In this Edition:
Senate Votes to Release School Funds, End Budget Stalemate
The Senate voted last week to restore funding to a number of programs that were vetoed by Governor Wolf in December, including critical funds for education, health care and agriculture.
The supplement budget passed would increase state support for education by $200 million and restore much of the $6 billion in funding eliminated by the Governor’s line-item vetoes. The $30.031 billion spending plan would utilize existing revenues without the need for a tax increase.
Passage of the budget is crucial because it finally allows Pennsylvania to move beyond the nine-month budget impasse and begin working in earnest toward a responsible budget for next year.
Basic Education will see $5.95 billion in funding, an increase of $200 million from Fiscal Year 2014-15. The total also represents a $50 million increase over the funding vetoed by the Governor.
House Bill 1801 reverses the Governor’s line-item vetoes of funding for community colleges and the State System of Higher Education, while providing full funding for Pennsylvania’s state-related universities.
The bill would provide funds to preserve programs such as agricultural extension and research and 4-H that are currently in jeopardy since they were defunded by the governor.
Governor Wolf has threatened to veto the measure – his fourth veto of a state budget or emergency funding since taking office. Even the Minority Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, a member of the Governor’s party, voted for this budget bill because he sees the importance of continued school funding. I urge the Governor to sign this budget, close the book on the 2015-16 budget impasse, and allow us to focus on enacting a responsible 2016-17 budget.
Senate Appropriations Committee Monthly Report
The Senate Appropriations Committee Monthly Report features an update on state revenue collections, a breakdown of Governor Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 state budget, details of how the state spends its money, and more.
Check out the Monthly Report here.
Senate Approves Veterans Hiring Preference Measure
The Senate approved a bill that would let Pennsylvania employers adopt and use a veterans’ preference employment policy.
Senate Bill 1013 would exempt employers with a written veterans’ employment policy from violations of state and local equal employment opportunities law. Legislation allowing veterans’ preference has been signed into law in a number of states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate
Senate Bill 50 provides for an industrial hemp industry in the Commonwealth through the establishment of a permitting process within the Department of Agriculture to license and regulate the cultivation, growth and sale of industrial hemp. The 2014 Federal Farm Bill permits industrial hemp research if it is authorized by a state.
Senate Bill 1056 updates the law on the assignment of custody and visitation rights of deployed parents.
Both bills go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Committees Review Replacement of No Child Left Behind
Last week the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee held a joint public hearing on the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is touted as a more state-centered and flexible replacement to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The committees will be developing policies and legislation to implement this new federal accountability measure in Pennsylvania.
Ag Committees Hold Hearing on Cuts to Agriculture Funding
With an increasing groundswell of public outcry regarding the Governor’s slashing of $72 million in state funding for agricultural programs, the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and its House counterpart held a public hearing on the impact of those cuts on Pennsylvania’s farmers and the various programs that support their livelihood.
Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding testified at the hearing. Penn State discussed the school’s agricultural extension and promotion programs. Officials from the University of Pennsylvania discussed the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Other testifiers included officials representing the Pennsylvania 4-H, the Westmoreland County Extension, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, and the PennAg Industries Association.
Use of Drones in Pennsylvania
The Senate Majority Policy Committee held a public hearing to examine the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in Pennsylvania. The hearing included a broad array of testifiers from state and national organizations.
Among the topics discussed were the impact of drones on privacy and businesses, and legislation that would place a two-year Pennsylvania moratorium on the use of government unmanned aircraft.
The Senate is in voting session today, Tuesday and Wednesday.
You can watch Senate session live at PASenateGOP.com.
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