February 29, 2016

Wolf: Workers’ Comp Insurance Rate Decreased, Benefit Levels Maintained

The Wolf Administration Monday announced Pennsylvania businesses will see another decrease in workers' compensation insurance rates, while benefit levels for injured workers will be maintained.
Workers' comp insurance rates will drop 0.90 percent, effective April 1, reducing a key expense for many companies and saving Pennsylvania businesses an estimated $20 million this year.
"Maintaining fair benefits for workers injured on the job is vital for Pennsylvania families' financial well-being and peace of mind," said Gov. Tom Wolf. "Sticking to this responsibility, while still reducing rates on a key cost, helps business owners continue to create and support jobs that pay in Pennsylvania."
The rate reduction follows the Insurance Department's approval of the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau's annual loss cost filing. These loss costs are used to determine the premiums businesses pay for workers' compensation insurance.
The premium savings for an individual employer will vary based on the employer's risk classification, claims experience, and other factors.
This is the fifth consecutive workers' compensation insurance cut in as many years, and brings the cumulative savings to $570 million for the past five years. Workers' compensation insurance covers the cost of medical care and rehabilitation for injured workers, lost wages, and death benefits for the dependents of those killed in work-related accidents.
"My department is committed to supporting a vibrant and competitive market in Pennsylvania, as competition leads to more options for consumers and lower prices," said Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller.  "Reducing costs also frees up money for businesses to spend resources on innovation and creating good-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians."
Commissioner Miller said approximately 325 companies are writing workers' comp insurance currently in Pennsylvania.
More than 11,220 state-certified workplace safety committees have been established since March 1994, protecting more than 1,463,000 workers. Additionally, employers with certified workplace safety committees have saved close to $604.2 million in workers' compensation premiums.
These savings in insurance costs are due solely to the 5 percent premium discount provided to businesses that have these committees.
"The Bureau of Workers' Compensation Health & Safety Division provides employers with the most up-to-date and relevant safety information and benefits possible for employees," said Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino. "Having a certified workplace safety committee ensures safety knowledge and practices are disseminated while providing another way for employers to save money on workers' compensation insurance costs."
Employers should contact their insurance company or agent for more information about how their workers' compensation premiums will be affected. Not all employers will see a decrease.

Speaker Turzai Announces Support For Appellate Court Merit Selection

Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) Monday announced his support of a constitutional amendment to change the way statewide appellate court judges are chosen by replacing partisan judicial elections with a merit-based selection system.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the merit selection model outlined in House Bill 1336 sponsored by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).
Under the bill, those seeking an appellate judicial post would have to apply to a bipartisan Appellate Court Nominating Commission comprised of lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by the governor, and House and Senate leadership.
“This approach takes much of the politics out of the process and bases bipartisan selection on qualifications like legal experience, reputation for ethical behavior, honesty, fairness and good temperament,” said Rep. Turzai. “Those are qualities Pennsylvanians want on the bench, far more than who can raise more money for better commercials.”
The commission would interview the judicial applicants and develop a short list from which the governor would choose the nominee to place before the Senate for confirmation. After a four-year term, the judge would stand for retention.
The bill would require a constitutional amendment. In order to amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the bill proposing the amendment must be passed by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions, be advertised per Article XI, §1 of the Constitution, and finally be approved by the electorate.
The measure enjoys bipartisan gubernatorial support from all  six living governors. It is now awaiting consideration by the full House.

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February 28, 2016

Philadelphia Schools Ended 2015 With $88 Million On Hand

The perennially cash-strapped Philadelphia School District ended the 2015 fiscal year with $88 million on hand.  District officials said Thursday that the financial cushion stemmed from new revenue, including money from the city's new cigarette tax.  Click Here to read the Philly.com story.

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February 26, 2016

Feb. 29 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The February 29 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Here are just a few of the headlines--

DEP Secretary John Quigley was very direct in telling the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday that his agency does not have enough staff to meet the needs of any of its programs because of persistent and continuous budget cuts over the last decade.
He added additional cuts would not only be “ruinous” for the agency, but also for the regulated community.

The PA Environmental Council and Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA wrote to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday to raise concerns about the risk of losing control of key environmental regulatory programs to the federal government and courts because of the cuts in funding and staff at the Department of Environmental Protection over the past decade.

The Governor’s Office published its semiannual Regulatory Agenda showing regulation changes in process and being developed in the coming year in the February 27 PA Bulletin starting on page 1119.  The Agenda provides an agency-by-agency listing of regulations.
For the Department of Environmental Protection, the Governor’s Regulatory Agenda shows DEP proposing permit fee increases for the coal and noncoal mining, Safe Drinking Water, Environmental Laboratories, Radiation Protection and Air Quality programs in the coming year.

Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown said the PUC’s FY 2016-17 budget request includes the hiring of two additional rail safety inspectors and two additional pipeline inspectors, but not an increase in overall PUC complement.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday to answer questions about the Governor’s proposed FY 2016-17 budget request for more than two and one-half hours.
Secretary Dunn said DCNR has seen a significant decline in drilling on the existing leases on State Forest Land saying there isn’t a single drilling rig in State Forests.

The Joint House-Senate Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing March 21 on the collapse of Pennsylvania’s Electronic Waste Recycling Program created by the Covered Device Recycling Act.

The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting public comments on the update to the Pennsylvania Climate Change Action Plan.  Comments are due March 30. (January 30 formal notice)

The federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program is developing a comprehensive strategy for increasing diversity in its leadership, decision-making, in implementation of conservation and restoration activities and is creating meaningful opportunities to recruit and engage diverse stakeholders in the Bay Program efforts.

At a reception held on Thursday at its western headquarters building in Pittsburgh, the PA Resources Council presented its inaugural “Zero Waste” awards to eight environmental leaders in recognition of their commitment to adopting sustainable environmental practices and minimizing the amount of solid waste sent to area landfills.

The Professional Recyclers Of PA announced Monday there is an opportunity open to apply for a Recycling Partnership Grant from The Recycling Partnership.   Applications are due April 15.

The departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection are seeking volunteers for this year’s Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania that begins March 1 and runs through May 31.

The Professional Recyclers Of PA announced Monday applications are now being accepted by the EPA Environmental Education Grants Program. Applications are due April 8.

The Game Commission once again is helping students learn about the vital role trees play in the environment through the Seedlings for Schools Program that provides tree seedlings to classrooms so students can plant them as part of projects to improve wildlife habitat.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced the availability of $26 million in grant funding to establish clean diesel projects aimed at reducing emissions from the nation's existing fleet of diesel engines.  Applications are due April 26.

The Delaware Highlands Conservancy Monday announced the federal Forest Legacy Program has allocated funding for the purposes of protecting private forestlands.

To read the Digest, visit: www.PaEnvironmentDigest.com.  Click Here to print the entire Digest.

PA Environment Digest is edited by David E. Hess, former Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and is published as a service of Crisci Associates.

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Current, Former Governors Unite To Support Merit Selection Of Judges

A bipartisan group of all six living Pennsylvania governors are standing together in a call for lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would give Pennsylvanians a voice in the way the state selects statewide appellate judges.
Former Governors Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, Ed Rendell, Tom Corbett, and current Gov. Tom Wolf sent a letter this week to all House members noting the serious flaws in the state's judicial selection system and expressing their support of a merit selection process for statewide judges.
Common Pleas judges and magisterial judges would continue to be elected.
On October 20, 2015 the House Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote reported out a proposed amendment to the state's constitution-- House Bill 1336 (Cutler-R-Lancaster)-- that would put a merit selection process in place.
Merit selection -- a hybrid appointive-elective system -- would require appellate court judges to be selected based on their qualifications, effectively keeping money out of the state's judicial selection system.
Seventy-six percent of Pennsylvanians believe that judges are influenced by campaign contributions.
This is no fault of current or past judges, who must seek contributions to win campaign judicial office, but it does create an appearance of impropriety that weakens public confidence in the judiciary.
The governors' letter stated that "The 2015 judicial election season was an inauspicious start to what should be a new era of spotless judicial ethics following years of public scandal. This was not the candidates' fault: they must run within the broken system of expensive, partisan elections.”
"As former governors, we stand together on this critical issue because we believe this is an important step in regaining the integrity of Pennsylvania's judicial system," Gov. Ridge said. "Merit selection will place judges in our legal system who can simply focus on justice and not fundraising and campaigning."
"For Pennsylvania to have the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges, we need to have a process in place that allows for a disconnect between the judicial system and political campaigning and fundraising," Gov. Rendell said. "A merit selection process is long overdue for our statewide courts."
Gov. Mark Schweiker said that, "Merit selection is a commonsense solution used in many states. In fact, we are one of a small number of states that elects all our judges in partisan elections. Merit selection is not perfect – no system is – but it is a vast improvement over our current system where judges are often selected based on fundraising ability, name recognition, ballot position or party affiliation. Merit selection would write qualifications into the Constitution and ensure that our judges meet more than the minimum standards."
Lynn A. Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and PMCAction, said "A growing number of Pennsylvanians and editorial boards across the state want to get our state judges out of the campaign and fundraising business. They want to widen the pool of well-qualified candidates to those who don't think they could raise the funds to win or aren't politically connected."
Merit selection is a hybrid form of appointing and electing appellate judges. Candidates would apply to a bipartisan commission that interviews them, reviews their records and recommends a short list to the governor. The governor must nominate one of them.
Following Senate confirmation, a judge would serve an initial four year term, and then stand in a nonpartisan retention (up or down) election for subsequent 10 year terms.
Since merit selection requires changing the state constitution, it must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then go before voters in a public referendum.
Polling done in 2010 showed that 93 percent of Pennsylvanians want the opportunity to vote on the issue.
6 Living PA Governors Push For Merit Selection Of Judges