March 31, 2011

Corbett Names Julia Hearthway To Labor and Industry

Gov. Corbett today completed his cabinet by announcing that he intends to nominate Julia K. Hearthway as secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry.
            One cabinet appointment needs to be made for the new Department of Drug and Alcolhol Programs in May.
            "Julia Hearthway has devoted most of her career to public service, serving four years as an assistant district attorney in Montgomery County and then spending nearly two decades in the Attorney General's office," Corbett said. "I have first-hand experience of Julia's knowledge and work ethic, and I know she will be a valuable asset to the Department of Labor and Industry."
            An attorney from Pottstown, Hearthway has worked for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General since 1993 and has served as a chief deputy attorney general since 2001. In this role, she has managed the office's Insurance Fraud Section, which investigates and prosecutes all criminal insurance fraud matters.
            Hearthway, 54, also serves as chair of the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that funds and coordinates a statewide strategy to fight auto theft in Pennsylvania.
            From 1986 to 1990, Hearthway was an assistant district attorney for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office. She has also been an attorney in private practice.
            Hearthway earned her undergraduate degree at Stephens College and her law degree at Rutgers University School of Law. She lives in Chester County with her husband. They have two adult children.
            Established in 1913, the Department of Labor & Industry administers benefits to unemployed individuals, oversees the administration of workers' compensation benefits to individuals with job-related injuries, and provides vocational rehabilitation to individuals with disabilities. The department prepares job seekers for the global workforce through employment and job training services for adult, youth, older workers, and dislocated workers.  It also enforces various laws and safety standards in the workplace and administers state programs for community service by young Pennsylvanians.
            The department also promotes economic development and an improved business climate through a variety of initiatives and programs to help Pennsylvania's workforce remain globally competitive.

Thursday NewsClips

DPW Secretary Blames Rendell For Rising Welfare Costs
New DPW Boss Stresses Reforms, Welfare-To-Work
Corbett Selling Off Rendell's White Elephant Bus
Corbett Says Rendell Missed The Bus On Transportation Funding
Corbett Gets Personal, Mocks Rendell's Tour Bus
Pitt Students Rally Against Corbett's Budget Cuts
Op-Ed: School Voucher Proposal Doesn't Add Up
Editorial: Teachers Deserve Better, So Do Taxpayers
Editorial: Corbett Takes From Poor, Gives To Rich
Editorial: State Courts Want $71 Million More
Editorial: PA Needs To Shrink State House This Decade
Editorial: There's A Way For Legislators To Cut Back
State Bridges Rated Poor
Consultant Hired To Study Liquor Stores
Dems Say Private Liquor Stores A Bad Idea
PA Liquor Store Backers Plead Case
Liquor Store Privatization Bill On Way
Editorial: LCB, Old Dog, But Old Tricks
Op-Ed: Joint & Several Liability Repeal Would Harm Victims, Taxpayers
Toomey Authors Balanced Budget Bill
Column: Let The Real Game Begin For Harrisburg's Stakeholders
Harrisburg Takes Reins For Marcellus Enforcement
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

March 30, 2011

Senators Yudichak, Erickson Introduce Bipartisan Marcellus Shale Severance Tax

Sen. John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne) today announced legislation-- Senate Bill 905-- that would implement a severance tax on the extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania.
            Joining Yudichak at the news conference were Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) and Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna), co-sponsors of the bill.  Click Here for more.

For Sale: Rendell's Tour Bus, As Is, Needs Work

Making good on his commitment to reduce the state-owned vehicle fleet, Gov. Corbett sent the "white elephant" of the fleet to the auction block: a 1991 tour bus that has cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $66,000 in spite of it being driven less than 26,000 miles in eight years.
            "This bus represents everything wrong with state government -- it's out-dated, inefficient and broken down," said Corbett. "That's why we are sending it to the auction block, a first step in our efforts to reduce the cost of state government."
            Since 2003, when the Commonwealth was given the bus, it has only been driven 25,937 miles, but has required a taxpayer investment of $66,462 to maintain. The bus has also consumed over 12,000 gallons of fuel in that same time period.
            Corbett noted that the bus -- formally called Commonwealth One -- cannot move under its own power, requiring an investment expense of approximately $5,000 to repair a transmission control module.
            "My administration is committed to refocusing state spending on the core functions of government and that does not include maintaining a 41-foot motor coach that has largely sat in the garage," Corbett said. "This fiscal year alone taxpayers have paid for batteries, towing and window tinting. As of today, we will not ask taxpayers to put one more cent into the upkeep of this vehicle."
            Corbett has also commissioned a statewide review of the state's vehicle fleet in an effort to reduce the cost of government. Results from this review are expected by the end of April.
            The bus will be placed up for bid as part of the next Department of General Services equipment auction, which will occur in May and June 2011.

Wednesday NewsClips

Education Secretary Says Money Doesn't Equal Achievement
Education Secretary Defends State School Cuts
Corbett's Education Chief Defends Budget Cuts
Education Chief Defends Corbett Cuts
NE School Directors Grapple With State Budget Cuts
CD Schools President Was Not Shocked By Education Cuts
House Speaker Proposes Cutting Size Of House
Speaker Talks About Consolidating Services
Local Investment Key To Reducing Prison Costs
Prisoners Returning To PA Facilities
Liquor Agency Fends Off Critics
LCB Nixes Warehouse Consolidation
Liquor Sale Study To Guide New Bill
PA Study Begins On Privatizing Liquor Sales
Corbett Seeking A Price For State Stores
House Democrats' Liquor System Hearing Today
Bills Would Require Photo ID To Vote In PA
PA Effort To Block Health Insurance Law Decried
Prosecutors Blast Orie Efforts To Dismiss Judge, Avoid Retrial
DA Calls Orie's Claims Frivolous
Lehigh Valley Business Leaders Cheer Toomey
Santorum: Social Security Fund Would Be OK If Fewer Abortions
Dick Army Inspires Western PA Conservatives
Oversight Panel Asks How Pittsburgh Will Balance Budget
Corbett: PA Gets Millions In Taxes From Marcellus Without New Tax
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

March 29, 2011

Budget: Secretary Of Education Tomalis- It Not Just About The Money

Ronald Tomalis, Acting Secretary of the Department of Education, told the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning, success in educating students is not just about the money, noting the quality of teachers, class size and other factors that do not necessarily cost any more money are many times more important.
            Tomalis said if you take a close look at when academic achievement improvement has occurred over the last 8 to 10 years, it often occurred before significant increases in funding happened. 
            Tomalis said education is one of the few programs where many measure success by the inputs-- money-- rather than the outputs-- test results and graduation rates.
            He noted state funding has more than doubled over the last 10 years while student enrollment has dropped by 50,000 students increasing per pupil costs.
            Tomalis said almost all of the cost drivers are the result of school district decisions, noting that over $1.1 billion has gone into just raises over the last few years not to improving programs.  That was why Gov. Corbett called for a one-year freeze on school employee raises that will save an estimated $400 million.
            Here are some of the issues talked about during the hearing:

Positions On Bills: Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, started out by expressing frustration over working with the Corbett Administration on bills moving through the Senate on school vouchers and other issues saying the Department of Education has not take a position on many of these initiatives.  Tomalis said they would be working with the Senate and House as the bills move through the legislative process.
Budget Cuts Destroying Education?: In response to a question from Sen. Dinniman about criticism from some groups saying the budget cuts will destroy education, Tomalis said he has heard the same criticism over the last 25 years whether the state was adding or taking funding away from education programs.  Tomalis said the reality is there is a huge budget hole and one-time use of federal stimulus dollars was the cause of the "cuts."
            Tomalis said almost all of the cost drivers are the result of school district decisions, noting that over $1.1 billion has gone into just raises over the last few years not to improving programs.  That was why Gov. Corbett called for a one-year freeze on school employee raises that will save an estimated $400 million.
            In response to a question from Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Tomalis continued to explain you cannot drive education success through dollars.  It is the quality of the teacher that drives education achievement regardless of dollars and other variables like class size.
            Tomalis said the state has gone from spending a total of $13 billion to $26 billion over the last 10 years on K-12 education and if you would have asked educators 10 years ago if they would have been satisfied with doubling funding above inflation, they would have been satisfied.
            Unfortunately, Tomalis said, education is the one program where you measure success by the inputs-- money-- rather than the outputs-- test results and graduation rates.
            Tomalis said if you take a close look at when academic achievement has occurred over the last 8 to 10 years, it often occurred before significant increases in funding happened. 
            He also noted the number students enrolled in K-12 was dropped by 50,000 and the number of teachers has increased.
            In response to questions about cuts in Philadelphia School District spending by Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tomalis said over the last 10 years spending in Philadelphia schools has gone from $1.6 billion to $3.1 billion and enrollment in the system has dropped.
Trickle Down Tax Increases: Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) was critical of the Administration over the budget cuts because he said they will cause dramatic increases in local property taxes which violates Gov. Corbett's pledge to not raise taxes.  Tomalis disagreed.  Tomalis said the first option should not be to raise taxes.
            In response to a question from Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), Tomalis said his agency would welcome changes to Act 1 to limit the Department of Education's ability to issue exemptions from the cap on taxation in school districts.
Higher Education: In response to a question from Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) on whether there is room for discussing mitigating the cuts on higher education and other education line items, Tomalis said this is just the beginning of the discussion over these issues.
            Tomalis said the Administration was very concerned the institutions would turn to tuition increases to make up for the cuts and he was very glad to hear they were doing all they can to reduce the impact on student tuition.
            Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, suggested it may be worth looking at state-related universities individually, like Lincoln University that are more dependent on state funding, rather than treating them all the same.  Tomalis said it would be worth looking at.
            In response to a question from Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), Tomalis said there is a different relationship with the State System of Higher Education because they are state institutions and he looks forward to discussing funding for the System in the future.
Community Colleges: Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) raised the issue of problems with local funding of community colleges, and Tomalis said some school districts and counties are reconsidering local funding levels in light of their own budget issues.
            Tomalis said community colleges are one of the fastest growing segment of higher education noting initiatives like portability of their credits to other schools provided additional flexibility to students.
            Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Lehigh) urged the Administration to reconsider cuts to community colleges saying even though it was just a 10 percent cut, they have been losing money over the last few years because of increased enrollment.
Statewide Health Contract: In response to a question from Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), Tomalis said he would explore why there has not been more serious discussion of joint school district purchasing of health care insurance/services or even a statewide program.
School Vouchers: Tomalis said he believes in the end a good school voucher program will save taxpayers money in response to a question from Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny).
Merger Incentives: Tomalis said there should be incentives for school district mergers in response to a question from Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland) about whether the state should re-look at the hold-harmless provisions in the basic funding formula.  He noted the state has gone from 501 to 500 districts; "we're making progress."
Mandate Relief: Tomalis said changing whatever mandates or requirements included in teacher contracts will have to wait until those local contracts expire, in response to a question of Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango).  He said the Corbett Administration has proposed inviting school districts to come to the Department of Education to grant waivers from state mandates.
Charter Schools:  Sen. Dinniman said he has introduced legislation-- Senate Bill 904-- giving school districts the same mandates as charter schools since districts always say charter schools have fewer mandates.  Tomalis said he supported that initiative, noting if you put all the students in charter schools in one district it would be the second largest school district in the Commonwealth.
High School Drop Out Rate: Sen. Dinniman expressed concern about the state's 20 to 33 percent high school drop out rate even though we are spending $26 billion on K-12 education.
            Tomalis pointed to the audit of the Philadelphia School District by Auditor General Wagner saying the second finding of that audit showing the district could not document reliably how many students they had enrolled in the district and as a result he could not determine if they are getting the correct state subsidies was telling.
Penn State Cooperative Extension Service: In response to a question from Sen. Corman on moving the budget for the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service to the Department of Agriculture, Tomalis said he would take a look at that issue.
            Tomalis appears before the House Appropriations Committee at 1:00 today.  Watch it online at

Tuesday NewsClips

Judges Seek More Funding For PA Court System
Hundreds Of Students Protest Proposed Education Cuts
Students Rally At Capitol Over Proposed Budget Cuts
Students Protest Higher Ed Cuts
More School Districts Agree To Wage Freezes
Lawmakers Vow To Restore Some Education Cuts
Fight Promised Over Corbett's College Cuts
Survey Shows Colleges Failing To Attract Low-Income Students
Analysis: Lawmakers Fighting Harder For State-Owned Schools
Corbett Pushes Privatization Of Liquor Stores
Union Leader Defends State-Run Liquor Sales
Auditor General Questions Use Of Tobacco Settlement Money
Poll: Many Pennsylvanians Avoid Making Health Choices
Corbett's Cuts Could Leave Tough Medical Care Choices
Op-Ed: Smaller Legislature Would Save Money, Sen. Argall
Op-Ed: Decrease Would Have A Pernicious Effect, Sen. Leach
State Police Commissioner Skeptical Of Expanded DNA Testing
Editorial: Government Budgets Stretched At All Levels
Corbett: We've Got To Find A Balance On Impact Fees
Radiation Checks Determine PA's Water Is Safe
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

March 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Will Have To Borrow To Meet Unemployment Benefits Thru 2018

Interim Labor and Industry Secretary, Patrick Beaty, told the Senate Appropriations Committee today, the state will be forced to borrow to meet its unemployment compensation benefit obligations for the foreseeable future, which means at least through 2018.
            As a result, Pennsylvania employers will see their costs for unemployment insurance per employee on the first $8,000 in wages increase by $56.20 for the coming year and up to an estimated $190 per employee by 2018, if there are not other changes in law.
            Beaty is the Interim Secretary because Gov. Corbett has not yet nominated an Acting Secretary for the agency.
            Here's a quick summary of some of the other issues discussed:
Loss Of Unemployment Benefits: Beaty said about 108,000 people in Pennsylvania have exhausted their unemployment benefits this past year and 150,000 more employees are expected to exhaust their benefits in the coming year.
            As a result of the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania dropping to just above 8 percent, the maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits available in the state is now 93 instead of 99 weeks by action of federal law.
            Beaty anticipates the state unemployment rate will drop below 8 percent in the coming months and as a result, the total number of weeks of benefits available will be 73 weeks, again as a result of federal law.
Workforce Development: Beaty said the administration does not yet have a complete plan for how to reorganize the state's workforce development programs to save money and to make them more effective.  He noted community colleges will be an important part of the workforce programs under any scenario, but as an Interim Secretary, he is not privy to the Administration's future plans at this time.
Sprinkler Requirement: In response to questioning on the Uniform Construction Code and the sprinkler requirement, Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia), Majority Chair Senate Labor and Industry Committee, said his Committee plans to take up the House Bill 377 (Everett-R-Lycoming) at a meeting in April to deal with the sprinkler and log home issues as well as the process issues of automatically adopting future updates to the Code.
Search For Work Requirement: Beaty said Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states which do not have a requirement that those receiving unemployment compensation must also be actively looking for work to continue to receive those benefits, in response to a question from Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna).
Prevailing Wage: Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) expressed concern about the impact prevailing wage requirements have in raising the cost of public projects at a time when public funds are scarce.  In some cases, Sen. Smucker said, the wages are significantly above local wages.  He noted there have been some proposals to put a moratorium on applying prevailing wages to save taxpayers money.
            Beaty said prevailing wages are determined based on sources of information in the law and if the law was changed other information could be used.

Budget: State Court System Asks For $71 Million More In Its Budget

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Castile asked the Senate and House Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly to appropriate $71 million more than the budget proposed by Gov. Corbett bringing the total to $348 million for FY 2011-12.
            Testimony: Copy of written statement
            Accompanied at the hearings by Justice Debra M. Todd, the chief justice spoke about the need for greater Judicial Branch input into the appropriations process to remedy the Judiciary’s adverse circumstances.
            “Given six years of structural deficits, it is clear that the current process does not work, whether in good times or bad,” the chief justice said. “It does not respect the symmetry of three, co-equal branches of government. It does not uphold the core function of the Judiciary in democratic governance. 
            It does not consider the impact of underfunding the courts. And it is leading us all toward a crisis not of the Judiciary’s choosing.”
            Gov. Tom Corbett’s $276 million budget proposal for the Judiciary provides level funding for Fiscal Year 2011-2012. However, it ignores an inherited accumulated budget deficit from serial underfunding. The chief justice repeatedly has noted that no amount of savings or cutbacks can remedy the deficiency.
            “The current executive and legislative branches did not create the Judiciary’s six past deficits, but this is the year when a new process can begin to put funding for the court system back on sound footing and avoid placing Pennsylvania’s justice system at risk,” Chief Justice Castille told committee members. 
            Other specific issues raised include:
Extending Temporary Fees: Chief Justice Castile said he would be asking the General Assembly to extend Act 49 enacted in 2009  to authorize the imposition of a temporary filing fee which helps the Judiciary offset about $29 million in state budget cuts.  Act 49 expires in January 2012.
Medical Malpractice Crisis: The medical malpractice crisis is over, according to Chief Justice Castile, as a result of rule changes by the court system.  He noted there has been a 70 percent decrease in the number of cases filed in Philadelphia and overall medical malpractice awards have dropped from $370 to 147 million last year.  Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) said some doctors may disagree with that characterization.
Reducing District Magistrates: Castile said he intends to reduce the number of district magistrates by 50 across the state through attrition, retirements or deaths when a current magistrate's 6-year term is up.  There are now 550 district judges.

Poll: Pennsylvanians Overwhelmingly Support Lawsuit Abuse Reform

A coalition of more than 50 business, health-care, local government and insurance groups joined with state lawmakers to unveil the results of a statewide survey that reveals strong public support for commonsense lawsuit abuse reform in the Commonwealth.
            Conducted by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling and Research, the survey polled 800 statewide registered voters about the overall impact of lawsuit abuse and specific reforms pending in the General Assembly.
            “Our collective efforts are buoyed by overwhelming support among the general public,” PA Chamber Vice President Gene Barr said, pointing out that 75 percent of those surveyed believe lawmakers in Harrisburg should do more to improve the overall legal climate in the Commonwealth. “These results make it very clear that Pennsylvanians understand the negative implications of an unbalanced legal system for health-care costs and accessibility; job creation and business investment; and the cost of consumer goods and services, and want elected officials to take action.”
            According to the survey, 91 percent of respondents said lawsuits against businesses and employers have an impact, with 67 percent classifying it as a “big” impact. The impact on the health-care system was acknowledged by 95 percent of respondents, with an even greater majority (82 percent) calling it “big.”
            The survey results also show support (82 percent) for re-enactment of the Fair Share Act (H.B. 1, S.B. 2), which would repeal the legal doctrine of joint and several liability. Under joint and several, a defendant in a civil lawsuit only minimally at fault could be held liable for 100 percent of the damages.
            In addition, support remains strong (76 percent) for having individuals and businesses pay for damages proportionate to their level of blame, even if it means some plaintiffs will not be able to recover 100 percent of damages.
            “House Bill 1 represents long overdue and much-needed reform of our state’s legal system,” said Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, the bill’s prime sponsor. “It will strengthen our economy by reducing the burden on businesses and allowing for job growth, and it will restore fairness to our legal system.”
            At least 40 states have repealed or modified joint and several liability, and it is the top lawsuit abuse reform priority for the coalition.
            “We have an aging physician workforce, and our young physicians are attracted to other states with less hostile legal climates where practice costs are less,” Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania Senior Vice President Jim Redmond added. “The Fair Share Act will help lower costs and improve physician recruitment and retention, which is critical to protect access to care in our communities.”
            In addition to the Fair Share Act, the legal reform coalition is supporting, among other reforms, legislation that would:
-- Allow health-care professionals to apologize for unforeseen outcomes without fear that those statements could be used against them in court;
-- An expansion of medical malpractice venue reforms to include all civil liability cases;
-- Protections for innocent sellers that had nothing to do with a product’s manufacture; and
-- Reasonable time limits in which product liability suits can be brought (statute of repose) “Apology legislation” was supported by an overwhelming 84 percent of those surveyed.
            “For decades, lawyers and insurers have advised health-care professionals to ‘deny and defend’ when an adverse situation arises, believing those apologies or expressions of empathy to patients and their relatives would lead to lawsuits, settlements and ruined careers,” Pennsylvania Health Care Association President Stuart Shapiro said. “Pennsylvania lawmakers now have the opportunity to put an end to this defensive posture and strengthen relationships between health-care professionals,     patients and families.”
            The survey also indicated strong support (71 percent) for a statute of repose in product liability cases and for venue reforms (86 percent) to ensure that lawsuits are filed only in counties where the defendant resides or where the injury occurred.
            The coalition stressed that the survey convincingly shows that public opinion is on the side of the need to restore balance and fairness to the state’s legal system.
            “Pennsylvanians are paying attention to this issue more closely than ever before because they know that is has a direct effect on the prices they pay, the taxes they pay and the state’s overall prosperity,” NFIB State Director Kevin Shivers said. “Most importantly, people realize that runaway lawsuits threaten the small businesses that create jobs.”
            Barr added, “Opponents are clearly standing apart from the mainstream on this issue, and are working against job growth and access to health care in the process.
            “We urge the General Assembly to make serious strides to enact these commonsense reforms.”
            For more information, visit the PA Chamber Lawsuit Abuse webpage.

Governor Says Public Water Supply Testing Finds No Risk From Japanese Fallout

Gov. Tom Corbett today said weekend testing of public drinking water found no elevated levels of radioactivity.
            On Friday, concentrations of Iodine-131, likely originating from the events at Japan's damaged nuclear plants, were found in rainwater samples collected from Pennsylvania's nuclear power plant facilities.
            The numbers reported in the rainwater samples in Pennsylvania range from 40-100 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Although these are levels above the background levels historically reported in these areas, they are still about 25 times below the level that would be of concern. The federal drinking water standard for Iodine-131 is three pCi/L.
            As a result of the findings, Corbett immediately ordered the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Water Quality, Radiation Protection and Laboratories to test the drinking water from six regions in the state.
            Samples were taken from facilities in Norristown, East Stroudsburg, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Greenville and Pittsburgh. After repeated testing throughout the weekend, results showed normal levels of radioactivity and no Iodine-131 above the federal limit. In fact, no Iodine-131 was detected in the drinking water samples.
            "We have been proactive and conducted immediate drinking water tests to provide hard facts, assuring the public that the water they drink is safe,'' Corbett said.
            On Friday, rainwater samples were taken in Harrisburg, where levels were 41 pCi/L and at nuclear power plants at TMI and Limerick, where levels were 90 to 100 pCi/L.
            Corbett emphasized that the drinking water is safe and there is no cause for health concerns. State officials will continue to carefully monitor the situation, Corbett said, and will keep the public informed.
            "Rainwater is not typically directly consumed,'' Corbett said. "However, people might get alarmed by making what would be an inappropriate connection from rainwater to drinking water. By testing the drinking water, we can assure people that the water is safe.''
            Rainwater is diluted by water in reservoirs and rivers or filters through the ground - and it is treated before reaching consumers as drinking water - it would not be expected to be a concern in public water systems.
            While the radioactive element is believed to have originated from Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, it is not considered to be a health risk in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the country. Similar testing in other states, including California, Massachusetts and Washington, has shown comparable levels of Iodine-131 in rainwater samples.
            "We do not expect the levels to increase and, in fact, the levels we see now should go down rather quickly over the next three months,'' Corbett said.
            "DEP has an extensive network of radiation monitoring points at the nuclear plants and elsewhere, and we will continue to monitor water supplies to ensure there is no risk of contamination to the public,'' Corbett added.
            Any Iodine-131 concentrations detected in rainwater samples are significantly higher than might be detected in a surface body of water, such as a lake or a pond.
            Air quality is also being examined and test results are expected later this week. As soon as results are available, Corbett said, they will be made public.
            DEP will continue to work with Pennsylvania's public water suppliers to enhance their monitoring and treatment operations as necessary. Residents whose drinking water originates from groundwater, and obtained from wells or springs, should not be affected.
            DEP's Bureau of Radiation Protection is in regular contact with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, while the Department of Health is in contact with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other states tracking Japan-related issues.
            Potassium Iodide Tablets
            Pennsylvania residents should not take potassium iodide (KI) pills, Corbett advised. The pills are to be taken only during a specific emergency and only at the recommendation of public health officials or the governor.
            "Taking KI now is unnecessary under the circumstances and could cause harmful side effects," said Corbett. "Although usually harmless, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish, or those who have thyroid problems."
            Additionally, the elevated levels of radioactivity found in the rainwater on Friday were still well below levels that could pose any harm to pets or livestock.
            "Ironically, today marks the 32nd anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant,'' Corbett said. "The lessons we learned from that incident and the safeguards that were installed, including constant monitoring, have made us better prepared for situations like this.''
            For more information, visit DEP's Nuclear Safety Division and the Radiation Protection webpages.

Monday NewsClips

Where's Shared Sacrifice From PA's Most Powerful People?
Wealthiest School Districts Brace For Cuts
Inquirer: Assault On Learning Series
Students Pitch Their Agenda In Harrisburg
Op-Ed: Decline In Public Education Ahead If Corbett's Cuts Pass
Editorial: State System Salary Offer, Warming Up To Reality?
Editorial: Attack On Education Must Be Repelled
PHEAA Weighs Change In Eligibility For Grants
Corbett Looks At Ways To Finance Transportation
Advocates For Disabled Worry Over Deadline for Payment
Bill Would Provide Approval Options For Charter Schools
Trooper Shortage Expected To Balloon In PA
Casey Could Be GOP Target Next Year
Diabetes Prevalence Earns PA A Spot In Diabetes Belt
Philadelphia Judicial Candidates Scramble For Attention
PA Appeals Court Rejects Juvenile Homicide Cases
Justices Take Up Case On Negligent Design Drug Claim
Trash Disposal Switch Worries Dauphin County Municipalities
Corbett Resolute In Gas Tax Opposition
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

March 25, 2011

March 28 PA Environment Digest Now Available

March 28 PA Environment Digest now available. Click here to print this Digest.

Computer Upgrade May Disrupt April 4 PA Environment Digest Delivery

Crisci Associates is upgrading its computer and Internet connection. The result may be a disruption in the delivery of the April 4 issue of PA Environment Digest.
If that happens, Click Here to see a copy of the April 4 issue at its usual delivery time on Friday, April 1.
We apologize for any inconvenience!

Richard J. Allan Nominated To Lead Dept. of Conservation And Natural Resources

Gov. Tom Corbett this week nominated Richard J. Allan, of Camp Hill, Cumberland County, as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
"Richard Allan is a proven leader and commands a wealth of knowledge and experience in environmental and energy issues," Gov. Corbett said. "I am confident that his abilities and background will be a tremendous benefit to DCNR, especially during this critical time in the agency's history."
Since 1991, Allan has served as executive director for the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware members of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the national trade association that represents the recycling industry. Since 2005, he has also been a consultant to energy producers in the electric, wind, solar and coal sectors. Click Here to read more....

Friday NewsClips

Tough Sell On DCED Tapping Tobacco Fund
Structure Of DCED Liberty Loan Fund Discussed At Hearing
Orie's Attorney Accuses Prosecution Of Deliberate Mistrial
Santorum Hopes to Build On Foreign Affairs Experience
Flaherty Has Wide Lead On Fitzgerald Poll Says
Education Reformer Decries State Cuts
School Voucher Pros & Cons Discussed
Criminal Cases Yield $480 Million For State Courts
Gaming Board: Gambling's Pros Outweigh The Cons
LCB: Wine Kiosks Have Had Little Impact
Wine Kiosks Coming To Some Walmart Stores
Banks, Insurer Want State Out Of Harrisburg Debt Suits
Meeting Set Today For Marcellus Shale Panel
Poll: 70% Support Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Severance Tax
Click Here for today's Environmental NewsClips

March 22, 2011

Legislative Reapportionment Commission To Hear Candidates For Chair At March 23 Hearing

Fourteen individuals interested in serving as chair of the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission will testify tomorrow afternoon at the Commission's first public hearing.
            In January, the four legislative members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission - Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), and House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) - announced that they were seeking applications from individuals interested in serving as chair.
            A total of 28 individuals submitted their names for consideration. All 28 were invited to participate in tomorrow's hearing; the following 14 will participate: 
-- Renee Amoore of King of Prussia, President and CEO of The Amoore Group
-- Jane Dalton of Philadelphia, Of Counsel at Duane Morris. 
-- Michael Dimino of Mechanicsburg, Associate Professor of Law at Widener University School of Law. 
-- Joseph Doyle of West Chester, Of Counsel at Mancini & Associates
-- Michael Gast of West Chester, former Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Genaera Corporation. 
-- William Gindlesperger of Chambersburg, Chairman and CEO of e-Lynxx Corporation. 
-- Eric Goetter of Palmyra, Maintenance Planner for Exelon Corporation at Three Mile Island Unit One. 
-- Charles Keller of Washington, Senior Counsel at Peacock Keller. 
-- Milton Loyer of Mechanicsburg, Statistician at Penn State University Fruit Research Lab in Biglerville
-- John McGonagle of Blandon, Managing Partner of The Helicon Group. 
-- Lawrence Roberts of Uniontown, Labor Arbitrator at Lawrence Roberts Associates, Inc. 
-- Lawrence Roskos of Forty Fort, Vice President & Portfolio Manager at National Penn Bank, KNBT Division. 
-- Donald Russo of Bethlehem, a sole proprietor attorney. 
-- Charlie Spano of Scranton, former Manager of Recruiting for the U.S. Census Bureau.
            The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in Room 8E-B of the Capitol Building. Media coverage is encouraged. The entire hearing will be recorded and posted to the Internet.
            The LRC is a five-member panel responsible for redrawing the boundaries for state Senate and state House districts to reflect population changes over the past decade as measured by the federal census. Article II, Section 17, of the state constitution names the four caucus floor leaders as members of the Commission.
            The constitution calls for the legislative members of the Commission to choose a fifth member, who serves as chair of the LRC. The deadline for a decision is April 4. If the floor leaders do not reach an agreement, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will make the appointment no later than May 4.
            The constitution requires that the chair of the LRC be a citizen of Pennsylvania who does not hold a local, state or federal office to which compensation is attached.
            Previous LRC chairs include retired Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Montemuro, Jr., in 2001; attorney Robert J. Cindrich in 1991; James O. Freedman, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1981; and Professor A. Leo Levin of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1971.

Senate Education Chairs Unveil School District Mandate Relief Bills

Recognizing the budgetary constraints and challenges facing Pennsylvania's school districts, Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-Piccola), Majority Chair Senate Education Committee, and members of the Senate Republican Caucus unveiled today a comprehensive legislative package intended to relieve schools of costly state mandates. Also joining Piccola for this announcement was Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Education Committee.
            The 2011-2012 spending plan proposed by Governor Corbett requires substantial reductions to the state education budget to address a $4 billion deficit. In an effort to provide the Commonwealth's schools with flexibility to balance their budgets and reduce costs, members have introduced a package of 18 bills designed to relieve what lawmakers call 'onerous' mandates outlined in the Pennsylvania School Code.
            Some of the measures being proposed include enabling districts to order teacher furloughs in the name of economic necessity; allowing districts to forgo filing non-essential reports not involving budget, financial, or safety information to the Department of Education in years when state education aid declines; and increasing the monetary threshold for bidding on contracts.
            During a press conference with their colleagues in the Senate, Senators Piccola and Dinniman emphasized that relieving school districts of expensive mandates and giving them the flexibility to meet the educational needs of children is the intent of their legislation.
            "Our goal is to reduce the numerous restrictions and directives currently hamstringing school districts so that learning environments can be improved for all students. Together, we believe that by eliminating these bureaucratic hoops for school districts teachers can focus on teaching and administrators can have greater control in leading their schools, and ultimately a quality educational opportunity for our kids can be provided at a reasonable cost," said Sen. Piccola.
            "It is imperative that we take steps to reduce the amount of onerous, outdated and unnecessary restrictions that bog down our school districts and take the focus away from learning. Many of these mandates are decades-old and don't have anything to do with education," Sen. Dinniman said. "These efforts are a step in the right direction to eliminate red tape, reduce costs and allow schools to concentrate on their most important task - preparing students for the future."
            Bills in the legislative package specifically authored by Sen. Piccola would ease requirements for hiring school nurses by allowing districts to hire a registered nurse with in-service training. Additionally, Sen. Piccola has sponsored a measure that would permit school districts to advertise from a menu of options including the Internet.
            In addition to Sen. Dinniman, other members who support and have sponsored bills in the package include: Senators Alloway (R-Franklin); Brubaker (R-Lancaster); Corman (R-Centre); Eichelberger (R-Blair); Folmer (R-Lebanon); Rafferty (R-Montgomery); Smucker (R-Lancaster); and Waugh (R-York). 
            A similar package has been introduced in the House of Representatives, and Gov.  Corbett has also called for significant mandate relief.
            Recognizing that the state's economic future is closely tied to a strong education system, Sen. Piccola underscored the need for this legislative package and the importance of relieving school districts of significant cost drivers.
            "Our colleagues in both chambers of the Legislature need to understand that state and federally-imposed mandates are a tremendous strain on municipal and school budgets, and as a result, taxpayers continue to bear the brunt of the financial burden," he said. "To shelve or delay tackling this issue during our economic crisis may result in a missed opportunity to rein in the costs that place the largest burden on the local taxpayer."
            Holding up the over 2,000 page three-inch thick Public School Code at the press conference, Sen. Piccola emphasized, "For mandate relief, the future is now."

LCB Could Transfer $25 Million More To General Fund This Year

Liquor Control Board Chair Patrick Stapleton told the Senate Appropriations Committee the Board could transfer $25 million more to the state General Fund than proposed by Gov. Corbett for FY 2011-12, saying the transfer number was an "artificial number."
            Here is a quick summary of other issues discussed related to the Liquor Control Board.

Transfer To General Fund: Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny), Majority Chair Senate Law and Justice Committee, said the amount of money transfered from the LCB to the General Fund is an artificial number that varies from a low of $80 million to a high of $150 million as recently as 2006-07.  
            Patrick Stapleton, Chair of the Board, they should be able to transfer up to $105 million in the coming year, if they can continue to modernize their operations.  There is an $80 million transfer proposed in the Governor's budget.
            Stapleton confirmed the total yield to the state budget in FY 2010-11 was: $271 million in Liquor Taxes, $105 million in Sales Tax and $105 million in earnings for a total of $481 million, in response to a question by Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Privatization/Moderization: Sen. Jim Ferlo said he did not understand why some members of the General Assembly wanted to give up "a great public asset" that provides good-paying middle class jobs and supports the state budget.
            Stapleton outlined some of the moderization proposals the LCB has proposed under a three p's initiative-- pricing, personnel and procurement.
            On pricing, the biggest change proposed by the LCB was to do away with the requirement in the Liquor Code to price all products with the same 30 percent mark-up.  Giving the Board more flexibility on pricing could increase state profits by $20 million, according to Joe Conti. LCB CEO.
            On procurement, the Liquor Code prevents the LCB from taking advantage of the current lower cost real estate market to locate stores and facilities because of the length of time it takes to get a lease through the state process.
            Stapleton also said the LCB has to negotiate, along with the entire Commonwealth, on the use of credit cards and suggested the Board be able to negotiate by itself.  Joe Conti also suggested the state RFP process was too long and involved and the Board cannot make market-based decisions fast enough.
            On personnel, the LCB is bound by certain civil service requirements, like testing applicants.  He said the current system does not allow them to test applicants on the knowledge of products carried by the LCB or on how to treat customers.
            Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) said he believed the decisions on pricing, personnel and procurement could be better done by private industry.  The Senator asked how enforcement of underage drinking would be affected by privatization.
            Stapleton said one of the privatization proposals would result in 130 more outlets for alcohol than the current state store system.  He said research has shown if there is an increase in availability, then alcohol-related problems also increase.  He conceded the specifics of access would be defined in any legislative proposal.
            In response to a question from Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) on the potential loss of family-sustaining, union jobs with privatization, Stapleton said there would be some job loss associated with privatization among the LCB's 5,701 employees, but he could not quantify the loss.
            Asked about how pricing and revenue to the state would be affected by privatization, Stapleton said the LCB has not been asked to develop information on that question, but noted a recent study in Virginia concluded average prices there would have to increase by over 24 percent.
            Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriation Committee, said some studies show privatizing state stores could result in state revenue "shrinkage" from private businesses.  Stapleton said the studies he was aware of showed a potential 16 - 20 percent loss of state revenue.
            Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said people are not knocking down his door asking for privatization because of the LCB's modernization efforts.  He noted, at the same time, the LCB was talking like a private business and 31 other states have figured out how to have private businesses involved in liquor sales.
            Sen. Corman asked if the LCB considered the option of contracting with private industry for retail sales or "agency shops" in some locations to address concerns by Sen. Mary Jo White and others.  Stapleton said evaluating all these options needs to be done against a background of looking at the need to control access to liquor, particular for those underage.
            Joe Conti said he believes the LCB is moving to do more privatization partnerships and the Commonwealth is getting the best of both worlds in terms of contributions to the state budget.
Direct Wine Sales/Consumer Choice: Sen. Lawrence Farnese (D-Philadelphia) said he receives many inquires about the problems with the direct sale of wines into Pennsylvania and he plans to introduce legislation on the subject.  He said people want choice, not necessarily privatization.
            Stapleton said direct shipping is not a bad choice for Pennsylvania as long as there are protections, like confirmation of age.  He believes there is significant choice of products in state stores through ordering and just asking, noting the LCB carries over 25,000 products, but obviously not in every store.  The average state store has about 3,000 products available.  He said private liquor stores, in his experience, carry fewer choices, perhaps as few as 300 products.
            Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) said more rural areas lack choices and direct shipping would be part of the solution.  She said since the state has a monopoly on liquor sale, the LCB has an obligation to serve the public.
            Joe Conti noted the Board has expanded its e-commerce site to make more wines and other products available online and even launched a wine club.
            Sen. Pippy noted Sen. Jane Earll (R-Erie) has introduced Senate Bill 790 to provide for direct wine sales and the Senate Law and Justice Committee will be moving the legislation. 
Partnering With Grocery Stores: Stapleton said they will continue to work with grocery stores to make products available, noting their floor space is very valuable and the cost of those projects and the number of products available is limited as a result.
            Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) asked how much it has cost the LCB to defend the current law allowing grocery stores to carry beer from court challenges by beer distributors.  Stapleton said the cases were handled by in-house counsel.
Sunday Sales: In response to a question from Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Joe Conti said they are at the statutory limit for the number of stores and outlets available for Sunday sales and would encourage the General Assembly to look at changing the number of outlets and Sunday hour limits again because the LCB could make more money for the state.
Craft Distillers: In response to a question from Sen. Pippy on the development of local distilleries, Joe Conti said the House will be considering legislation shortly to give local distilleries the same benefits as Pennsylvania wineries in the marketplace.
Johnstown Flood Tax: Stapleton said the so-called Johnstown Flood Tax is just another mark-up and if the LCB could be given flexibility on pricing the tax could be done away with.
Special Enforcement Districts: Sen. Pippy said the Senate Law and Justice Committee will be exploring the creation of special liquor enforcement districts.
Advertising: Joe Conti said the Board has budgeted $4.3 million for advertising in the coming fiscal year, the same as the current year.  Sen. Pippy also asked for the results of the $1.8 million branding initiative on store sales.
            Video/audio files of the hearing will be available on the Senate Republican Appropriations Committee webpage.