March 31, 2015

PA Supreme Court Rejects Argument Against Special Prosecutor By Kathleen Kane

The PA Supreme Court ruled Tuesday the special prosecutor who recommended criminal charges against Attorney General Kathleen Kane was appointed legally leaving the decision on whether to pursue the charges with Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
A 4-1 decision ruled against Kane. Justice Michael Eakin joins Chief Justice Thomas Saylor's opinion. Justices Max Baer and Correale Stevens filed separate concurring opinions. Justice Debra Todd dissented.
“We are disappointed in today’s Supreme Court’s decision,” said Kane spokesman Lanny Davis. “We have faith in the judicial system and that the District Attorney of Montgomery County will look at the evidence and the law and find that Attorney General Kane is innocent of any violations of the law.”
The court's opinion, written by Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, found "that the supervising judge acted within his authority and sound prerogative in appointing the Special Prosecutor."
PA Supreme Court Won’t End Kane Probe

Tuesday NewsClips

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March 27, 2015

March 30 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The March 30 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Here are just a few of the headlines--

DEP Budget Hearing: Pennsylvania Not Meeting Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Commitments
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday Pennsylvania is not meeting its commitments to clean up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and that a “reboot” is needed to get the program back on track.
He said there is a lack of resources for the program and he is working directly with Acting Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding to take a fresh look at the program.

PA Must Install Practices To Meet 2017 Stream Cleanup Milestone In Next 641 Days
Pennsylvania has 641 days to put the best management practices on the ground needed to eliminate 10 million pounds of nitrogen and 212 million pounds of sediment from going into our rivers and streams to meet the 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestones.
Simple math shows Pennsylvania will not have a chance to meet those milestones with the current level of effort to improve water quality.

5 Things We Learned From Senate And House Hearings On DEP’s Budget
The Senate and House Appropriations Committee hearings on Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget for the Department of Environmental Protection are now complete.  Here are five things we learned as a result of those hearings--

DEP Declares Drought Watch For 27 Northeast, Northcentral, Western Counties
Below-average groundwater levels have caused the Department of Environmental Protection to issue a drought watch for 27 counties across Pennsylvania Tuesday.

DEP Supports New Ozone Standard At 70 ppb Or Below
The Department of Environmental Protection sent comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on March 17 formally supporting setting a new ozone pollution standard at 70 ppb or below, but noted EPA’s studies do not show adverse impacts at the 60 ppb level.

CFA To Accept Applications For Business In Our Sites, Including Brownfields
Department of Community and Economic Development Acting Secretary Dennis Davin Friday announced the Commonwealth Financing Authority will open the Business in Our Sites Program for applications beginning April 1.

DEP Sets May 5 Hearing On Air Permits For Shell Ethane Facility In Beaver County
The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 28 PA Bulletin saying it is now accepting public comments on the Air Quality permits required for the Shell ethane facility in Beaver County.  (PA Bulletin page 1518)

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

Wolf Administration Announces Significant Workers’ Comp Insurance Rate Cut

The Wolf Administration Friday announced Pennsylvania businesses will see a significant cut in workers’ compensation insurance rates while benefit levels for injured workers will be maintained.
Workers’ comp insurance rates will drop 5.99 percent, effective April 1, reducing a key expense for many companies and saving Pennsylvania businesses an estimated $140 million this year.
“A constant concern for business owners is reducing costs while supporting employees’ health and livelihood,” said Gov. Wolf.  “These rate reductions will go a long way towards ensuring business owners can 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. Not all employers will see a decrease.
This is the fourth consecutive workers’ compensation insurance cut in as many years, and brings the cumulative savings to $550 million for the past four 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.
“Reducing this cost helps businesses in our state be more competitive, and frees up money to spend on other priorities, such as hiring more workers,” said Acting Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller.
More than 10,530 state-certified workplace safety committees have been established since March 1994, protecting more than 1,396,306 workers. Additionally, employers with certified workplace safety committees have saved close to $524.3 million in workers’ compensation premiums.
These savings in insurance costs are due solely to the five-percent premium discount provided to businesses that have these committees.
“We are proud of the role our Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety division plays in the keeping our workers safe,” Acting Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino said. “It’s clear that employer safety programs produce tangible benefits and cost savings. Coupled with the reduction in premium rates, employers with safety committees get a win-win in savings and safety.”
Employers should contact their insurance company or agent for more information about how their workers’ compensation premiums will be affected.

Friday NewsClips

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March 26, 2015

Thursday NewsClips

Click Here  for Today's PA Environmental News

Poll: 59% Support, Somewhat Support Wolf Tax Plans

A new Franklin & Marshall Poll released Wednesday shows 59 percent of voters support or somewhat support Gov. Wolf’s plan to increase the Sales and Personal Income Taxes and a new natural gas severance tax for lower school property taxes and more education funding.  
Only 1 percent of voters supported prioritizing liquor privatization.
Wolf’s personal approval rating dropped slightly from 40 percent in October to 38 percent now.  That’s much lower than Gov. Ridge and lower than Gov. Rendell at this point in their terms, but higher than Gov. Corbett.
The same poll found a 19 percent approval rating for Attorney General Kane and had U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey beating challenger Joe Sestak 34 to 29 percent.
Poll Finds Early Support For Wolf’s Budget

March 25, 2015

Wolf Creates Competitive Procurement Process For Selecting Bond Counsel

Gov. Wolf announced Wednesday the Office of General Counsel will be engaging bond counsel through a competitive procurement process, making the process more open and transparent than ever before.
This action is in accordance with Executive Order 2015-2 (“Competitive Process for Procurement of Legal Services”), in which all contracts awarded for legal services or legal consultants by OGC or any Department are conducted using competitive bids and the results are made available online.
“This process reforms what was an obscure process into one that is efficient, ethical and transparent in securing legal counsel for bond issuances,” said Gov.Wolf. “This important step advances a key mission in creating government that works and ensures that we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
The procurement will be done in two steps. The first step, currently underway, prequalifies a pool of bond counsels through a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process, which sets forth the minimum qualifications for inclusion. Interested attorneys and firms filed a Statement of Qualifications with OGC and those statements were evaluated by a committee consisting of representatives from the various commonwealth bond issuing agencies.
Selected firms were pre-qualified to perform bond counsel services work for the commonwealth and granted a standard contract with costs to be negotiated for any work to be done at a later date.
The process has currently created a pool of 20 qualified firms, and a list of the firms can be found on the OGC website.
“The Office of General Counsel remains committed to providing the highest level of legal expertise and support to the Wolf Administration, the Executive branch and staff and the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Denise Smyler, General Counsel. “I am confident that our new system of procurement will deliver high quality and cost effective counsel by establishing qualified pools of firms through a transparent process.”
The second step will begin when a Department or OGC demonstrates need for counsel for a bond issuance. At that point, a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued under Section 518 of the Procurement Code. RFPs will set forth the Statement of Work and any additional qualifications needed for the bond issuance.
RFPs will be posted to both the OGC website and the Department of General Services’ eMarketplace.
Firms from the pre-qualified pool will be advised to submit proposals outlining their staffing needs, work costs and qualifications. Proposals will be evaluated quantitatively and qualitatively among a committee comprised of OGC, the respective Department(s) and selected representation from the Administration.
Upon selection, the procurement process and winning firm will be set forth and submitted for the General Counsel’s approval, as required under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act. Once approved, costs may be further negotiated with the selected firm and an engagement letter would be issued by OGC.
The new process will be launched with the issuance of the General Obligation bond (GO bond) to be issued this spring by the Department of Treasury, Auditor General’s Office, OGC and the Office of the Governor.
This particular bond issuance will be led and administered through the Department of Treasury. The GO bond, expected to be a $1.15 billion bond issuance, will be used to pay off previous debt, fund transportation projects and fund various capital projects.

Budget Hearings: Penn State University Give Us The Money, Then We’ll See On Tuition

Penn State University President Eric Barron told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday the General Assembly would be pleased with the action the University takes on tuition, if they provide a $49 million increase in state funding.
Barron noted Penn State did freeze tuition on 8 of Penn State’s regional campuses and planned to hold tuition increases to 1.8 percent at 6 campuses and 2.4 percent on the remaining campuses.
Valarie Harrison of Lincoln University told the Committee it has already implemented a 4-year tuition freeze to encourage students to graduate in 4 years.
Here are several other quick highlights from Tuesday’s budget hearings in the Senate--
-- Sales Tax On Nursing Homes: Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) asked Acting Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne what impact extending the Sales Tax to nursing home charges would have on residents.  Osborne said, “there are challenges and needs that will arise.”
-- 9 Percent Lottery Sales Increase: Sen. Baker called the projection of a 9 percent increase in lottery ticket sales “overly optimistic” and expressed concern about removing $75 million in reserve moneys from the budget.  Osborne said it is an issue of concern.
Written testimony and a video of each House hearing will be posted on the Republican House Appropriations Committee webpage.  Information about Senate budget hearings are posted on the Senate Republican Caucus website.
Testimony Available
Kathleen Kane, Attorney General (Audio File)