View in browser
In this Edition:
Elimination of School Property Taxes One Vote Short
Monday night an historic vote was taken in the Senate on a measure to permanently eliminate all school property taxes in Pennsylvania and establish a fairer way to fund public schools.
The vote to amend House Bill 683 to include provisions from Senate Bill 76, known as the Property Tax Independence Act, failed by a vote of 24-25 with Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, who presides over the Senate, breaking a 24-24 tie.
To replace the revenue the property tax currently provides to public schools, the legislation would broaden the base of the state sales tax to include more services and products and increase the rate from 6 percent to 7 percent. Additionally, the proposal calls for an increase in the state personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent.
Under the proposed legislation, any school district seeking to spend above the allotment from the state would have to ask the voters for their support in a referendum. School districts may locally increase the personal income tax or earned income tax only if approved by the voters in that district.
School property tax elimination has been a top priority since I was first elected, and it will continue to be, as will my efforts to reduce spending and the costs that drive property taxes up in the first place.
State Budget Talks Continue
Members of the Wolf Administration and the legislature will be working through the holiday weekend to finalize an agreement on a state budget.
The broad parameters of the deal remain similar to what I outlined in my previous Session Wrap-Up:
* A significant increase in state aid to public schools.
* Some new, still-to-be-determined tax increases to help balance the approximately $30.7 billion spending plan.
* Significant changes to the current state-owned monopoly on liquor sales.
* Implementation of a new pension plan for future state and public school hires that adds a 401(k)-style defined contribution component.
I remain concerned for what the final plan will mean for taxpayers considering we are facing tax increases without addressing spending. As more details emerge I welcome your thoughts.
The Senate is scheduled to be in session on Wednesday, December 2, at which time budget bills could be positioned for action.
Senate Adopts Resolution Urging Greater Screening of Syrian Refugees
The Senate adopted Senate Resolution 248 on Tuesday calling on the Governor, the President, and the US Department of Homeland Security to suspend resettlement efforts of Syrian refugees in Pennsylvania until we can ensure the necessary systems are in place for vetting these individuals. I voted in support of the resolution.
The resolution also directs the Department of Homeland Security to send a report detailing the increased screening measures to the states that are under consideration to receive refugees. The federal government has already indicated that it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year but have not detailed the security measures that will be used to screen these refugees.
Senate Approves Bill Authorizing Transportation Network Companies
Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft could operate safely in every county in Pennsylvania under a bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 984, which I am co-sponsoring, would establish a regulatory framework for the operation of transportation network companies throughout Pennsylvania. These companies are currently permitted to operate in some, but not all Pennsylvania counties and municipalities under a two-year temporary authority granted by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC).
The bill, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, would ensure transportation network companies and drivers meet key requirements, such as maintaining proper insurance coverage, meeting vehicle safety requirements and reporting accidents. In addition, the bill would implement a zero tolerance policy on the use of drugs or alcohol for a driver using the digital network and prevents individuals convicted of certain crimes, including burglary, robbery and sexual offenses, from offering rideshare services.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House
House Bill 477 creates the Activities and Experiences for Children in Out-of-Home Placements Act to give foster parents the ability to approve or disapprove their foster child participating in extracurricular activities. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 482 allows counties to impose a fee of up to 10 percent of the final sale price of a property sold at a judicial sale for a Demolition and Property Rehab Fund.
Senate Bill 735 allows mobile retail food facilities to operate in multiple food safety jurisdictions without having to pay multiple fees in each county it operates.
Senate Bill 859 consolidates the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole into a single state agency titled the “Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”
Senate Bill 860 amends the Crime Victims Act making technical changes related to the consolidation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole into a single state agency titled the “Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”
Senate Bill 1065 adds falconry to the list of exemptions for Sunday hunting.
Visiting Team Physician Bills Sent to Governor
Two bills that will allow out-of-state visiting athletic team physicians to treat athletes during athletic events without the need for a Pennsylvania medical license received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Senate Bill 685 and Senate Bill 686 amend state laws to allow visiting team physicians to treat athletes as long as they are licensed in their home state and have an agreement with the visiting sports team to provide care for them while traveling.
Many teams in Pennsylvania and around the country employ medical personnel who travel with the team and coaches for the purpose of providing medical care. These team physicians have established medical relationships with the athletes and are well suited to provide care while teams are competing. Twenty-one states currently allow for visiting team physicians to practice in their state without meeting home state licensing requirements.
Other Bills Sent to the Governor
Senate Bill 130 bans the practice of allowing persons sentenced to community service to purchase gift cards in lieu of performing the service.
Senate Bill 490 includes the PEMA Director as a position subject to review and confirmation by the Senate. Currently, the post is filled by appointment by the Governor.
House Bill 698 allows for the use of a motorized wheelchair by permanently disabled hunters, and provides permits for individuals with disabilities.
Guy Reschenthaler Sworn in to State Senate
Guy Reschenthaler was sworn into office as the State Senator representing the 37th Senatorial District in Allegheny and Washington counties during a ceremony Tuesday in the Senate Chamber. With Senator Reschenthaler’s swearing-in, Senate Republicans now hold a 31 to 19 majority, the largest margin since 1954.
Senator Reschenthaler served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corp, volunteering for service in Iraq. He worked in private practice at a multi-state law firm in Mt. Lebanon and was elected Magisterial District Judge for Pleasant Hills, Jefferson Hills and South Park, winning the nomination of both parties.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the following bills on Tuesday:
Senate Bill 1071 (Senator Browne): Amends Titles 72 & 24 of Consolidated Statutes to make reforms to the state and school employee retirement codes.
House Bill 150 provides for a bicycle Share the Road license plate.
House Bill 1327 (Representative Peifer): Amends the Fiscal Code relating to the State Worker’s Insurance Board investment powers
Law and Justice Committee
The Senate Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend confirmation of Acting State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker by the full chamber.
The development followed the unprecedented Senate rejection of the administration's original nominee, Col. Marcus Brown, earlier this year. He was later appointed to serve as the state's Director of Homeland Security, without Senate confirmation.
Acting Commissioner Blocker became a state trooper in 1975 and served 13 different communities throughout his three decades with the organization. He managed units related to identification records, automotive activities, procurement and supplies, communications and community relations. He was also involved with the reorganization of the Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement to address Pennsylvania’s drug trafficking issues.
Since his retirement from the state police in 2005, Blocker has worked at George Mason University as a technical advisor to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and as an advisor to the minister of national security for the Trinidad and Tobago government. You can watch his confirmation hearing here.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.