January 18, 2017

Josh Shapiro Sworn In As 6th Elected Attorney General

Josh Shapiro was sworn in Tuesday as Pennsylvania’s 6th elected Attorney General, vowing to ensure integrity, safeguard Pennsylvanians’ rights, health and safety, and tackle the heroin and opioid epidemic in a comprehensive way.
“While I thank the more than 3 million Pennsylvanians who voted for me and entrusted me with this awesome responsibility, I want everyone to know, that I will be the Attorney General for all Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said in prepared remarks to a crowd of more than 800 people at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg. “I will protect each and every Pennsylvanian and the principles that our great Commonwealth was founded upon. That is the public trust that I just swore to uphold, preserve and protect and I will do so with every fiber of my being.”
Here are other selected highlights of Attorney General Shapiro’s swearing-in speech:
-- On restoring integrity to the Office of Attorney General: “Tomorrow, I’ll join all our staff in signing a new Code of Conduct. I’m appointing a new Chief Integrity Officer to guide our efforts. Ensuring that every voice is heard is a critical component of integrity, so I’m also appointing a Chief Diversity Officer to make sure our office looks like Pennsylvania. … We will rise to this challenge, apply the law without fear or favor and infuse integrity in all that we do so that we can focus on best protecting you.”
-- On becoming the “People’s Attorney General:” “The people I met when I campaigned all across our great Commonwealth had a great impact on me. …
“I’ve continued listening to Pennsylvanians during my transition, hearing the complexities of the challenges they face, and giving everyone a seat at the table. The stories they’ve shared with me are the stories of everyday Pennsylvanians.
“Many of the people I met along the way wonder who will look out for their interests in these unpredictable times.
“Let me be very clear—I won’t be afraid to stand up to anyone who threatens your rights— whether it’s the President of the United States or the person on the street corner. Anyone who tries to roll back your rights will have to come through me.”
-- On combating the heroin and opioid epidemic: “One of the most clear and present threats we face is the thousands of lives we are losing each year to heroin and opioids.
“It is ravaging our communities from Allentown to Erie. In rural, suburban and urban Pennsylvania, no one is immune.
“Just last week at a community forum in Johnstown, I spoke with their DA about a young couple who overdosed on heroin and while their bodies laid dead in their home, their 5 month old daughter – starved to death in her crib before they were found.
“We need a comprehensive plan. We must understand the difference between a non-violent drug addict who is suffering from a disease and needs treatment and the drug dealer who needs to be locked up.
“Doctors need to stop overprescribing these addictive drugs and pharmaceutical companies’ marketing and trade practices and insurance company coverage must be examined. They are part of the problem and must be part of the solution.
“We will partner with all 67 DAs and area AGs because dealers aren't constrained by municipal or state boundaries and we shouldn’t be either. Law enforcement cannot operate in silos, and we will partner together at full strength to fight this crisis. I’ve already spoken with Attorneys General in Michigan, Maryland, New York and West Virginia around ways we can collaborate.
“We will take this fight from the street corners to the board rooms and we will make a difference.”
-- On fighting scams against consumers, seniors and veterans: “Scammers who fleece Pennsylvania seniors out of about $1 billion a year must not be allowed to rob families of their savings, seniors of their nest egg, veterans of the benefits they've earned defending our nation. This will be a top priority and we will make it clear to the scammers that Pennsylvania is not open for their business.”
-- On rooting out public corruption: “You’ve demanded better from our public officials, and so will I. We must not allow ourselves to become accustomed to corruption.
“So let me be very clear, we will not tolerate the corrosive effects of public corruption.
“We will investigate it, root it out, and hold people accountable.”
-- On ensuring no Pennsylvanian’s voice is forgotten: “As we leave here today, know that I am humbled by the confidence you've shown in me, motivated by your stories and prepared for the massive task before us.  Know that your voices are heard, and that no Pennsylvanian will be forgotten.”
New AG Hopes To Restore Confidence In The Office

PASBO: Property Tax Elimination Bill Won’t Eliminate The Tax In 488 Of 500 School Districts

Only 2 percent-- 12-- of the state’s 500 school districts will be able to completely eliminate school property taxes under proposed legislation to replace the property tax with an increase in the state’s Income and Sales taxes, according to an analysis prepared by the PA Association of School Business Officials.
Some school property taxes will remain in 488 districts due to the requirement in the property tax elimination proposal that existing school district debt be paid off with property tax revenue, according to data from 2014-15.
While a portion of school property taxes will remain in place until the debt is paid off, school district bonds are typically paid back over 20 years. When the debt is paid off, the authority to levy the property tax is removed.
As a result, taxpayers in some districts will pay simultaneous increases in the state personal Income tax and Sales and Use tax while still paying school property taxes.
In these districts, taxpayers will be subject to double taxation, paying significant state tax increases while continuing to pay some or all of their current school property tax bill and all of their county and municipal property taxes.
215 school districts-- 43 percent of all districts statewide-- will retain at least 20 percent of their existing school property tax, and 23 districts will keep at least 50 percent of their current property tax to pay for existing debt.
A few school districts will still need all or nearly all of their current property tax levy to fund existing debt payments.
“While the school property tax elimination bill promises a lot, it fails to deliver true property tax elimination for many taxpayers” said Jay Himes, PASBO Executive Director. “While this massive shift of more than $12 billion statewide will create winners, it will also create many losers who will send more tax dollars to Harrisburg and continue to pay school property taxes” Himes added.
School districts such as Reading School District, the 5th largest school district in the state with 18,000 students and the third lowest in the state in median household income, will maintain virtually all of their current property taxes to cover existing debt while taxpayers pay increases in personal income and sales taxes.
Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) told The PLS Reporter Tuesday the property tax is one of the most egregious and hated taxes in history.
“I think [PASBO] is on the wrong side of public opinion on this one, and I think they know it,” said Sen. Argall, pointing the vigorous effort being put behind the effort to kill the bill by PASBO.
Sen. Argall said PASBO is correct in noting that the tax will not be immediately eliminated.
He went on to say he thought most school districts will see an 80 to 90 percent reduction in their property taxes and the legislation will put Pennsylvania on the road to complete elimination.
With what is known about Sen. Argall’s plan, after the property tax is eliminated in June 30, 2017, school districts would get a quarterly allotment from the Pennsylvania Treasury to make up the sum of their funding. The amount would also be subject to an annual cost of living adjustment.
Sen. Argall added that if the COLA is not enough for school districts to keep up with costs, they would then be able to go to their voters to ask them to approve via referendum a local increase in the personal income or earned income tax.
“It’s unfair, it’s archaic, this literally goes back to the 1830s,” he said. “We have to find a better way to fund the public schools than the current system, which most people think is just rotten at the core.”
A similar proposal failed to make it out of the Senate last session, with Lt. Gov. Mike Stack casting the tie-breaking vote against the proposal.
Sen. Argall also told PLS Reporter Tuesday the process is already going better than last session, with the bill likely to have more than half the Senate co-sponsoring the legislation.
Particularly, he noted newly-elected Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) has signed on to support the bill. His predecessor Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) was staunchly opposed to the legislation.
Sen. Argall added that in discussions with the Senate Majority Leader’s office, he is hopeful the bill will start making its way through the legislative process sooner rather than later.
The House of Representatives in the spring of 2015 passed a bipartisan property tax reduction bill that failed to gain traction in the Senate.
“Everyone has told me, if this passes the Senate for the first time in history, that completely changes the dynamic in the House where [House Majority Leader] Reed is a cosponsor of the House version of Senate Bill 76,” said Sen. Argall.
(Based in part on reporting from The PLS Reporter.)

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January 17, 2017

New State Treasurer Joe Torsella Calls For Accountability, Transparency, Innovation

State Treasurer Joe Torsella Tuesday called for a commitment to government that is accountable, transparent and uses technology and innovation to financially empower all Pennsylvanians after taking the oath of office at Camp Curtin Academy, a public middle school in Harrisburg.
Torsella swore the oath on a Bible that belonged to Pennsylvania Founder, William Penn, stressing that the Commonwealth will have a Treasurer who is not just honest and accountable, but who also helps more working Pennsylvanians save for retirement,  more families save for college and who uses our common resources to build our common future.
Speaking to students on the founding of the Commonwealth, Torsella said:
“Penn called it a ‘holy experiment’ in self-government. And what makes that experiment work is trust. Trust in each other, and, especially, trust in the leaders we choose to make decisions on our behalf. If we want to leave the next generation with a state government worthy of William Penn’s vision, it starts with rebuilding the sacred trust that has been broken far too often in recent years.
“Elected officials should be more accountable than anyone. So, as my first act as Treasurer, I’m calling for a new standard of accountability. Let’s use the power of technology to open up our state’s finances so that everyone can see how our money is being spent – and so that wrongdoing has nowhere to hide. Let’s put more watchdogs on the beat so we can be sure that those of us who take these oaths in public live by them in private, starting with me. And let’s make the office of Treasurer known for the very highest standards of integrity.”
Torsella’s wife, Carolyn Short Torsella, read a letter from former President George Herbert Walker Bush to the students. In it, Bush encouraged students to make a difference in their communities and country, explaining that party affiliation should not stand in the way of progress: “I hope it does not surprise you that I am such a big fan of Joe’s, despite the fact he is a Democrat, and I am a Republican. Some people seem to think these days that you can’t get along with each other, much less respect and like each other, if you don’t belong to the same party. Not true. Not true at all. I admire Joe because he has devoted his life to public service, and has served with great honor and distinction. He loves his state, and he loves his country. He makes decisions based on what is best for all of us, not for him or his party.”
Click Here for a copy of Torsella’s written remarks.
DePasquale Puts Focus On Child Safety, Rape Kits, Opioid Crisis

Health Releases Medical Marijuana Growers/Processors, Dispensaries Permit Applications

Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy Tuesday announced applications for medical marijuana growers/processors and dispensaries are now available on the department's Medical Marijuana Program website.
Permit applications will be accepted from February 20 to March 20, 2017.
"This is an important step forward in getting this valuable medication to patients who desperately need it," Secretary Murphy said. "We've developed a thorough application that ensures the operators of medical marijuana grower/processor and dispensary facilities will meet our strict guidelines. Our goal is to deliver medication safely and responsibly and this application will help us do just that."
Questions from applicants regarding the application process will be accepted by the department until February 8, 2017. All questions from applicants about the application process should be directed to: ra-dhq4app@pa.gov.  
The department will periodically publish answers to common application questions on the Medical Marijuana Program website.
Questions about the medical marijuana program in general can be emailed to RA-DHMedMarijuana@pa.gov.  
For more information, visit Health’s Medical Marijuana Program website.
How To Apply To Grow, Sell Medical Marijuana In PA