|House Democratic Legislative Review|
Recent legislative activity by PA House Democrats
October 7, 2011
IN THE NEWS
House Democrats press Marcellus Shale drillers to lead fight for meaningful extraction tax
State House Democrats – who have led a three-year fight for a reasonable and responsible extraction tax on natural gas companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale – have asked the drilling companies themselves to join the cause by publicly urging Gov. Tom Corbett to finally support a responsible tax.
The House Democratic Caucus Leadership Team, along with House Democratic Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Camille "Bud" George, sent a letter to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, urging the coalition and its 42 member companies to help Pennsylvania enact the only comprehensive plan for both a reasonable extraction tax and responsible environmental regulations – House Bill 1800, known as the ProtectPA bill, sponsored by George.
"The people of this Commonwealth have waited too long for a common-sense extraction tax and critical environmental and public safety protections for this industry," the House Democratic leaders wrote, adding that "it's become increasingly obvious that the pressure and influence exerted by your industry on Governor Tom Corbett has been a driving factor in Pennsylvania's inability to enact this legislation this year."
Read more at www.pahouse.com.
Corbett natural gas plan insufficient, not what Pennsylvanians have been calling for
“Governor Corbett chose to finally join the statewide dialogue on a Marcellus Shale fee today, however most Pennsylvanians will find his plan to be too little too late,” Sturla said. “Polling has consistently indicated that a sizeable majority of residents support an extraction tax comparable to those levied in other states.
“The Corbett plan passes the responsibility to individual counties to approve a fee on the multinational corporations that have been operating in the Commonwealth without paying their fair share for years. Even natural gas industry executives have stated publicly that a tax that is similar to other states is reasonable and anticipated by drilling companies."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Sturla.
House Democratic leaders urge governor to make transportation top priority
With unemployment shooting upward across Pennsylvania, state House Democratic leaders have called for Gov. Tom Corbett to end his inaction and support a long-term, comprehensive plan to address the state's crumbling roads, bridges and mass transit systems.
The seven-member House Democratic Caucus leadership team wrote to Corbett on Wednesday, urging him to recognize the transportation crisis facing Pennsylvania, and to act swiftly to address it.
"Governor, the time has come for you to produce your plan for a long-term, comprehensive and sustainable transportation funding solution," wrote the Democratic leaders. "We urge you to send the General Assembly your transportation funding plan as soon as possible. We cannot afford half-measures, nor can we afford to wait for yet another commission to study the issue."
Read more at www.pahouse.com.
Keller calls GOP bills an attack on worker wages
House Republicans this week renewed their attack on workers by voting several bills out of the House Labor and Industry Committee that would slash wages paid to workers on public construction projects, said the committee's Democratic Chairman Bill Keller, D-Phila.
Keller said all House Republicans in the committee voted six separate times to protect those companies that hire illegal immigrants over U.S. citizens by voting against amendments offered by House Democrats to require contractors to verify the legal status of their employees.
"We're only two weeks into the fall legislative session and Republicans are already moving bills that would help corporations keep more of their profits at the expense of highly trained, skilled Pennsylvania workers and the public," Keller said. "The public has a reasonable expectation that our roads, bridges and schools are being built and repaired by highly skilled workers, people who know the ins and outs of how the work should be done. This legislation totally disregards that expectation."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Keller.
DeLuca disappointed in adultBasic alternatives
Fewer than half of the former enrollees in Pennsylvania's adultBasic health care program have found alternative insurance and that's disappointing to House Insurance Committee Democratic Chairman Tony DeLuca.
"More than six months ago, when it was first announced that adultBasic would be ending, we knew this would happen. Governor Tom Corbett could have, and should have, asked the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans to forego some of their billions in profits to continue adultBasic for our most vulnerable residents," said DeLuca, D-Allegheny.
According to statistics provided by the state Department of Public Welfare, 34 percent of the 37,588 individuals who lost their adultBasic insurance have enrolled in Special Care, while only 4 percent qualified for Medical Assistance.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/DeLuca.
Democratic Policy Committee hears testimony on state budget cuts
The House Democratic Policy Committee heard from education, local government and human services experts regarding the impact of state budget cuts in southwest Pennsylvania during a public hearing Sept. 13 at Penn State's Fayette’s Eberly Campus, said committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
State Rep. Deberah Kula, D-Fayette/Westmoreland, requested the hearing and served as the hearing’s co-chairwoman.
"I requested this hearing to learn exactly what the fallout has been from this budget, how it has affected local municipalities, businesses and residents, and what we can do to alleviate some of this pain in future budgets," Kula said. "Today, we’re hearing first-hand from experts in our community on how education, health care, and local governments have paid the price."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Kula.
HDPC examines bill to end sexual orientation discrimination
The House Democratic Policy Committee heard from legal and business experts Sept. 19 regarding the impact that discrimination is having on Pennsylvania businesses and local governments and how legislation (H.B. 300) could positively impact the state, according to committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, requested the hearing and served as its co-chairman. Frankel has introduced H.B. 300, which would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the past two legislative sessions.
Frankel said, "In addition to making state law more fair and just, this would make Pennsylvania more economically competitive. We are surrounded on three of four sides by states that ban anti-gay discrimination – Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. They have a competitive advantage over Pennsylvania when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses and residents. I applaud the growing number of municipalities enacting these protections at the local level, but an estimated 70 percent of Pennsylvanians still live or work in communities that do not provide these protections. The people of Pennsylvania support this commonsense change, and it's the right thing to do."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Frankel.
HDPC examines the use of BPA in baby products
The House Democratic Policy Committee heard from experts Sept. 21 on the health impacts of BPA (bisphenol-A) at a Capitol public hearing recently, according to committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster.
State Rep. Larry Curry, D-Montgomery/Phila., requested the hearing and served as its co-chairman. Curry has introduced legislation (H.B. 192) that would ban BPA from baby products sold and manufactured in Pennsylvania.
Curry said, "The threat of BPA to our children and adults is real, which makes our inaction inexcusable. We have to not only make sure this chemical is not in infant and toddler products, but we also have to make sure manufacturers don't replace it with something just as dangerous."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Curry.
Burns joins cancer advocacy organizations to rally for passage of his oral chemotherapy bill
The news conference kicked off the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Central Pennsylvania Chapter Mission Day.
Advocates asked legislators to support Burns' legislation to require health insurers to cover orally administered chemotherapy treatment and ensure Pennsylvania cancer patients have access to life-saving treatments.
"This bill is necessary to ensure that those suffering with cancer receive the absolute best quality of care possible," Burns said. "I would like to thank the brave cancer patients and advocates who shared their personal stories today."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Burns.
PASSED THE HOUSE
Bill to modernize Pa.'s elderly caregiver program passes House
Legislation initially introduced by state Rep. Phyllis Mundy to expand eligibility under Pennsylvania's Family Caregiver Support Program to non-relatives or relatives living outside a senior's home passed the state House this week.
Mundy, D-Luzerne, said that while she is disappointed that a portion of the bill to increase limits for caregiver reimbursement expenses and home modification grants was removed by an amendment Tuesday, the remaining part of the bill is still vital to Pennsylvania's seniors.
"Seniors want to remain at home as long as possible, and this legislation would help more seniors do that by providing caregivers the support they need and deserve," Mundy said. "The bill also helps the state economically as it is far less costly to care for a person at home than in an institutional setting."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Mundy.
Briggs: Safety in Youth Sports Act passes House
State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, said the state House today unanimously passed the Safety in Youth Sports Act, designed to improve concussion management in youth sports and to increase awareness regarding the devastating, life-long effects they can cause when not handled properly.
It now moves to the Senate for concurrence, and then on to the governor for his signature.
Briggs said the Safety in Youth Sports Act (S.B. 200), which he co-introduced in the House and Senate with state Sen. Pat Browne, R-16, aims to ensure that male and female student athletes who suffer concussions receive proper care and rest before they get back into the game.
"I made this important legislation one of my top priorities when I was elected to the legislature in 2008, and it has evolved into a strong bill that that does right by Pennsylvania's kids," Briggs said. "The Safety in Youth Sports Act will help protect the Commonwealth's richest resource: our children’s minds."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Briggs.
House passes Caltagirone bill to help courts collect delinquent fines
The House has passed House Judiciary Committee Democratic Chairman Tom Caltagirone's legislation (H.B. 1025) to increase from $1,000 to $5,000 the total amount of unpaid fines, fees, costs and restitution in criminal cases that may be collected by civil courts.
Under current law, Caltagirone explained, when unpaid fines, costs or restitution in criminal cases total more than $1,000, civil courts are notified and are required to seek a civil judgment against the defendant. This facilitates the collection of delinquent payments through civil process if a term of probation or parole expires without full payment being made.
However, with the present $1,000 threshold, almost all criminal cases are required to be filed in civil courts, which was never the intent.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Caltagirone.
Democratic Whip Hanna calls for greater accountability for governor's advisory council
House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna announced that he will introduce a resolution urging the members of the Governor's Advisory Council on Privatization and Innovation to sign an Accountability and Integrity Pledge.
According to a Philadelphia Daily News editorial (10/5/11), of the council's 24 members, 17 have made campaign donations to Gov. Corbett and several members are executives from companies that could benefit from the privatization of roads, prisons, parks, health care services and corrections, while others own consulting firms that represent a broad range of clients who could benefit financially from privatization efforts.
Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, noted that members of the Gaming Control Board, as well as their immediate family members, are prohibited from benefiting financially from decisions they make while acting in their official capacity. However, individuals appointed to the governor's advisory council for the purpose of privatizing the Commonwealth's assets and functions are not held to the same level of scrutiny, which he characterized as being "entirely unacceptable, and a breach of the public trust."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Hanna.
Frankel introduces bill to protect specialty hospital access during UPMC-Highmark dispute
State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, has introduced a bill (H.B. 1910) to require binding arbitration for UPMC specialty hospitals. The bill has 73 co-sponsors and broad bipartisan support. The legislation would ensure that specialty hospitals and services won’t be effectively closed to western Pennsylvanians who need them due to the dispute between UPMC and Highmark.
"I am pleased that more than a third of my colleagues are joining me as co-sponsors. The legislation has gotten support from Democrats and Republicans, and most western Pennsylvania legislators," Frankel said.
"I hope this is a wake-up call to UPMC. We’re not simply making idle threats to cajole them into action. The House of Representatives takes their refusal to negotiate seriously, and will take real action to make sure that our constituents have access to those facilities that rightly belong to our community," he said.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Frankel.
Is the state Patient Safety Authority accomplishing its mission?
State Rep. Phyllis Mundy has introduced legislation that would determine if a state authority tasked with reducing medical errors and infections spread at certain health-care facilities is carrying out its mission, and if it is the best use of the funding dedicated to it.
House Resolution 407 would require the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the Patient Safety Authority, which was created by the General Assembly in 2002.
"We need to determine if the authority is actually improving patient safety and health, and if any changes are needed for it to fulfill its mission," said Mundy, D-Luzerne. "The authority is funded by the Patient Safety Trust Fund, which receives as much as $5 million a year through surcharges placed on medical facility licensing fees, and we need to know that money is well spent, particularly during these difficult financial times."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Mundy.
White proposes tax credit for adoption of shelter dogs and cats
White said with the economic downturn and recent flooding, Pennsylvania’s animal shelters, associations, and rescue agencies have seen a dramatic increase in the number of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats statewide.
"Animal shelters have been given an impossible job of doing more with less, especially as donations and grants dwindle and food and veterinary costs rise," White said. "This bill would give people incentive to choose their dog or cat from an animal shelter to help offset the expense of caring for the pet. But it would also relieve the strain on overcrowded animal shelters, keep abandoned pets off the streets and give thousands of homeless pets a new home."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/White.
Bishop introduces legislation to protect child abuse victims
State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, D-Phila., has introduced legislation that would prosecute anyone who has knowledge of sex offenses occurring against children but fails to report the incidents to law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania.
The legislation is being considered in the House Judiciary Committee.
Bishop said the measure (H.B. 1876) would require that sexual abuse against children be directly reported to law enforcement authorities.
“The earlier child abuse is caught, the better the chance of recovery and appropriate treatment for the child,” Bishop said.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Bishop.
Wagner reintroduces bill to increase police presence
State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Brookline, cited the budgetary strains facing municipalities and the many public safety needs of our communities as she has reintroduced legislation (H.B. 1881) to allow retired police officers to return to part-time service.
"The rigors of full-time police work are taxing physically and mentally. But officers who retire in their 50s can still make great contributions with their knowledge and abilities," Wagner said.
Wagner said retired officers could perform traffic control, community relations and confidential clerical work that cannot be done by civilians, among many other potential duties. Similar programs in cities around the country have resulted in the return of hundreds of officers.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Wagner.
Josephs intros bill to exempt domestic partners from Pa. inheritance tax
State Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., has introduced a measure that would add domestic partners to the list of relatives who are exempt from paying state inheritance taxes.
"Currently, anyone in a committed, but unmarried relationship whether it is with a person of the opposite sex or same sex, is subject to a 15 percent inheritance tax on property bequeathed by his or her partner upon death," Josephs said.
"That inheritance tax could be as much as tens of thousands of dollars for the individual. That only adds to the overall strain facing the surviving partner when that financial burden is added to the already existing emotional trauma caused by the loved one's passing."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Josephs.
Orange cones, no phones
State Rep. Peter J. Daley II, D-Fayette/Washington, plans to introduce legislation that would ban the use of all handheld electronic devices in active construction zones in Pennsylvania.
"We’ve changed the law to require drivers to turn on their headlights in active construction zones and we’ve doubled the fines for speeding in these areas. The bill that I plan to introduce would add a new layer of safety for highway workers by addressing one of the most dangerous things a driver can do in these areas – either talk on a cell phone or text while driving," Daley said. "I don’t care how careful a driver you are, when you glance away from the roadway for just one second to hit a send button or to dial a number, you run the risk of possibly veering from your travel path, or not seeing the vehicle ahead of you suddenly hit the brakes.
"In a construction zone where the lanes are narrowed, having to make a slight correction with your vehicle could mean risking the lives of the people working nearby."
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Daley.
Josephs introduces Marriage Equality Act
State Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., has introduced a bill that would put same-sex relationships on par with heterosexual couples in Pennsylvania by allowing them to marry here, as well as recognize their marriages performed in other states.
"The time has come for Pennsylvania to shed itself of the backward and bigoted view that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. Loving individuals desiring to marry their life's partner, regardless of their gender, should be celebrated and encouraged, rather than discriminated against," Josephs said.
In July, New York became the sixth state to extend marriage equality to all of its citizens. With that inclusion, Josephs said, that state will see a boost to their economy, from increased state and local sales tax collections and marriage license fees, to additional hotel occupancy tax revenue in the city. According to the Independent Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate, the state expects to see as much as $391 million in increased economic activity in the first three years of the law.
Read more at www.pahouse.com/Josephs.