A report on the Session Week of March 15, 2021
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 15, 2021.
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Reappointed to PENNVEST Board
I am extremely pleased to report that Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman reappointed me to serve on the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) Board. I have represented the Senate Republican Caucus on the board since June 2019.
PENNVEST provides grants and low-interest loans to fund sewer, storm water and drinking water projects throughout the Commonwealth. This financing has been a key catalyst in promoting several major water and sewer projects in the 41st District which have boosted our local economy and created job opportunities. These projects not only contribute to improving Pennsylvania’s environment and the health of its people, they also provide opportunities for economic growth and jobs for Pennsylvania’s workers.
Click here for audio of my comments on reappointment to the PENNVEST board.
Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings on Education, SSHE
The Senate Appropriations Committee continued its review of the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget on Thursday with budget hearings with the Department of Education and the State System of Higher Education.
Department of Education
Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega pledged to continue working to return students to in-person instruction as safely as possible and as soon as possible. Less than 31 percent of schools are currently conducting classes fully online. Senate Republicans also raised concerns about the lasting impacts of continued learning disruptions on vulnerable populations caused by the pandemic.
Senators stressed the need for the Department to work with the General Assembly to ensure that the $10.9 billion in federal stimulus funding for education is used for one-time costs and not recurring costs that will leave school districts with future budget deficits.
Senate Republicans questioned the Governor’s proposed $1 billion increase in education funding to eliminate the “hold harmless” provision for school funding and said the proposal disregards the factors and reasons developed by the bi-partisan, bi-cameral Basic Education Funding Commission that based its formula on testimony and input from experts in the education field.
Click here for video of the morning session.
Click here for video of the afternoon session.
State System of Higher Education
During the budget hearing with the State System of Higher Education (SSHE), I questioned whether Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and its students, staff and faculty were bearing an overly onerous financial burden to keep the system solvent.
SSHE Chancellor Dr. Dan Greenstein told the Appropriations Committee that the system relied on “cross subsidization” of assets between the 14 universities over the years to maintain financial stability.
I told Chancellor Greenstein that cross subsidization is one of my biggest frustrations with SSHE, and as such, IUP is paying a terrible price in terms of retrenchment and clerical retirement and other layoffs because of its ability in previous years to support weaker universities in the system.
“It’s a fair characterization and it goes beyond that, Senator,” Dr. Greenstein responded. “Universities that are the subsidizers tend to be operating with higher student/faculty ratios, higher average class size. They have fewer small classes. Those that are being subsidized have lower student/faculty ratios. They have a far greater proportion of smaller class sizes.”
I responded by questioning the value of IUP remaining in SSHE.
“Senator, unless we figure this out, I will be recommending to the (SSHE) Board that we come back to the Senate next year with a legislative package to dissolve the system because if we continue to go down this path what you are going to see is that cross subsidization is going to drain all of us,” Dr. Greenstein said.
In closing, I told him that I would be more than happy to sponsor that bill.
Click here for video of the complete hearing.
“Recovery to Work” Proposal Sent to House
The Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that will combat the heroin and opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth by helping individuals in recovery receive training and find jobs. Under the “Recovery to Work” pilot program created by Senate Bill 69, the state will coordinate with workforce development organizations, treatment and recovery professionals, and employers and training providers to offer training and employment opportunities to individuals recovering from addiction.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
House Bill 11, which renames several bridges and highways.
Senate Bill 70, which designates a bridge in East Carroll Township, Cambria County, as the Kenneth John Ivory Memorial Bridge.
Senate Bill 116, which updates and modernizes the History Code.
Senate Bill 120, which addresses the use of an attached blade on certain vehicles.
House Bill 157, which repeals Act 109 of 1978, known as the Milrite Act.
Aging & Youth
In addition to Senate Bill 69, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 137 on Wednesday. Senate Bill 137 would provide additional funding to the State Police for the training of Drug Recognition Experts. Video
Community, Economic & Recreational Development
Game & Fisheries
Senate Bill 241 exempts the cost of fishing licenses for veterans and other individuals taking steps towards physical or mental recovery as part of therapeutic recreation events or programs.
Senate Bill 403 aligns the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s boat registration period with the calendar year.
House Bill 14 amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide for a two-year window in which an individual may file a civil action alleging childhood sexual abuse notwithstanding any otherwise applicable statute of limitations defense.
Senate Bill 411 consolidates the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole and transfers the supervision of offenders and certain administrative functions from the board to the department and preserves parole decision–making responsibilities within the board.
Rules & Executive Nominations
Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform
The Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform met on Monday to begin a comprehensive review of the 2020 General Election and to review best practices of election integrity and security from other states. Video
Senate Bill 274 conveys a property in Coraopolis, Allegheny County.
House Bill 284 updates and modernizes the History Code.
Senate Bill 89 repeals the Balanced Multimodal Transportation Policy Commission, a panel authorized by statute but not established.
Senate Bill 114 requires the removal of snow and ice from vehicles before driving.
House Bill 186 exempts milk haulers from travel restrictions on highways during a declaration of disaster emergency.
Senate Bill 282 designates a bridge in Jackson Township, Cambria County, as the Sgt. Harry Lewis Amigh Memorial Bridge.
Senate Bill 382 reforms the Public-Private Transportation Partnership statute.
Senate Bill 410 reinstates the requirement for registration stickers on license plates.