Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf presented his 2018-2019 state budget to the Republican-led General Assembly on February 6. Lawmakers are now in the midst of the state’s annual cycle of budget hearings. Over the course of three weeks, the heads of state departments and agencies are appearing before the state Senate and House Appropriations Committees to defend Governor Wolf’s budget proposal. After the hearings are over, it will be up to lawmakers to determine what will be in the final budget plan that moves through the legislative process. The new budget year starts July 1.
The state House returns to session on Monday, March 12 and the state Senate returns on Monday, March 19.
Here’s a look back at the noteworthy events for the past month.
Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s election-year budget plan will renew battles with the Republican-controlled Legislature over imposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas and increasing the minimum wage. Wolf, who is seeking re-election to a second term this year, wants to spend about $33 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year, about a $1 billion, or 3.1 percent increase. He’d steer more toward schools, with an emphasis on workforce development. His budget plan would rely on about $250 million from a new Marcellus Shale tax — Wolf’s fourth straight attempt to impose one — and $100 million in savings on human services programs. Administration officials say the savings would come from reduced demand for the services because of an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour, up from the federal minimum of $7.25. Wolf is also renewing his call for municipalities who use state police to pay extra and he wants funding to put body cameras on troopers. During his budget address, Wolf was in campaign mode and touted his successes over three-plus years. He highlighted increased funding for schools, pension reform, liquor reform, medical marijuana legalization, prison reform, and the opioid fight, as accomplishments. His budget plan does not increase broad-based taxes on Pennsylvanians (i.e. sales or income taxes), and while Republicans were pleased to hear it, they’re worried that the proposed spending could lead to tax hikes in the future. Republicans say they’ll have to look at where they can try to cut spending in the proposal. Lawmakers have until midnight on June 30 to pass the state budget.
The fight over Pennsylvania’s congressional map is intensifying. Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new congressional map after weeks of legal and political fighting following its ruling that the map adopted in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Top GOP leaders – House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati – submitted an emergency request on Wednesday to the US Supreme Court, asking the justices to block implementation of the new district boundaries. Meanwhile, on Thursday eight GOP Congressman, along with state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and state Sen. Mike Folmer, chair of the State Government Committee, filed a separate federal challenge to the map. They contend that Pennsylvania’s highest court overstepped its authority in drawing new congressional district lines and did not give state lawmakers enough time to produce a map of their own. With five US House seats occupied by Republicans from Pennsylvania up for grabs, Democrats are hoping a new congressional map will boost their efforts to recapture the US House. Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to qualify for the May 15 primary ballot.
The state House of Representatives welcomed a new member. Democrat Austin Davis was sworn in as the state representative for the 35th Legislative District, located in Allegheny County, following a Jan. 23 special election. Davis easily won the heavily Democratic state House district in a special election that was prompted by the Nov. 6 resignation of former Rep. Marc Gergely, D-Allegheny, which was part of the plea deal Gergely agreed to in August when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and illegal campaign contribution charges stemming from a scheme to place illegal gaming devices in bars and other establishments in western Pennsylvania.
State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) has announced he is ending his stalled congressional bid. Leach was the subject of allegations that he behaved inappropriately toward female employees and campaign aides. He announced in December he would “step back” from his campaign after the allegations were published by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Leach’s current Senate term expires in 2020.
The list of state lawmakers who have announced they won’t be seeking re-election is growing. Not running for re-election in 2018 are: Rep. William Keller (D-Philadelphia),Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton), Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny), Rep. Matthew Baker (R-Tioga), Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny), Rep. Flo Fabrizio (D-Erie), Rep. Kevin Haggerty (D-Lackawanna), Rep. Adam Harris (R-Juniata), Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), Sen. Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks), Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), Rep. Bob Godshall (R-Montgomery), Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks), Rep. Will Tallman (R-Adams), Rep. Harry Lewis (R-Chester), Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia), Rep. Eli Evankovich (R-Westmoreland), and Rep. John McGinnis (R-Blair). Running for a different seat and not seeking re-election are: Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks), Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), Rep. Judith Ward (R-Blair), Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) and Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny).
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced it will begin accepting license applications on April 2, 2018 for Manufacturers and Suppliers relative to both Interactive Gaming (iGaming) and Truck Stop Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs). Manufacturers who are currently licensed by the Gaming Control Board may submit an Abbreviated Application for a Video Gaming Manufacturer License. The applications are available on the PGCB’s web site, gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
The owner of the Parx Casino in Bucks County won the rights to build a mini-casino in the Shippensburg area after gaming regulators invalidated Sands Bethlehem’s winning mini-casino bid due to location issues. Sands had selected a site in northwestern Pennsylvania that intruded on the 15-mile buffer zone around the location picked by the winner of a previous auction. Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment submitted a winning bid of $8,111,000 to build a casino within 15 miles of a point it picked in South Newton Township, in Cumberland County. The mini-casino can operate between 300 and 750 slot machines. Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment can petition for permission to initially operate up to 30 table games for an additional fee of $2.5 million. Ten additional table games could be added after the first year of operation. A state law enacted last year authorized 10 new mini-casinos.
Governor Tom Wolf announced medical marijuana will be available for patients at approved dispensaries beginning February 15. To date, 10 dispensaries and 10 grower/processors have been approved to operate. More than 17,000 patients have registered to participate in the medical marijuana program, with nearly 4,000 certified by a physician. Physicians continue to register to participate in the program. To date, over 700 have registered and of those, over 370 have competed the training to become certified practitioners.
Legislation addressing prescription refills in emergency situations was signed into law by Governor Wolf as Act 8 of 2018. Senate Bill 542 eliminates a life threatening loophole in the state’s emergency prescription refill law. Under current law, in the event of an emergency situation where a patient cannot obtain a doctor’s script for the refill of a prescription, a pharmacist could issue a 72 hour supply of that drug. Issues with the law arose, with drugs that are not available in 72-hour supplies, such as insulin, and therefore could not be dispensed to the patient. This situation has resulted in fatalities in other states. With the signing of this legislation, pharmacists are now permitted to dispense up to a 30 day emergency supply as long as certain conditions are met, such as the drug is not available in a 72-hour supply, is not a controlled substance and is essential to maintain life.
Governor Tom Wolf launched the new PA Business One-Stop Shop to serve as a sole source to guide entrepreneurs and small businesses through all stages of development, from planning and startup to operation and expansion. The PA Business One-Stop Shop can be found at business.pa.gov and includes resources for planning a business, registration and permitting, hiring employees, receiving funding and technical assistance, and more.
A resolution calling for the study of a potential consolidation of interstate operations of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (Turnpike) was adopted by the state Senate. SR 209, sponsored by Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) and Senate Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) directs the Joint State Government Commission to examine the challenges and opportunities of consolidating the interstate operations of PennDOT and the Turnpike in a final report with findings of fact, recommendations and any proposed legislative remedies. Currently, both Commonwealth agencies are responsible for the planning, the construction and the maintenance of interstate highways and freeways under the respective jurisdiction of PennDOT or the Turnpike. PennDOT has an annual budget of more than $8 billion in federal and state funds, and is responsible for nearly 40,000 miles of highway and 25,400 bridges. The Turnpike is responsible for 552 miles of roadway, 150 bridges, 79 interchange configurations, 27 maintenance facilities and 17 service plazas. It has an operating budget of approximately $360 million, and will have assumed nearly $17 billion in debt by 2022, primarily as a result of $450 million in annual funding contributions to PennDOT required under Act 44 of 2007. The Commission will have 18 months to provide its report to the Senate.
Governor signs bill to increase transparency in lobbying. The bill signed into law, introduced by Lancaster County House Republican Bryan Cutler, increases the penalties for missing quarterly filing deadlines, and also will soon require all lobbying disclosure reports to be filed electronically, to speed processing of those reports. Fines for lobbyists who don’t file expenditure reports to the Department of State are doubled from $2,000 to $4,000. Daily fines for failing to report are also increased, up to $200 a day after 20 days. The new law also makes the lobbying process more transparent by requiring the Department of State to post all disclosures online within seven days. The new penalties are effective immediately. The electronic filing changes to the law will go into effect in 60 days.
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Courtesy of Milliron Goodman