|The Legislative Week in Review|
Recent legislative activity by PA House Democrats
Dec. 18, 2009
PASSED THE HOUSE
Pa. House approves legislation to allow table games at slot facilities
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved legislation (S.B. 711) this week that would permit the state's casinos to offer table games, such as blackjack, poker and roulette, while simultaneously strengthening and reforming oversight of the industry. House Speaker Keith R. McCall, D-Carbon, Majority Leader Todd A. Eachus, D-Luzerne, Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, and Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni, D-Berks, hailed the amended bill as a significant job-creation and economic development measure that also helps to close the remaining budget gap for the 2009-10 state budget year.
After the House vote, the state Senate voted to change key portions of the legislation then adjourned for the holiday break. The House and Senate will continue to work toward a compromise bill when they return to session.
"Slot gaming in the Commonwealth has already delivered hundreds of millions of dollars for property tax reductions and economic development," McCall said. "Senate Bill 711 is the next logical step to improve Pennsylvania's competitive advantage over surrounding states and help fill budget shortfalls. This measure would raise $320 million over the next two years and help our economy recover faster with thousands of new good-paying jobs."
"This bill would allow Pennsylvania's gaming industry to grow responsibly by providing increased oversight and accountability to the taxpayers," Eachus said. "We're requiring public hearings before slot-machine licenses are approved or renewed, we're preventing political contributions from casino operators, we're banning felons from being eligible for licenses and we're increasing funding for gambling addiction. Combine these reforms with the economic potential of this bill, and it's a huge win for the Pennsylvania taxpayers."
"Senate Bill 711 is about far more than expanding gaming in Pennsylvania. It's about jobs and economic development," Evans said. "The industry here is in its infancy, but already we've seen the benefits: tax reductions for property owners, especially our seniors; new, desperately needed funds for our general fund budget, and most importantly, greater job opportunities for citizens across Pennsylvania. I would call it a win, win, win."
"This legislation would accomplish two important goals," Santoni said. "It would provide the sustainable revenues necessary to fill our budgetary needs and it would spur economic development to make possible thousands of new jobs for Pennsylvanians."
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Solobay bill that would expand opportunities for vehicle salespeople advances to the Senate
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week unanimously passed legislation sponsored by state Rep. Tim Solobay, D-Washington, that would expand opportunities for vehicle salespeople. House Bill 1472 would allow licensed vehicle salespeople to sell for up to three dealerships at the same time, provided the dealerships all agree. Under existing law, licensed vehicle salespeople are only permitted to sell for one dealer at a time.
"Vehicle sales is a commission job. And when the economy is sluggish, car sales typically go down, reducing the income of these hard-working individuals. By giving our licensed vehicle salespeople more opportunities to make sales, we can protect them, and their families, from financial hardship in tough economic times."
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House passes Gibbons halfway house bill
Inspired by a situation in Wayne Township, Lawrence County, the House this week passed a bill authored by state Rep. Jaret Gibbons that would give greater voice to residents before a private company could open a halfway house in their community. Gibbons' bill (H.B. 1281), which passed unanimously, would require the company seeking to establish a privately operated community corrections facility to hold a public hearing in the community and include the comments when submitting a bid to the Department of Corrections. Halfway house facilities manage the transition back into society for inmates who have been paroled or are about to be paroled.
"A halfway house nearly opened in Wayne Township, Lawrence County last year without local officials being told of the plan," Gibbons said. "We must make sure that never happens again. My legislation would make local communities aware that if a halfway house is being planned, then residents would have the opportunity to ask questions at a public hearing and express their opinion."
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Senate committee approves Freeman bill to promote alternative to sprawl
A bill introduced by state Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, to promote traditional neighborhood development as an alternative to sprawl was approved by the Senate Local Government Committee this week. Freeman said his bill, H.B. 1609, would make changes to current TND provisions to make it easier for municipalities to use them as an alternative to sprawl. Under current law, a TND that is in the form of a new development must be in the form of an overlay zone rather than a designation "by right." The bill would allow municipalities to designate a TND "by right," thereby making it easier to develop mixed-use, traditional neighborhoods.
"Traditional neighborhood development is an excellent alternative to the type of sprawl development that consumes vast amounts of farmland and creates traffic congestion nightmares," said Freeman, chairman of the House Local Government Committee. "TNDs are a more compact form of development that use less land, are pedestrian-friendly and provide for a mix of uses and housing options that foster a greater sense of community than conventional suburban developments. A TND creates an actual village or neighborhood rather than a subdivision, thereby reducing dependence on the automobile to meet everyday needs."-- Click here for more information.
Teen dating violence bill approved by House committee
Centre County state Rep. Scott Conklin said a bill he authored aimed at curbing teen dating violence has been approved by the House Education Committee. Conklin's legislation (H.B. 2026) would integrate teen dating violence education into middle and high school curriculums, and would require school districts to develop an anti-dating violence policy.
"Too many teens have been victims, and sadly too many have unnecessarily lost their life," said Conklin. "The issue here is awareness. If we can raise awareness through education of our students, our daughters and sons will be better off."-- Click here for more information.
Freeman bill to improve storm water management approved by committee
The state House Local Government Committee has approved H.B. 1390, sponsored by state Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, that would provide for more comprehensive storm water planning to help better manage storm water runoff and flooding across the Commonwealth. Freeman, chairman of the committee, said current law does not sufficiently address the needs of storm water management in the Commonwealth. Additional provisions are needed to provide a more comprehensive approach that is watershed based, addresses long standing remedial problems, and provides local governments with more authority to implement storm water plans. The legislation would also permit the establishment of integrated water resources plans.
"Storm water problems have increased over the years, particularly in high growth areas where increased sprawl development creates more impervious surfaces, paves over natural absorption areas, and results in more frequent and intensive flooding," Freeman observed. "The current Storm Water Act, Act 167 of 1978, has proven to be woefully inadequate at addressing storm water management needs."-- Click here for more information.
House committee approves Santarsiero measure to provide real estate tax relief to disabled vets
The state House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee has unanimously approved a measure sponsored by Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, that would defer real estate tax payments for 100 percent permanently disabled veterans. The bill (H.B. 1838) would grant veterans the tax exemption immediately upon application, pending the outcome of the decision by the state Veterans Commission.
"Many of our brave veterans live on limited means, and after the great sacrifice they have provided to our country, it makes sense that we allow them to receive this benefit immediately upon application, rather than waiting during an application process that can take up to six months," Santarsiero said. "Those six months could mean the difference between staying afloat and losing their homes."-- Click here for more information.
House committee approves Johnson measure to extend tuition benefits for vets
The state House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee unanimously approved a measure this week sponsored by Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, D-Phila., that would extend state tuition benefits for military personnel and their dependents. The bill (H.B. 830) would allow members of the military or their dependents who are called to serve active duty outside the Commonwealth to continue to be eligible for resident tuition rates until they complete their degree, essentially allowing them to pause their studies until they return from active duty.
"This measure allows our brave military personnel who serve our state and our country the flexibility to pause their studies while they are serving, as well as to alter their major based on interest and experience, while still qualifying for in-state tuition rates, which they have more than earned," Johnson said.-- Click here for more information.
Hearing examines bill to prevent state attorney general from potential conflict of interest
The House State Government Committee this week held a public hearing on a proposal that would require Pennsylvania's state attorney general to wait at least four years after leaving office before seeking election as governor. The proposal (H.B. 2083), authored by the committee's chairman, state Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., would address concerns that an attorney general could use the authority of the office to advance political goals and a gubernatorial campaign while still in office.
"As we move through consideration of my bill, I hope we will receive input from former attorneys general and the current attorney general and others with expertise on the subject," said Josephs.-- Click here for more information.