Week of February 3, 2020
In this Update:
Senate to Review Governor’s Proposed State Budget
The Senate will carefully review the $36.1 billion state General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 unveiled Tuesday by Governor Tom Wolf before a joint session of the General Assembly.
The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $1.5 billion (4.2 percent) increase in state spending from the current fiscal year. The Governor is not requesting a broad-based tax increase this year, but is continuing to push for a Marcellus Shale extraction tax, a $1 per-ton increase in the tipping fee charged to trash companies, and a fee for all municipalities for State Police services.
The Governor is requesting a $100 million increase in Basic Education Funding to $6.4 billion, a $30 million increase for early childhood education (Pre-K Counts to $242.3 million and Head Start to $69.2 million), and a $25 million increase in special education funding to $1.2 billion.
The State System of Higher Education would see a $13 million increase to $490 million, while state funding for community colleges and state-related universities is flat-funded in the Governor’s request.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a three-week series of departmental budget hearings beginning on February 18. The hearings provide an opportunity for the Appropriations Committee to hear cabinet secretaries and other Administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The state’s current fiscal year ends on June 30.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I look forwarded to reviewing this spending plan and questioning administration officials about their funding requests. Over the last 10 years, the Senate has trimmed more than four billion dollars from proposed budgets and blocked massive tax increases. We’ll take the same approach to this proposed budget.
Legislation I sponsored creating First-Time Homebuyers Savings Accounts in Pennsylvania was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 309 would permit eligible Pennsylvanians to open special savings accounts and take state tax deductions for savings toward expenses such as a down payment and closing costs.
The bill would apply to first-time homebuyers and those who have not owned or purchased a home within the three years leading up to the purchase. Account holders would be permitted to contribute a total of $50,000 over a 10-year period. Annual contributions would be capped at $5,000 for single taxpayers and $10,000 for those filing a joint return.
It is estimated that this type of savings account program in Pennsylvania could result in an annual increase of up to 4,000 home purchases within the state. The result would be an overall positive impact on Pennsylvania’s economy, spurring additional economic activity, job creation and earnings for households. It’s estimated that the economic impact could range between $7.8 million to $68.8 million.
A first-time homebuyers saving account will be an important tool in helping people overcome the financial obstacles to home ownership while strengthening communities. I encourage the House of Representatives to approve this bill and provide a fiscally responsible manner to help citizens purchase their first home.
Legislation improving the oversight of prescriptions to reduce the risk of opioid abuse received final legislative approval this week and was sent to the Governor.
Under Senate Bill 432, Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) would have access to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The PDMP was created in 2014 in an effort to provide greater monitoring over prescription drugs and potential abuse. Allowing the MCOs to query the PDMP will provide greater collaboration and data when it comes to prescription drug abuse and misuse.
The bill includes a provision that requires an MCO to notify the Attorney General and the Department of Human Services if it is believed that a controlled substance was prescribed or dispensed fraudulently.
Other Bills sent to the Governor
House Bill 330 amends the Taxpayer Relief Act making editorial changes to incorrect references.
House Bill 1578 amends Title 68 regarding the Uniform Condominium Act, the Real Estate Cooperative Act and the Uniform Planned Community Act to make technical changes and clarifications.
The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation I’m co-sponsoring to establish a pilot program to integrate community-based services into Pennsylvania schools.
Senate Bill 850 would create the “Community Engaged Schools for Success” Pilot Program to encourage community partners to work with designated schools to provide student support services.
The program would connect students and their families with community-based organizations that address academic and nonacademic barriers to learning and provide support and case management services. It would include access to medical and mental health services, tutoring, food and clothing, career and higher education planning, and employment.
Eligible schools would include those with low test rankings and a high percentage of low-income students. They would be eligible for grants of up to $125,000 from the Department of Education to appoint a manager and a coordinator to implement community engagement plans.
Critical members of volunteer fire companies, ambulance corps and rescue squads who are injured in the line of duty would qualify for workers’ compensation coverage under a bill approved Monday by the Senate.
Senate Bill 94, which I am co-sponsoring, would ensure coverage for all active volunteers and integral members of a volunteer fire, ambulance or rescue company insured through the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF). The legislation would apply to 1,550 volunteer fire companies and 92 ambulance organizations that are insured by SWIF.
The bill would only apply to active volunteers. Social members would not be included. The legislation is part of a broader focus by lawmakers on the challenges facing fire and EMS companies throughout the state. Senate Bill 94 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Other Bills sent to the House of Representatives
Senate Bill 640 authorizes the Commonwealth to join the interstate Physical Therapist Compact.
House Bill 1001 establishes standards for the licensure and regulation of human milk banks. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
House Bill 1100 establishes the Energy and Fertilizer Manufacturing Tax Credit program. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Committee Releases Study of the Impact of Venue for Medical Professional Liability Actions
The Senate Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which I chair, released a report Monday on the impact of venue for medical professional liability actions on access to medical care and maintenance of health care systems in Pennsylvania. The study covered 1996 through 2018.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Civil Procedural Rules Committee proposed amending Rule of Civil Procedure 1006 to eliminate the special rule for venue (the geographic location where a legal case can be heard) in medical professional liability actions. The proposed rule change would expand venue options for medical professional liability cases to the same as for other civil actions.
The available data that was found indicated no statewide trends between medical malpractice insurance rates and the number of active medical staff with clinical privileges. Without widespread trends, they were unable to measure the specific effects of tort reform on physician availability, including the specific effect of the venue change alone.
The data also did not lead to a conclusion on the effect of venue on the availability of hospitals/ hospital services statewide. Due to the complexity and limited data available on medical malpractice case duration from the time of filing to award or settlement, they were unable to determine if medical malpractice cases were promptly concluded or the effect of venue on case duration.
Bills approved in committees, public hearings.
Agriculture & Rural Affairs
Senate Bill 915 amends the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to set clear standards for the application of fertilizer to turf and provide for labels and labeling and the disposition of funds.
Roundtable Discussion of Agricultural Mental Health Video
Communications & Technology
Public hearing on data privacy and potential updates to the Breach of Personal Information Act. Video & Written Testimony
Community, Economic & Recreational Development
Senate Bill 863 defines “recreational campgrounds” in order to provide campground owners with certain rights, similar to the rights of hotelkeepers, and help protect their businesses.
Environmental Resources & Energy
House Bill 342 authorizes the City of Philadelphia to impose a fine or penalty of no more than $500 per-tire for the improper disposal of waste tires.
Senate Bill 1030 amends the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act (Act 537).
House Bill 732 exempts volunteer first responders from the Pennsylvania realty transfer tax.
Game & Fisheries
House Bill 752 removes the current price per acre restriction on Game Fund money used for the purchase of land to be used as game lands in a Second Class County.
Health & Human Services
Senate Bill 934 requires the Department of Human Services to include the inspection of all smoke detectors in their annual inspection of child care facilities.
Labor & Industry
Senate Bill 935 bill amends the Fire and Panic Act regarding smoke detectors.
Senate Bill 207 closes a loophole in the Public Works Contractors’ Bond Law.
Senate Bill 958 states that all electric energy supplied to borough electric systems for sale within borough limits is exempt from the imposition of Pennsylvania’s Gross Receipts Tax.
House Bill 1751 provides for reimbursement of newly elected officers prior to officially taking office to attend any conference, institute, school or convention dealing with the duties and functions of their office.
Senate Bill 565 requires vehicles parking along a curbside bike lane to park parallel with their right-hand or left-hand wheels within 12 inches of the outside line of the buffer area between the bike lane and parking in the direction of traffic flow.
Senate Bill 995 increases the width of multipurpose agricultural vehicles that are allowed on public roadways.
House Bill 1907 designates a bridge over U.S. Route 11/15 in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, as the Senator Hal Mowery Memorial Bridge.
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness
Senate Resolution 291 recognizes Pennsylvania’s contribution to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
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