Republican candidates running for Governor of Pennsylvania and for U.S. Senate debated on Wednesday evening in New Castle. According to the New Castle News the debate was held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Eleven candidates for Governor were on stage. Five candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate also participated in a debate.

The Lawrence County Elections board appointed Tim Germani to the position of director of elections and voter services in Lawrence County. The Ellwood City Ledger reports Germani, who was, and will still serve as, county election technology manager, replaces former elections director  Ed Allison Jr., who passed away on Sept. 2nd.  Germani said he will continue to follow the outline Allison, his mentor, laid out for the office and for elections in the county.

A plan to redraw lines for Pennsylvania’s congressional districts  passed the state House on Wednesday with a partisan vote that signaled lawmakers face more redistricting work ahead. every Democrat and two state republicans  voting against the proposal that would reshuffle the state to take into account 2020 census results where Pennsylvania lost a congressional seat.  In Pennsylvania, congressional maps are handled as regular legislation that must pass both chambers of the Republican majority General Assembly before going  in front of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for his approval.

Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary says it may be weeks before the latest COVID surge peaks in the state.  Keara Klinepeter says there’s about a two-week lag between cases and hospitalizations.  She says that’s why hospitalizations likely won’t top-out until early February.  There are roughly seven-thousand-150 people currently hospitalized with COVID in the state. Klinepeter said vaccinations, not mitigation orders, are the main strategy for fighting COVID-19.

A program that promoters say will help more than two million Pennsylvanians get a retirement savings plan is being considered in the state house. The new piece of legislation called Keystone Saves would be a state-sponsored retirement plan. Employers would make a payroll deduction into the IRA and keep track of  those participating. The treasury and a third party would handle the rest. Businesses that already have retirement plans, those with fewer than five employees, and those open for fewer than 15 months would be exempt. It’s believed it would take about four years to phase in if the idea gains approval in the legislature.

State farm leaders have gathered at the Pennsylvania Farm show to discuss the well-being of those who chose agriculture to make their livelihood. Isolation, potential crop issues and fluctuation in market statuses are all issues that give farmers anxiety, according to state experts. Now, the state Department of Agriculture has been given a two-year, 500-thousand-dollar federal grant to bolster mental health services for the farm community.  Pennsylvania is also working with a national network called AgriSafe, which will soon offer a 24/7 mental health hotline for agricultural producers.

Drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are close to being able to use mobile apps to pay for tolls.  State Senator Marty Flynn has spoken  about his plans to introduce legislation to add PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle as turnpike payment methods.  Flynn said people are frustrated by the Toll By Plate system and expanding options would improve collection rates.

The Wolf administration says it has no plans to pursue another COVID-19 emergency declaration or attempt new statewide mitigation measures or vaccine mandates in response to the omicron variant. Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter says the state is “not considering further mitigation at this time.” She did say Wednesday, though, that the administration is  moving to support hospitals hit by staffing shortages and a wave of COVID-19 patients.

With many schools in the area and around the country struggling to remain open as the spread of COVID continues, the Biden administration says they are stepping up efforts to help.  Officials this week say the federal government will be providing 10-million free COVID tests to schools each month to assist in keeping them open and keeping students safe.  A White House spokesperson adds that the Omicron  [[ ahm-ih-cron ]]   variant is driving unprecedented demand for testing and that the government needs to ensure school leaders have the support they need to meet that demand.