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Conklin Takes Stand on Controversial Issues as Re-Election Campaign Begins

by on January 31, 2014 9:45 AM

State Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) is tackling a number of controversial issues as he begins his re-election campaign.

Conklin is not backing down from his call for changes within the Penn State Board of Trustees.

Conklin also supports the legalization of medical marijuana, an increase in minimum wage, and amending a state law to allow use of traffic light cameras in State College.

Conklin discussed these matters during a press conference Thursday at his office in the borough.

Board of Trustees

More than a year ago, Conklin introduced a number of bills that would alter Penn State's Board of Trustees based on then-Auditor General Jack Wagner's recommendations in the wake of the conviction of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Some of the bills would have cut the number of board members, required the board to follow the state's Ethics Act, and expanded the state's open records law to include Penn State. But the bills failed to make it out of committee.

Last week, state Sen. John Yudichak introduced similar legislation that would reduce the board of trustees from 30 to 23 voting members. Conklin says he supports that bill calling it and related bills "common sense legislation."

"I think when you look at Pennsylvania tax dollars being spent you should have transparency," Conklin says.

Conklin acknowledged that the board has started implementing some of the recommendations on its own. For example, recently the board approved the contract for new football coach James Franklin. The board quickly made the agreement public.

"It wasn't hard. It was easy, so it only proves that this legislation can be done without a problem," Conklin says.

When asked why such legislation has failed to become law despite being before the state legislature for more than a year, Conklin says, "I believe there are folks who are maybe afraid to take on individuals. It could be that many people are just afraid of change itself. Change doesn't come easy. It's a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of people actually having belief in the system ... But you stay at it ... People have not stopped fighting for what they believe in."

In order for the state legislature to take action, Conklin says voters need to voice their opinions with their elected officials.

"I believe the reason this legislation is still viable, whether it's mine or the senator's, is that people have not stopped fighting for what they believe in and the only way any of these type of changes are going to through is that those individual people step forward and keep pressuring politicians and legislators to get these enacted," Conklin says.

Medical Marijuana

Conklin also says he will support Senate Bill 1182, which would legalize the use of medical marijuana. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon.

"I think it's time that we as legislators get out of the way of doctors, it doesn't matter whether it's medical marijuana or any other type of substance you're using, a doctor and a patient should be able to work together and whatever a doctor decides should be put forth without people at a legislative branch worrying about what they're having," Conklin says. "As a legislator I don't have the background and understanding of what a patient needs. A doctor does. It's time we trust doctors and not the politicians."

Traffic Light Cameras

Conklin says he would support legislation amending the state's law regarding traffic light cameras so that State College Borough would be able to utilize the law enforcement tool.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly approved legislation in 2012 allowing camera use within all first, second and third-class counties in towns with a population of at least 20,000, and under the direction of a police department accredited with the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

While State College has an accredited police department, the borough does not qualify to utilize red light cameras because it is located in a fourth-class county. State College Police Chief Thomas King and the College Heights Neighborhood Association recently told StateCollege.com they would like to see a state law amended to allow the use of enforcement cameras at red lights in the borough.

Conklin says he would support a bill that allowed elected officials at individual municipalities determine if traffic light cameras should be utilized.

"It should be a local issue," Conklin says.

In August, State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine sent a letter to Conklin, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff and state Sen. Jake Corman saying that the borough supports an amendment to the law that would allow the borough use of the cameras.

Minimum Wage

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Currently, it's $7.25. At the state level, last fall lawmakers introduced several bills that would have increased the state's minimum wage.

Conklin says he supports an increase in the minimum wage.

"People can't afford to heat their homes, people can't afford to have gas, people can't afford to get to work to have a job just because it's tough to make it on less than $8 an hour. It really is. You can't sustain a family on that," Conklin says.

Conklin says jobs increased by 96,000 in Pennsylvania over the last few years, however, he says the majority are low-paying jobs. He says an increase in the minimum wage would not make people rich, but rather help them make ends meet.

"We're talking individuals just having enough money for heat or just an individual maybe having ground beef rather than peanut butter one night a week. This isn't a huge change in life," Conklin says.

Under the current minimum wage, an employee working a 40-hour work week would earn $15,080 annually before taxes.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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