Pennsylvania Legislature

Government & Politics
9:28 am
Wed December 18, 2013

Legislation to Shrink State Legislature Clears First of Several Hurdles

The state House is taking a step toward shrinking its membership.

Lawmakers have passed a proposal sponsored by the Republican House speaker to cut the 203-seat body to 153 representatives.

During debate, several House members voiced concern that reducing House districts would diminish the voice of rural Pennsylvania in the Legislature.

But Speaker Sam Smith says the measure doesn’t single out certain regions.

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Marcellus Shale
5:24 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

State Lawmakers Propose Marcellus Shale Severance Tax

A group of state lawmakers and advocates are calling on their colleagues to consider placing a tax on the production of natural gas.

Under Gov. Tom Corbett, the Legislature passed an impact fee, which put a levy on each well drilled.

Supporters of the severance tax idea point out Pennsylvania is the only state within shale formations that doesn’t tax gas yields.

Democratic Representative Harry Readshaw of Allegheny County notes such a tax would bring in more money than the impact fee, at a time when dollars are sorely needed.

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Government & Politics
10:21 am
Fri December 13, 2013

As State Senate Adjourns, Budget Difficulties Loom

The state Senate has adjourned for the year on a somewhat frenzied note as lawmakers search for solutions to looming budget difficulties.

Most recently, Republican lawmakers have eyed the Pennsylvania Lottery as a potential source of additional tax revenues, by proposing legislation that would privatize its management and expand the games offered.

It’s an issue the Senate will take up again after its holiday break.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says he’s aware the commonwealth may have reached its saturation point for gambling.

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Pennsylvania
5:26 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Lawmakers Consider Banning 'Personal Consumption' of Cats and Dogs

Legislation banning the slaughter of dogs and cats for private human consumption in Pennsylvania is before state Senate lawmakers, after its recent passage in the House.

The slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption is more common than you might think.

"We've run across it occasionally," said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA). "I think it goes pretty much unreported, but it does exist."

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Government & Politics
5:10 pm
Wed December 4, 2013

State Lawmakers Call for Gambling Study

The state Senate is calling for a legislative study of gambling in Pennsylvania.

The request is coming from Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County.

"The resolution came about as we continue to watch our gaming revenues go flat and in some instances decline month of over month from last year."

Scarnati says he’s watched warily as neighboring states introduce and expand gambling, increasing the regional competition for dollars.

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Government & Politics
2:21 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

For Some PA Lawmakers, Support for Transportation Plan Means Tough Elections Ahead

State lawmakers who voted to raise more than $2 billion in fees and gas taxes will have some explaining to do to conservative groups that keep close watch over tax votes in the Legislature.

Lawmakers who flipped to support the $2.3 billion plan are already being targeted by an anti-tax and limited government group based in Harrisburg.

Republican Rep. Stan Saylor of York County is among the members being singled out.

He said he’s already expecting a primary challenge in next year’s election.  

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Transportation
10:39 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Corbett Hails Passage of PA Highways Bill

After more than a year of discussion, the state has a transportation plan in place.

A $2.3 billion plan to fund roads, bridges, mass transit, airports, waterways, bike paths and more has passed the state House and heads to the governor’s desk.

Gov. Tom Corbett is hailing passage of new transportation bill, saying he perceived an urgent need to fix roads and bridges after he took office three years ago.

The Republican spoke Thursday shortly after legislative approval of a law to pump billions into transportation infrastructure and mass transit.

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Transportation
7:57 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Transportation Funding Plan Passes Senate, Heads Back to House

A $2.3 billion transportation infrastructure funding plan is headed back to the state House after it passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers are expected to take a concurring vote on it Thursday afternoon.

Senate Democrats were blocked from offering their own amendments to the bill.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Ferlo of Allegheny County says the plan includes a fund that will be used a lot like “walking around money,” or WAMs, which have been disparaged by Gov. Tom Corbett as an underhanded way of stewarding tax dollars.  

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Transportation
9:29 pm
Tue November 19, 2013

On Third Go, House Green-Lights Transportation Plan

A $2.3 billion amendment to a transportation funding plan passed a preliminary vote in the state House Tuesday night, within 24 hours of the House's rejection of the same measure, twice, amid concerns from tax-wary Republicans and labor-allied Democrats.

The vote was 104-95, though two Republicans who missed the final tally asked that their affirmative votes be noted in the record.

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Stranger Stalking Legislation
4:34 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

'Sarah’s Amendment' Faces Vote in Harrisburg

About 60 percent of stalking victims aren't currently able to obtain a restraining order in Pennsylvania, according to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Under current law, PA victims can only obtain one if their stalker is a relative or someone they dated.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Pileggi Dismisses State Police’s Warnings About Expanding DNA Collection

One of the top Republicans in the state Senate is dismissing concerns from the State Police about a proposal to expand the state’s DNA collection is made law.

They say it would necessitate more funding from the commonwealth.

But GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says he doesn’t think the people who staff the state’s public forensic labs are “unbiased” in their assessment of how much money they would need to handle a larger workload.

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Government & Politics
9:43 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Proposal to Legalize Gambling in Bars Heads Back to Senate

A proposal to legalize small-time gambling in bars has cleared the state House and will go back to the Senate for approval.
               
The measure would allow thousands of bars and taverns to offer small games of chance, like raffles and drawings.
               
The state would get 60 percent of revenue, and the hosting municipality would get a five percent cut.
               
The hosting bars and taverns would keep the rest.
               

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Government & Politics
6:22 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

House Committee Passes Endangered Species Legislation

A proposal to add regulatory oversight to the commissions designating endangered species and protected wild trout streams in Pennsylvania has passed out of a key state House committee.

It would give a regulatory review board of political appointees final approval over decisions to allow the state to protect certain species and streams.

Supporters, including natural gas companies and home builders, say it would provide a check and balance to the state’s independent commissions now in charge of the process.

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Government & Politics
10:50 am
Wed November 13, 2013

State Lawmakers Considering Expanding DNA Collection By Law Enforcement

A plan to expand the state’s DNA collection is under consideration by a state House committee.

The proposal would allow law enforcement to take DNA samples from people arrested for felonies and certain misdemeanor crimes before they are convicted.

Right now, state law allows only for such collection after conviction.

Supporters say the move would help close cases and exonerate innocent individuals.

But the state’s public DNA labs are already swamped, and Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. Scott Snyder is urging lawmakers to proceed with caution.  

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Government & Politics
5:40 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

New State Law Allows Medical Providers To Say 'Sorry'

A new state law will allow medical providers to do something many take for granted: say they’re sorry for a bad outcome.

The law will be effective in about two months.

In the past, an apology from a doctor or midwife has been admissible as evidence of liability.

Republican Sen. Pat Vance of Cumberland County says the law will finally let medical professionals express their sympathies in the event that something goes wrong in the course of care.

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Government & Politics
4:03 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

House Vote on Transportation Funding Will Likely Wait Until November

A transportation funding proposal isn’t quite ready for a vote before the full state House.
               
Negotiations are expected to continue into next month as state lawmakers try to secure public works payment-related concessions from labor unions that can woo Republican votes without losing support from Democratic members.
               
But House Speaker Sam Smith won’t even say he’s cautiously optimistic that a plan could pass in November.

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Government & Politics
7:45 am
Thu October 3, 2013

House Lawmakers Pass Property Tax Relief Bill

A proposal to provide school property tax relief has passed in the state House, but it faces only middling indicators of success in the Senate.

The bill would let school districts opt to reduce or replace property taxes with other levies on earned income and businesses. The measure passed without debate in a legislative body whose members rarely turn down chances for comment.

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Government & Politics
6:50 am
Wed September 25, 2013

Anti-Property Tax Sentiment in PA Remains Passionate, Diffuse

Calls to eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania stretch back decades, but the latest effort is moving at cross-purposes with other bills.

More than 100 people rallied on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday in support of a plan to eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania once and for all.

The plan, sponsored by Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks) would replace the levy controlled by school districts with higher rates of the personal income tax and the sales and use tax (the sales tax would also be broadened to apply to more items).

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Government & Politics
7:44 am
Tue September 24, 2013

House GOP Leader Plans Vote on Transportation Funding Bill

The leader of the state House Republicans plans to seek a floor vote on a transportation funding proposal passed by the Senate last May.

Majority Leader Mike Turzai doesn't support the $2.5 billion proposal, but he notes that since Democrats are clamoring for it and the governor has noted his support for it, the measure should be brought to a vote.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Act 47 Task Force Expected to Recommend Legislation

A task force charged with revising the state's more than 25-year-old program for fiscally distressed municipalities is getting ready to recommend legislation.

The Act 47 program, established in 1987, was meant to take in cities that were on the brink of financial ruin. It has just shown to be not so adept at ushering stabilized cities out.

Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) is co-chair of the panel suggesting changes. He said the group will likely recommend creating a deadline for Act 47 municipalities to leave the program.

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Transportation
4:50 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

State House GOP May Be Hitting Reset Button on the Transportation Funding Debate

State House Republicans, who couldn’t muster majority support of a transportation funding plan this year, might be offering a much smaller proposal to pay for infrastructure needs.

Lawmakers headed home for the summer this year after a roughly $2 billion funding plan stalled in the House.
 
Now, House GOP staffers say a $500 million plan may be coming from their quarters.
    
It would pay for infrastructure must-haves, like bridge maintenance and some public transit.

Bob Latham, with Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, disagrees.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 9, 2013

Proposal Would Tighten Rules for Public Officials Holding Closed-Door Meetings

A state House proposal would make closed-door meetings of certain governmental agencies a little less of a black box by tightening up the rules of executive sessions.

Public authorities like city councils, school boards, and even the General Assembly can hold "executive sessions," or private meetings (party caucuses not included), when discussing things like litigation, labor contracts, and confidential information under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act.

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Government & Politics
12:59 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Proposal Seeks to Slow the 'Revolving Door' in Harrisburg

Ethics policies, lobbying rules and conflict of interest laws are the subject of proposals getting a hearing before a state House Committee.

A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers are supporting a proposal to double the number of years distancing a former public official or state employee from a job lobbying his or her old stomping grounds.

Right now, would-be lobbyists must wait a year after they leave government.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Mon September 2, 2013

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Re-Draft Their Wishlists

With a failed transportation funding deal at their backs and one last opportunity this fall, state lawmakers are re-drafting their wish lists for how it can get done.

State officials are looking for a tree of trust — an old-school way of politicking, if you will, on the issue of transportation.

House Republicans say they’ll need more cooperation from Democrats, who refused to help the GOP majority pass a proposal because they said it didn’t include enough money for mass transit.  

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Proposal Would Reduce PA General Assembly to Single-Chamber Body

On the heels of plans to shrink the size of the state Legislature is another to dissolve its bicameral structure.

Democratic Rep. Jaret Gibbons of Beaver County wants Pennsylvania to go back to its roots, when it had a single chamber General Assembly.

He says he doesn’t see why the only state with a unicameral legislature should be Nebraska, "who’s been doing this since the 30s."

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