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Wagner Votes Against Senate Budget Plan that Raises Taxes
The $30.8 billion plan is approximately $1.5 billion less than the Governor’s original budget request in March but still spends too much. The House of Representatives passed their own budget plan in House Bill 1460, which spends less and does not require a broad-based tax hike. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended the language from SB 1073 into HB 1460, and SB 1073 is awaiting consideration by the House Appropriations Committee.
Overall, I agree with the House’s goal, although I am still holding firm on the need to bring accountability to the tax dollars we are already spending. I made a commitment to not vote for any tax increases in this budget without reducing spending and for that reason I had to vote against SB 1073.
I want to end this budget impasse as much as anyone else, but we cannot do it at the expense of taxpayers. We are paying more than enough money in taxes for our state government to function. Simply increasing spending – or throwing more money at the problem – is not the way to operate. We need to take a hard look at where exactly those tax dollars are going and how we can do the job more efficiently in order to spend less money. Anyone with a basic understanding of how to budget money should grasp this concept. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case in Harrisburg.
Senate Passes Pension, Liquor Reforms
The budget package includes reform of public pensions – the number one cost driver of school property tax increases. The reform (Senate Bill 1082) requires new state workers and new school employees to enroll in a combination of a traditional defined benefit pension and a 401(k)-type defined contribution pension as used in the private sector. It is being referred to as a “hybrid” plan.
As part of the budget package, the Senate also took the first step in getting the Commonwealth out of the liquor business (House Bill 1690), providing for the private sale of wine at restaurants and grocery stores, as well as many other changes that will result in increased customer convenience.
While I voted for both bills, I certainly think we could have done better on both issues. The bills are now before the House of Representatives for consideration.
Center for Rural PA Releases Heroin Epidemic Report
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania released a report, “ Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in PA,” reflecting testimony collected during a series of statewide public hearings held in July and August, including one in York.
Focusing on treatment and recovery services in Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors and legislators heard from 40 experts, including treatment professionals, family, law enforcement officials, government officials, and educators who presented testimony on a range of issues related to treatment and recovery services, and what could be done to help addicts get the treatment they need.
The Pennsylvania State Coroners Association reported that 2,489 individuals died from drug-related causes in 2014, a 20 percent increase from 2013. The association also reported that initial data for 2015 indicated the number of deaths would continue to increase. York County was tied for the fourth most drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2014, and recorded more than 60 heroin-related deaths last year. As a member of the York County Heroin Task Force, I am all too familiar with the scope of the problem and the need to aggressively combat this epidemic.
Senate Sets Hearing on Kane’s Ability to Lead Office of Attorney General
On Wednesday, the Senate approved Senate Resolution 256, a measure mandating a full hearing regarding Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s ability to perform her duties with a suspended law license.
The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building at the Pennsylvania Capitol Building.
The hearing is required by the state Constitution prior to any vote on direct removal. The resolution specifies that Kane or her counsel will have the right to appear before the Special Committee on Senate Address to testify, answer questions, and offer evidence of her ability to perform the duties of her office with a suspended law license.
PACE COLA Exemption Extension Sent to Governor
The Senate approved legislation Thursday extending protections to seniors enrolled in PACE and PACENET who would lose eligibility for these programs due to increases in income from Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).
House Bill 777 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law. Act 12 of 2014 provides for the COLA exemption through December 31, 2015, and protects the eligibility of 11,416 senior citizens. House Bill 777 continues the exemption until Dec. 31, 2017.
Other Bills Sent to the Governor
Senate Bill 398 redesigns driver’s license and identification card applications to include the statement “Pennsylvania strongly supports organ and tissue donation because of its life-saving and life-enhancing opportunities” and the question “Do you wish to have organ donor designation printed on your driver’s license?”
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 524 establishes the Non-narcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Pilot Program within the Department of Corrections (DOC). It is intended to increase opportunities for counties to provide long-acting non-narcotic, non-addictive medication combined with comprehensive substance abuse treatment to eligible offenders upon release from county correctional institutions.
Senate Bill 756 eliminates the sunset provisions of the Commonwealth’s First Industries Program.
House Bill 909 authorizes county tax claim bureaus to incur and recover reasonably necessary costs for the rehabilitation and maintenance of property exposed to, but not sold at, an upset sale.
Senate Bill 1046 codifies the standards for the promotion for the Pennsylvania National Guard and ensures compliance with U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force uniform regulations. Currently, when an officer, warrant officer, or enlisted officer retires from the PA National Guard, they are automatically given an honorary in-state promotion if they meet certain criteria and apply for the promotion.
Senate Bill 1045 standardizes the term “other than dishonorable” when dealing with a veterans eligibility for programs and benefits. While this is common language used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, without a clear definition the term has created confusion among veterans as to state benefits eligibility.
House Bill 1161 permits a licensed salesperson who is employed by a vehicle dealer who has an ownership share in more than one dealership to sell at each of those dealerships regardless of the percentage of ownership.
CHIP Reauthorization Approved by the Senate
The Senate approved legislation reauthorizing and extending the life of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through December 31, 2017.
In addition to changing the expiration date of CHIP from December 31, 2015, to December 31, 2017, House Bill 857, as amended in the Senate, moves the administration of the program from the Department of Insurance to the Department of Human Services, addresses billing issues for ambulance services, and clarifies liability issues in cases involving auto dealership loaner vehicles.
The bill returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence on the amendment.
Bills Returned to House for Concurrence on Senate Amendments.
House Bill 1195 amends the Vehicle Code to permit motor homes and recreational trailers to be financed at lending institutions for up to 20 years.
House Bill 1603 amends the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to deal with international child and family support orders.
House Bill 1735 amends the Tobacco Product Manufacturer Directory Act.
House Bill 1736 amends the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Act.
Bills Sent to the House for Consideration
Senate Bill 604 provides for broader allocation of proceeds from the Lake Erie fishing permit.
Senate Bill 891 waives Turnpike tolls for vehicles accompanying a fallen firefighter, ambulance service or rescue squad member, law enforcement officer or armed service member killed in the line of duty.
Senate Bill 986 extends “Good Samaritan” civil liability protection to anyone who breaks a window or forcibly enters a parked, locked vehicle in an effort to save a child.
Senate Confirms State Police Commissioner
The Senate confirmed Tyree Blocker on Wednesday to serve as Pennsylvania State Police
Commissioner. Blocker started his career with the Pennsylvania State Police in 1975 as a trooper, working in patrol, criminal investigation, staff services and the organized crime unit with Troops J, T, K, and the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Blocker retired from the State Police in 2005 with the rank of major.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
Labor and Industry Committee
The Senate Labor and Industry Committee considered one bill on Thursday:
House Bill 319 amends Unemployment Compensation Law provisions governing recordkeeping procedures and audio recording dissemination.
The Senate Transportation Committee on Monday recommended approval of the nomination of Barry T. Drew of Mechanicsburg as a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. It also approved the following bills:
Senate Bill 1064 transfers roads between Hanover Township, Lehigh County, and the Department of Transportation.
House Bill 950 permits motorcycles and other vehicles that fail to be detected by automated traffic signals to proceed safely through the intersection on red.
House Bill 1579 designates a bridge on a portion of State Route 62 over the Allegheny River, Tionesta Borough, Forest County, as the Lt. Col. Michael McLaughlin/AMVETS Post 113 Memorial Bridge.
The Senate returns to session on Monday. You can watch session live at my website.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.