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Attempt to Override Veto of Emergency Funding Comes Up Short
Senator Wagner took to the Senate floor after a failed attempt to override the Governor’s veto of emergency funding to schools and service providers. He brought to light the fact that the Governor has hired a State Meteorologist in the midst of the budget impasse.
As we all know, schools and community service providers are struggling without their state funding. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans attempted to override Governor Wolf’s veto of an emergency budget passed last month by the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the attempt fell short of garnering the necessary votes.
The override required a two-thirds majority, or 33 votes. While all 30 Republican Senators voted for the measure, not a single Democrat supported it. These members rise to speak on how we must end this budget impasse because of the harm it is doing in their districts, yet they could not bring themselves to support providing badly needed funding while negotiations continue on a final budget agreement.
Hours before the vote, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, along with school administrators from across the Commonwealth. They all spoke of the devastating financial impact the lack of a state budget is having on Pennsylvania schools. Districts have already borrowed nearly a half-billion dollars – plus interest payments of $15 million – because of the budget impasse, and that number may double by Thanksgiving.
The override attempt marks the fourth time since the original budget deadline that the legislature has attempted to have a fiscally responsible budget enacted and keep money flowing to schools and organizations, including food banks and rape crisis centers.
The Governor claims now is not the time for partisanship. His fellow Democrats should have listened to that message on Wednesday when they had the opportunity to join 30 of their colleagues who are tired of seeing schools and service providers being held hostage because of a demand to increase taxes.
Union Intimidation Bill Sent to Governor’s Desk
Last week I reported on Senate passage of House Bill 874, which amends the Crimes Code to eliminate a special exception afforded just to unions allowing them to harass, stalk, and make threats during labor disputes.
I am pleased to report that this bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature, following House concurrence Tuesday on Senate amendments.
In any other instances the acts of harassment, stalking, and terroristic threats are considered crimes. There is no reason a special exception should ever have been provided in the first place.
Committee Approves Optional County Hotel Tax Increase
The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee on Wednesday approved Representative Keith Gillespie’s House Bill 794, legislation that would allow 54 counties, including York County, the option to increase the maximum county hotel room tax from 3% to 5%.
This bill is a response to requests from counties and local visitors’ bureaus – including the York County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau -- that need the additional authority to address their tourism funding needs.
These counties currently are authorized to impose the tax under the County Code, but targeted changes to the law over the years have given special advantages to other counties. York in particular is surrounded by counties that can impose a 5% hotel tax, while by law York County is allowed a maximum of 3%.
HB 794 is simply giving County Commissioners the authority to raise the tax if they so choose. Additionally, it is a tax on hotel room stays, the funding from which can only be utilized to further attract visitors to the county, which in turn, will result in additional dollars being spent in our communities.
Special Committee to Study Possible Senate Action Against Attorney General
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati on Monday appointed six senators to serve on a Special Committee to pursue possible Senate action against Attorney General Kathleen Kane, pursuant to Article 6, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Senator John Gordner was named Chairman of the Special Committee on Senate Address. The Committee is bipartisan and geographically diverse. Republicans include Senators Gordner, Lisa Baker and Gene Yaw. Democratic members include Senators Judy Schwank, Sean Wiley and Art Haywood. Senator Scarnati will serve as a voting ex-officio member.
The scope of the committee is to investigate whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane can continue to do her job with a suspended law license. If it determines she cannot, that finding may be grounds for the Senate to utilize its rarely-tapped constitutional power of removal.
The Committee will issue a written report with its preliminary findings to the full Senate within 30 days.
The Committee website, senateaddress.pasen.gov, will provide key information as well as video of public meetings. Individuals who wish to submit information regarding operations of the Office of Attorney General can do so using the Committee’s new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Utility Worker Protection Bill Headed to Governor
The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a measure I am co-sponsoring that would add utility workers, either from a municipal government or private company, to the list of protected workers during declared disaster emergencies. Senate Bill 765 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Currently, state law provides additional protection for first responders, highway maintenance and construction workers and tow truck operators during emergencies. Motorists are required to travel cautiously at reduced speeds and carefully follow traffic markers, road flares, signs, or directions of emergency responders.
Additionally, emergency service responders may file a written report with the police officer upon observing a violation. Violators may be fined up to $500 per offense and pay restitution costs if warranted.
Bill Expedites Deadline for Addressing Code Violations
The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation to bolster municipal efforts to combat blight in their communities.
Senate Bill 942 requires the purchaser of any building known to have one or more substantial code violations to bring it into compliance or demolish it within 12 months of the date of purchase. Under current law, the purchaser has up to 18 months to correct the violations or demolish the building.
The Senate approved two additional bills this week.
Senate Bill 526 amends the Second Class Township Code to change the deadlines for completing and publishing the Annual Township Report and Financial Statement.
Senate Bill 857 provides new penalties for illegal household goods movers.
All three bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Joint Urban Affairs and Housing Committee Hearing Explores PA Foreclosure Issues
On Tuesday, the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, which I chair, held a joint public hearing with the House Urban Affairs Committee to discuss issues with vacant and abandoned real estate in foreclosure.
The panel heard from representatives of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, and Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, as well as the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and Community Legal Services.
You can view the hearing and the agenda here.
Local Government Committee Approves Sanctuary Cities Bill
The Senate Local Government Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would prevent municipalities from hindering federal efforts to deport illegal immigrants who pose a danger to Pennsylvania communities.
Under Senate Bill 997, governing bodies such as counties or municipalities would be prohibited from adopting rules or ordinances that contradict federal immigration policy. Municipalities that do not enforce federal immigration policy would not be eligible for state grants for law enforcement purposes and could be sued for negligence for releasing an individual with a detainer who subsequently committed another crime. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Click here to view the agenda and meeting video.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reported outed the following bills on Tuesday:
House Bill 89 increases the mandatory retirement age for judges and magisterial district judges from 70 to 75 years.
House Bill 90 proposes to amend the Constitution to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges and magisterial district judges from 70 to 75 years.
Senate Bill 126 allows the state to withhold lottery winnings to pay outstanding court-ordered obligations, such as restitution, fines and costs.
Senate Bill 127 allows the state to withhold state income tax refunds to pay outstanding court-ordered obligations, such as restitution, fines, and costs.
Senate Bill 201 amends the “Clean and Green Law” to allow a landowner to apply a maximum of two acres of land subject to preferential assessment for a rural enterprise without subjecting the entire tract of land to roll-back taxes.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.