Senator Joe Pittman E-Newsletter

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Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the Session Week of April 6, 2021

Dear Friend,

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 April 6, 2021.

If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatorpittman.com  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 website and click the “contact” button.  Please do not “reply” directly to this e-mail.

Sincerely,

Joe


Participate Now in a Key Election Survey

I am strongly urging local residents to share their views on last year’s election with the Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform through an online form through April 30.

The Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform is anticipated to produce a report that will be presented to the General Assembly and standing committees covering areas of legislative recommendations, as directed in the Senate Motion establishing the Special Committee.

More information can be found on the Special Committee’s website. 

Committee Examines the ‘State of the Chesapeake Bay’

The Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee held an informational briefing on Tuesday to examine the state of the Chesapeake Bay. Presenters included:  Ann Swanson, Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Commission; Marel King, Pennsylvania Director, Chesapeake Bay Commission; and Jill Whitcomb, Director, Chesapeake Bay Program Office, Department of Environmental Protection.

Video of the hearing. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held three days of public hearings, Tuesday, April 6, through Thursday, April 8, on the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget running.

Department of Labor & Industry

4/8/21 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Labor & Industry

During the budget hearing with Acting Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier, I pressed for the latest information on the Wolf Administration’s RGGI carbon tax proposal and plans to provide job training to affected workers. I also invited the Acting Secretary to visit my office and talk to jobless citizens about their problems receiving unemployment assistance.

Other members pressed Acting Secretary Berrier to complete Unemployment Compensation computer system upgrades, for which the General Assembly has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars. The continued reliance on 40-year-old computers severely hampered the ability of jobless workers to access assistance during the administration’s business closures.

Efforts to align Pennsylvania workforce development with existing employer needs was the topic of several discussions. Members urged the Department to do more to connect jobseekers with the many good-paying jobs that are going unfilled.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Agriculture

 4/8/21 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Agriculture

During the budget hearing with the Department of Agriculture, I compared the greater efficiency of the Homer City power plant over the Governor’s solar energy proposal and questioned the Administration’s proposal to raid the Race Horse Development Fund.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding elaborated on the Department’s dog license fee increase request and provided an update on the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program.

Senators questioned the Secretary about the impact of the pandemic, including Departmental closures of restaurants and on the financial stability of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, including the use limitations caused by the storage of PPE at the site. He expressed optimism that Pennsylvania’s fairs will rebound this year — with limitations on grandstand capacity. The Secretary also discussed efforts to help Pennsylvania’s distressed dairy farms and detailed the reimbursement program for dairy farmers who were forced to dump their products during the pandemic.

Citing the Governor’s proposed expansion of solar power, Senators expressed concerns that broad installation of solar panels could impact forest and farmland preservation.

Video of the hearing. 

Auditor General

4/7/21 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Auditor General

I asked Auditor General Timothy DeFoor what resources are needed to meet the Department’s core functions to protect taxpayers. 

The Auditor General said grant programs and unemployment programs were major targets for fraud during the pandemic with an estimate of potentially 20 percent of claims for those programs are suspected to be fraudulent. The Auditor General was urged to take a closer look at how his office could perform existing audits more efficiently, including reforming statutorily required audits and undertaking equipment upgrades.

Video of the hearing.

State Related Universities

Republican Appropriation Committee members questioned the leaders of Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and Lincoln University on their institution’s efforts to contain costs and lower the financial burden for students. Students relied heavily on internet access for learning during the pandemic.

Video of the hearing.

Department of Military & Veterans Affairs

Responding to questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on DMVA’s core missions, Acting Adjutant General (Maj. Gen.) Mark Schindler said the National Guard has adapted, maintained staffing levels, and is continuing to fulfill its mission to the Commonwealth and nation. COVID-19 severely impacted the state’s six veterans’ homes and the Department’s role in addressing the pandemic is being reviewed. MG Schindler said DMVA plans to expand its outreach efforts for veterans and improve the coordination of the various programs that serve their needs.

Video of the hearing.

Treasury

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity provided an update on the state’s financial condition and the status of programs under the Department’s purview, including Unclaimed Property, Keystone Scholars, PA ABLE and PA 529. Thanks to the fiscally responsible budgeting advocated by Senate Republicans over the past decade, Treasurer Garrity said that the state should not have a need for short-term borrowing to meet its financial obligations.

Video of the hearing.

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB)

Committee members raised concerns about the PLCB’s effectiveness issues with its e-commerce system and stressed the need for better customer convenience. Questions were also asked about the decision-making process regarding the products sold in state stores and how the PLCB increased profitability during the pandemic and if that profitability can continue in the future.

Video of the hearing.

Attorney General

Attorney General Josh Shapiro highlighted the role of the office in amending the state’s Constitution, saying the office writes a long-form explanation of the ballot question also known as the “plain-English statement.” He said the office also reviews the actual ballot questions prior to publication, approving them for “form and legality.” 

Committee members pressed the Attorney General on why his office’s budget submission exceeded the funding request from the Governor’s proposal. He indicated the office’s request is a “cost-to-carry” budget that supports drug enforcement efforts, defends state laws and the constitution in court, administers the Safe2Say program and more.

Video of the hearing.

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