.

Among the bills to be voted on in the next two weeks are legislation to exempt first responders and volunteer fire and EMS companies from the Realty Transfer Tax, a bill to help first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and legislation that would create the Tuition Assistance for Active Volunteers Program to help first responders defray the cost of higher education.

"The package is necessary to reverse the significant drop in volunteer emergency responders throughout the state due to the unreimbursed costs of training and equipment," said Thomas.

"At the same time, we’re not adequately caring for volunteers when they suffer from the physical and mental stress caused by their responsibilities. That’s why I’ve co-sponsored House Bill 1459 to create the Emergency Responder Mental Wellness and Stress Management Program for first responders, including 911 dispatchers and coroners."

Among the bills expected to be voted on:

- House Bill 269, which would provide an exemption from the Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) for the transfer of real estate from the surviving spouse or minor child of a first responder, within five years of the first responder’s death, and House Bill 732, to provide an exemption from the RTT for the transfer of real estate to or by a volunteer EMS company, fire company or rescue company.

Under current law, if a volunteer service provider acquires new property from a party who is not an instrumentality of the state or another volunteer service organization, they are liable to the state for a one percent realty transfer tax.

"This is a significant burden on these brave men and women who make our communities safe. They deserve our support," said Thomas.

- House Bill 1673 would allow volunteer fire relief money to be used for retention of existing volunteer members and providing incentives for recruiting new volunteer firefighters. One example is the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), a system established to provide tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteer members of a fire service. Another is for the assistance and protection of volunteer firefighters in order to provide necessary training and life-preserving safeguards.

- House Bill 1786 would create the First Responder Loan Forgiveness Program for indebted college graduates who are active members of an emergency medical services agency, volunteer fire company, or volunteer rescue company. Up to $16,000 of the graduate’s loans would be forgiven after four years of service.

- House Bill 1839 would give counties the option of providing a property tax credit to qualified active volunteers to be applied against an active volunteer’s property tax liability.

- House Bill 1773 would create the Tuition Assistance for Active Volunteers Program for first responders. An active member of a volunteer fire company or EMS agency who attends an approved institution of higher learning would be eligible to receive tuition assistance. The program is modeled after the PA National Guard education assistance program.

Thomas will be hosting three upcoming coffee and conversation events to hear what's important to her local constituents and to share what’s happening in Harrisburg.

There are three opportunities to sit down and chat with the lawmaker over a cup of coffee.

The first will be on Friday, Oct. 25 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road in Washington Crossing.

The second will be at the New Hope Eagle Fire Co., 46 Sugan Road in New Hope on Friday, Oct. 25 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

The third will take place Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Free Library of Northampton Township, 25 Upper Holland Road in Richboro.

If you cannot make one of these events, call 215-364-3414 and make an appointment to talk at one of Thomas' offices - 1038 Second Street Pike, Suite 101, in Richboro, or at 123 West Bridge Street in New Hope.

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