|House Democratic Legislative Review|
Recent legislative activity by PA House Democrats
IN THE NEWS
Democrats fight to save adultBasic health insurance program
Democratic legislators – and thousands of Pennsylvanians – are urging Gov. Tom Corbett to save the state's adultBasic health insurance program and prevent 41,000 working Pennsylvanians from losing access to affordable health care on Monday.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, Insurance Committee Democratic Chairman Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, and Health Committee Democratic Chairman John Myers, D-Phila., this week forwarded to the Governor’s Office a petition signed by more than 2,500 Pennsylvanians urging Corbett to save adultBasic.
"We stand with thousands of Pennsylvanians in urging Governor Corbett to do everything he possibly can to save adultBasic," Dermody said. "If he does nothing, 41,000 working Pennsylvanians will be left with no access to affordable health care. Without insurance, they will be forced to seek expensive care in hospitals and emergency rooms – adding to the bloated costs of our health-care system."
"House Democrats have identified a variety of options to ensure that the 41,000 low-income participants in adultBasic can be secure in knowing that the health insurance they so desperately need will be available to them when they need it," DeLuca said. "It is callous and unjustifiable for us to not take the steps necessary to continue this vital program. It is time for all the stakeholders to come to the table to work out a solution."
"These are working Pennsylvanians who need help, and the governor is turning his back on them," Myers said. "He has chosen multi-billion-dollar insurance company profits over working families. All Pennsylvanians deserve access to affordable health care – even those who don't have millions to spend on lobbyists and campaign donations."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com.
Democratic Policy Committee studies privatization of state liquor stores
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing this week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia to study privatization of state liquor stores, according to Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. House Liquor Control Committee Democratic Chairman Dante Santoni, D-Berks, also was in attendance.
“In our tough economic situation, the state liquor stores are an important asset for Pennsylvania,” Sturla said. “It would be fiscally irresponsible to sell off these stores without a true assessment of the devastating impact this would have on our Commonwealth revenues and the increased price of wine and spirits for our constituents. Our hearing today was informative and I look forward to holding more hearings across the state on this issue.”
Santoni said, “Today’s hearing was productive. No specific plan on privatization has been proposed but it is helpful to talk about all the possibilities – how broad a change are Pennsylvanians willing to accept, how enforcement should be handled, how much or how little revenue can be realized, and how the distribution of wine, spirits and beer is determined.”
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
Democratic Policy Committee explores school vouchers
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing this week at the Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia on taxpayer-paid tuition vouchers, according to committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. House Education Committee Democratic Chairman Jim Roebuck, D-Phila., was also in attendance.
"With our state facing a $4 billion budget deficit, we need to fully explore the additional burden of vouchers and the resulting higher property taxes," Sturla said. "The current voucher proposals are more about private and parochial schools hand picking which students get to fill a few vacant slots in their schools at taxpayer expense than it is about parents getting to choose where their kids go to school. Today’s hearing was the first step in our evaluation process."
"The hearing highlighted for the public the negative impact vouchers would have on taxpayers and the limited options they will provide to students and parents seeking improved educational options," Roebuck said.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
Democratic Policy Committee examines health care changes in Pa.
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing this week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia to examine recent health care changes in Pennsylvania, according to Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. The hearing focused on the adultBasic situation as well as recent legislative efforts to prevent federal health care reform from occurring in Pennsylvania. House Health Committee Democratic Chairman John Myers, D-Phila., was also in attendance.
"It has become clear that the House Republicans intend to drive legislation that will significantly cut accessible and affordable health care for Pennsylvanians as quickly as possible, with as little public input as possible, while often circumventing the traditional committee review," Sturla said. "If the majority party doesn't intend to shed light on some of the controversial proposals they're backing, the Democratic Policy Committee will happily step in and return the voice to the people of Pennsylvania."
Myers added, "Ending adultBasic is an entirely avoidable tragedy. Before so easily dismissing this program that thousands of Pennsylvanians rely upon for affording basic health care, Governor Corbett and Republicans should at least have explored ways of saving it and at least entered into negotiations for resources that have historically supported this vital program. This is further proof of the need to bring in health care reform which is self-sustaining and would not create this uncertainty and pain for families and fiscal handicap for hospital and people who pay health insurance premiums.”
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
Vitali, Briggs host hearing on drilling tax bill
Experts testifying at a public House Democratic Policy Committee hearing held Wednesday by state Reps. Greg Vitali and Tim Briggs said they support legislation that would tax Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling to help minimize cuts in next year's budget, fund the Growing Greener program and compensate municipalities impacted by drilling. The hearing was held in King of Prussia by the House Democratic Policy Committee to examine Vitali's legislation (H.B. 33). It would impose a tax slightly less than one in West Virginia -- about 6 percent of the market value of the gas. Vitali said this rate was selected because it has proven effective in other states and would not hinder the growth of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.
"A drilling tax needs to be part of the budget discussion this year because the Commonwealth is facing a $4 billion deficit," said Vitali, D-Delaware. "Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state in the nation that does not have a severance tax or fee in place. It’s time for Pennsylvanians to get some of the benefit."
"I will continue the push for a severance tax on natural gas extraction to ensure that drillers who are profiting from our natural resources pay their fair share and do not to allow this burden to fall on the backs of hardworking Pennsylvanians," said Briggs, D-Montgomery.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Vitali.
Josephs introduces bill to increase penalties for violation of Sunshine Law
State Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., has introduced legislation that would strengthen the state's Sunshine Law. Josephs' bill (H.B. 827) would increase the penalty on a first offense for intentional violations of the law from $100 to $1,000 plus the cost of prosecution. A second or subsequent offense would incur a fine of up to $2,000 plus the cost of prosecution. Since agencies would be prohibited from paying the fine on behalf of or reimbursing a member of their agency, the violators would be held financially responsible rather than the taxpayers, Josephs noted.
"This is one way we, as state legislators, can help keep government accessible, open and accountable to the public," Josephs said. "The increased penalties would put more teeth into the law and discourage its violation."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Josephs.
DePasquale to introduce four-bill election reform package
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, announced the introduction of a package of four bills designed to improve voter turnout and give more voters a voice on Election Day. The bills would allow voters registered as independents to cast ballots in Pennsylvania primary elections; require corporations to obtain shareholder approval before contributing an annual aggregate sum exceeding $10,000 in an election; allow for early voting in Pennsylvania; and make general election competition among all parties a reality by equalizing the ability of independent and third-party candidates to run for public office in Pennsylvania.
"In an era where more and more voters are registering as independents, we should not be denying those voters the chance to make their voices heard in a primary election," DePasquale said. "This bill would allow Independents to choose which party’s ballot they would like to vote on during the primary. Also, if those Independent voters would like to vote in the Democratic primary one year and the Republican primary the next, or vice versa, my legislation would give them that choice."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/DePasquale.
Bishop looks to end time limit on prosecution, civil action in sex abuse cases
State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, D-Phila., has again introduced legislation that would lift the current statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits against people who commit sex crimes against children in Pennsylvania. Bishop's legislation would change Pennsylvania law that currently prohibits people from pursuing criminal charges or civil lawsuits after age 30 or 50, respectively, against someone who allegedly committed a sex crime against them when they were a child.
"There are many reasons why young children do not report these crimes right away, or cannot deal with them for many years," Bishop said. "Cutting off the ability of victims to pursue criminal prosecution or civil action against their attackers after a certain age is unfair and allows many criminals to go unpunished."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Bishop.
Brownlee bill would exempt Social Security COLAs from PTRR Program
State Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Phila., has introduced legislation (H.B. 731) that would prevent a previously eligible person from being bumped from the state's Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program because of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. Brownlee said her legislation mirrors a law enacted to address a previous COLA that had impacted qualification for the state's PACE and PACENET programs, which offer comprehensive prescription drug coverage to older Pennsylvanians.
"A Social Security COLA is not some jackpot of money; it's a small amount to help seniors stay afloat and pay for basic necessities like gas, heating costs and food," Brownlee said. "My bill would prevent seniors from losing critical property tax relief just because a COLA placed them over the income guidelines of the program."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Brownlee.
Goodman bills would help veterans' eligibility for state programs
State Rep. Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill, has introduced a three-bill package to ensure Pennsylvania veterans will not be disqualified from state programs because of service benefits they receive, such as military pensions and veterans' disability payments. Goodman's bills would exempt veterans' benefits from being calculated as income for determining eligibility for PACE/PACENET (H.B. 811); exempt veterans' benefits from being calculated as income for determining eligibility for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program (H.B. 812); and exempt veterans' benefits from being calculated as income for determining eligibility for all other state programs (H.B. 813).
"Veterans served our country so we can be safe and free, risking their lives and sacrificing time with their loved ones," said Goodman, a member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. "Their service benefits are a way we thank them for that service. They should not cause them to miss out on state help with property taxes or assistance with prescriptions."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Goodman.
Freeman introduces bill to permit housing authorities to set up police forces
State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, has introduced a bill that would allow public housing authorities to form their own police force. Under Freeman's bill (H.B. 714), housing authorities would be permitted to create police forces to patrol public housing projects. These officers would be required to complete the same course of instruction and accreditation as is required for municipal police officers under state law. Funding for these police forces would come from public housing authority budgets.
"Philadelphia and Pittsburgh housing authorities already have this ability under current law, but smaller cities and other municipalities in the state face the same problems with criminal activity that larger cities do," Freeman said. "All public housing authorities should have the ability to set up their own police force in order to better combat crime."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Freeman.
Markosek introduces bill to reduce accidents caused by distracted and inexperienced drivers
State Rep. Joseph F. Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, has again introduced legislation (H.B. 580) aimed at reducing vehicle accidents caused by distracted and inexperienced drivers. Under the bill, adult drivers would be required to use hands-free cell phones while driving. Teen drivers would be banned from using any interactive wireless communication device, such as a cell phone, personal digital assistant or laptop computer while driving. Exceptions would be made for people reporting an emergency, on-duty emergency vehicle operators and volunteer emergency responders.
"Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths," Markosek said. "We can save lives by limiting potential distractions to teen drivers and by increasing the time they must spend behind the wheel before they receive a license."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Markosek.