Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of February 4, 2013

Governor Corbett unveils FY 2013-14 budget request

Governor Tom Corbett unveiled his proposed $28.4 billion state General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 on Tuesday before a joint session of the General Assembly. The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $679 million (2.4 percent) increase in spending from the current fiscal year without increasing income taxes. The increased spending would be covered primarily by a projected current fiscal year revenue surplus of $232 million and revenue growth of 1.5 percent ($429 million) in the next fiscal year.

The Governor proposes a $90 million increase ($5.49 billion) in funding for local school districts and maintains the $100 million Accountability Block Grant program. Nearly $11.5 million in new money is allocated for early childhood education.

Special education ($1.026 billion) and community college funding ($212 million) are maintained at current levels. The budget also maintains funding for state and state-related universities at current levels. In return for $1.58 billion in funding to higher education, university leaders have pledged to work to keep tuition increases as low as possible for their students.

Other notable items proposed in the Governor’s budget include:

  • $17.4 million in new money for economic development and job creation efforts.
  • A $13.5 million increase in funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • $20 million to provide home and community-based services for approximately 1,200 Pennsylvania adults with intellectual disabilities.
  • Funding for three new classes of cadets for the Pennsylvania State Police — a total of 290 new cadets — plus the hiring of 90 civilian police dispatchers.

The Governor’s public pension reform proposals that would result in a $177 million reduction of the projected $511 million increase in costs in the next fiscal year.

The Senate’s review of the budget will formally begin on February 19 with three weeks of hearings conducted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The state’s current fiscal year ends on June 30.

Ag Committee approves rabies exemption bill

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee that I Chair approved legislation on Wednesday that would provide an exemption from annual rabies vaccination requirement for dogs and cats with existing medical conditions.

Senate Bill 155 would grant an exemption in cases where a licensed veterinarian examines and determines that it would be medically contraindicated to vaccinate a dog or cat due to an infirmity, other physical condition or regimen of therapy.

The committee also approved House Bill 84, a measure amending the Agricultural Area Security Law regarding county inspections of agricultural conservation easements. The changes could result in significant savings to county farmland preservation programs by reducing some of the current inspection and administrative requirements.

Legislation would standardize gas royalty deductions

The Senate unanimously approved legislation I co-sponsored on Tuesday requiring natural gas companies operating in Pennsylvania to standardize all deductions on royalty check payment stubs.

Senate Bill 259 would require companies producing natural gas to show on each royalty check stub, attachment to a payment form, or other remittance advice a detailed itemization of all royalty deductions from royalties paid to a leaseholder. Currently, the state of Pennsylvania does not require gas companies to list deductions in any standardized form from royalties paid to a landowner.

SB 259 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Community-based health care clinics initiative advances

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation to develop and expand community-based health care clinics in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 5 sets the framework to foster the growth of clinics as a way to provide integrated care “medical homes” to uninsured low-income individuals. Governor Corbett’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes $4 million to create new community-based health care clinics and expand services at existing clinics.

Committee approves expeditious reporting of personal data breaches

State agencies and local governments would be required to expeditiously notify the public of data breaches involving personal information under legislation unanimously approved by the Senate Communications and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

Current law requires public notification of such incidents “without unreasonable delay.” Senate Bill 114 sets a specific one-week notification requirement for breaches involving state agencies and local governments.

Benevolent gesture bill clears committee

Health care professionals may again be able to say “I’m sorry” without fear of legal consequences under legislation approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 379 makes any benevolent gesture made prior to the commencement of a medical liability action by certain health care workers inadmissible as evidence of liability or an admission against interest. A benevolent gesture is defined in the bill as any action that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion, or commiseration emanating from humane impulses. The bill, which I co-sponsored, would apply to health care providers and assisted living residence workers who make a benevolent gesture regarding a patient’s discomfort, pain, suffering, injury or death.

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