Pennsylvania Legislature

A state senator is calling on the commonwealth to make campaign finance reports more readily available to the public, but some say what’s needed isn’t new software, but new law.

Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to wait days or weeks to see online who’s donating to a political candidate, or how much a candidate is spending, said Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) Wednesday. At a hearing with the Pennsylvania Department of State, he used the example of making a deposit in a bank.

The state House and Senate may be headed for a standoff over an effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse.

A Senate committee approved a measure Wednesday for an expanded state database to track prescription drugs that would also give law enforcement greater access to the information. The amended measure would not require law enforcement to have a search warrant before accessing the system – something the House voted for last fall.

A rural community college based in western Pennsylvania is one step closer to becoming a reality. The proposal to start setting up a 15th community college passed with just four votes cast against it in the state Senate Wednesday.

The bill, proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), aims to provide educational and job-training opportunities in a region that has been historically underserved, according to a 2011 study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

Gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association would be able to take municipalities to court over local gun restrictions under a measure that passed a House committee with overwhelming support Tuesday.

The bill would give challengers of local gun restrictions the legal standing necessary to ask for court review of an ordinance. Successful challengers could be reimbursed by municipalities for legal costs and other expenses.

A proposal to dismantle the state background check system used to determine if someone is eligible to buy a gun or a gun license is set for a committee vote Tuesday.

The measure, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would bypass and defund the state background check in favor of using the national background check system.

Supporters say it would reduce redundancy and free up state funding currently going to the state background check system, established in 1998.

The Corbett administration is still cautioning lawmakers against uncapping a tax credit for the film industry.

Several Republican legislative leaders, along with Democrats, have voiced support for increasing the state’s annual $60 million in tax credits. Supporters say it would attract more big-budget films to the commonwealth and support a growing industry.

But Alan Walker, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said there are complications to consider.

Pennsylvania’s state House Speaker says he won’t run for re-election this year, after 27 years serving in the Legislature.

Sam Smith, a 14-term Republican legacy from Punxsutawney, said he just stopped enjoying the job.

“I wasn’t putting 100 percent into it, in the sense that I used to always say – no matter how bad and crazy things were around here – I could say, ‘Yeah but I still really enjoy my work, I really love the fights, the battles, the political wrangling that goes on,’” Smith said. “You need to really want to be doing it.”

State Democratic lawmakers are taking issue with how Gov. Tom Corbett is proposing to increase funding for public education.

The governor proposed a $240 million block grant which would come with spending restrictions and be doled out according to a formula.

But Chester County Sen. Andy Dinniman, ranking Democrat on the chamber’s education committee, said the formula differs from the one used under an existing block grant.

The chairman of a state House committee says he’d like to move a proposal this spring to criminalize what’s been called "revenge porn."

The measure would make it a crime to post nude images of someone online with intent to harass the person pictured.

It has passed in the Senate, though its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank of Berks County, said she’s not sure how speedily the bill could advance in the House.

State Senate Republicans have a tentative plan to move legislation by July to expand the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says the goal is to hold a vote on a measure to legalize terminal-based games like keno, a fast-paced drawing, before the Legislature’s traditional summer recess.

Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser skirted the question of whether legislative approval is needed to add such games, but he said the Corbett administration is seeking some statutory changes.

A rhetorical battle is brewing over a proposal to end the automatic deduction of union dues and voluntary political contributions from the pay of public employees in Pennsylvania.

Unions representing public workers say it’s an attempt to kill organized labor and shrink their political spending.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County, says he’s not refuting the rights of public employee unions to make contributions to political campaigns and political action committees.

State senators are taking the next formal step to making changes to the Pennsylvania Lottery.

At an upcoming hearing, they plan to hear from national researchers and state officials on issues related to expanding the lottery to include more games and outsourcing its management.

The original push to add to game offerings came from the Corbett administration during its effort to privatize a portion of the lottery.

But Erik Arneson, spokesman for the Republican Senate Majority Leader, said lawmakers are interested in the face of a potential budget deficit.

The implications of a federal law on flood insurance rates will be the topic of an upcoming hearing in Harrisburg.

A 2012 law designed to make property owners pay for the risk of living in high flood hazard areas has resulted in swift increases to flood insurance premiums.

Republican state Sen. Gene Yaw of Lycoming County said it’s likely many Pennsylvanians living near a river have already seen the higher rates.  

State House Passes Plan to Redevelop School Funding Formula

Jan 16, 2014

The state House has passed a plan that could bring lawmakers back to using a funding formula when doling out money to school districts across Pennsylvania.

The legislation would create a commission to review education funding and make recommendations for a new formula--something education advocates have urged for years.

Some state lawmakers are pushing for a study of homelessness in the commonwealth in order to get a better understanding of what advocates say is a growing problem.

The effort would look at the occurrence of homelessness, and its effects and trends in Pennsylvania.    

Dale Lanigan, who helps coordinate volunteers at an emergency overnight men’s shelter in Harrisburg, says it would answer important questions.

Republican state lawmakers are in talks to keep the issue of liquor privatization alive in the coming months.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, the most dogged legislative supporter of the push, said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is once again leading the effort to phase out state wine and spirits stores.

He said the fact that it’s an election year will work to the advantage of supporters.

School shootings across the country have prompted studies on school safety in Pennsylvania, calls to boost security budgets and, now, legislation to allow school staff to carry firearms is on the table.

A year ago, top lawmakers and the Corbett administration said they didn't want to talk about arming teachers in a bid to deter gun violence in schools, but that's exactly the debate state Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) wants to have.

Work still remains for state lawmakers on child protection legislation, in spite of the slew of bills signed by the governor last week.

The 10 proposals are the result of more than a year of work to tighten up the state’s child protection laws.

Central to the effort was a proposal to re-write the state’s legal definition of child abuse to make it less vague.

But Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler says there’s more to come.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.  

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.

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.  

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.

'Sarah’s Amendment' Faces Vote in Harrisburg

Nov 18, 2013

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.

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.

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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