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In this Edition:
Wagner Unveils “Clean Slate” Legislation
As I shared with you on Wednesday, I was part of a bipartisan group of legislators that announced the introduction of legislation that will provide for automatic sealing of criminal records for minor offenses. We were joined by leading law enforcement officials and advocates from around the state.
Termed “Clean Slate” legislation, Senate Bill 1197 and House Bill 1984 are the first of their kind in the nation. The goal is to allow individuals that have a criminal record but have proven themselves to be rehabilitated to seek opportunities currently inaccessible to them due to their criminal history.
As a business owner I see firsthand the impact a criminal record can have on an individual’s ability to obtain employment or advance their career, which is why I have chosen to champion this issue.
It is important to keep in mind that we are talking about people that made a mistake in the past and want to be contributing members of society. Considering 1 in 3 people have a criminal record, you most likely know someone in this exact position.
Clean Slate is an opportunity to end the cycle that many of these people find themselves in either struggling to find a job or working low-wage jobs just to get by.
At this point SB 1197, which has 22 co-sponsors in addition to myself and Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), is awaiting referral to Committee, but HB 1984 is available to view online.
Bill to Restore Vetoed School Funding Sent to Governor
This week the Senate and House approved a new Fiscal Code bill to immediately enact into law the school funding formula developed over the past year by the bipartisan, bicameral Basic Education Funding Commission and provide the overdue state reimbursements for school construction projects.
House Bill 1589, which was approved by a strong bipartisan vote of 37-11, directs all new state money for the current 2015-2016 school year to be allocated to districts using the new formula and authorizes the release of state reimbursements under the state’s Planning and Construction Workbook, otherwise known as PlanCon.
The supplementary spending plan approved by lawmakers in March to bring the 2015-2016 state budget impasse to an end included an additional $200 million in basic education funding and more than $350 million in PlanCon reimbursements. The language to implement the new formula and authorize PlanCon reimbursements was contained in House Bill 1327, Fiscal Code legislation.
However, on April 4th the Governor vetoed that Fiscal Code and created his own formula to drive out public education funding. As a result, 86% of Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts will receive less money under this plan than they would have received under the Basic Education Funding Formula. The veto also halted the PlanCon reimbursements.
Under the Governor’s funding formula, 3 of the state's 500 school districts will receive nearly half of the overall increase. Philadelphia schools will receive an additional $78 million, including $34 million that was taken from rural school districts throughout the state.
All of York County schools are being negatively impacted by the Governor’s actions with a total loss of $3.7 million.
HB 1589 now goes to Governor Wolf, but both the Senate and the House approved the bill with enough votes to override any veto by the Governor.
Medical Marijuana Legislation Goes to Governor
The General Assembly this week gave final approval of legislation to permit the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania for limited medical conditions. The bill was sent to the Governor for enactment.
Senate Bill 3 establishes a state program under the Department of Health that creates a network of growers, processors, and dispensaries and allows doctors to certify a patient to receive medical cannabis for certain medical conditions, including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
The bill was amended in the Senate to give dispensaries clearer authorization to operate, add stronger oversight for employees of medical cannabis organizations, and allow urban areas to waive requirements on the distance between dispensary locations and schools and day cares.
For many of our fellow citizens, especially children suffering seizures, medical marijuana can provide vital relief from their conditions, which is why I have been a proponent of this legislation since coming to Harrisburg.
Equitable Tourism Funding Bill Set for Enactment
Last week I shared with you that legislation to boost York County tourism dollars was awaiting final approval, and this week both the Senate and House passed House Bill 794 and sent it to Governor Wolf for his signature.
HB 794 authorizes certain counties to increase their hotel tax from 3% to 5%. York County is one of the select counties that the legislation will apply to. Current law has put York at a disadvantage over the years as neighboring counties have been granted allowances to increase their hotel tax to 5% while keeping York’s maximum set at 3%.
I commend the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s diligence in advocating for this issue over several years now. I have been a supporter since coming to Harrisburg because the legislature should not be arbitrarily picking counties to benefit over others.
York County is a great tourism destination. The revenue generated through visitors’ hotel stays goes towards tourism efforts, which attract new visitors and revenue-generating events that lead to greater support of our local economy.
Senate Approves Resolution to Review Corrections Department Overtime
The Senate approved a Resolution on Monday authorizing an official study of mandatory overtime in the Department of Corrections.
Senate Resolution 263, which I co-sponsored, directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review costs associated with mandatory overtime for corrections officers versus the costs to hire, train, and equip additional Corrections Officers.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel testified at a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing that overtime costs for his department amount to approximately $90 million annually. The Department of Corrections receives the third largest state appropriation from the General Fund and its overtime costs have outpaced all other state agencies from 2010 through 2014.
This is a serious issue for me as I continue to work to rein in costs and bring accountability to your tax dollars. The Committee’s report is due no later than six months from now. Of course, I certainly would like to see it much sooner than that.
Legislature Approves Change to Ballot Question Regarding Retirement Age for Judges
On Monday, the Senate adopted House Resolution 783, which moves a ballot question on raising the mandatory retirement age for judge from 70 to 75 years old from the April primary election to the November general election to provide time to clarify and simplify the language that would appear on the ballot.
Bills Sent to the House of Representatives
House Bill 400 establishes the “Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act.” The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Bill 1114 amends the Sewage Facilities Act to allow the use of “alternative systems” for planning purposes throughout the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 1155 establishes a special vehicle license plate for members of the United States Armed Forces adding special recognition for active members of the military, reserves, and Pennsylvania National Guard.
House Bill 1319 establishes the Pennsylvania ABLE Savings Program Tax Exemption Act. The Act is a companion bill to legislation that would establish the ABLE Act Savings Program in the Treasury Department to encourage eligible individuals with disabilities to save private funds from which the expenses related to their disabilities may be paid. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments. (See “Bills Sent to Governor” for companion legislation.)
Senate Bill 1152 requires children under the age of one be secured in a rear-facing child seat while traveling in a vehicle.
Committee Approves Energy-Related Jobs Legislation
The Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee approved, with strong bipartisan support, two bills intended to protect family-sustaining Pennsylvania jobs placed at risk by Governor Wolf’s veto of the Fiscal Code, House Bill 1327.
Senate Bill 1011 would spare Pennsylvania’s conventional oil and gas well operations from the Administration’s new regulations intended for Marcellus Shale gas extraction operators. The Committee also voted to send a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission recommending the panel completely reject the new oil and gas regulations proposed to Chapter 78.
Senate Bill 1195, which I co-sponsored, includes provisions addressing Pennsylvania’s compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan. Specifically, the bill provides procedures for the General Assembly’s consideration of the implementation strategy developed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the federal Clean Power Plan before its submission to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
Bills Sent to Governor
House Bill 12 amends state law regarding divorce to address situations in which one spouse has committed a personal injury crime against the other.
Senate Bill 879 provides that the Treasury Department may establish a program through which federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) savings accounts may be opened for eligible individuals for payment of qualified disability expenses.
House Bill 1329 establishes the Caregiver, Advise, Record, and Enable (CARE) Act, which requires hospitals to allow patients to designate a caregiver prior to discharge from the facility.
House Bill 794 increases the maximum hotel room rental tax in most third through eighth class counties from 3 percent to 5 percent and provides for certification of recognized tourist promotion agencies.
House Bill 1278 amends state law to allow television broadcasts or video images in a moving vehicle as long as the images are not visible to the driver.
A recap of activity by the Senate committees I serve on.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the following bills this week:
Senate Bill 180 updates and revises the law relating to organ and tissue donations.
Senate Bill 359 requires school districts to develop an individualized truancy elimination plan for students who are truant before any referral to a district magistrate.
Senate Bill 910 enacts the basic education funding formula developed by the Basic Education Funding Commission.
Senate Bill 1154 modernizes the Civil Service Act to place the Commonwealth more in line with hiring practices of the private sector and many other civil service-covered states.
House Bill 1589 amends the Fiscal Code to provide FY 2015-16 budget implementation language.
Majority Policy Committee
The Senate Majority Policy Committee and the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a joint hearing Monday on ideas for boosting economic development and job creation in Pennsylvania.
Representatives of economic development groups and business advocates as well as the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection and officials with the Department of Community and Economic Development offered testimony.
You can find hearing video and written testimony here.
The Senate reconvenes Monday, May 9 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live at my website.
I welcome your feedback and input. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my website.