The House and Senate will reconvene on Monday, May 5, 2014. This will be the last session week until after the May 20 primary. Here’s what happened in Harrisburg this week:
Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Representative Thomas Killion (R-Delaware) held a news conference on Tuesday to discuss their waterfront development legislation. Their companion bills, S.B. 968 and H.B. 1461 would establish a $10 million tax credit to encourage the private sector to invest in waterfront development. If passed, it would be the first of its kind in the nation.
The news conference was part of a two-day advocacy push in the state capitol by waterfront partners from throughout Pennsylvania promoting projects in cities and towns of all sizes throughout Pennsylvania. Examples of those projects were on display in the East Wing Monday and Tuesday, April 28-29.
Lisa Schroeder, President and CEO Riverlife in Pittsburgh, is among the supporters of the bills. Since 1999, her organization has helped create more than twelve public-private partnerships invested in Pittsburgh’s river front properties. According to Schroeder, the proposed legislation would provide Pennsylvania the opportunity to set a new standard for how to capitalize on the potential of denigrated waterfronts and will give communities new ways to access waterways, tax revenues, and attract tourists.
Representative Killion said the bill could be a solution to help create jobs and provide access to Pennsylvania’s rivers. “Southeast Pennsylvania wants to take the success of Riverlife in Pittsburgh and bring that to every river in Pennsylvania,” Killion said.
S.B. 968 has had first consideration in the Senate and has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. H.B. 1461 has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
Pennsylvania Bio Advocacy Day
Pennsylvania Bio, an organization that advocates for the advancement of Pennsylvania’s bioscience industry, also held a legislative day on Tuesday. Members of PA Bio met with legislators in both the House and Senate and on both sides of the aisle to promote their efforts to ensure that Pennsylvania is the global leader in biosciences by creating a comprehensive community to unite biotechnology, medical device, diagnostic, pharmaceutical, research and financial strengths. Some 50 members also met with Lieutenant Governor Cawley to promote their efforts.
Variable Electric Rates
The House Consumer Affairs Committee reported an amended version of H.B. 2104 (Godshall, R-Montgomery) to limit electric rate increases for customers with variable rate to no more than 30 percent per billing cycle and requires switching requests to be completed within five business days. The bill also requires all electric supplier contracts to contain certain language that clearly explains the contract terms, and electric suppliers must provide customers with a copy of their contract. Additionally, the bill gives the Public Utility Commission (PUC) specific authority to investigate customer complaints related to the rates charged by electric generation suppliers.
Prescription Drug Monitoring
S.B. 1180 (Vance, R-Cumberland) a bill to enhance Pennsylvania’s prescription drug database, was reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee and given second consideration in the Senate.
The bill would expand the dispensing information collected to include all drugs up to and including Level V controlled substances. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to oversee the portion of the PDMP accessible by law enforcement and the Department of Health will be given the responsibility to oversee the portion of the program accessible by pharmacists and prescribing practitioners.
The objective of expanding the access of the program to the Department of Health is to prevent “doctor shopping” by allowing practitioners access to other patient dispensing data. It will also be beneficial to pharmacists to help identify fraudulent prescriptions before they are dispensed. The bill could come to vote in the Senate next week.
Special Education Funding
S.B. 1316 (Browne, R-Lehigh) was reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee and is on third consideration. This bill would make several changes to the Public School Code of 1949 to implement recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission. It would provide for changes to the reporting of special education expenditures, funding for approved private schools, charter school funding for special education students. The bill would also change the formula for special education funding for school districts. A similar bill, H.B. 2138 (O’Neill, R-Bucks) is awaiting action in the House.
Landlord Tenant Act
Two amendments to the Landlord Tenant Act were given second consideration and re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee this week. H.B. 1218 (Saylor, R-York) would remove the estate of a deceased tenant from being liable for any rent accruing from one month after the tenant’s death, or upon surrender of the rental unit and removal of all personal property, whichever is the later. H.B. 1714 (Petri, R-Bucks) provides additional clarity and predictability for landlords and tenants regarding the disposition of abandoned property.
Property Tax Reform
The Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing on S.B. 76 (Argall, R-Schuylkill), which would eliminate all school property taxes across the Commonwealth and would replace those taxes with a combination of funding from the Personal Income Tax and the Sales and Use Tax.
Testifying at the hearing was the prime sponsor of the bill, Senator David Argall, Senator Mike Folmer, as well as Allegheny County, the City of Philadelphia and the North American Industry Classification System List.
The legislation would increase Pennsylvania sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and expand the products and services that are taxed. The personal income tax would rise from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent. On Monday an amendment was announced to S. B. 76 to clarify which goods and services would be subject to the state sales tax.
S.B. 76 has not yet been reported from the Finance or Appropriations Committees, which will need to happen before it can come to a vote on the floor of the Senate. The bill has 26 co-sponsors.
Alternative Budget Proposed
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (D-Bucks) introduced an alternative budget proposal this week saying it addressed the needs of middle-class Pennsylvanians. Called the “Roadmap for a Stronger Pennsylvania” DiGirolamo said his plans seeks to make long-term, sustainable investments in communities and would add about $1.1 billion in new revenue.
This alternative budget focuses on providing additional funding for education, human service needs, environmental protections and crime prevention. It also suggests generating growing and reliable revenue streams by closing outdated tax loopholes, enacting a Marcellus Shale severance tax, and maximizing the revenue generated by existing state assets.
DiGirolamo said he anticipates this revenue to not only cover state expenditures for the 2014-15 fiscal year but to position the commonwealth to better face needs in 2015-16.
As part of his plan, DiGirolamo has already introduced legislation, which calls for a 4.9 percent severance tax on Marcellus Shale. He estimates the severance tax to raise an additional $360 million in 2014-15. Additional budget revenue will come from delaying the phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax; removing the 1 percent vendor discount for sales tax remissions; upholding the sales tax on Internet-based companies called the Amazon law; removing the tax exemption of smokeless tobacco and imposing the cigarette excise on e-cigarettes; and strengthening the corporate add-back rules, which currently shifts the tax burden to thousands of Pennsylvania-based small businesses that follow the rules and pay their fair share of taxes.
DiGirolamo has also unveiled an alternative to liquor store privatization, H.B. 2184, which he says could raise approximately $185 million in state revenue. He has also proposed expanding the state’s Medicaid program to leverage federal funds and says an additional benefit of Medicaid expansion is the creation of 35,000 health care jobs.
House GOP Unveils Anti-Poverty Plan
This week, House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and members of the committee announced preliminary findings of its report: “Beyond Poverty” as part of its initiative “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty”.
The report identifies barriers low-income Pennsylvanians face when attempting to reach self-sufficiency and outlines ways to combat poverty in the commonwealth.
Reed said that since assessments have shown that poverty isn’t contained to one type of community, the committee worked to examine it in a wide variety of locations, including inner-city neighborhoods, suburbs and also in the state’s rural areas. The hearings, roundtable discussions and tours included testimony from more than 100 stakeholders in locations that included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, the Poconos and Clearfield County.
The report outlines five areas of exploration. Using these areas of focus, teams of legislators will work to produce specific legislative and policy recommendations. The topics of study include: outcomes; life skills; benefits that work; the essentials; and education.
For more information, visit www.pagoppolicy.com/gatewaysoutofpoverty.aspx.
Lame Duck Session?
There was some back and forth this week in Harrisburg this week as to whether or not the Pennsylvania state legislature will hold a “lame duck session” this year.
Senator Jay Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader, sent a letter Monday to the leaders of the Republican held House of Representatives and Senate, requesting that they announce that the legislature will not hold a voting session after the November General Election.
“Lame duck session,” also known as “sine die session,” refers to the time period during which an elected official still holds office but his or her successor has been elected. In Pennsylvania, the lame duck period occurs in every even-numbered year, from the day after the general election until November 30th, when the two year session officially ends and no further legislative business can be conducted.
Traditional thinking is that acting during lame duck session can be dangerous. Legislators who are no longer beholden to a constituency can pass legislation without fear of any sort of repercussions from the electorate. Only a handful of states still allow for lame-duck sessions, and Pennsylvania hasn’t held one since 2006.
Sen. Dominic Pileggi responded on Twitter shortly after the letter was issued with a tweet saying: “Under leadership of Senate Republicans, there has not been a lame-duck session since 2006. I see no reason to undo this common-sense reform.” Through a spokesperson, House Republicans said there have been no talks with the Senate about a sine die session this fall.