Pennsylvania Legislature

A top Republican in the state Senate said Monday that he's prepared for a late budget.

The commonwealth's spending plan is due June 30, and in recent years the GOP caucuses followed the lead of former Gov. Tom Corbett and his priority to meet that deadline.

This year, Senate Republicans have insisted their top priority is passing a public pension overhaul that reaps short-term and long-term savings for the state's deeply indebted retirement systems.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said if pension talks stretch into the fall, so will the budget process.

Harvey Barrison / flickr

Pennsylvania may be staring down a $2 billion chasm in next fiscal year's state budget, but the Legislature is doing just fine for cash.

The legislative surplus stood at $161 million as of last June, according to an annual audit report released Monday after a couple of delays.

The report was prepared by private firm Mitchell & Titus. The Legislature isn't subject to the state auditor general's oversight. For years, private auditors have used these reports to urge lawmakers to put a maximum on how much can be kept in reserve.

This year was no different.

At least 19 state senators are supporting a proposal to tighten the strings of the Legislature's money purse. The plan would make lawmakers submit itemized receipts before being reimbursed for work-related expenses.

A slightly higher age limit for Pennsylvania judges is two steps away from becoming a reality. The state House has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to bump the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 years.

“For a judge, the older you are, the more experience you have – life experience, courtroom experience, case law experience – the more experience you have, the better you’re going to be as a judge,” said sponsoring Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery).

A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way tax-exempt entities are defined won’t make it onto the spring ballot.

State Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) said lawmakers have run out of time to pass the amendment and send it to a voter referendum.

“I think we’ve already missed that deadline,” said Eichelberger, “so it’ll be in the fall.”

He added that it’s also possible lawmakers will study the matter further, and even revise the proposed amendment, restarting the three-part process of changing the state constitution.

It was fun while it lasted, but call this rumor bunk: Leaders and aides say the Republican-controlled House and Senate will not try to push bills to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk before Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is sworn in.

“If you’re talking about something to get to Governor Corbett’s desk, there’s not even enough days now, at this point, unless we were in this week,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman as he walked to his office following Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremonies.

Pennsylvania’s state lawmakers will make a short visit to Harrisburg for their swearing-in Tuesday.

The House will elect a Speaker, the Senate will elect a President Pro Tem, and both chambers will adopt rules for the coming two-year session.

“This is all pretty much routine – scripted,” said House Chief Clerk Tony Barbush.

Sometimes people go off-book.

Would-be reformers are already coming together to try to reform how Pennsylvania's congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn seven years from now.

"Believe it or not, for the 2021, we're already starting to get a little bit late," said Barry Kauffman, head of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

New district lines were only recently put into effect for this decade, but it would take so long to reform the process that a bunch of advocacy groups are gearing up now to push for changes.

Newly elected lawmakers in Pennsylvania will be sworn in Jan. 6. In Senate District 32, which includes Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, political newbie Patrick Stefano is taking over long-serving Democrat Richard Kasunic’s  seat.

State lawmakers are spending the next month getting ready for the new legislative session beginning this month, lining up committee assignments and preparing the proposals they’ll introduce.

A bird’s eye view of the two-year session that just wrapped up in November finds that a total of 369 proposals were enacted.

House lawmakers introduced 3,610 measures (and 1,091 resolutions), and senators introduced 1,981 proposals (and more than 500 resolutions).

A bipartisan duo of state senators is looking to make it a bit more painful for lawmakers to pass a late state budget — by putting top officials’ pay on the line.

Under the measure backed by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), a budget passed after the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would trigger a suspension of pay for state lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, the governor and his cabinet. A similar measure introduced in the latest legislative session suspended pay for only the governor and state lawmakers.

Pennsylvania's nonpartisan agency for budget analysis is pinning a number on the anticipated budget deficit next year: $1.85 billion.

The Independent Fiscal Office's figure comes in a report that clearly outlines what has been referred to in generalities since the passage of this year's roughly $29 billion state budget in July.

State lawmakers say only time will tell how Republican leadership changes will alter the House and Senate majority caucuses and the Legislature's relationship with the incoming administration.

The success of the Governor-elect Tom Wolf's ambitious policy agenda came into question as the election night tallies last week showed Republicans grew their majorities in the House and Senate. But many looked forward to Wednesday's leadership elections as either another nail in the coffin or a glimmer of hope.

Pennsylvania cities will have about two months to scrap local gun restrictions that could leave them open to lawsuits under a state proposal headed for the governor's signature.

The measure gives gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association standing to sue municipalities (and collect attorney fees) over gun ordinances that go beyond state law.

Pigeon shoots can live on in Pennsylvania, and cats and dogs can still be eaten in the privacy of your own home.

That’s the state of affairs now that state lawmakers have left town without passing a state proposal banning both activities.

A House bill banning only the slaughter of dogs and cats for private human consumption began its legislative life with unanimous support last year.

Things got complicated.

Email Scandal and Close of PA Legislative Session

Oct 14, 2014
Talk Radio News Service

We'll talk with Harrisburg Patriot News Editorial Page Editor John Micek about the latest news related to the scandal involving current and former state employees trading raunchy emails. How will it impact the governor's race with three weeks left before election day? And what's on tap in the final days of the legislative session?

Elizabeth Thomsen / via Flickr Creative Commons

The state Legislature convenes this week in Harrisburg for its final two days of voting scheduled before the November election.

Longtime legislative observers say the proposals that advance this close to an election are more about politics than policy.

Red meat issues abound. There’s a plan to scale back regulations protecting high-quality streams. Another bill would let gun owners sue cities over local gun laws.

Some bills have omnivore appeal, like the measure adding a couple jury duty exemptions to include breastfeeding mothers and people 75 or older.

A skirmish is unfolding in the final days of the state legislative session.

It's over an effort to change who approves state grants for economic development projects, so often touted by lawmakers.

Opponents call it a legislative power grab.

Senate Republicans have voted to put economic development spending in the hands of a little-known state authority with an abysmal record on transparency.

But, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa says the governor’s office should maintain control of which projects get funding.

Senator Richard Alloway (R) has sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would allow certain counties to increase their hotel taxes. If enacted, Senate Bill 838 would open the door to raising the tax visitors pay for hotel stays from 3 percent to 5 percent in applicable counties. And that’s in addition to the tax the state levies.

Government reform advocates have long pushed for tighter ethics laws, and indignation was in abundant supply this year after state lawmakers were dogged by scandals.

But after much talk, the leader of the Senate GOP is pledging to support a full gift prohibition — next year.

The ban, proposed by a couple Senate Republicans, would apply to public officials and public employees across the state.

A plan to legalize medical marijuana could be taken up by the full state Senate in the four weeks the Legislature is scheduled to be in session this fall.

The measure to create a regulatory framework for growing and prescribing medical cannabis got a key Senate committee vote in June.       

GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Wednesday that his caucus will discuss next week whether they can pass the plan.

“It has broad support in the caucus,” Pileggi said. “I haven’t counted heads, and I can’t tell you if it’s 13 or 23.”

Pennsylvania State Police tasked with enforcing the commonwealth's liquor code say a new proposal to make it OK to buy booze across the state border misses the point.

A new state House plan would allow Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol across state lines and bring it back for personal consumption — or to be reimbursed for the now-contraband beverages they buy for friends and family.

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

At a campaign stop in Dauphin County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said he’s not concerned about the prospect of working with a Republican-dominated Legislature.

“It’s leadership. It’s bringing people together,” he said. “It’s actually getting up out of your chair, getting out from behind your desk, walking down, bringing people together, giving people a compelling vision about what we need to do to make Pennsylvania better, and working with them to come up with solutions – not just sitting back at your desk.”

It doesn’t look like lame ducks will vote in the state Legislature this year.

Of course, that could change. House leaders say they haven’t discussed whether they would hold votes after the November election. Senate leaders have said they may call a lame-duck session for some kind of emergency.

Despite years of criticism of the state’s asset forfeiture laws, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a new human trafficking law that expands law enforcement’s ability to seize assets of the accused, without any statutory oversight of where seized property and proceeds end up.

State lawmakers have given themselves another year to address what counties are calling a funding crisis for the commonwealth’s 911 call centers.

A key revenue source for the county-managed centers was set to expire in June, but lawmakers extended its life by one year. That gives the Legislature until next July to consider more comprehensive changes to the emergency service system.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday asked state lawmakers to end their vacation early to address legislation concerning a Philadelphia schools funding gap that threatens to delay the school year in the state's largest school district.

"I'm calling for the Legislature though to come to Harrisburg before school starts," Corbett said at a news conference with Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite at his side. "And I expect them to address this issue as their first and number one order of business."

Another proposal to overhaul the state's public pensions is officially in the mix.

The measure, unveiled last fall, received a thorough vetting from the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) last Wednesday, a necessary step before it receives any kind of vote from state lawmakers.

The analysis found the plan could save the commonwealth about $30 billion over 30 years.

Gov. Tom Corbett is shrugging off the possibility state lawmakers will sue him for blocking their earmarks earlier this month.

Legislative leaders say the line-item veto of seven-point-two million dollars in projects was unconstitutional.

They could try to override the veto with a two-thirds vote, or sue the administration.

Corbett said he doesn’t think a court battle is likely, though he’s not troubled by the possibility.

"Let them sue me," he said. "Last time I looked, that’s in the constitution, isn’t it?"

The past several weeks saw much action, but little advancement, on proposals to reduce the number of seats in the state House and Senate.

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country, with 253 state lawmakers. Efforts to thin the ranks ground to a halt over the past several weeks.

Opponents argue that membership cuts will lump more constituents in each district, leaving them with representation of lesser quality. They say a big shrink would concentrate legislative representation in more populated urban areas.

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