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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A Report on the Legislative Session Week
May 11, 2015

Dear Friend,

I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features events and legislative activities during the Session Week of May 11, 2015.

If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website for more information about your state government. If you do not wish to receive these e-newsletters, please click the "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of the page. If you would like to contact my office, please go to my web page and click the "contact" button. Please do not "reply" directly to this e-mail.


Don White

Senate Approves Public Pension Reform Measure

Recognizing that increasing public pension costs are creating an unsustainable burden on state government and local school districts, the Senate approved on Wednesday a reform measure drafted by Senate Republicans that is projected to produce $18.3 billion in savings over 30 years.

Senate Bill 1 restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System – in order to make them viable in the long term.

This proposal is the first major step in controlling the runaway costs of Pennsylvania’s public systems. These costs increase every year and the burden ultimately falls upon taxpayers. Pension obligation payments are the driving force behind the massive tax increases that Governor Wolf is proposing for next year’s state budget and they are driving up property taxes imposed by school districts. Reform of the current system is the only answer. This is a practical and workable proposal that shares the burden and the risks.

In fact, Senate Bill 1 includes the provisions of Senate Bill 401, the bill I introduced that would convert all members of the Pennsylvania Legislature from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan. We as legislators cannot in good faith ask public employees to move to a defined benefit program if we are not willing to do the same.

While there are several reforms and changes in Senate Bill 1, the bill does not touch benefits already earned by employees and it does not affect retirees at all. There are absolutely no changes in payments for current retirees. It’s also important to remind the organizations opposing these reforms that every dollar spent on pensions is a dollar that cannot be spent by school districts to hire employees, pay reasonable salaries and benefits to workers or to ensure that essential government services are provided. When it comes to the limited resources of our schools and state government, this truly is an ‘either or proposition’ and that fact must be recognized.

The features of Senate Bill 1 include:

  • All new state and public school employees will be enrolled in a mandatory, 401k-type Defined Contribution Plan similar to those used by private sector workers.

  • Members of the General Assembly, upon election or re-election, will be enrolled in the same Defined Contribution Plan as state and public school employees.

  • Current employees will be able to choose between increasing their pension contribution and lowering their future benefits.

  • No changes to current retiree benefits.

  • A Public Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission made up of investment professionals and retirement advisors will be established to make recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor. Among their duties will be to evaluate the performance of current investment strategies and procedures of both state retirement systems regarding rates of return and associated fees paid for fund management.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Click for audio and video of my remarks on the floor of the Senate on Senate Bill 1.

Senate Honors Westmoreland County Wrestlers

I was extremely pleased to be joined on Monday by a group of state champion wrestlers from Westmoreland County.

The Franklin Regional Panthers of Murrysville were honored by the Senate for winning their second consecutive PIAA Class AAA state championship this past March. The Panthers won an unprecedented four individual wrestling championships, which is a record for a PIAA tournament while setting a new mark for total team points. Those individual state champions include Devin Brown, Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer and Josh Shields. In addition, Josh Maruca was the runner-up in his weight class.

The team is led by head coach Eric Mausser, who earned a couple of titles in his own right this year. Coach Mausser is not only the PIAA Class AAA Coach of the Year for the second straight year, but he was also named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Wrestling Coach of the Year for 2014-15.

It was definitely a big year for the Panthers. And it was also a banner year for another Westmoreland County wrestler as well. Allan Beattie from Burrell High School won his weight class in the PIAA Class AA wrestling tournament. Allan also set a record by becoming the first Burrell High student to win the state championship in the heavyweight class.

Click for audio and video of my introduction of these wrestlers to the Senate.

Banking and Insurance Committee Approves Banking/Securities Nominee

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which I chair, approved the nomination of Robin Wiessmann to serve as Secretary of Banking and Securities on Wednesday.

Wiessmann served as Pennsylvania State Treasurer from 2007 to 2009. Wiessmann was a founder and president of Artemis Capital Group, the first female-owned investment banking firm on Wall Street. Prior to founding Artemis, Wiessmann was a vice president at Goldman Sachs and a deputy managing director for the City of Philadelphia. She graduated from Lafayette College and holds a law degree from Rutgers University.

Her nomination now goes to the full Senate for confirmation.

The committee also held a public hearing on the competiveness of the banking industry in Pennsylvania.

More information and video from the meeting are available at:

Local Pastor Serves as Senate Chaplain

I was pleased to visit with Pastor Joseph Smith of Indiana Wesleyan Methodist Church and his family on Tuesday. Pastor Smith had the distinction of serving as the Guest Chaplain of the Senate. Click for video of Pastor Smith’s invocation.

Senate Approves Medical Cannabis Bill

The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday that would legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Senate Bill 3 would allow individuals who suffer from certain medical conditions to apply for a medical cannabis access card from the Department of Health. A licensed health care practitioner would be required to provide written certification in order for an application to the Department of Health to be considered. The legislation creates a new Board of Medical Cannabis Licensing within the Department of State that will be responsible for regulating growers, dispensers and processors.

Senate Bill 3 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Approves New Motorcycle License Plate to Support Veterans

The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday intended to help needy veterans through the sales of a special motorcycle license plate.

Senate Bill 284 authorizes the special “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate for motorcycles and Senate Bill 285 allocates a portion of the funds raised through sales of the plate to the Veterans Trust Fund. The trust fund assists veterans in need of help with food, utilities, mortgage or rent payments, health care and other necessities of life.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. Other bills approved by the Senate and sent to the House this week include:

Senate Bill 264 bans the sale, possession, or distribution of shark fins.

Senate Bill 678 clarifies the arrest powers and jurisdiction of campus police officers employed by Pennsylvania’s 14 State System of Higher Education universities.

Senate Confirms Nine Cabinet Secretaries

The Senate confirmed nine cabinet nominations this week.

On Monday, the Senate approved the nominations of Major General James Joseph to serve as state Adjutant General, Dennis Davin to serve as Secretary of Community & Economic Development, Curtis Topper to serve as Secretary of General Services and Leslie Richards to serve as Secretary of Transportation.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the nominations of Teresa Osborne to serve as Secretary of Aging, Russell Redding to serve as Secretary of Agriculture, Gary Tennis to serve as Secretary of Drug & Alcohol Programs, Dr. Karen Murphy to serve as Secretary of Health and Kathy Manderino to serve as Secretary of Labor & Industry.

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