Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Legislative Session Week of June 28, 2015

Senate Approves Bill to Increase Support for Housing Program

I am pleased to report that the Senate approved legislation I introduced that would increase state support for a program that promotes housing affordability and rehabilitation in communities across the Commonwealth on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 566 would dedicate a portion of funds raised from the state’s Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) for use by the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) for projects across the state. The legislation does not increase the RTT rate, but solely changes how the revenues under the existing rate are used.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Currently, PHARE’s only revenue is from Act 13 impact fees and those monies may only be spent in Marcellus Shale counties.  Revenues generated through impact fees provide resources for home repairs, new construction, rental assistance, home rehabilitation, and demolition.

The economic case for strengthening PHARE – which has already proven its power to help alleviate blight, reduce homelessness, create jobs and drive economic activity – is compelling. But the broader good that we have the opportunity to offer vulnerable residents, families and communities, is even more profound.

Across Pennsylvania, we see blighted and abandoned properties overwhelming the housing market.  PHARE funds can be used to remediate blight as well as develop homes within reach of low wage workers and people on fixed income.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, there is a statewide shortage of 266,000 rental homes that are both affordable and available to households earning about $20,000 or less.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that 270,000 Pennsylvanians are homeless, including those living doubled up with friends or family.

Click here for audio of my remarks from the floor of the Senate on Senate Bill 566. Click here for video of my remarks from the floor of the Senate on Senate Bill 566.

Senate Approves Fiscally Responsible State Budget

The Senate approved a Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget plan on Tuesday that provides increased state support for education and other key services and programs without adding to the tax burden of Pennsylvania families.

House Bill 1192 is a balanced budget that includes no new taxes or tax increases and $370 million in new money for education. It also includes fundamental changes to the state’s pension and liquor systems.

The budget contains:

  • $30.1 billion in total state spending.
  • $100 million in new state dollars for basic education that is combined with reforms to the basic education funding formula and improvements in accountability.
  • $20 million for special education.
  • $30 million for early education, including Pre-K Counts and Head Start.
  • $300 million in savings for the state and school districts to pay for capital improvements.
  • $50 million across the board for higher education.
  • $2.8 million to address avian flu.
  • Expanding community-based services for seniors to help keep them in their homes and communities.
  • Structural reform to the pension system, which is the primary cost driver for the state and school districts.
  • $200 million in additional revenues through liquor reforms.

I am extremely disappointed with the Governor’s veto of House Bill 1192. We passed a good budget that does what Pennsylvanians have asked us to do. The budget package gets state government out of the liquor business, increases funding for education, and does so without raising taxes.

It’s ironic that the Governor claims we haven’t supported education. That is simply not true. The budget approved by the House and Senate includes a $100 million increase for K-12 basic education, $25 million for Pre-K Counts, $20 million for special education, $5 million for Headstart, and $1 million for our libraries.

While Governor Wolf’s budget proposed to provide one school district, namely Philadelphia, with a whopping $150 million increase in funding, the Senate and House allocated out all new monies to schools through the new formula that was approved unanimously by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission.

Public Pension Reform Measure Sent to the Governor

A measure addressing increasing public pension costs received final legislative approval on Tuesday and was sent to the Governor.

Senate Bill 1 restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System – in order to make them viable in the long term.

The features of Senate Bill 1 include:

  • All new state and public school employees will be enrolled in a mandatory, 401k-type Defined Contribution Plan similar to those used in the private sector.
  • Members of the General Assembly, upon election or re-election, will be enrolled in the same Defined Contribution Plan as new state and public school employees.
  • No changes to current retiree benefits.

The legislature has taken the steps necessary to curb the unsustainable growth in school property taxes by reforming public pensions and transitioning new hires to a retirement system that is more in line with the private sector. As of now, school boards across Pennsylvania — and many in the 47th Senate District — are faced with a decision: either raise taxes or cut student spending in order to pay an exponentially-growing amount of dollars into the pension plans for public school teachers and employees. Senate Bill 1 takes the necessary steps to ensure that public school budgets are not consumed by ever-increasing pension obligations.

Liquor Privatization Bill Approved by the Senate

A historic plan to privatize sales of wine and liquor received final legislative approval on Tuesday and was sent to the Governor.

House Bill 466 amends the Liquor Code to divest the Commonwealth’s wholesale and retail wine and spirits system. The bill provides for the closure of State Stores, wholesale permits for importers, wine and liquor to-go sales in grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and beer distributors, as well as educational assistance for displaced employees.

Bill Setting Penalties for False Claim of Veteran Status Goes to Governor

The Senate concurred Monday on House amendments to a bill that protects the integrity of the “veteran” driver’s license designation process. Senate Bill 42 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.

Under the measure those who falsely claim to be a veteran on their Pennsylvania driver’s license application would be subject to a summary offense with a $300 fine and possible imprisonment of between 30 and 90 days for those who fail to pay the fine. A state law enacted in 2012 allows veterans to self-certify their status subject to verification by state military officials.

Other bills sent to the Governor this week include:

House Bill 73, which requires that providers of counseling services to sexually violent predators notify the district attorney of the county and the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality in the county and municipality where the provider is located that the provider is counseling sexually violent predators.

House Bill 140, which would permit a carpool or vanpool operated by a private operator to be considered a ridesharing arrangement.

House Bill 157, which ensures that a veteran’s military education and training are given strong consideration for the purpose of fulfilling requirements for professional credentials.

House Bill 164, which amends the Crimes Code section on cruelty to animals by adding a new subsection on possession of animal fighting paraphernalia.

House Bill 221, which amends the continuing education requirements for police officers and magisterial district judges regarding training on recognition and techniques to be used when interacting with individuals with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.

House Bill 229, which creates the offense of cyber harassment of a child in the Crimes Code section on harassment.

House Bill 272, which makes several changes to the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act.

Senate Bill 330, which expedites the process for dealing with blighted properties.

Senate Bill 655, which is the Fiscal Code component of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.

Senate Bill 687, which amends the Uniform Planned Community Act to correct a conflict which was created by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.

Senate Bill 688, which amends the Uniform Condominium Act to correct a conflict which was created by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.

House Bill 762, which includes the Public School Code component of the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.

House Bill 972, which amends the Insurance Company Law concerning the delivery of individual insurance policies and annuities.

House Bill 1071, which clarifies the definition of “Approval” of a contractual agreement between governmental agencies and private parties engaged in development.

House Bill 1276, which clarifies certain requirements pertaining to criminal history background certifications for employees and volunteers.

Bill Offering Greater Access to Oral Chemotherapy Drugs Sent to House

The Senate approved legislation on Sunday that would allow cancer patients to select their best treatment option, including oral chemotherapy.

Senate Bill 536 would require health insurers to provide coverage for orally administered chemotherapy on a basis that is at least as favorable as an insured’s co-pay, coinsurance or deductibles as they are for intravenous or injected chemotherapy treatment.

Because oral chemotherapy is typically covered as part of the prescription drug benefit, patients who choose this option in consultation with their doctor often experience significantly different out-of-pocket costs based on how their treatment is administered.

Senate Bill 536 now goes to the House for its consideration.

Other bills approved by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives this week include:

Senate Bill 95, which addresses Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

Senate Bill 533, which establishes a uniform procedure for the disposition of contraband left in the possession of probation and parole agencies.

Senate Bill 748, which eliminates the mandatory escort of super-sized loads by the Pennsylvania State Police and replaces them with certified pilot escorts.

Senate Bill 756, which eliminates the sunset provisions of the Commonwealth’s First Industries Program.

Senate Bill 862, which amends the School Code to coordinate with child abuse clearance changes made in the Child Protective Services Law.

Senate Bill 871, which amends the First Class Township Code to allow for small gifts to recognize the service or passing of township officials, employees or volunteers.

Senate Bill 887, which protects highway workers, first emergency responders and others from careless and reckless drivers traveling in work zones.

Senate Bill 928, which increases the minimum financial responsibility requirements for use of a motor vehicle.

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