In this Edition:
Senate Ready to Review Governor’s FY 2018-19 Budget Request
The Senate will carefully study the $33.2 billion state General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19 unveiled by Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday (February 6) before a joint session of the General Assembly, according to Senator Bob Mensch (R-24).
The Governor’s budget proposal includes a $1.2 billion (3.7 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 and a $25 per-capita fee for municipalities that rely on the State Police for local police coverage. The Governor also touched on economic development.
In addition, the Governor is requesting a $100 million increase in Basic Education Funding ($6.09 billion total), a $40 million increase for early childhood education, and a $20 million increase in special education funding. The State System of Higher Education would see a $15 million increase, while state funding for community colleges and state-related universities is flat lined in the Governor’s request.
I am pleased to hear that the Governor wants to have a dialogue about job development and economic development in Pennsylvania, but they are doing a lot to deter expansion. One of our biggest issues is Pennsylvania’s business tax structure. It discourages new businesses from moving to Pennsylvania and it also discourages current Pennsylvania businesses from expanding. The Administration wants to deny some of the federal tax relief for businesses and we have to push back on that. We, the legislature, need to take the lead on this and ensure that Pennsylvania has the best economic advantages for businesses.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will begin three weeks of budget hearings on February 20. As a member of the committee, I look forward to the opportunity to hear cabinet secretaries and other administration officials detail their plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The current fiscal year ends June 30. I will provide weekly budget hearing updates via this e-newsletter.
Mensch Bill to Promote Employment of People with Disabilities Approved by Senate
I was heartened on Tuesday when the Senate approved legislation I’m sponsoring to promote the employment of people with disabilities at competitive wages in Pennsylvania businesses and public agencies.
Under our current system, many people with disabilities — especially those with intellectual disabilities — spend their days working in segregated facilities where they are often paid wages well below the minimum wage. It is past time to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to work at competitive wages in a wide range of jobs in the private and public sectors across the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 21, “The Employment First Act,” will not require additional state spending. Instead, it will require state agencies to shift priorities within existing budgets. This legislation will help people with disabilities end a lifetime of dependence on governmental assistance by focusing state agencies’ efforts on helping them obtain employment. They then become taxpaying citizens.
Pennsylvania employers are dealing with a serious workforce shortage. On any given day there are more than 200,000 job vacancies posted on the state’s official job listing. More and more employers in Pennsylvania are finding that people with disabilities are productive, responsible, and dependable employees. It’s a win-win.
People with disabilities deserve a real opportunity to be a part of the Pennsylvania workforce and become contributing members of society in their communities.
Bill Increasing Government Transparency Sent to Governor
Legislation increasing government transparency and cracking down on violations of the state Lobbying Disclosure Act received final legislative approval this week and was sent to the Governor for enactment into law.
House Bill 1175 increases the maximum penalty imposed by the Ethics Commission for violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act from $2,000 to $4,000. The bill increases the maximum administrative penalty for negligent failure to report from $50 per-day to $50 per-day for the first 10 days, $100 per-day for days 11 – 20 and $200 per-day after 20 days.
The bill improves the current electronic filing system for lobbyists by requiring all filings to be posted on the Department of State’s publicly accessible website within seven days of receipt.
Other Bills Sen to Governor for Enactment
Senate Bill 354 strengthens licensee reporting requirements to the Department of State.
House Bill 359 addresses penalties for hunters who mistakenly kill an animal.
Senate Bill 894 renames roads and bridges.
House Bill 1602 renames several bridges.
Senate Approves Measure Addressing Sex Offender Court Ruling
The Senate approved legislation this week addressing a state Supreme Court ruling that – if not corrected – could require more than 10,000 sexual offenders to be removed from the state sexual offender registry.
The Supreme Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Muniz that the state sexual offender registration act, commonly known as Megan’s Law or the Adam Walsh Act, could not be applied to defendants who committed their crimes before the enactment of the Adam Walsh Act in 2012 based on both the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.
House Bill 631 makes the registration and reporting requirements less onerous by permitting offenders whose offenses occurred before the Adam Walsh Act to petition the court for relief from those requirements.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to House of Representatives
Senate Resolution 226 requires the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct an independent performance evaluation of the largest statewide environmental permitting programs administered by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Senate Resolution 253 calls on Congress to amend the Gun Control Act of 1968 to protect the gun rights of medical cannabis users.
Senate Bill 796 exempts CDL licensees from the change of address fees if they have not actually moved from their home and the change of address is due to a governmental action beyond their control.
Senate Bill 955 establishes a pilot program providing grants to community colleges to partner with secondary schools to train students in fire services.
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