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Below is a recap of this week’s legislative activity in the Senate including a hearing on tax increase proposals and legislation approved by the Senate.
Also of note this week is that the Department of Human Services and the State Police announced background check fees would be waived for volunteers that work with children. Read more below.
As always, I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.
Scott R. Wagner
In this Edition:
The Senate Finance Committee convened a hearing on Wednesday afternoon to receive testimony on proposals that call for an increase to the Personal Income Tax (PIT) and the Sales & Use Tax (SUT). The ultimate goal of these proposals is to reduce property taxes.
As many of you know I came to Harrisburg charged with eliminating property taxes, and I signed on as a co-sponsor to Senate Bill 76, which called for an increased PIT and an increased and expanded SUT. However, a major difference between that proposal and those before the General Assembly – whether it is Governor Wolf’s or House Bill 504, which was recently passed by the House and sent to the Senate – is SB 76 calls for complete elimination of property taxes. The other proposals only look to reduce property taxes with no guarantee school boards would not turn around and increase them above and beyond what they were originally. For this reason I have serious concerns with the proposals that have been presented.
Work continues on a proposal like SB 76 from last session, but as supporters of this legislation, we are trying to be as responsible as possible with what is put forth. My primary focus at this point is to reduce the spending that is driving up the property taxes in the first place. I realize this is frustrating for many that simply want us to pass SB 76 and eliminate property taxes, but if we do not get spending under control, the PIT and SUT or other taxes will have to be increased yet again in order to make up the difference down the road, and we will continue to face the same vicious cycle, just without the property tax.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) are waiving $10 fees for child abuse clearances and criminal background checks for volunteers working with children.
For professionals working with children, the fee will be reduced to $8. These changes will take effect July 25, 2015.
Under child protection legislation enacted last year, volunteers are required to obtain background checks, including the Child Abuse History Clearance, issued by the DHS, and the Criminal History Record Check, issued by the PSP.
This week the House Children and Youth Committee reported out HB 1276, which is aimed at addressing many of the concerns that have been raised since the new law went into effect.
One concern I have heard from individuals is that they need to obtain a clearance for each organization they volunteer with. Know that your clearance is transferrable between organizations. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions for volunteers who need to obtain the required clearances.
More information about clearances required under the Child Protective Services Law can be found atwww.keepkidssafe.pa.gov. Individuals seeking clearances can go directly to www.compass.state.pa.us/cwis to create an individual account and apply for their child abuse clearance electronically.
On Tuesday the Senate approved and sent to the Governor legislation I co-sponsored to protect consumers’ rights and personal information with regard to navigators and certified application counselors created by the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
Senate Bill 293 would require Healthcare Exchange Navigators, which educate and enroll millions of uninsured Americans in Medicaid or a private insurance plan, to be certified by the Department of Insurance and pass a criminal background check.
Also sent to the Governor for enactment was House Bill 341, legislation that requires that property disclosure statements provide notification of any sinkholes, the location and condition of defined stormwater facilities, and whether the purchaser is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the stormwater facilities.
Both bills were approved unanimously by the Senate with a vote of 49-0.
The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday to provide counties with a new option to finance the demolition of blighted and abandoned properties.
Senate Bill 486 would give counties the choice to levy up to an additional $15 fee on deeds and mortgages filed in the Recorder of Deeds office. The new revenue would be used exclusively for demolition funding within that specific county.
SB 486 was approved with a vote of 49-0 and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
House Bill 188 amends the Agricultural Area Security Law to provide for wind power generation systems on preserved farmland. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments. (Vote: 50-0)
Senate Bill 329 continues the Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). (Vote: 49-0)
Senate Bill 396 reauthorizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council for a term of four years. The council, otherwise known as PHC4, expired on June 30, 2014 and is currently performing operations under an executive order from the Governor. PHC4 is an independent state agency that works to give consumers, purchasers and providers quality comparative data for the purpose of making informed health care decisions. It has been in existence since 1986. (Vote: 49-0)
Senate Bill 513 allows the vehicular transportation of leachate discharged from a municipal or private landfill's collection and handling system. I am a co-sponsor of this measure. (Vote: 50-0)
Senate Bill 538 strengthens licensee suspension reporting requirements for the Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs’ 29 licensing boards. (Vote: 49-0)
The Senate approved three more cabinet nominations this week, and I voted to support all of them:
The Senate also voted down the nomination of Marcus Brown to serve as State Police Commissioner with a vote of 22-26. I voted against his nomination.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the following bills:
Senate Bill 663 allows the courts to terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist, thereby eliminating the abuser’s access to custody of a child conceived by rape. (Vote: 26-0)
House Bill 911 reauthorizes and updates the process for funding county 911 call centers. (Vote: 26-0)
Senate Bill 356 proposes amendments to the Local Tax Enabling Act that build upon the reforms of Act 32 of 2008 relating to the consolidated collection of local income taxes. (Vote: 26-0)
Senate Bill 398 redesigns driver’s license and identification card applications to include the question: “Do you wish to have organ donor designation printed on your driver’s license?” (Vote: 26-0)
Senate Bill 683 expands the list of eligible criminal offenses for which DNA testing is required. (Vote: 23-3; I voted to support the bill.)
Labor and Industry
The Senate Labor and Industry Committee reported the following bill as amended Tuesday:
House Bill 400 establishes the “Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act.” (Vote: 11-0)
On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee approved the following bills:
House Bill 363 designates a portion of Davisville Road in Upper Moreland Township, Montgomery County, as the Private First Class Robert S. Alexander Memorial Highway. (Vote: 13-0)
House Bill 475 designates a portion of State Route 22/322 in Juniata County as the Honorable Daniel F. Clark Memorial Highway. (Vote: 13-0)
House Bill 863 designates a bridge located on State Route 3006 in Bellefonte Borough, Centre County as the Bellefonte Veterans Bridge. (Vote: 13-0)
Also on Tuesday, the committee held a public hearing on the safe transportation of crude oil and other energy products by rail. You can watch the hearing and read testimony here.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday. You can watch session live at my website.
On Wednesday at 9 a.m., the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee will hold a public hearing on legislation including Senate Bill 700, which would provide for various changes in the state gaming law such as allowing Internet gaming. This past Wednesday, the Committee held a separate hearing on related topics. You can access information from that hearing here.
On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., the Senate Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on municipal pension legislation.
You can watch the hearings live at PASenateGOP.com.