Aument: Serious Constitutional Questions Raised in Senate Hearing

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HARRISBURG – Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville) today participated in a joint public hearing conducted by the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee regarding the expenditure of funds during the recent budget impasse.

“Today’s hearing was sobering,” said Sen. Aument. “We found out that for months and months the Governor and State Treasurer have been spending billions of dollars without any authority by law on programs and services that they thought deserved to be funded.”

The Senate hearing focused on the State Treasurer’s role in approving warrants (requests for payment) from state executive agencies during the time period when no legal authority existed for payments to be made.

“When Governor Wolf vetoed the General Appropriations Act in June, and subsequently signed, but line-item vetoed over $6 billion in Act 10-A of 2015, he decided to eliminate funding for these services and programs,” said Sen. Aument. “However, we have come to learn that nearly all of those programs and services continued to be funded by the State Treasurer whenever the Governor requested payments to be made.”

The Treasurer’s Chief Counsel told the Senate Appropriations Committee and Finance Committee that the authority for the State Treasurer to make these payments, once requested by the Governor, was consistent with providing for the “health, safety and welfare” of the people of Pennsylvania.

“The fact is that Governor Wolf and his State Treasurer have directly usurped the power of people of Pennsylvania – through their elected General Assembly – to decide how much we spend,” said Sen. Aument. “Article III, Section 24 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is clear: No money shall be paid out of the treasury, except on appropriations made by law and on warrant issued by the proper officer.”

Sen. Aument noted that absent legal appropriations, the State Treasurer has been colluding with the Governor to continue funding certain preferred areas of state government under the “health, safety and welfare” standard while ignoring other vital programs and services, including critical access rural hospitals, programs in the Department of Agriculture, and public education.

“I questioned the Treasurer’s Chief Counsel directly, ‘Did Governor Wolf or the Secretary of Education ever request payments on behalf of Pennsylvania’s public schools?’” said Sen. Aument. “The answer was, ‘no.’ I think this says all that needs to be said about this unconstitutional scheme, because public education is the one item in our Constitution which we must and should fund.”

Also testifying at the hearing was Michael Dimino, Sr., a constitutional law professor who raised serious questions about the process being used by the Governor and State Treasurer to advance monies absent legal authority.

“I agree with Mr. Dimino and all those who believe that our Constitution still matters,” said Sen. Aument. “The fact that the Governor and State Treasurer are willing to spend billions of dollars without authorizing appropriations is an outrageous abuse of executive authority. If they can spend money they do not legally have, what’s next, taxing people more through the Department of Revenue without legislative approval?”

This issue is also being highlighted by a recent lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. “I wish the school districts the very best in their litigation,” said Sen. Aument. “If this issue is left unchecked, it most certainly will severely disrupt the balance of powers among the branches of government, to the detriment of the people of our Commonwealth who elect their General Assembly to make decisions regarding taxes and spending.”

Sen. Aument noted that this is just one of several examples of executive overreach, which is most severe in the federal government, but now is taking roots in state governments.

“The peoples’ legislature cannot – and should not – be pushed aside by an executive who finds convincing them to support public polices inconvenient,” said Sen. Aument. “Our Constitution specifically provides for the General Assembly’s authority to be a central figure in these consequential decisions.”

CONTACT: Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420

 

 

 

Center for Rural Pennsylvania releases second report on Pennsylvania’s heroin epidemic

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Heroin Report

HARRISBURG – The Center for Rural Pennsylvania today announced the release of its most recent report, “Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in PA,” which reflects testimony collected during a second round of statewide public hearings held in July and August.

Focusing on treatment and recovery services in Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors and legislators heard from 40 experts, including treatment professionals, family, law enforcement officials, government officials, and educators, who presented testimony on a range of issues related to treatment and recovery services, and what could be done to help addicts get the treatment they need.

“The Center’s work represents the most definitive report that’s been done by any state agency on the heroin epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth,” said Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), Chairman of the Center’s Board of Directors.  “Addiction is a chronic disease.  It needs to be treated as such and not viewed as a moral deficiency or a matter of choice.”

The Center’s report summarizes the testimony from three public hearings held in July and August 2015 and includes the recommendations and policy considerations offered by the participants.  Some of these include: recognizing that addiction is a disease and those suffering from this disease should be afforded proper treatment; requiring continuing medical education credits on pain management and prescribing practices of opioids for professionals licensed to prescribe in Pennsylvania; expanding the pilot program of early intervention through warm hand-off services statewide; establishing a uniform manner in which overdose deaths, and specifically heroin deaths, are reported and expanding the use of naloxone among local Pennsylvania police departments.

The Pennsylvania State Coroners Association reported that 2,489 individuals died from drug-related causes in 2014, a 20 percent increase from 2013. The association also reported that initial data for 2015 indicated the number of deaths would continue to increase.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It was created in 1987 under Act 16, the Rural Revitalization Act, to promote and sustain the vitality of Pennsylvania’s rural and small communities.

CONTACT:

Barry Denk, Director
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
(717) 787-9555
denkb@rural.palegislature.us

State Senate Approves Senator Yaw’s Passenger Aid Bill

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HARRISBURG – Legislation requiring passengers involved in motor vehicle accidents to contact emergency personnel and render reasonable assistance in cases where drivers “refuse” or “neglect” to offer aid was approved today by the full Senate, according to the bill’s prime sponsor state Senator Gene Yaw (R-23).

“I introduced this bill at the request of Bradford County constituents who were deeply impacted by an unreported hit-and-run that involved the death of a young man,” Yaw said. “If the passengers in the vehicle involved immediately reported and aided the victim, he may still be alive today. Unfortunately, they did not. This legislation is about doing the right thing and saving lives.”

Current law only requires a passenger to render aid if a driver is physically unable to do so.

Under the legislation, Senate Bill 146, drivers who violate this law would commit a misdemeanor of the third degree. Any occupant who violates the law would commit a summary offense.

Senate Bill 146 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

CONTACT:
Adam Pankake
(717) 787-3280