The House and Senate will reconvene on Monday, June 2, 2014. Here is what happened in Harrisburg this week:
House Debates Amendment to Post-Production Costs Bill
An amendment to a bill, which would prevent oil and gas companies from deducting post-production costs from their royalty payments, was debated on the House floor this week, but no final action was taken. The amendment, offered by Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler) would strip language dealing with post-production costs from H.B. 1684 (Everett, R-Lycoming) and also would prohibit landowners from reviewing the composition of the fees charged by an unaffiliated third party.
In addition to preventing oil and gas companies from deducting post-production costs from their royalty payments, language in the current bill would also require the companies to pay royalties to landowners based on the value of gas at the market instead of at the well head. The bill is on second consideration in the House and it’s not clear when debate will resume.
Several bills similar to H.B. 1684 recently passed the Senate. They are S.B. 1236, S.B. 1237 and S.B. 1238. Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) is the sponsor of all three Senate bills. They have not yet been referred to a House committee but are likely to be referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
School Mandated Reporter Bill Heads to the Governor’s Desk
Legislation to mandate school employees to report suspected child abuse, as recommended by the Child Protection Task Force, is headed to the governor’s desk for signature after the House unanimously concurred with the Senate amendments.
H.B. 434 (Maloney, R-Berks) closes a school reporting loophole and applies the same standards for reporting suspected child abuse to school employees as those that exist for other employees of other workplaces. Once it becomes law, the bill will require school employees who suspect another school employee of abusing a student to adhere to the same standard for substantiating abuse, reporting requirements and procedures, and the investigative response as other professionals.
Rx Drug Monitoring Bill Clears the Senate
A bill to enhance Pennsylvania’s prescription drug database won the approval of the Senate by a vote of 47-2. S.B. 1180 (Vance, R-Cumberland) 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 Prescription Drug Monitoring Program 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 bill was amended to strengthen individuals’ ability to access their own records, requiring a 30-day response time as opposed to the original bill’s provision for a six-month response time.
This bill is part of Governor Corbett’s Healthy PA initiative. The objective of expanding the access of the program is to prevent “doctor shopping” by allowing practitioners to access patient dispensing data. It is also designed to help pharmacists identify fraudulent prescriptions before they are dispensed. The bill has not yet been referred to a committee in the House.
Landlord/Tenant Bills Pass House
Two landlord/tenant related bills cleared the House and will be referred to the Senate.
H.B. 1218 (Saylor, R-York) amends the Landlord and Tenant Act by providing for optional early termination of a lease, without penalty, in three situations: (1) the tenant has died; (2) the tenant requires long-term care that cannot be provided where they currently live; or (3) the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. As amended, it also adds an article to the Landlord and Tenant Act providing for further protections for victims and for rights and responsibilities of the respective parties in violence or stalking-related situations. H.B. 1218 passed the House by a vote of 201-0 and has not yet been referred to a Senate committee.
H.B. 1714 (Petri, R-Bucks) amends the Landlord and Tenant Act to give landlords the authority to solely determine when tenants have relinquished their property, without judicial determination, as presently required under current law. Prior to removing or disposing abandoned property, the landlord must provide the tenant a written notice of their rights. H.B. 1714 passed the House by a vote of 123-74 and has not yet been referred to a Senate committee.
Discharge Petition on Medicare Expansion Coming in June
This week, Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio (D-Philadelphia) notified House Speaker Sam Smith of her intention to force a vote on a bill to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania when the House reconvenes in June.
Forcing a vote on H.B. 897 requires the adoption of a discharge resolution. If adopted, House Discharge Resolution 7 would force the bill out of committee and to a full vote in the House chamber.
The Medicaid expansion bill has been in the House Health Committee since March 2013. The Corbett administration has requested a waiver from the federal government to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania under provisions set forth in the federal Affordable Care Act. However, DeLissio said the state should have access to the federal dollars that would become available through the expansion for three years and that the bill would provide health care coverage to Pennsylvanians who otherwise do not have access to coverage.
Any member may file a discharge resolution on any bill that has been in committee for 15 legislative days. Once it gets 25 signatures, the resolution will go on the House calendar, and any signatory can call up the resolution for a floor vote with one session day’s notice.
Painkiller Bill Moves Through Committee
The House Human Services Committee reported as amended H.B. 2203 (DiGirolamo, R-Bucks). The amendment would limit access to the painkiller Zohydro in order to prevent addiction. The bill has had first consideration in the House and has been laid on the table.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Zohydro for use last year, despite an advisory committee of independent experts voting 11-2 against approval because of concerns about addiction. During the committee meeting, DiGirolamo noted that his original intention was to ban the drug in Pennsylvania, but because the courts have ruled that a state cannot ban a substance approved by the FDA, he was offering the amendment to require prescribers to comply with eight outlined conditions as a condition of prescribing Zohydro.
Gaming Study Released – Internet Gaming in PA future?
Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee this week received a report on the current condition and viability of the gaming industry. The report was issued as required under S.R. 273 (Scarnati, R-Jefferson) and was performed by Econsult Solutions.
Twelve slots gaming facilities are now operating in the Commonwealth, and all 12 casinos now offer table games. A second Philadelphia casino license is expected to be awarded in this spring, and a decision on an application for a category one license in Lawrence County is also expected in 2014. Finally, there is legislative authorization for a third resort category casino license in 2017.
The report found that despite rapid growth in casino wagering, lottery sales remained stable during the initial years and have increased significantly during the past three years. A slowdown in lottery sales during the initial years following the introduction of faming facilities was attributed to the expansion of the lottery retailer network and Pennsylvania’s entry into the multi-state Powerball jackpot game.
The report suggested a strong positive correlation exists between lottery sales and casino revenues. While it would seem unlikely that increased casino revenues would be a factor causing increased lottery sales, the strong positive correlation (.78) would at least suggest that increased casino revenues are not negatively affecting lottery sales to any significant degree.
The report made several suggestions to increase gaming revenues for the state, including the introduction of online gaming or igaming. Econsult Solutions called igaming the largest potential new revenue source and forecasted gaming revenues for this industry would be $180 million in the first year and approximately $300 million after that should Pennsylvania pursue that option.
In a statement issued after the release of the report, Sen. Joe Scarnati said that as “[Pennsylvania] moves forward, authorization of online gambling in the state will be explored.”
Godshall honored by National Association of Water Companies
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Water Companies honored Rep. Robert W. Godshall (R-Montgomery), Majority Chair of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, with its James McGirr Kelly Award for Excellence.
The award was presented at a luncheon during the NAWC Annual Meeting in the Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg. Buchanan’s own Kim Pizzingrilli helped present the award. Kim is a former Public Utility Commissioner and was a recipient of the same award in 2010. Other previous recipients include Governors Dick Thornburgh, Bob Casey and Tom Ridge.
The association presents the James McGirr Kelly Award for Excellence each year to a resident of Pennsylvania who most exemplifies dedication to promoting the availability of safe drinking water in the Commonwealth. It is the highest honor bestowed by NAWC.
Godshall has been a strong advocate for utility customers, working with utilities to ensure reliable delivery of services, as well as fair rates and terms for consumers while fostering a business-friendly climate. He sponsored legislation, signed into law last year, which encourages public utilities to update their infrastructure while enabling them to recover their capital investment in a timely manner. Similarly, Godshall championed legislation to phase in electric rate increases when rate caps were lifted about five years ago, and he has supported measures to ensure the safety of natural gas pipelines.
The NAWC represents all aspects of the private water service industry. The Pennsylvania Chapter consists of 10 member companies that provide safe and reliable drinking water service to approximately 3.1 million Pennsylvanians in 485 communities over 39 counties. In addition, four of our member companies work to provide wastewater service to approximately 155,000 Pennsylvanians in 25 communities over eight counties.
Education Tax Credit Celebrates Anniversary
Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) is 13 years old this year. The EITC is a tax credit for corporate contributions to Scholarship Organizations (SOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships, or Educational Improvement Organizations, nonprofits that support innovative programs in public schools. The EITC was created as part of the school choice movement in 2001.
In 2013, 51,000 Pennsylvania students benefited from EITC scholarship. Since the EITC’s inception, over 23,500 business applications have been approved pledging over $657 million to our children of Pennsylvania.
Bipartisan support for the tax credit was evident at a news conference held in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, May 7, which included Senators Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), as well as Representatives Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Jim Christiana (R-Beaver).
All expressed support for the tax credits success, however Sen. Williams warned supporters that they should not assume the tax credit will survive the budget and called on supporters to continue to advocate for school choice and engaged in the gubernatorial election.
Shale advocates gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to show their support for the industry during a series of events. In what was called the largest rally in recent memory, thousands of supporters marched from Harrisburg’s City Island to the steps of the Capitol building. Supporters could also follow the day’s events on Twitter using the hash tag #PAEnergyRally. The event was widely covered in the news media a sampling of which includes the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Abc27 News, and PennLive.