|House Democratic Legislative Review|
Recent legislative activity by PA House Democrats
January 21, 2011
House Democrats renew commitment to good government
As Pennsylvania welcomes a new governor and ushers in a new legislative session, Democratic lawmakers in the state House of Representatives will continue pushing for a new era of good government in the three branches of state government. House Democrats are preparing a good-government package of more than 20 bills with the goal of building trust and accountability in offices under the governor’s jurisdiction, the judicial system and both chambers of the legislature, ensuring that they operate more effectively and responsibly.
"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to expect efficiency and honesty from elected and appointed officials in state positions. House Democrats will work hard and offer specific legislation to see that these expectations are met," said Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.
Briggs to reintroduce bills as part of good government package
State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, announced he will reintroduce several pieces of legislation as part of an overall good-government package of more than 20 bills put forth by the House Democratic Caucus to build trust and accountability in the three branches of state government. Briggs said his bills would require cabinet secretaries to divest from industries that they regulate; prohibit cabinet secretaries from leasing vehicles; require reporting of independent expenditures for certain political communications; and extend to all government agencies the House rule prohibiting the use of public resources for campaign purposes.
"It is critical, now more than ever, that we work to restore our constituents' trust and confidence in their state government," Briggs said. "I am proud to be a part of this forward-thinking and necessary initiative."
DePasquale bill to increase penalties for neglect, abuse of care-dependent adults
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, is introducing legislation that would strengthen current law regarding the neglect and abuse of adults who rely on others for their basic needs. The legislation would make it a crime for a caretaker to neglect or abuse a care-dependent adult. Current law only provides penalties when neglect results in bodily injury.
"These adults -- adults who rely on caregivers to provide their most basic needs, like food, shelter and health care, because they are not able to take care of it themselves -- are at their most vulnerable," DePasquale said. "We need to ensure they are not abused or neglected because they cannot speak up for themselves."
DePasquale to introduce legislation to recover misused government funds
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, said he plans to introduce legislation that would recover misused government funds. DePasquale said his legislation would enact stricter standards among state agencies to identify improper payments and recover taxpayer dollars that were misspent.
"A federal version of this bill was recently signed into law by President Obama and was one of the few supported by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress," DePasquale said. "It was endorsed by the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste, and is a clear move in the right direction to correct government misuse of funds."
Mundy will reintroduce bill to modernize Pa.'s elderly caregiver program
State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, says she will reintroduce legislation that would allow local area agencies on aging to take full advantage of state funding for a program that helps residents caring for an older person at home. Mundy added that her legislation would make Pennsylvania's program mirror rules of the federal Family Caregiver Support Program, which does not require that the caregiver and care recipient be related or live together. The bill also would provide the first rate adjustment to reimbursement and grant limits.
"Our area agencies on aging have a waiting list for the program, but they are forced to turn back state funding because of out-of-date rules," Mundy said. "That's unacceptable. It's time to modernize the program by recognizing that today's informal, unpaid caregivers are not limited to family members or family members who live in the same household."
White reintroduces bill to allow landowners to reclaim mineral rights
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver, has reintroduced a bill (H.B. 37) that would allow property owners to assume the mineral rights for their land if there is not a current owner. Under White's proposal, mineral rights would be declared abandoned if the subsurface owner has not been issued a well permit to develop the mineral in question, produced or withdrew minerals from the real property, or used the property for the underground storage of minerals over a period of 10 years. In the event that a subsurface owner’s right has been abandoned, they would be given three additional years to file a claim of interest.
"Most landowners today assume they own the mineral rights below their property, but that isn’t always the case," White explained. "The natural gas industry is exploding in our region, and if you want to make money by leasing your land to drillers, you have to have the mineral rights. And if you want to protect your land from being drilled by natural gas companies, you have to claim the mineral rights before they do."
Readshaw wants municipalities to be able to limit number of liquor licenses
State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, announced he will introduce legislation that would allow municipalities to establish maximum saturation ratios for liquor-licensed establishments within their community. Under Readshaw's bill, transfer of a license from one municipality to another or issuance of a license for economic development would have to be approved by the governing body of the municipality if it has created a prior maximum saturation ratio and the saturation level is met or exceeded.
"Licensed establishments play a role in our communities; however, when too many of them are concentrated, that role can evolve into dominance of the community life," added Readshaw. "I believe my proposal offers an avenue for municipalities to promote them as a complementary resource of dining and entertainment, rather than through the status quo of becoming a dominant adversary to the community around them."
DePasquale: Pa. must act in new session to end 'driving while texting'
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, will once again introduce legislation that would improve highway safety and reduce driver distraction by banning drivers from sending or reading text messages while their vehicle is in motion. Over the last several years, DePasquale has worked with many colleagues in the state House to ban the practice of texting while driving, even including the language in a broader distracted driving proposal that passed the House but was neglected by the state Senate prior to the end of the 2009-10 session.
"Last session the House passed a common-sense bill that would protect our citizens and make our roadways safer," DePasquale said. "But the Senate weakened the proposal and stripped out any meaningful changes to the law, including a ban on texting while driving. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand on this issue. We need to act, and we need to act now."
Shapiro to introduce bill to eliminate legislative reserve
State Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, announced that he intends to introduce legislation to statutorily eliminate the legislative reserve and circulated a memo to his colleagues asking for co-sponsorship of his legislation. Shapiro's legislation would eliminate the reserve completely, but includes a provision to allow for limited emergency spending authority by the legislature in the event the budget cannot be passed by the June 30 deadline, and only if authorized by the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate.
"Most states have policies in place to either prohibit legislative surpluses or to limit them," said Shapiro. "I believe we should eliminate the legislative surplus in Pennsylvania and, given the challenging fiscal climate we face as we prepare for the upcoming budget, we ought to use the current surplus to address the needs of Pennsylvanians."
DePasquale bill would help small businesses afford health insurance
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, is reintroducing legislation that would permit small businesses to pool together to purchase group health insurance at reduced rates. DePasquale said his proposal would alleviate many of the problems small-business owners face, especially in today's difficult economic climate, by providing them with a cost-effective way to obtain lower-cost insurance plans for themselves and their employees.
"Small businesses often have little choice in what health-care plan coverage they can purchase, and are forced to accept steep insurance rates which they and their employees simply cannot afford," DePasquale said. "Because smaller businesses lack the purchasing power that larger employers have when it comes to negotiating health insurance plans for their employees, they are usually left with very few, and very costly, options."