|House Democratic Legislative Review|
LEGISLATIVE WEEK IN REVIEW
Recent legislative activity by PA House Democrats
IN THE NEWS
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said the state saw even stronger revenue collections in May, further discrediting the Republican budget strategy of saving unanticipated revenue for a “rainy day” while cutting education and health care by more than $1.7 billion.
“With only one month to go in the fiscal year, the governor and many House Republicans would rather stick their heads in the sand than acknowledge the fiscal reality that’s as clear as the nose on my face,” Dermody said. "This revenue surplus is not just a one-month blip or a result of corporate accounting practices. It is the cumulative figure for more than 90 percent of the current fiscal year and it reflects the growing strength of Pennsylvania’s economy. But the recovery is not reaching everybody yet, and the Republican refusal to use this extra revenue makes no sense when we are contemplating deep cuts to schools that teach our children, hospitals and nursing homes that provide life-saving care, and universities and community colleges that train our workers. To add insult to taxpayers everywhere, the Republican budget plan would force bigger hikes in local property taxes.”
State revenue collections for May were $33.8 million (2 percent) more than estimated, bringing the working budget surplus for 2010-11 to almost $540 million. This continues a trend begun in the summer of 2010 with state revenue consistently being higher than expected.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com.
At a Capitol news conference this week, state Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., and other Democratic House members protested legislation they said is designed to suppress voter turnout.
At issue is H.B. 934, which would require voters to provide valid photo identification each time they vote, and is scheduled for full House consideration next week. Current law only requires a first-time voter to provide ID, and the identification does not have to include a photograph. A valid voter registration card or current utility bill are two examples of legal, acceptable ID.
"If enacted as is, this bill will have the disturbing effect of suppressing voter turnout with other people's money," Josephs said. "It will prevent law-abiding voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote, and it will cost the state nearly $10 million to provide valid photo identification to nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians who lack photo ID -- about half of them senior citizens."
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said this bill was a solution in search of a problem.
"It's a smokescreen. They're proposing a budget that cuts education by a billion dollars and makes devastating cuts to programs that provide care for seniors, protect children and adults with disabilities and support hospitals," he said. "It's no wonder that they're afraid people will go to vote."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Josephs.
Republican members of the House Labor and Industry Committee this week derailed legislation intended to preserve 13 weeks of federally paid unemployment compensation for 130,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians, according to the committee's Democratic Chairman, Rep. Bill Keller, D-Phila.
The bill (S.B. 1030) authored by Republican Sen. John Gordner, which would change state law to enable 13 weeks of extended federal benefits for Pennsylvania's unemployed, was amended on a party-line vote with provisions that would force out-of-work Pennsylvanians to pay the cost of shoring up the state's strained unemployment compensation fund.
Keller said the state needs to enact by June 11 legislation that would ensure the federal extended benefits or some 45,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians will immediately lose the benefits they rely on to pay their mortgage and feed their families. Nearly 100,000 more will eventually lose those benefits if the legislation is not enacted. He said the House Republican amendment derails the bill and is being used as leverage to institute so-called reforms to the system.
"House Republicans say they want to preserve these extended benefits for unemployed people, but their actions prove otherwise," Keller said. "We need to get this resolved and to the governor right now so that people who are struggling to find work after being laid off in this tough economy are not forced to suffer, especially when we can do something about it."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Keller.
State Rep. Tony DeLuca, Democratic chairman of the House Insurance Committee, joined members of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network at a news conference this week in the state Capitol Rotunda to urge the Senate to reject a plan that would eliminate the state's Tobacco Settlement Fund.
The proposed state budget by Gov. Tom Corbett would eliminate the Tobacco Settlement Fund as a dedicated source of health care funding. DeLuca said the 2001 law requires that Pennsylvania's share of a legal settlement with the tobacco industry be deposited into this fund to support health care services.
"Thousands of working families are left without proper insurance coverage because Governor Corbett alleged there was no funding available for adultBasic and allowed the program to perish," DeLuca said. "When uninsured people become sick they are going to visit emergency rooms for treatment and this in turn will more than likely drive up the cost of health care."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/DeLuca.
The House Democratic Policy Committee this week held a public hearing at the National Constitution Center looking at issues related to Pennsylvanian's burgeoning natural gas industry, according to Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
State Rep. Ron Waters, D-Phila., requested and co-hosted the hearing.
"The more Pennsylvanians learn about the effects of drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation on their water, their environment and their infrastructure, the more they demand increased oversight and the implementation of a tax for the out-of-state companies operating in the Commonwealth," Sturla said. "I applaud Representative Waters for requesting this hearing to investigate and educate people of southeast Pennsylvania on how drilling affects them."
Waters added: "Today’s Policy Committee hearing gave citizens an opportunity to hear expert testimony on the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling in the Commonwealth. With the state granting over 10,000 new leases this year alone, we must continue the conversation on its effects, as we work to balance job creation with growing environmental concerns.”
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
The House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing at the Pennsylvania Convention Center this week to study the role of Growing Greener in the Commonwealth, according to Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
State Rep. Mike O'Brien, D-Phila., served as the hearing’s co-chairman.
"Growing Greener has revitalized communities across the Commonwealth for nearly two decades," Sturla said. "Forcing the program to expire due to lack of funds will have a detrimental effect on Pennsylvania, especially when our open spaces, forests and waterways are under pressure by drilling in the Marcellus Shale."
O'Brien added, "It was the intent of Penn to create a 'green country towne' and Philadelphia has kept his legacy alive through Growing Greener, cutting it simply undercuts his wish.”
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee.
PASSED THE HOUSE
A proposal authored by state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Allegheny, to add balance and accountability to the board of directors of the Port Authority of Allegheny County was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week.
"After more than four years of advocating for these reforms, the House has passed this bill at a critical time for the future of transit," Wagner said. "We cannot expect to be able to restore and expand transit service if we do not change the way that PAT operates."
Wagner has authored legislation to reform the PAT board in each of her three terms in the state House. Her proposal, contained in House Bill 1304, would expand the board from nine to 11 members, adding five members appointed by state leaders while retaining a majority of members appointed by the county executive. All members of the board would be required to be Allegheny County residents.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Wagner.
State Reps. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, and Eugene DePasquale, D-York, this week successfully strengthened pension-reform legislation that would strip public officials and employees of their pension benefits if they are found or plead guilty or no contest to a crime related to their office.
Shapiro and DePasquale's amendments to House Bill 1567 would expand the list of crimes under which public officials and employees would be required to forfeit their pensions. Shapiro's measure would add institutional sexual assault, which covers those workers in state or county youth facilities or programs who have sexual contact with children. Shapiro is a lead co-sponsor of a House-passed bill (H.B. 924) that would expand the crime of institutional sexual assault to include school employees and volunteers. That bill is awaiting Senate action. DePasquale's measures would add endangering the welfare of a child, neglect of a care dependent person, and bringing contraband into an institution.
"These amendments ensure that those who prey on our children no longer receive the benefit of a taxpayer-funded pension," Shapiro said. "Under no circumstance should anyone who violates the public's trust by engaging in sexual contact with a child be able to enjoy their pension benefits."
"I’m pleased we were able to work together in a bipartisan way for this critical pension reform. No one convicted of these clear abuses of the public’s trust should get their public pension," DePasquale said. "If you prey on children, sneak drugs to prisoners or fail in your duties to protect seniors, you will not get a pension when the governor signs this bill into law."
A bill sponsored by state Rep. Deberah Kula that would allow for the respectful interment of unclaimed veterans' remains is poised for final passage in the House.
House Bill 973 would require that if a funeral establishment ascertains that unclaimed cremated remains are of a veteran, and it has not received final arrangement instructions from the legally authorized person in control, it would have to relinquish those remains to a veterans' service organization so they can be interred in a national cemetery.
"It is a very sad fact that there are unclaimed remains of veterans in state hospitals and funeral homes all across the country that should be given a respectful burial," said Kula, D-Fayette/Westmoreland. "By allowing veterans' service organizations, such as the Missing in American Project, to claim these remains we can ensure that those who served this country are laid to rest with honor."
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Kula.
State Rep. Mark Longietti's bill that would establish uniform standards for county recorder of deeds to electronically record deeds, mortgages, leases and other property documents was voted out of the House Commerce Committee this week.
"My legislation would create uniform standards to record those documents," Longietti said. "Currently, 61 of 67 Pennsylvania counties allow residents to record property documents electronically, and it's important that it be done in a uniform way."
The bill would establish a 13-member Electronic Recording Commission to establish the uniform standards. It does not require electronic recording and specifies that paper documents may be used for recording.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Longietti.
State Reps. Jesse White, D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver, and Brandon Neuman, D-Washington, are introducing a comprehensive package of reform legislation to overhaul Pennsylvania's fragmented method of conducting property tax reassessments.
White and Neuman said their bills would fix flaws in the current system and temporarily relieve counties from having to undergo costly reassessments that unfairly burden taxpayers and homeowners.
"Pennsylvania's property reassessment system is a recipe for devastating tax increases for homeowners across the state and is a costly burden for counties to conduct; and unfortunately Washington and Allegheny counties have been the battleground for that fight," White said. "We’re not opposed to reassessments, but the current process is expensive, often inaccurate and unreliable, and we need to make sure the right protections are in place to minimize the impact on taxpayers."
Neuman added, "Our plan would provide greater protections for homeowners, establish consistency for when and how reassessments are conducted, eliminate costly and unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars on reassessments and address other widespread systemic problems."
Spouses of members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and other military reservists would not lose their academic credits, scholarships and tuition if their husband or wife is called to active duty, under a bill introduced by state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl.
"When a National Guard member or reservist is called to duty, their spouse's life is uprooted as well," Ravenstahl said. "The last thing they should have to worry about is losing credit or tuition when their loved one is serving our country."
Under H.B. 1134, if a Guard member or reservist is called to active duty, other than active duty for training, educational institutions would be required to grant the member or his or her spouse a military leave of absence from their education without the loss of earned academic credits or forfeiture of scholarships or grants they received before the call to active duty.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Ravenstahl.
State Rep. Dom Costa has reintroduced legislation that would make it a second-degree felony to assault a school crossing guard.
"Imagine that your job is to protect children. Yet if you're attacked, the alleged perpetrator could not be charged with assault because of a flaw in current state law," said Costa, D-Allegheny. "This bill would fix that oversight."
House Bill 1646 would include uniformed school crossing guards under the protections of the aggravated assault statute (Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes) whether they are hired by a school district, municipal government or a police department when they are in uniform and performing the duties of their job. Currently, police, school and municipal officials receive that protection under the law. The offense would be graded as a second-degree felony, punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/DCosta.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver, introduced two House resolutions to explore the cost-saving benefits of moving Commonwealth employees and public school districts to a four-day week.
"My legislation would commission a study to see if there is any merit to a four-day week, and carefully weigh all the positives and negatives,” White said. “We may find that a condensed week is not feasible, but I think it's important to have facts before ruling out these options. In difficult economic times, a little outside-the-box thinking can only help when finding solutions to Pennsylvania’s fiscal crisis."
White's H.R. 202 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to investigate the benefits and challenges of moving public school districts to a four-day school week schedule.
White's other resolution, H.R. 334, would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study on the fiscal, environmental and public impact of a condensed, 10-hour per day work week.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/White.
State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, this week announced that he introduced bipartisan legislation (H.B. 1660) in the state House that would provide incentives for both sides to settle teacher contract disputes and prevent work stoppages.
Santarsiero said under his proposed "Back To Educating Our Kids Act," teachers and school districts would be required to start negotiating earlier than is currently required. The process would be divided into four phases: negotiation; fact finding; mediation and arbitration. In each phase, both sides would be required to meet regularly.
"The aim of this legislation is to avoid the distraction of stalled negotiations and walkouts so our schools can focus on what they do best: educating our kids," Santarsiero said.
-- Read more at www.pahouse.com/Santarsiero.