Pennsylvania Legislature

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.

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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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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."

The process of listing endangered species in Pennsylvania is about to get a hearing.
Companion bills in the state House and Senate are aimed at making the two independent commissions in charge of the designations run their regulations past another commission, as well as legislative committees.

Republican Rep. Jeff Pyle of Armstrong County, who’s sponsoring the House measure, says labeling animals “endangered” affects industry permits, so an appeal process should be in place.

State lawmakers are considering changes to the rules governing purely public charities — and what such institutions need to get a pass on paying taxes.

The Legislature recently took the first step in a lengthy constitutional amendment process to take more control in how purely public charities are defined.
A court ruling revoking a summer camp’s status had forced the issue.
But one local tax appeals board lawyer says the reason such cases land in court is because the state laws on the subject are already overly complex.

Although Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state, it has the largest full-time legislature in the nation with 253 members (203 in the House, 50 in the Senate).

At least three different proposals to reduce the size of the General Assembly are floating around the state capitol.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) said he will introduce two measures: one that would reduce the House to 153 members, and the other to shrink the Senate to 38.

Across most of Pennsylvania, children aren’t required to go to school until they’re 8 years old, with a few exceptions.

But one state lawmaker is trying to change that.

Republican state Rep. Fred Keller of Union County said he wants to set the minimum compulsory age to 6 years old, the most common age minimum for school attendance in the country.

He said it seems like common sense to require earlier enrollment in schools.

Proposals to shrink the size of the state Legislature are back before lawmakers.

The Speaker of the House is reintroducing his plan from last year to cut 203-member House by 50 seats.
Last year his plan passed the House, but only after language to also reduce the size of the 50-member Senate.
The Senate didn’t advance the proposal.

Two state agencies are warning proposed legislation would strip their authority to determine which species are labeled endangered in Pennsylvania.

The measure would require the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission, now independent agencies, to instead run their decisions through certain legislative committees and a state regulatory review agency.

The head of the state's open records agency is urging lawmakers to proceed with caution as they propose changes to the measure that created the office.

The 5-year-old Right-to-Know law could be in for some considerable tweaks. An effort is already underway in the Senate to address well-documented problems with the law, which governs public access to government information and records.

Office of Open Records Director Terry Mutchler said she's concerned the approach taken by the House could compromise Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law in the spirit of improving it.

A Republican state lawmaker says the next big focus of one House panel will be how poverty afflicts people across Pennsylvania and what can be done to make the problem better.

Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who chairs the House Majority Policy Committee, said he hopes his initiative is eye-opening to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

State House lawmakers are coming back to Harrisburg to finish up budget business Monday. A final concurrence vote is expected to approve what's called the fiscal code, a bill full of key fund transfers.

The summer vote was prompted when the Senate took language out of the legislation that suggested the Legislature intended to legalize payday lending.

Such loans are controversial, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said it didn't belong in a budget-related item.

State government reform activists are pointing to their annual update on the costs of Legislature-approved increases to their benefits as an illustration of why pension reform efforts are doomed.

Eric Epstein, founder of the group Rock the Capital, said the late-night pay raise lawmakers approved for themselves in 2005 has inspired the most ire among voters, but it's not the most costly thing lawmakers have done to boost their own benefits in the past 20 years.

State lawmakers are staring down a funding formula that some say is a recipe for a budgeting disaster.

It's the commonwealth's way of paying for federally-required special education services, and it's the subject of a special commission whose recommendations for legislative fixes are due this fall.

Republican state lawmakers are insisting the budget for this year was delivered on time, but a key companion bill called the fiscal code is missing, and no timetable has been set to send it to the governor.

The House has gaveled out for the summer, and a spokesman for the governor said Monday the House hasn't scheduled a day to come back to Harrisburg. For the time being, the earliest session day is September 23.