A report on the Session Week of September 8, 2020
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 September 8, 2020.
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Senate Sends Bill Requiring Legislative Approval of RGGI to Governor
On Wednesday, the Senate approved — and sent to the Governor’s desk — legislation that would increase legislative oversight on the proposal to have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The Senate approved House Bill 2025, introduced by Representative Jim Struzzi, by a bipartisan 33-17 vote, including five Democrats.
House Bill 2025 creates the Pennsylvania Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Authorization Act; clarifies that the Administration does not have the authority to unilaterally join RGGI; and, prohibits the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from joining RGGI without Legislative approval.
The Senate acted in a bipartisan manner to move it to his desk, so it’s now up to the Governor to follow up on his previous statements about wanting to work in a collaborative effort. It would be a massive understatement to say this is an important issue. This is an issue that directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Pennsylvania families. Entering RGGI is a decision of enormous consequence to every Pennsylvanian. RGGI paves the way for a tax to be placed on the emissions of carbon – the very gas we all exhale – from electric generation plants here in the Commonwealth.
On October 3, Governor Wolf directed the DEP to join RGGI — a collaboration of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) set a cap on total Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions from electric power generators in their states. In order to comply, power plants must purchase a credit or “allowance” for each ton of CO2 they emit.
If Pennsylvania joins RGGI, it would be the only major energy producing state in the compact and the resulting carbon tax on employers engaged in electric generation would devastate that industry and cost thousands of jobs.
House Bill 2025 establishes a series of steps that the DEP would be required to follow to ensure the public is informed and involved before it could submit a RGGI proposal to the General Assembly for consideration.
Initially, the DEP would be required to publish its RGGI legislation in the PA Bulletin and provide a public comment period of at least 180-days. During the comment period, DEP would be required to hold a minimum of four public hearings in locations that would be directly affected economically by the proposal.
Following the public comment period, DEP would be required to submit a report to the House and Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committees detailing the specific economic and environmental impacts that joining RGGI would have on impacted communities and the Commonwealth.
This process will ensure that the voices of citizens, especially those who would be impacted by RGGI, are heard before a final decision is made. This legislation does not ban the state from joining RGGI, but rather ensures that the process is open and involves the people of Pennsylvania as well as their elected officials in the General Assembly.
Senate Approves Bill for Local Decisions on Fall Sports, Activities
The Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that would give Pennsylvania school districts greater control over decisions involving fall sports and activities. House Bill 2787, which was approved by the House on September 2, now goes to the Governor’s desk.
The measure empowers Pennsylvania’s local school districts to make decisions regarding fall sports and activities, including whether spectators will be permitted at sporting events. The measure recognizes that schools, parents and students deserve greater input over whether to allow extracurricular activities – particularly given the Wolf Administration’s unclear, arbitrary and constantly changing edicts whether they should continue.
Committee Receives Update on Housing Assistance Programs
Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee that I chair held a public hearing on Tuesday to receive an update on the status of the statewide rental and mortgage assistance programs developed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), and the overall impact of the pandemic on homeowners, renters and landlords.
During the hearing, the Committee heard from PHFA Executive Director Robin Wiessmann; Pennsylvania Housing Alliance Executive Director Phyllis Chamberlain; Leah Sailhamer, Vice President for Government Affairs, with the Pennsylvania Apartment Association; and, Rita Dallago, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association.
Senate Approves Bill to Expand Broadband Access
The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday that would establish a grant program to extend deployment of broadband services in underserved areas of the state.
Senate Bill 835 dedicates state funding to improve access to high-speed broadband internet in rural areas of the state that currently do not have access to reliable networks. It would limit funding to entities that have demonstrated the ability to construct and administer internet services and require that they provide 20 percent of the funding for the project. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Access to broadband has become even more crucial during the COVID-19 health crisis, connecting residents with services and information they would otherwise not have access to. It is also important to those who tele-work, senior citizens, fire and emergency workers and students who are taking classes remotely.
Other measures approved by the Senate and sent to the House this week include:
Senate Bill 530, which requires that a student who is convicted or adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault to be removed from the school building, if they are enrolled in the same school district.
Senate Bill 869, which establishes a moment of silence in schools coinciding with the anniversary of September 11 (2001 terrorist attacks) and December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day).
Senate Bill 968, which 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 preserving parole decision–making responsibilities within the board.
Senate Bill 1039, which amends Title 16 (Counties), consolidates the Act of August 9, 1955 (P.L.323, No.130), known as The County Code and makes a related repeal.
Senate Bill 1170, which permits the calling of expert witnesses in cases of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Senate Bill 5 requires General Assembly approval of all regulations with an economic impact or cost to the Commonwealth, to its political subdivisions, and to the private sector exceeding $1 million.
Senate Bill 253 requires all state agencies designate an employee as a regulatory compliance officer.
Senate Bill 793 exempts municipal trucks from state bonding requirements when they travel short distances to maintain local roads.
House Bill 1033 clarifies that revaluation company personnel who are directly responsible for the valuation of real property must be certified as Certified Pennsylvania Evaluators.
House Bill 1439 requires insurers to annually file a statement with the Insurance Department attesting to their efforts to comply with federal laws and regulations relating to mental health and substance use disorder parity.
House Bill 1584 removes restrictive language that bars Fish and Boat Commission Waterways Conservation Officers from being included in Act 111 for the purpose of seeking collective bargaining.
House Bill 1696 requires insurers to file an annual statement with the Insurance Department attesting to its efforts to comply with federal and state laws concerning mental health parity and substance use disorder treatment benefits.
House Bill 1984 provides special provisions in adoption cases where the child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.
The Appropriations Committee approved four bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1226 provides $130 million to various higher education institutions from money received by the Commonwealth through the federal CARES Act.
Senate Bill 1307 appropriates funds from the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account to assist residential and small business customers with utility payments.
Senate Bill 1314 appropriates funds from the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account for the Nonprofit Economic Emergency Delivery Systems Grants Program.
House Bill 2513 allows restaurants, clubs and bars to use 50 percent of their indoor seating capacity while adhering to CDC and state COVID-19 guidance.
Communications & Technology
The Senate Communications & Technology Committee approved two bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 487 updates the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act to require state agencies victimized by a breach involving Personally Identifiable Information to report the incident to those affected within seven days.
House Bill 2348 creates the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program, which will be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
Community, Economic & Recreational Development
The Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee approved House Bill 777 on Wednesday. The bill provides that a club licensee may use the 60 percent portion of proceeds, currently required to be utilized for public interest purposes, for operating expenses for a period of one year after the termination of the Governor’s proclamation of disaster emergency.
The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 2787 on Friday, September 4. The bill amends the Public School Code by adding new sections concerning precautions against the spread of COVID-19 and sports and extracurricular activities during the current pandemic.
Environmental Resources & Energy
In addition to House Bill 2025, the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee approved four bills on Thursday, September 3.
Senate Bill 950 , which I introduced, mirrors HB 2025 in that it creates the Pennsylvania Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Authorization Act; clarifies that the Administration does not have the authority to unilaterally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); and, prohibits the Department of Environmental Protection from joining RGGI without Legislative approval.
Senate Bill 1173 amends the Air Pollution Control Act to standardize the make-up of the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee.
House Bill 1737 amends the Economic Development Agency, Fiduciary and Lender Environmental Liability Protection Act (Act 3 of 1995) to add land banks to the list of economic development agencies under the act.
House Bill 1808 amends the Solid Waste Management Act to update definitions allowing for “advanced recycling” and “advanced recycling facilities.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved four bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 833 creates a certification for civil celebrants to preside over weddings.
Senate Bill 1033 adds a new judge for the Twenty-sixth Judicial District (Columbia and Montour counties).
House Bill 2175 allows expert testimony in sexual assault cases.
House Bill 2176 adds additional offenses to Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), Section 6318 (Unlawful contact with minor).
Law & Justice
The Senate Law & Justice Committee approved House Bill 2513 on Tuesday. The bill allows restaurants, clubs and bars to use 50 percent of their indoor seating capacity while adhering to CDC and state COVID-19 guidance.
The Senate Local Government Committee approved eight bills on Tuesday.
House Bill 885 amends the Public Works Contractors’ Bond Law to tighten the requirements for acceptable financial securities required for projects.
House Bill 908 allows a local government unit that imposes a dedicated real estate tax or earned income tax for preserving and maintaining land for open space under Act 442 of 1967 to use a portion of the tax revenue for the maintenance of open space land that was not acquired under the provisions of Act 442 of 1967.
Senate Bill 1164 amends the County Code to clarify that all deaths in a county suspected of COVID-19 shall be referred to the county coroner for investigation.
House Bill 1408 repeals the Sunday Sports Law which prohibits the playing of football and baseball during certain hours on Sunday.
House Bill 1582 gives Second Class Townships the option to eliminate the position of Elected Auditor and replace it with an independent auditor.
House Bill 1647 provides that a taxing district shall require the tax collector to waive a penalty charged for late payment of real estate taxes if the taxpayer requests a waiver of penalty within a year from the date of the transfer of ownership and attests that a notice was not received.
House Bill 2044 repeals Act 120 of 1919, an act mandating that a public dance or public ball cannot be held in a city of the first, second, or third class without a permit from the mayor and paying a fee of $1 for each event.
House Bill 2536 provides emergency tax anticipation notes for local government units.
Rules & Executive Nominations
The Senate Rules & Executive Nominations Committee approved Senate Resolution 353 on Wednesday. The measure, which designates September 14, 2020, as “EMS Memorial Day” in Pennsylvania, was adopted by the full Senate later on Wednesday.
The Senate State Government Committee approved four bills on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1190 conveys property in Conewango Township, Warren County.
Senate Bill 1241 directs the Department of General Services to conduct an annual survey of state facility usage.
Senate Bill 1280 conveys a property partially located in the City of Washington and South Strabane Township, Washington County.
House Bill 2626 makes various revisions relating to election system efficiency, in particular with respect to absentee and mail-in ballots.
The State Government Committee approved three bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1309 conveys a tract of unimproved land in Manheim Township, Lancaster County.
House Bill 2354 establishes the Do-Not-Pay Initiative in the Treasury Department to monitor improper payments across state agencies, with operational assistance provided by the Governor’s Budget Office.
House Bill 2440 provides that shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, hunting facilities and firearm and ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers and distributors, inclusive of their employees and agents, shall always be constituted as life-sustaining businesses.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved three bills on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 101 requires PENNDOT maintenance of all surface and subsurface drainage facilities connected with the state highways in boroughs and incorporated towns with populations of 2,500 or less.
Senate Bill 845 increases the maximum allowable gross weight for electric-powered commercial vehicles from 80,000 pounds to 82,000 pounds.
Senate Bill 1281 strengthens the Steer Clear Law.
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