Senate Democratic Wrap-up for the Week of March 13, 2016

 

In a near party-line vote, the Senate voted 31-18 in favor of House Bill 1801, which is the Republican crafted supplemental budget bill for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

This legislation appropriates additional funding to House Bill 1460, which is the General Appropriation bill that was line-item vetoed and enacted as Act 10A of 2015.  This supplemental budget appropriates an additional $6 billion and brings the total General appropriation to $30 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year.  This amount is an increase in state spending by about $800,000 more than the 2014-15 budget.

The larger supplemental appropriations distributed in this legislation are $940 million for state correctional institutions, $3.15 billion for basic education funding and $1.9 billion for Medical Assistance-Capitation. Overall Basic Education Funding was increased by $200 million from last year.

Republicans advocated for the legislation, claiming it was time to bring the protracted budget impasse to an end and to distribute the remaining education funding to schools.  Republicans claimed legislation is balanced and successfully raises education funding without the need for increased taxes.

Democrats and the governor argued that the legislation is not a balanced budget, underfunds schools and does not improve the state’s current financial situation. They said that the legislation cuts $40 million in higher education student grants and continues to downgrade Pennsylvania’s credit rating due to the structural deficit.

The bill became law without the governor’s approval as Act 1A of 2016.  Upon passage of the bill in both the House and the Senate, Gov. Tom Wolf voiced his disapproval of the legislation. “My reasons for not signing this budget are clear: the math in this budget does not work,” he said.

However, Wolf said allowing the bill to become law was the “right thing to do” to keep money flowing to schools, counties, corrections and other entities through the end of the fiscal year.

“We have to move forward and address a looming 2016-2017 budget deficit of $2 billion,” the governor added. “Therefore, I am allowing this budget to become law without my signature.”

 

***

 

In a party line vote, the Senate voted 30-19 in favor of House Bill 1327, which would have amended the Fiscal Code to provide for the implementation of the 2015-16 budget.  The Fiscal Code is the plan for the implementation of the General Appropriation. The bill would have made several key amendments to do the following:

  • Limited transfers from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Marcellus Legacy Fund for distribution to the Environmental Stewardship Fund to $20 million;
  • Reauthorized the Basic Education Funding, Special Education Funding and Community College Funding for the 2015-16 fiscal year using the same distribution plan as the 2014-15 fiscal year;
  • Suspended the pension double payments for charter and cyber charter schools in the 2015-16 fiscal year;
  • Amended language related to bonds issued to refinance authorized school capital construction grant projects for the reimbursement of school construction projects;
  • Authorized fund transfers from the General Appropriation Act to other funds such as the Tobacco Settlement Fund, Race Horse Development Fund, Workmen’s Compensation Administration Fund and the Uninsured Employers Guarantee Fund;
  • Transferred slot machine license fees to the General Fund for any fees received by the Gaming Control Board;
  • Established a Natural Gas Infrastructure Grant Program run through the Commonwealth Financing Agency;
  • Reauthorized the “Ready to Learn” block grant funding for school districts and charter schools at the 2014-15 fiscal year budget level; and
  • Required the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to restructure rules for conventional gas or oil wells.

The bill was vetoed as Veto No. 1 of 2016.  The governor stated in his veto message that “This bill would continue a basic education funding distribution that I believe is one of the most inequitable in the nation.”

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 50, which would allow for the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp in Pennsylvania. This act is entitled the “Industrial Hemp Act” and would create the Hemp Research Board.

The bill defines Industrial Hemp as “The plant cannabis sativa l. and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis.”

The bill creates the Agricultural Pilot Program for the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp for Institutions of Higher Education and the Department of Agriculture.  Institutions would be permitted to grow and research the use of hemp under this legislation.

The Department of Agriculture would be in charge of regulating permits and guidelines for hemp researchers.  They would also be responsible for creating an annual report detailing a summary of the research.  The bill now goes to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1013, which would amend Title 51 (Military Affairs) to allow private employers to offer preferential employment to military veterans.

The bill would allow a private employer to provide a preference in hiring veterans. They would be required to disclose this information during the application process. Implementing such a preference would not put them in violation of state and local equal employment opportunities law.

The bill now goes to the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

 

***

 

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1056, which would enact the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act.

This bill would provides clarification to custody and visitation agreements for parents who are deployed in military service.  The bill will allow parents to enter into temporary custody agreements during the time they are deployed.

These agreements would state the length of the deployment, give temporary caretaking authority to a parent or other guardian and specify decision-making authority.

The bill would expand the list of individuals who are legally allowed to be given temporary custodial rights and would provide more detailed procedures for the modification of a pre-deployment custody and visitation order.

The bill now goes to the House Judiciary committee.

 

###