In this Edition:
Senate Approves Compromise 2015-16 Budget
The Senate approved a 2015-16 budget (Senate Bill 1073) this week that includes cost-cutting reform and historic funding for education without the need for the massive tax increases originally proposed by Governor Wolf. The $30.8 billion plan is approximately $1.15 billion less than the Governor’s original budget request in March.
The bulk of funding increases in the budget are dedicated to education. The plan increases Basic Education funding by $350 million, early childhood education by $60 million, Special Education by $50 million and higher education by $82 million.
Other highlights of the plan include:
We’re coming out of this impasse with not only a compromise, but real reforms to long-term cost drivers. I hope we can work with the House of Representatives to get a responsible budget to the governor as soon as possible. Work will begin soon on the next fiscal year budget.
Senate Passes Pension, Liquor Reforms
The budget package includes reform of public pensions– the number-one cause of local property tax increases. The reform (Senate Bill 1082) requires new state workers and new school employees to enroll in a combination of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-type benefit as used in the private sector.
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.
The bills are now before the House of Representatives for consideration.
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.
Legislative Budget and Finance Committee Releases Three Reports
On Wednesday, I chaired a public hearing of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to release three reports:
The bipartisan LBFC conducts a wide range of research examining the operation and performance of state-funded programs and agencies.
The Senate returns to voting session on Monday. You can watch session live at PASenateGOP.com.
Twitter and Facebook: I post regular updates on legislative action, committee developments, useful state-related information, happenings in the 24th Senatorial District and more on Twitter @SenatorMensch and on my Facebook page.If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatormensch.com for more information about you
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