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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A Report on the Legislative Session Week
March 14, 2016

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 March 14, 2016.

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 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 is a responsible budget. One that provides full funding for education, agricultural programs and social services, all of which were reduced or eliminated by the Governor’s line-item vetoes. This measure will complete a budget that should have been in place last year and finally close this ignoble chapter in Pennsylvania’s history. The reality is that as late as we are in the fiscal year, we can only spend what we have on hand.

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.

Fiscal Code Provisions Protect Local Energy Industries, Jobs

The state Fiscal Code bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday as a companion to the budget includes provisions intended to protect the region’s energy producing industries and the thousands of workers they employ from overreaching state and federal regulations.

House Bill 1327 includes provisions addressing Pennsylvania’s compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan and removing conventional well operations from the Wolf administration’s new oil and gas well regulations.

I was extremely pleased that these provisions were included as part of the Fiscal Code, which is a requisite component of the state budget package. The inclusions of these provisions underscores the importance of these issues to the Commonwealth and in particular our local energy producing industries.

One important section of House Bill 1327 outlines specific procedures for the General Assembly’s consideration of the implementation strategy developed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the federal Clean Power Plan before its submission to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Supreme Court has suspended the implementation of the Clean Power Plan rules for further discussion and evaluation, so it only makes sense for Pennsylvania to follow that approach. The language in House Bill 1327 would allow the General Assembly to give Pennsylvania’s plan thoughtful consideration before it is submitted.

Pennsylvania’s plan must take into account the impact that overregulation could have on jobs and the state’s economy. It is essential that the Legislature be proactive in protecting our industries and the thousands of workers they employ. The state regulations to comply with this federal edict could have a devastating impact on the industries in our region.

It is estimated that nearly half of Pennsylvania’s counties would be in violation of the stricter emission limits and we certainly would be in that mix. Our electric generation plants are already stressed by federal regulations. These new state compliance rules could put their long-term future and the good jobs they provide our region at risk.

Another section of the Fiscal Code invalidates regulations on conventional oil and gas wells that were published after Nov. 30, 2013. In essence, that would prevent the state’s Environmental Quality Board from promulgating regulations governing surface operations at gas wells that are scheduled to go into effect later this year. Regulators would have to establish new standards for conventional wells.

Changes involving unconventional oil and gas wells are not impacted by the Fiscal Code measure. This provision requires the DEP to recognize that conventional gas well operations have been a key part of our communities for 120 years. They should not be treated in the same manner as the big Marcellus Shale industries.

Click here to listen to my comments on the Fiscal Code.

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.

Banking & Insurance Committee Approves Two Bills

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee, which I chair, considered and approved two bills on Monday.

House Bill 1638 amends state law to permit appraisers to appraise physical damage to a vehicle using personal inspection or by photographs, videos, or telephonic means. Currently, appraisers can only conduct appraisals by personal inspection.

Senate Bill 1142 amends the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act by making changes to the makeup of the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Board.

The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.

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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