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First, thank you to everyone who participated in my Tele Town Hall meeting on Wednesday evening. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to verbally share with constituents what is happening in Harrisburg and to discuss the issues that are important to all of you.
Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity. There were no committee meetings and only a handful of Senate votes, so formal activity was somewhat light.
There are several new legislative developments to report however, as well an update on efforts to eliminate the school property tax.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
I was proud to join lawmakers and supporters at a Capitol news conference Tuesday for the reintroduction of legislation that will enable physicians to prescribe medical cannabis to patients in Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 3 has 25 co-sponsors with bipartisan support, and such legislation passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote in the previous session. Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws.
Senate Bill 3 would allow patients who have a recommendation from their doctor to purchase and use medical cannabis from centers licensed by a to-be-created State Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing. The entire process would be regulated by licensing: medical cannabis growers, processors and dispensers. Smoking would be prohibited.
In a controlled manner, medical cannabis has been shown to provide relief to children with extreme seizure disorders, as well as patients suffering from other health conditions. There is no reason to continue to deny parents and other individuals access to this form of medicine that can improve their quality of life.
I plan to introduce legislation raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania, but in a manner that is different from the one advocated by the new governor and others.
My legislation would raise the minimum wage by 50 cents a year over three years to $8.75 per hour. It would also provide for a “training wage” for everyone age 18 and under equal to the current federal minimum wage, which at this time is $7.25 per hour.
Previous proposals by others call for raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016 – an approach I believe is unreasonable.
My proposal to increase the minimum wage 50 cents a year over three years would give workers a boost but not overly burden employers. The rate would also align Pennsylvania with surrounding states.
The Senate Coal Caucus, a bipartisan, legislative committee emphasizing the continued importance of coal and coal-driven technologies in the state, held its first meeting this week.
I joined the caucus because it serves as a forum through which legislators and industry representatives can collaborate on the needs of the coal industry, focus on the utilization and consumption of coal to significantly reduce consumer demands on foreign fuels and highlight new coal technologies within the industry.
Coal provides Pennsylvania with about 40 percent of its electricity needs and 36,000 workers are supported by the coal industry.
I have heard from concerned individuals and municipalities on Senate Bill 4, a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would clarify the process for determining the tax-exempt status of public charities.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster)
In 1997 the Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act, Act 55 of 1997, was unanimously approved by both the House and the Senate. The basis of the law was the five-point HUP test created by the courts in 1985. Hearings were held across the state prior to its passage, and the development of the language was the product of a coordinated effort between non-profits, as well as organizations representing local governments and businesses.
Despite this law being in place, in 2012 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reverted to the judicial HUP test, which brings us to the point where we are today. The bottom line is, the legislature, not the courts, create laws. This is not to say that Act 55 doesn’t have room for improvement, which is why Senator John Eichelberger, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, plans to conduct a hearing on the subject. In addition, Senator Mario Scavello has proposed the creation of a legislative committee to study the criteria and make recommendations for updates.
“We didn’t have a formal announcement yet, but the Finance Committee will be holding a hearing on SB 4 next Wednesday afternoon. This is the constitutional amendment legislation, which would clarify that the responsibility to define charitable tax exemptions rests with the legislature, not the courts. Something that is spelled out in the constitution already, but has gone awry, thanks to an activist judge. Most of the judiciary does an outstanding job; the ones that don’t can wreak havoc.
- Senator John Eichelberger, 1/28/15
Over the last week I have heard from several people upset by a lack of news on the issue of property tax elimination. I assure you eliminating this burdensome tax remains a top priority.
It is important to remember that we just kicked off a new legislative session, so bills are currently being reintroduced from last session – this includes the Property Tax Independence Act.
Senator Dave Argall, the prime sponsor, has issued a memo to all members inviting them to be a fellow prime sponsor. This is an unusual step in the process and is an effort to garner as much support as possible before a co-sponsorship memo even gets circulated. I will be joining Senator Argall as a prime sponsor.
Once the bill is introduced it will receive a bill number and will most likely be referred to the Senate Finance Committee. With Senator Eichelberger as the new Chairman of the Committee and with new leadership in the Senate Republican Caucus, I suspect we could see prompt action on the bill.
While I intend to champion the issue of eliminating property taxes, it is important to remember there are other issues that come into play, including pensions and state mandates on our schools. If we are to convince opponents of the feasibility of the Property Tax Independence Act we must also address the costs that are driving the taxes up in the first place.
The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to two bills intended to protect and expand the rights of landowners who currently hold leases with natural gas companies.
Senate Bill 147 would expand the Oil and Gas Lease Act by allowing royalty interest owners the opportunity to inspect records of natural gas companies to verify proper payments. The bill also requires all royalty payments to be made within 90 days of production unless otherwise stated in the contract.
Senate Bill 148 would prohibit a gas company from retaliating against a royalty interest owner by terminating the lease agreement or ceasing development because a landowner questions the accuracy of the royalty payments.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 283 which continues the process to amend the state Constitution to eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
All three bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate returns to session on Monday at 1 p.m. You can watch session live at PASenateGOP.com.