In this Edition:
I hope you have a warm and loving Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the honor of serving all of the residents of the 24th Senatorial District.
Elimination of School Property Taxes Comes Up One Vote Short
I voted Monday for legislation that would permanently eliminate all school property taxes in Pennsylvania and establish a fairer way to fund public schools.
The vote to amend House Bill 683 to include provisions from Senate Bill 76, known as the Property Tax Independence Act, failed by a vote of 25 to 24, with the Lieutenant Governor breaking a 24-24 tie.
The fact that we succeeded in getting a Senate vote on the issue was unprecedented. But the outcome is extremely disappointing.
The measure would have eliminated all school property taxes across the state. To replace the revenue the property tax currently provides to public schools, the legislation would broaden the base of the state sales tax to include more services and products and increase the rate from 6 percent to 7 percent. The remainder of the funding necessary for public schools would be generated by an increase in the state personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent.
Existing revenue dedicated to property tax relief from casinos would be used to eliminate school property taxes. The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program would continue to provide assistance for county and municipal property tax relief for those who qualify. The new revenue sources would replace dollar-for-dollar the revenues lost by the school property tax elimination.
Under the proposed legislation, any school district seeking to spend above the allotment from the state would have to ask the voters for their support in a referendum. School districts may locally increase the personal income tax or earned income tax only if approved by the voters in that district.
The legislation was authored through the combined efforts of more than 80 grassroots groups who are committed to eliminating the school property tax. I am confident they will not stop fighting to eliminate this archaic tax and neither will I.
Letter to the Editor Regarding New Hanover Township Quarry
Representative Toepel and I have been contacted by numerous constituents regarding the Gibraltar Rock Quarry Permit renewal in New Hanover Township. Constituent concerns, coupled with our own, warranted a letter to our Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Our first letter to DEP Central office in Harrisburg, requested a suspension on the Gibraltar Quarry renewal application until Township and constituent concerns could be reviewed and properly addressed. We felt that the gravity of the situation warranted a physical meeting between the constituents and the entities involved with the process.
Despite our calls for help and clarity, DEP Central informed us that the meeting we requested was not a part of the permit process and they would not be meeting with constituents since it did not meet their current “mission critical” threshold; and they are obligated to adhere to the current travel ban issued by the Governor.
We immediately responded to Harrisburg DEP and insisted that this meeting was a matter of critical public safety. Our offices demonstrated these concerns through our own message and by sharing copies of correspondence between the Township, Board of Supervisors and constituents. We also emphasized that the permit should NOT be issued until the meeting we requested was held.
Our last requests for this imperative meeting have gone unanswered from Harrisburg. Despite DEP’s unwillingness to grant our request, we will continue to advocate for our constituents and have this matter properly addressed.
Senate Adopts Mensch Resolution Recognizing “First Responder Appreciation Week” in Pennsylvania
On Tuesday, I introduced SR 250, which designates January 1, 2016 to January 8, 2016 as “First Responder Appreciation Week” in Pennsylvania.
Thousands of Pennsylvanians have benefited from the brave and courageous service of first responders across this Commonwealth. These men and women should be honored to show our renewed respect, appreciation and gratitude for those who carry out the critical role of protecting and ensuring public safety for all of us.
The resolution recognizes all first responders including volunteer and career firefighters, emergency medical service workers, police officers. There are roughly 55,000 registered emergency medical service workers, 75,000 firefighters, and over 45,000 police officers that serve the Commonwealth.
Police, fire, emergency medical service and public health personnel work tirelessly and selflessly for the residents of the Commonwealth regardless of any personal peril and hazard. We commend the noble sacrifices they make for the benefit of the community.
The resolution was unanimously adopted by the Senate.
Senate Approves Bill Authorizing Transportation Network Companies
Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft could operate safely in every county in Pennsylvania under a bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 984, which I am co-sponsoring, would establish a regulatory framework for the operation of transportation network companies throughout Pennsylvania. These companies are currently permitted to operate in some, but not all Pennsylvania counties and municipalities under a two-year temporary authority granted by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC).
The bill, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, would ensure transportation network companies and drivers meet key requirements, such as maintaining proper insurance coverage, meeting vehicle safety requirements and reporting accidents. In addition, the bill would implement a zero tolerance policy on the use of drugs or alcohol for a driver using the digital network and prevents individuals convicted of certain crimes, including burglary, robbery and sexual offenses, from offering rideshare services.
Other Bills Approved by the Senate and Sent to the House
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 482 allows counties to impose a fee of up to 10 percent of the final sale price of a property sold at a judicial sale for a Demolition and Property Rehab Fund.
Senate Bill 735 allows mobile retail food facilities to operate in multiple food safety jurisdictions without having to pay multiple fees in each county it operates. I co-sponsored this bill.
Senate Bill 859 consolidates the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole into a single state agency titled the “Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” I co-sponsored this bill.
Senate Bill 860 amends the Crime Victims Act making technical changes related to the consolidation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole into a single state agency titled the “Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” I co-sponsored this bill.
Senate Bill 1065 adds falconry to the list of exemptions for Sunday hunting.
Visiting Team Physician Bills Sent to Governor
Two bills that will allow out-of-state visiting athletic team physicians to treat athletes during athletic events without the need for a Pennsylvania medical license received final legislative approval this week and were sent to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Senate Bill 685 and Senate Bill 686 amend state laws to allow visiting team physicians to treat athletes as long as they are licensed in their home state and have an agreement with the visiting sports team to provide care for them while traveling. I co-sponsored both bills.
Many teams in Pennsylvania and around the country employ medical personnel who travel with the team and coaches for the purpose of providing medical care. These team physicians have established medical relationships with the athletes and are well suited to provide care while teams are competing. 21 states currently allow for visiting team physicians to practice in their state without meeting home state licensing requirements.
Other Bills Sent to the Governor
Senate Bill 130 bans the practice of allowing persons sentenced to community service to purchase gift cards in lieu of performing the service.
Senate Bill 490 includes the PEMA Director as a position subject to review and confirmation by the Senate. Currently, the post is filled by appointment by the Governor. I co-sponsored this bill.
House Bill 698 allows for the use of a motorized wheelchair by permanently disabled hunters, and provides permits for individuals with disabilities.
Senate Adopts Resolution Urging Greater Screening of Syrian Refugees
The Senate adopted a measure Tuesday that I am co-sponsoring to direct the Governor to reject the placement of Syrian refugees within the Commonwealth until the federal government establishes increased security procedures to screen refugees coming from this region.
In light of the terror attacks that occurred in Paris, Senate Resolution 248 requests that the President of the United States direct the Department of Homeland Security to review its security procedures for vetting refugees and to send a report detailing the increased measures to the states that are under consideration to receive refugees. The federal government has already indicated that it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year but have not detailed the security measures that will be used to screen these refugees.
Guy Reschenthaler Sworn in to State Senate
Guy Reschenthaler was sworn in to office as the state senator representing the 37th Senatorial District in Allegheny and Washington counties during a ceremony Tuesday in the Senate Chamber. With Senator Reschenthaler’s swearing in, Senate Republicans now hold a 31 to 19 majority, the largest margin since 1954.
Senator Reschenthaler served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corp, volunteering for service in Iraq. He worked in private practice at a multi-state law firm in Mt. Lebanon and was elected Magisterial District Judge for Pleasant Hills, Jefferson Hills and South Park, winning the nomination of both parties.
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