Pennsylvania Legislature

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.

The state could put weight limits on aging bridges across Pennsylvania as early as this fall as a direct result of the failure in Harrisburg to pass a transportation funding plan.

The limit would require certain vehicles to find detours around bridges.

State Senate lawmakers are sending a budget-related bill to the governor’s desk, after a committee went along with a House move to remove Medicaid expansion from the measure.
Republicans say adding the Medicaid plan back to the bill would have been wasted effort, since neither the House nor the governor is open to an expansion right now.
But Democratic Senator Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia said he’s disappointed, since the earlier Medicaid expansion language passed in the Senate with bipartisan support.  

Pennsylvania's state-related universities have received mostly flat funding from the commonwealth for the second year running. With the struggle for their state aid long settled, some lawmakers are noting a tangential issue has been overshadowed: the level of transparency at the schools.

Under the Affordable Care Act, each state’s governor must decide whether to expand Medicaid, with the federal government picking up the whole tab for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter.

The Pennsylvania Senate supported expansion in a vote Friday night, but there is a different attitude in the House.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said the House has not and will not consider expanding Medicaid as it exists now.   

Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but without any victories on his other top three legislative priorities.

Liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension overhaul will have to wait until the fall for further legislative action.

A transportation funding plan got stuck in the House. A bid to change how alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania stalled in the Senate. Pension overhaul is a plan neither chamber is ready to advance.

An effort to require tattoo artists in Pennsylvania to be licensed serves as an example of the kind of tug of war between those who support government regulations and those who see many of them as a threat to market competition.

Pennsylvania doesn't regulate tattoo parlors — something that Paul Garrison, owner of the Ink Splat tattoo shop in East Stroudsburg used to find quite strange.

After days of negotiations, a plan to expand alcohol sales in Pennsylvania has the preliminary approval of the state Senate.

An amended proposal passed the chamber along party lines in the wee hours Saturday morning, with all 27 Republicans voting in its favor (the Senate voted to override its 11 p.m. curfew to pass the bill).

The proposal must clear another full Senate vote before it goes back to the House.

The fizz hasn’t settled among state Senate Republicans over changes to a plan to expand the sale of beer, wine and liquor in Pennsylvania.

There are rumors — there are even bullet points of what Senate Republicans might change about an alcohol sales overhaul plan. Nothing’s solid.

After days of false starts, a plan to fund Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges and mass transit has cleared a state House committee vote.
The roughly $2 billion proposal has received bipartisan support, though many Democrats say they still have concerns it contains too little money for mass transit.
Republican Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess said he’s open to more changes to the plan when it’s up for a vote before the full House.

As the budget battle comes to a boil in Harrisburg, the fight over Medicaid expansion is heating up right along side it.  

Lawmakers for the most part are split along party lines with Republicans supporting Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to not opt into the federal government’s offer, while Democrats are calling for the state to expand the program as soon as possible.

State lawmakers are one step closer to wresting control over tax-exempt charity decision from the courts.

The House has passed a constitutional amendment to put the Legislature in charge of deciding whether an organization qualifies as what's called a purely public charity. The distinction excuses title-bearers from paying property taxes.

A recent state court ruling limited lawmakers' power to broaden the definition. House Republicans argued Wednesday the proposed amendment is a simple way to reassert legislative authority.

When it comes to money for fixing roads, bridges and mass transit, state House lawmakers are struggling to even get a plan out of committee.

What's clear is House Republican leaders want a transportation infrastructure funding plan that spends less than the $2.5 billion the Senate proposed. What's not clear is how they'll make the bill palatable to enough Republicans and Democrats to pass the bill out of committee, let alone the full chamber.

State lawmakers and the governor's office don't seem to be in agreement about when they'll break for the summer.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said Tuesday he's not open to the idea of scheduling session days in July.

"We still have before us the ability and, I think, the will to get issues done," Scarnati said. "We will clearly be able to have the budget done and the accompanying bills before June 30."

A plan to expand access to wine, beer, and booze is advancing in the state Senate, though more changes are likely, and Republican support is far from certain.

The Senate's counter-offer to the House's bid to privatize the state's liquor system cleared a key committee by a close vote. Technically, the panel signed off on two bills — identical twin proposals that would allow certain retailers to sell beer, wine and liquor, and allow for the Liquor Control Board to discern when to shut down state stores due to anemic profits.

State House Republicans are preparing major changes to a bill to fund roads, bridges and mass transit, despite warning cries from some of their colleagues in the Senate.

The $1.8 billion plan doesn't include any of the traffic violation fines or motorist fee increases lawmakers were grumbling about. But it still uncaps a tax paid by gas stations, doing so over 10 years, instead of three, as the Senate proposed.

90.5 WESA

The state budget deadline is days away, but the spending plan is practically an afterthought to lawmakers as Gov. Tom Corbett's other priorities remain unresolved.

A scaled-back pension overhaul proposal is advancing in the Senate and still needs House approval. But it's not the subject of intense disagreement between the chambers, as Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson notes is true of other items on the governor's to-do list, like transportation funding and liquor privatization.

Larkin Page-Jacobs / 90.5 WESA

Western Pennsylvania's canal system of locks and dams is an economic generator in the region and beyond, and on Friday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) emphasized that it is a resource worth funding.

On the deck of a Gateway Clipper ship at Pittsburgh's Station Square, Casey congratulated river transportation officials for helping push for the River Act, which passed the Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act. But he also reminded the crowd that there is still a ways to go.

A state House proposal to make it easier for some to report suspected child abuse is headed to the Senate, though concerns voiced before a final vote suggest some misgivings about legislating a solution to problems of child abuse — that doing so could interfere with parents who discipline their kids with a smack.

The state House is advancing a proposal to make it easier for military veterans to receive free mental health counseling in less formal settings.

The bill would change licensing rules to allow retired mental health professionals to volunteer their services through approved groups serving veterans and their families, as well as military personnel.

An effort to slap a $100 surcharge on speeding tickets to help fund mass transit in Pennsylvania looks to be dead in the water, as one House member said Wednesday.

The proposal is part of a $2.5 billion plan to fund roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure that has passed in the Senate. The surcharge revenue would be specifically routed for public transportation.

A state Senate committee has approved a scaled-down version of the governor's pension overhaul plan to address the commonwealth's pension debt.

The bill was re-written to include just one of the three prongs of Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal — one that has been said to be far more palatable to legislators. The measure would enroll most future state and school employees into a 401(k)-style plan, instead of the traditional defined-benefit plan that locks in payouts according to a formula known in advance.

Three big issues have dominated the state budget debate, but with less than two weeks before June 30, one lawmaker is suggesting poor schools are getting short shrift.

"Pensions, transportation, liquor — they're being resolved as we speak," said Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). "Education has not been resolved, and it can actually affect whether we get a budget or not."

Negotiations over a $2.5 billion plan to fix Pennsylvania's roads and bridges could include getting rid of state-set wages that increase the cost of road repair projects.

Many House Republicans have long opposed of the state's prevailing wage law, saying it typically sets the pay for public works projects at union rates, and boosts costs to local governments by as much as 20 percent.

State Senate GOP leaders have presented a counter-offer to the state House's liquor privatization plan, though they admit they don't yet have the votes to pass it out of their chamber.

Calling it an “overreach” of the state’s power and a “new frontier,” three female members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are blasting recently passed legislation that would prohibit insurance companies from offering policies that cover abortion services in the soon-to-be-launched Pennsylvania health exchange. 

Reps. Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny), Madeline Dean (D-Montgomery) and Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery) said the solution might lie in the next election cycle.

State Senate Republicans are expected to offer their own counter-proposal to the House's plan to phase out state wine and spirits stores and privatize the state's wholesale operation.

But details of the proposal are still under wraps. When asked for a status update on the bill, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said, with a laugh, "That's a great question."

State House GOP leaders expect to send a $28.3 billion budget proposal to the Senate on Wednesday. The move is largely procedural, since closed-door budget negotiations are still ongoing.

The House was originally slated to vote on the spending plan late Tuesday afternoon. But since final remarks on the floor were expected to go on into the evening, the final vote was put off.

"We clearly have the votes. The votes aren't a question," said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). "There's nobody getting beat up tonight, there's nobody getting sequestered."