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What Drives State Senator Camera Bartolotta?

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State Senator Camera Bartolotta, R-46, understands business in a way that few lawmakers do. When she and her late husband founded a drive-through quick lube business in Monongahela in 1988, she experienced all aspects of the business from management to changing oil and filters.

Bartolotta appreciates the residents and the tight-knit communities in southwestern Pennsylvania. She grew up in a southern California suburb where no one knew their neighbors and found the difference between the two locales, “Like the difference between a black and white movie and technicolor.” She was pleasantly surprised by family Sunday dinners and friendly people.

The Senator became an active community volunteer, from leading her children’s school programs, the PTA and drama club, to participating in political campaigns.

Sadly, Bartolotta saw the community starting to fray as the steel industry collapsed and family sustaining jobs disappeared. Fearful of the long-range impact, she wondered, “Isn’t someone going to fix this?”

In 2011, 18 months after her husband passed, community leaders asked her to run for the PA House of Representatives, but she declined. However, her interest in government and politics was kindled, and she went to as many community meetings as possible.

After six months, an eye-opening experience pulled her into politics and a run for the PA Senate. Her daughter, home on a visit from college, said she was joining a missionary group. Bartolotta imagined a trip to some far off land. Instead, the missionary trip was to Monessen, her own back yard, a community ravaged by tremendous job loss from closed steel mills.

That was when her mind was made up: “I will do this — that is, make a run for office!”

The Senator aligns with MBA’s interests in health care, regulations, energy,
taxes, workforce and utilizing untapped pools of workers. Where Bartolotta
becomes animated is when talking about criminal justice reform. Some of her priorities include reforming the state’s broken and expensive probation and parole systems, protecting the dignity of incarcerated women, and supporting strategies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

“Many should remain behind bars, but we should find those who are not a danger to society and treat them in a different way.” That belief moved Bartolotta and Senator Art Haywood to launch the Senate’s Criminal Justice Reform Caucus in 2018. “The response was immediate, huge and bipartisan.”

“Many inmates are suffering from generational incarceration. Many can’t read. They walk in with nothing, walk out with nothing, can’t find employment and return to illegal activities.”

She noted, each person behind bars costs the state $40,000-$65,000 per year making corrections the third largest budget item. “That same money can be invested in rehab and education during incarceration and removing barriers on the outside so ex-offenders can become productive members of society.”

Eileen Anderson is the director of government relations at SMC Business Councils (SMC), which merged with Manufacturer & Business Association (MBA) in 2019. Contact her at 412/342-1606 or eileenanderson@smc.org.