I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities from the session week of March 14, 2016.
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Senate Works to Complete FY 2015-16 Budget
Working to finally close the book on the state’s Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget, the Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would restore money slashed by the Governor’s line-item vetoes, while providing a modest increase for education without the need for new taxes.
House Bill 1801, as amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and approved by the full Senate on Wednesday, is a $30.031 billion spending plan that restores much of the $6 billion in funding for essential programs and services that were line-item vetoed by the Governor from the FY 2015-16 budget (House Bill 1460) enacted last December.
This marks the fourth time that the Senate has acted to provide essential funding for our schools, agricultural programs and human services agencies. This supplemental funding fills the holes created by the Governor through his line-item vetoes. It will keep agricultural extension services and 4-H programs running. It keeps schools open and in fact provides a significant increase in education funding. By signing this bill, the Governor can provide much needed money to schools and social service agencies. It is way past time for us to finalize this budget, move beyond the past and look toward Pennsylvania’s future.
Basic Education will see $5.95 billion in funding, an increase of $200 million from Fiscal Year 2014-15 including Ready-to-Learn Block Grant money. The total also represents a $50 million increase over the funding vetoed by the Governor.
HB 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: Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
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’s line-item vetoes.
The Senate also approved House Bill 1327, the Fiscal Code companion bill to the budget.
Both HB 1327 and HB 1801 were returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Senate Approves Veterans Preference Hiring Measure
The Senate approved a bill on Tuesday 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.
Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
Senate Bill 50, which 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, which updates the law on the assignment of custody and visitation rights of deployed parents.
All three bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Adopts Maple Producers Week Resolution
On Tuesday the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 302, legislation I introduced designating the week of March 20 through 26 as “Maple Producers Week” in Pennsylvania. Maple producers play a critical role in the Commonwealth by providing jobs and product to Pennsylvania’s economy. Due to their importance, this resolution sets aside a week to recognize the industry’s contribution to the state.
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 and House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees held a public hearing on Tuesday on the impact of those cuts on Pennsylvania’s farmers and the various programs that support their livelihood.
With the Governor’s line-item veto of agricultural funding, Pennsylvania is close to becoming the only state in the nation that does not run an Agricultural Extension program. We might soon be the only state without 4-H, and we may soon be the only state without a state-supported College of Agricultural Sciences. These are essential programs that provide vital services to Pennsylvania’s farming families.
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.
Click here for video from the hearing.
Committees Review Every Student Succeeds Act
This 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 hearing was important for many reasons, not the least being that those committees will be studying the impact of the specific provisions of the ESSA on Pennsylvania’s schools. The committees will also develop the proper policies and legislation to implement this new federal accountability measure in Pennsylvania.
Click here for video from the hearing.
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