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Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity in the Senate. Major issues such as Paycheck Protection and Liquor Privatization were addressed by the General Assembly this week, both of which are covered below.
Also, budget season is about to get underway with the Governor’s budget address next Tuesday. He gave a preview this week, but I should have more details to provide in next week’s Session Wrap-Up.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
The Senate State Government Committee on Monday approved a constitutional amendment I’m sponsoring, Senate Bill 500, to prevent the collection of union dues, non-membership fees and political contributions by the Commonwealth and school districts.
On Wednesday, the committee also passed Senate Bill 501, known as Mary’s Law, prime- sponsored by Senator John Eichelberger, myself, and nine other Senators. This too is a paycheck protection measure that would, through statute and not a constitutional amendment, prevent payroll deductions of political donations.
Paycheck protection is a top priority for me because taxpayer money is being used to collect dues and PAC contributions for public sector unions. This money is then used to support efforts against major issues like pension reform and the elimination of property taxes, both of which are taking a toll on the Commonwealth and its taxpayers.
Opponents argue the cost to taxpayers is minimal, but they fail to acknowledge the real issue. These unions are getting away with an activity that would send anyone else to jail – using taxpayer resources for political purposes.
At this point, both SB 500 and SB 501 are awaiting further action in the Senate.
I was proud to join colleagues Monday at the Capitol to rally for two measures that would protect taxpayers by limiting the growth of state spending.
Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Senator Mike Folmer, the Taxpayer Protection Act, would require the state to enact sensible controls to prevent unchecked growth in state spending. If the state collects revenue that exceeds the amount needed to fund the state budget, then the excess funds would be used to pay down pension obligations, boost budgetary reserves and reduce the Personal Income Tax rate.
Senate Bill 70, sponsored by Senator Camera Bartollota, would amend the state Constitution to prevent lawmakers from breaching or repealing spending limits with a simple majority vote in the future. In order to amend the state Constitution, SB 70 would have to receive approval from the Senate and the House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions and pass a referendum of state voters.
I continue to say that Harrisburg doesn’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. General Fund spending has more than tripled over the past 30 years, and the cost of state government has grown by 85 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states operate under a tax or expenditure limitation. Pennsylvania is in the minority of states having no spending controls in place.
Legislation that would finally get the state out of the liquor business was approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday.
House Bill 466 creates 1,200 Wine and Spirits Retail Licenses. These licenses will be available to existing beer distributors only for the first year after enactment. At the conclusion of this period, any remaining licenses will be offered to the general public.
Privatizing the wholesale wine and spirits business is expected to provide approximately $500 million for the Commonwealth. In addition, it will also allow licensees the ability to negotiate pricing on the products they buy and increase the variety of products available in Pennsylvania.
This reform is long overdue and is one of my top legislative priorities. I foresee the Senate working to address the issue of liquor privatization in the coming months.
The Government Reform Caucus, a bi-partisan and bi-cameral group that I am a member of, has met several times this year to draw up our priorities for making state government run in a more open and ethical manner. This week we sat down with Governor Wolf to discuss these priorities.
Several members spoke on issues important to them such as stronger gift bans, overhauling the redistricting process and eliminating legislative perks, such as per diems.
While I acknowledge the need for some type of gift ban, and I personally will not allow lobbyists to buy me dinner, the Governor’s gift ban policy proves to be a bit excessive, as I found out when I tried to give him a book that I thought would be of interest to him.
Changing the way state government does business is vital for enacting legislation that serves taxpayers and for restoring public trust.
The Senate on Monday approved legislation I am co-sponsoring that would provide essential protection of consumers’ rights and personal information under the federal health care act.
Senate Bill 293, also known as the Navigator Accessibility and Regulation Act, would require Healthcare Exchange Navigators to be certified by the Department of Insurance and pass a criminal background check.
The federal Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) relies on individuals, generally called “navigators,” to educate and enroll millions of uninsured Americans in either Medicaid or a private insurance plan. Although in many respects these navigators act like insurance agents, they have almost no qualifications or restrictions placed upon them.
Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
Senate Bill 9 which would require anyone requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are a legal resident.
Senate Bill 166 which would allow courts to grant expungement of a person’s criminal record if the crime is a misdemeanor of the third or second degree and the individual has not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of the sentence or judicial supervision.
Senate Bill 179 which consolidates several statutes relating to hotels and other lodging establishments.
Senate Bill 316 which would provide more accountability in the awarding of state sole-source/no-bid and emergency contracts.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the following bills on Monday:
Senate Bill 9 requires anyone requesting public benefits in the Commonwealth to provide identification proving they are a legal resident. As noted above, this went on to receive final approval by the Senate.
Senate Bill 286 reforms the practices of the Delaware River Port Authority.
Senate Bill 287 provides veto power to the Governor of Pennsylvania over actions of Pennsylvania’s Commissioners on the Delaware River Port Authority Board.
Senate Bill 385 updates the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) Act, which encourages private development at mass transit hubs.
Other committee action included:
The purpose of the hearing was to discuss possible amendments to the bill, including a Real-Time Registry; research supporting expansion of the list of diseases covered; and best methods of delivery for patients using medical cannabis.
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.
Click here for video and written testimony from the hearing.
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday to gather testimony on veterans’ issues. The panel heard from federal and state officials as well as representatives from veterans’ organizations during the hearing.
Click here for video and written testimony from the hearing.
You can watch the address and Senate session via the “Watch Session Live” button on my website.