PA Senate

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are returning to the Capitol with five days to pass an on-time budget and no firm agreement on how to address state government's biggest cash shortfall since the recession.

Leaders of the House and Senate GOP majorities were expected to brief rank-and-file Republicans on Monday after spending the weekend in closed-door negotiations.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

With a little over two weeks until the state budget is due, House and Senate Republicans have been holding closed meetings to hash out details.

Few concrete plans are available, but GOP leaders say they’re on roughly the same page on spending.

A few months ago House Republicans released their budget proposal, which would spend about $800 million less than Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s blueprint and not raise taxes.

The Senate’s GOP majority hasn’t released its own plan yet, and it’s unclear if they will.

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The League of Women Voters is leading a new lawsuit seeking to throw out the map of Pennsylvania's congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander that favors Republicans and violates the rights of Democratic voters.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the state Commonwealth Court. It is the first to challenge districts originally drawn by Republican state lawmakers in 2011. It says Pennsylvania's map is one of the worst gerrymanders in the country.

Matt Rourke / AP

A group of legislative Democrats are pushing no fewer than twelve bills on voter registration in the House and Senate. They would model expanded voting and voter registration in Pennsylvania after reforms already done in other states.

However, Democrats haven’t even been able to get the measures past the first stage of consideration in the GOP-controlled chambers—the House and Senate State Government Committees.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Public Pension Plan Bill

Jun 8, 2017
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that will cut retirement benefits for future hires in public schools and state government as part of a package of changes designed to slash risk and reap modest long-term savings from the state's deeply indebted public-sector pension systems.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

After a recent audit found significant accounting, technology, and funding issues in the commonwealth’s unemployment compensation system, the Wolf administration is attempting to correct its course.

But it’s not going to be an easy—or quick—process.

Lawmakers are already expressing frustration with the amount of information they’re getting about the UC system’s financial decisions.

Katie Meyer / WITF

State senators gathered in the Capitol on Sunday evening to move a bill that's been dogging the legislature for the last four years, in various forms.

It would rework the structure of the state's two heavily indebted public pension systems, a change the bill's supporters say mitigates risk to taxpayers.

However, the proposal does little to reduce the state's massive pension debt.

Like several previous GOP pension proposals, it would shift the state's retirement plan to a three-tiered 401-k-style system--effectively reducing benefits for new hires.

Matt Rourke / AP

Activists across the commonwealth are urging state lawmakers to take an uncommon step in order to move a bill that would place limits on the gifts elected officials can accept.

They’re putting together discharge petition—a measure that’s not often used, and even less often used successfully.

Such a petition can force a bill to move out of a committee to a floor vote if the committee refuses to act on it.

Mike Groll / AP

A bill to expand gambling and raise sorely-needed revenue is moving on to the House, after passing swiftly through the Senate last week.

Gaming has been a sticky issue for the legislature for several sessions, and the latest bill is expected to face pushback from several factions of House lawmakers.

The Senate-passed bill would chiefly legalize and regulate internet gambling. It would also let Pennsylvanians buy lottery tickets and bet on fantasy sports online, and fix a law that dictates how casinos pay out fees to their local communities.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

A bipartisan group of legislative leaders has been working on a major proposal to change how state employee pensions are structured.

The commonwealth’s roughly $70 billion unfunded pension liability has been dogging lawmakers for years. But the plan most likely to move forward won’t attempt to reduce that debt significantly.

Instead, leaders say the measure will look similar to one they attempted to pass last session, which disintegrated without a vote because Democrats refused to support it.

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Around the state, advocates and frustrated Pennsylvanians are pushing lawmakers to change the rules governing how district lines are redrawn every 10 years.

The current process lets politicians the skew districts in their political favor—a process known as gerrymandering.

Pennsylvania Senate Democrats Hit By Cyberattack, Ransom Demanded

Mar 6, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania's top state Senate Democrat said Monday that no ransom has been paid to resolve a "ransomware" cyberattack that shut down the caucus' network and prompted an FBI investigation.

Senate Democrats' computer network, including their email system, remained inaccessible Monday, three days after the attack was discovered early Friday by information technology staff who received an alert that the network had been breached.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state Senate has been closed for a day following a vandalism incident.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports an email was forwarded to all Senate employees on Sunday announcing the closure of the Senate side of the Capitol on Monday. Drew Crompton, counsel to Sen. Joe Scarnati, says a man gained access to the Capitol early Sunday and sprayed a fire extinguisher in the hallways by the Senate's offices and chambers.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

When a child is abducted, millions of Pennsylvanians are asked to help through the Amber Alert system. State Representative Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, is hoping to use a similar system when a police officer is hurt.

Katie Meyer / WITF

In one of the state Capitol’s busy lobbies, there’s a clock that tracks unfunded pension liabilities. All day and night, that clock ticks upwards, adding billions of dollars to Pennsylvania’s debts every year.

The clock’s overseen by a small, dedicated group of pension overhaul advocates and on Tuesday, they dragged it up to the Capitol’s main rotunda to make a renewed call to lawmakers: find a way to halt the clock’s rising numbers, once and for all.

Katie Meyer / WITF

New members have officially been sworn into the Pennsylvania legislature.

The first day of the new session saw further entrenchment of Harrisburg’s partisan divide. Republicans shored up their majorities in the House and Senate, where they’ve often clashed with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to legislative priorities in the new session.

Lawmakers Begin New Session With Old Leaders Again At Helm

Jan 3, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are back in session with leadership teams largely unchanged from the two-year session that concluded in November.

The oath of office was administered Tuesday for members in both chambers, including 22 new representatives and six freshmen senators.

Republicans are again in firm majority control of both chambers, 121 to 82 in the House and 34 to 16 in the Senate.

Republican Rep. Mike Turzai was re-elected House speaker, while Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati is again the Senate's president pro tempore.

Kevin McCorry / WHYY

 

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives held leadership elections Tuesday in preparation for the impending end of the legislative session. Republican leaders new and old said they're looking forward to having their largest majority in decades next session.

Most of the major changes in the House's majority GOP leadership are due to retirements—the chamber's appropriations chair William Adolf, of Delaware County, is stepping down, as is Susquehanna County Caucus Chair Sandra Major.

Alan Levine / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Senate has approved legislation that would allow beer distributors to sell beer for off-site consumption in any amount, including six-packs and growlers.

The bill, approved Monday, would let manufacturers ship up to 192 ounces of beer to consumers each month.

Consumers would also be able to buy mixed drinks at the state's sporting venues that currently sell beer.

The legislation now heads to the state House of Representatives.

A spokesman for Wolf was non-committal Monday night on whether the governor would sign the bill.

WITF

The city of Harrisburg's near-bankruptcy led to Pennsylvania's first and only local government takeover, the ousting of a seven-term mayor and his pending criminal trial - and aggressive, expensive parking enforcement in the state capit

Matt Rourke / AP

After a long summer break, the state House is back in session—for now. But lawmakers aren’t expecting to tackle anything too divisive before Election Day.

The House will have just 12 voting days before lawmakers retire to their districts for the election. The Senate, which returns next week, will have nine.

Major items on the docket include decisions on expanded gambling and a state pension overhaul. Governor Tom Wolf is also seeking a joint session to address the opioid crisis.

PA Budget Becomes Law; Some Lawmakers Cry Foul

Jul 12, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state officially has a budget.

The $31.5 billion spending plan went into effect at midnight on Monday, without Governor Tom Wolf’s signature. But negotiations still aren’t finished on the revenue plan to back it up.

Deadline notwithstanding, lawmakers did seem to have a productive day of talks on the spending plan.

Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher called the progress “encouraging.” She said it seems likely a vote could come soon.

Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

With little news of progress on the 2017 state budget coming out of Harrisburg, school advocates around the state are crossing their fingers a resolution comes soon.

If not, Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said state-funded institutions will be in bad shape come fall.

Robinson said schools used up a lot of resources during last year’s nine-month budget impasse.

Right-Wing Group Chalks Up More Election Wins

May 2, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

 An advocacy group focused on bankrolling conservative candidates for the state Legislature is flexing its muscles after the Pennsylvania primary.

The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as CAP, has run afoul of top Republican lawmakers for its “purist” views opposing organized labor and eschewing lawmaker perks, like pensions. But being likened to dictators hasn’t slowed CAP down.  

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Democrats in Pennsylvania chose their party establishment's choice for a U.S. Senate candidate and rejected an ex-congressman who six years ago nearly won the office.

Katie McGinty, who spent more than a decade as a state and federal environmental policy official, got millions of dollars from the party and its allies that helped her side heavily outspend her rivals. She received endorsements from top Democrats, from President Barack Obama on down.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Sunday to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, ending a nearly two-year effort to approve use of the drug. 

Pennsylvania is now the 24th state to make it legal.

Dr. Loren Robinson, Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said it will take up to 24 months to implement the program.

“This includes the process of finding and setting up the growers and distributors, setting up dispensaries and identifying and certifying patients and providers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Robinson said.

David Amsler / Flickr

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is backing new proposals to give a person’s low-level criminal offenses a limited shelf life in Pennsylvania.

Plans in the House and Senate would automatically seal low-level criminal records in Pennsylvania after a person has had no criminal activity for five to 10 years. The legislation builds on a plan enacted into law this year to let people with minor offenses ask a judge to seal their criminal records.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

Senate backers hope medical marijuana legislation in Pennsylvania will get to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk this week.

A Senate committee made changes to the bill Monday, and the bill's backers say they hope it can win passage in the House and Senate this week.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Democratic state lawmakers who were reliable backers of Governor Tom Wolf’s agenda during the budget impasse say they may not stick so closely to his side in the next year.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said his caucus will do some soul-searching ahead of the next round of budget negotiations, after coming away with so little from the budget impasse.

“We might go down a different path,” Costa told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know where we’ll end up.”

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

When the state’s finances are the subject of partisan debate, it helps to turn to the analyses of the ratings agencies that judge creditworthiness – and two of the three major credit ratings agencies are warning that Pennsylvania’s fiscal problems aren’t over, even if its budget impasse is.

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