September 16, 2016

House, Senate Return With Only A Few Voting Days Left, What Will They Do?

The House returns to voting session Monday and is scheduled to have only 12 voting days between now and the November election.  The Senate returns September 26 and has even fewer-- 9 voting days.
With the Clinton-Trump Presidential election fight making a hash of the campaign trail, most members want to simply duck and cover-- duck controversies of any kind and cover their political… positions… they need to get re-elected in the Fall.
Are there issues they must act on?  Well maybe, but will they?  Here are a few hanging fire at the moment--
1. Opioid Abuse: In June Gov. Wolf joined with Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai to announce a special session starting in the Fall to focus attention on opioid abuse.  The Governor’s Office, House and Senate Republicans said over the last 2 weeks they were looking for other ways to focus attention on the issue.
Then Friday, Gov. Wolf “respectfully requested” a Joint Session of the General Assembly (not a Special Session) on the opioid and heroin crisis at a time that is convenient for the House and Senate this Fall.
Procedurally, he said, it would be easier to get bills done in the short time remaining in this session, since they would not have be reintroduced and started over.
Legislators and the Governor spent a lot of time this summer at town hall meetings, hearings and stakeholder meetings on the opioid issue, so I guess the final word was they’d better go ahead with the with some sort of session.
2. Expanded Gaming: $100 million or so for expanded gaming was booked as part of the state budget settlement, but there appears to be little excitement to actually do it.  One vehicle-- House Bill 2150 (Dunbar-R- Westmoreland) authorizing 6 new types of gaming, including iGaming, slots at airports and off-track betting parlors-- was passed by the House June 28 and is now in the Senate Community, Economic and Recreation Development Committee. There are potentially several other legislative vehicles in the Senate as well, but actual movement on these bills is doubtful.
3. Horse Breeders Fund: The Senate and House have different ideas on how to address significant problems with the PA Horse Breeders Fund and have bounced bills back and forth on the issue.
Senate Bill 1229 (Vogel-R-Beaver), an Administrative Code bill which includes a grab-bag of provisions on other topics, was amended by the House and returned to the Senate with what the House thinks are solutions on June 30. (The breeders don’t agree.) The Senate amended the bill to include the Senate-passed version of the breeders language and sent it back to the House July 11.  The bill now sits in the House Rules Committee on a concurrence vote.
But the House is apparently sticking to its position.  The House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday on House Bill 2303 (Causer-R-Forest) amending the Administrative Code to adopt its version of changes to the Horse Breeders Fund (sponsor summary).  Doing nothing with cause significant harm to horse breeders in Pennsylvania.
4. Pension Reform: Nothing was included in the state budget agreement on state and school employee pension reform, but it has been a perennial conservative Republican talking point.  One vehicle available is the bipartisan House pension reform bill-- Senate Bill 1071 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- the Senate non-concurred in on June 23.  It  could be easily activated if there is agreement on new language, but that will be a tough nut to crack because there are significant differences between what House and Senate Republicans can get their members to vote for.
Also kicking around is a series of municipal pension reform measures.  One vehicle-- House Bill 414 (Briggs-D-Montgomery)-- was passed in May by the House and is now in the Senate Finance Committee (Senate Fiscal Note and summary).   Stakeholder efforts to reach a compromise are reportedly at a standstill, however.
5. Ride-Sharing: The legislation authorizing a temporary agreement allowing Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Philadelphia runs out September 30.  Without permanent legislation, both ride-sharing companies would continue to operate illegally in Philadelphia again starting October 1.
Senate ride-sharing legislation-- Senate Bill 984 (Bartolotta-R-Fayette)-- was tabled by the House on May 4 after being amended and reported out of the House Consumer Affairs Committee.
The House version of ride-sharing-- House Bill 1290 (Maher-R-Allegheny) -- was also reported out of the House Consumer Affairs Committee the same day and also tabled.
6. Eliminating School Property Tax: Advocates of replacing local school property taxes with increased Personal Income and Sales taxes in the Senate came within 1 vote of passing an amendment to House Bill 683 that contained the provisions of Senate Bill 76 (Argall-R--Schuylkill) in the Senate last November.  Lt. Gov. Stack voted “no” to break a tie vote.  
Also a favorite issue of many conservative House and Senate members, some are wondering if this may be brought up for a vote again before the November 8 election or whether supporters will wait until next year when there will likely be more conservative members in the Senate and House.
Advocates point out a new member of the Senate was added since the vote-- Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny)-- and a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76 at the time the vote was taken-- Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny)-- was attending a fundraiser in Pittsburgh.  However, Sen. Fontana is no longer listed as a co-sponsor of the bill.
7. New DEP Secretary: There is also the issue of Gov. Wolf nominating a new Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection.   Patrick McDonnell was named Acting DEP Secretary on May 20 after the resignation of John Quigley.
Time will tell what will get done by the Senate and House this fall.  
Since the General Assembly is required to adjourn sine die on November 30 by the state’s constitution, all bills not given final action by the Senate and House will have to start all over again in the new session starting in January.
Related Story:
New DEP Secretary, Other Issues May Be On Fall House, Senate Agenda