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Chester County Press

‘John has led the fight’ - State Rep. John Lawrence Seeks Re-Election

10/28/2020 04:20PM ● By Steven Hoffman

State Rep. John Lawrence has delivered for his constituents by focusing on important issues that have an impact on their lives, according to officials and people who have knowledge about the lawmaker’s work while representing the 13th Legislative District in Harrisburg.

“Representative Lawrence's work for the citizens of Penn Township has been exemplary,” said  Karen Versuk, the director of operations for the township. “His caring, his diligence, and his experience is evident in his accomplishments for Penn. Quite frankly, he listens and has a way of getting to the heart of the problem so that he can offer a meaningful resolution—be it via policy, support, or presence.”

Brian H. Hoover, who has overseen several major projects in Oxford while serving as Borough Manager, talked about Lawrence’s tireless efforts to provide assistance whenever the borough reached out for it.

“John has led the fight to make sure that funding for many of Oxford’s infrastructure projects get the attention required to move the projects forward,” Hoover said. “He is an asset for Oxford and the surrounding municipalities.”

The Republican lawmaker, who has served the 13th District since being elected to the State House in 2010, is running for a sixth term on Nov. 3. He is being challenged in this election by Richard Ruggieri, a Democrat.

The impact of Lawrence’s work can be seen throughout the four boroughs and 13 townships that comprise the 13th legislative district—from infrastructure projects in Oxford and Penn Township to increased funding for schools and parks to Lawrence’s strong stance against the sale of Chester Water Authority to a private water company, the Republican lawmaker has been a tireless advocate for the community that he grew up in.

“Growing up in Kemblesville, it always seemed like southern Chester County was forgotten about, with little attention from the state on infrastructure and other needs,” Lawrence explained. “During my time in office, I have worked hard to change that dynamic.  I’ve found that by working collaboratively with local officials, State Senator Dinniman, and decision-makers in Harrisburg, we have been able to move a number of items across the goal line.”

Charting a path through a health crisis

Lawrence earned widespread praise earlier this year for keeping residents, business owners, and local municipalities updated about the coronavirus pandemic. 

He said that charting a path through the health crisis will be a significant task for state lawmakers as they look ahead to 2021.

“The most immediate challenge facing our community is the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I have heard from many, many folks who are very concerned about how the state has handled this situation, from the business shutdowns to the plan to get kids back to school.  I am working to get Pennsylvania reopened safely and responsibly so people can get back to work and school with proper protections to keep everyone healthy.”

While Lawrence said he would like for Gov. Tom Wolf to work in conjunction with the State Legislature more when making important decisions about the response to the pandemic and reopening the economy, he emphasized that now is not the time for the two parties to let disagreements stand in the way of addressing the crisis moving forward.

“We don’t have time for partisan arguing. We need to act with scientifically sound, fact-based policies,” Lawrence said. “I’ve taken this approach by passing a new bipartisan law to expand coronavirus test reporting, a law that passed the General Assembly almost unanimously.  I also introduced legislation to create a panel of epidemiologists to give state policy makers guidance on moving forward in a scientifically sound manner – this bill also passed the House with broad bipartisan support.”

As a veteran lawmaker who works well with Republicans and Democrats alike, Lawrence has not only been selected to serve as deputy whip for his party, he has also earned some key committee assignments, including the Appropriations, Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Transportation, Professional Licensure, Gov’t Oversight, & Rules Committees.

The Appropriations Committee assignment, in particular, is crucial right now because of the significant impact of the pandemic, and the difficult decisions that the state needs to make with regard to its spending.

“As a member of the Appropriations Committee,” Lawrence explained, “I worked with folks on both sides of the aisle to deliver a responsible state budget that fully funded K-12 education, West Chester and Lincoln Universities, and our teachers’ pension system.  Now, as the state faces a very challenging fiscal situation, I am again working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the remaining parts of this year’s budget without raising the income tax or sales tax, but instead prioritizing spending with the revenues we actually have.”

He added, “I’ve also tried to look for better ways to manage state resources to save money for taxpayers.  As an example, I introduced legislation that passed unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. Wolf to reform how the state issues debt, forcing faster repayment of principal.  This law, Act 43 of 2019, will save Pennsylvania taxpayers $1 billion over 20 years.”

Fighting to save Chester Water Authority

An issue that is important to residents in southern Chester County is the future of Chester Water Authority. Numerous municipalities in the area purchase water—at very reasonable rates—from Chester Water Authority. The potential sale of the Chester Water Authority and its assets to a private, for-profit company have many people concerned that costs will skyrocket for ratepayers.

Hoover said that Lawrence “has fought hard to keep the Chester Water Authority out of the hands of Aqua and keep it the public utility that it currently is.”

Lawrence introduced legislation, currently under consideration by the House Consumer Affairs Committee, that would require any sale of a public water or sewer authority to be approved by the ratepayers of that utility.

At a committee hearing in the State Capitol last month, State Rep. John Lawrence spoke in favor of the continued independence of Chester Water Authority (CWA), and in support of House Bill 2597, which would block any sale of CWA without ratepayer approval.

“I wrote and introduced HB 2597 to give people a voice,” said Lawrence.  “HB 2597 would require any sale of a public water or sewer authority to be approved by the ratepayers of that utility.  The people who are most affected in this situation deserve the opportunity to speak and be heard.” 

The sale of Chester Water Authority could have a major impact on the residents of Penn Township. Versuk lauded Lawrence’s efforts to work toward a solution that benefits local residents.

She said, “Rep. Lawrence was an active participant, attending meetings, listening to the citizens, and actively supporting Chester Water Authority's efforts to remain independent, well-run and affordable, by crafting meaningful legislation to preserve the people's right to decide what is best for Chester Water Authority and all other public utilities which might come under a similar threat in the future.  Rep. Lawrence brings a calm, business mind to the turbulence of government which sets him apart and has made all the difference for our community.”

In a letter to the editor sent to the Chester County Press, Franklin Township resident John Auerbach commended Lawrence for standing up for local residents.

He wrote, “John Lawrence has been fighting for Chester Water Authority’s independence for years. I know, because I have been there with him.  When local elected officials and stakeholders meet to discuss this issue, get the latest updates, and find out how we can advocate, John Lawrence is there.  He’s been there for years, fighting for us.”

Auerbach added, “I have known John Lawrence and his family for nearly forty-one years, and I can speak to his character and integrity.  He has done an outstanding job representing our area in Harrisburg in very challenging times, and he has been the strongest voice in the Capitol to save Chester Water Authority.”

Rep. Lawrence was there

Hoover said that Lawrence has been instrumental in assisting Oxford Borough’s efforts to acquire state funding for infrastructure and streetscape upgrades.

“John has a passion for Oxford Borough and the surrounding area,” said Hoover. “As a member of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee, he supported Oxford’s Safe Routes to Schools grant application that provided $735,812 for sidewalks in a large area of Oxford leading to several of the schools in town. John was also instrumental in fighting to get Oxford grants totaling $754,792 for two separate water projects that will improve the quality of water delivered to residents on Broad, Hodgson and Eighth streets.”

Lawrence has also been helpful to local officials who need to navigate though the governmental bureaucracy to move forward with a project. When Penn Township wanted to make much-needed improvements to the intersection of Route 796 and Old Baltimore Pike, PennDOT initially estimated that it would be a 20-year wait to undertake such a large project. Lawrence was able to facilitate the process of bringing the various stakeholders together, and the project was able to move forward much sooner than that.

Versuk explained, “When it came to improving our intersection at the Red Rose Inn, securing the grant funding of in excess of $1 million was just a piece of a larger puzzle that took seven years and a variety of players to assemble. Rep. Lawrence was there, hosting meetings, negotiating, and working diligently across the aisle to make the intersection a reality to improve the health, safety and welfare of our region.”

She added, “Rep. Lawrence was instrumental in not one, but two major grants for the sports park. The first, an acquisition grant in 2016 in the amount of $668,000 made the purchase possible. The second was $1 million toward the development of the park.”

Government reformer

When Lawrence first ran for office, he wanted to be a champion of government reform and an advocate for smaller government and fiscal responsibility. 

Lawrence explained, “During my time in office, my record shows that I have been a leader fighting for a reform-minded approach to governing, and I have led by example in refusing the gold-plated defined-benefit state pension, per-diem payments, state car, and other perks past legislators from both parties granted themselves.  I have worked each and every day for the best interest of the residents of our community, working with folks from both sides of the aisle to address concerns in our area.”

Ruggieri’s campaign has made an issue about a campaign contribution that was made to Lawrence by Mike Turzai, a former state lawmaker who now has an affiliation with Essential Utilities, a new corporate name for Aqua Pennsylvania, the for-profit company looking to take over the Chester Water Authority. While Ruggieri alleges that accepting the campaign contribution calls into question Lawrence’s sincerity with regard to the issue, Lawrence points to his very public—and very strong—opposition to the sale of Chester Water Authority. 

“I have relentlessly defended Chester Water Authority’s continued independence in Harrisburg,” he said. “I’ve testified alongside the Chair of the Chester Water Authority Board in the Capitol, and halted a middle-of-the-night attempt to pack the Chester Water Authority board to force a sale to private interests. This is a battle I am proud to fight, and I’ve fought it alongside local municipal officials, concerned citizens, and allies in the legislature for years. Never once did I see my opponent at a single effort to save Chester Water Authority—until he decided to run for office and use it as a campaign issue.”

Lawrence added that he was disappointed that Ruggieri and his campaign had launched a negative attack.

“I have run a positive campaign from start to finish,” Lawrence said, “and I am not going to change that now. It is unfortunate my opponent has not chosen to do the same, instead attacking me with falsehoods. I think people are sick and tired of the divisiveness.”

Lawrence said that he has focused his campaign on his record as a lawmaker. He has been a listener, a details person, a collaborator, a hard worker, and a solution finder. And he has remained rooted in the southern Chester County community.

“I come home every night,” he said. “That’s really important to stay grounded in the community.”

 ‘They do it for the community’

State Rep. John Lawrence wants to continue to make state government work better for its citizens. In a large state like Pennsylvania, that is a challenge.

“Every issue that we vote on is important to somebody,” Lawrence said. “Pennsylvania is a diverse state and we need to make good policy that works across the whole state.”

This year, lawmakers worked to update Pennsylvania’s Election Code, which had not seen major updates in decades. Lawrence voted to change Pennsylvania’s Election Code to ensure every Pennsylvanian uses a paper ballot that is secure and cannot be hacked, and to give every Pennsylvanian the ability to vote by mail. He also supported efforts to provide funding to Chester and Lancaster counties to purchase new voting machines for every precinct. 

Lawrence has also been an advocate for the formation of an independent citizen’s commission to oversee legislative redistricting. This would eliminate the obvious conflict of interest and the partisan politics that lead to gerrymandered districts. 

Similarly, Lawrence has introduced legislation that would put all decisions regarding legislators’ compensation in the hands of a citizen’s committee.  

He points to his record as a consistent voice on issues like government reform, fiscal accountability, and to his work serving the constituents in the 13th District as reasons why he wants to return to the State House in 2021. There will be challenges aplenty, many of the immediate ones related to helping Pennsylvanians recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on businesses.

“A lot of people are struggling,” Lawrence said, “and they need help.”

He and the staff in his office have earned wide praise for how responsive they are to residents who reach out to them for some type of assistance with an issue. During a typical year, they respond to 7,500 different requests for assistance from residents. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was even more requests for help. Lawrence said that he heard from many people who couldn’t sign up for unemployment compensation in a timely manner. Being able to help local residents, business owners, and elected officials navigate through the state’s bureaucracy is an important part of the job of a state representative.

Versuk said that Lawrence and his staff excels at this.

“I truly do not know how he and his staff do all they do each day,” she said, “but they do it well and they do it for the community.”