Pennsylvania Senate Republican News Brief


“After 9/11, we figured out that we could neither physically or financially guard every possible target or point of vulnerability against every contingency. As a nation, we determined how to stretch security to protect against the most likely threats. In the case of schools, the system is fragmented among many state agencies, so our focus must be directed toward coordination and communication to eliminate redundancies and ensure dollars are not being wasted.”

Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Chair Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) opening Wednesday’s public hearing on school security.


Preview

Senate Appropriations Committee Hearings February 19 – March 6

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), has begun three weeks of public hearings on the governor’s 2013-14 budget proposal. The hearings will feature testimony from more than 30 heads of departments, agencies, boards and universities.  Live feed, hearing summaries, daily schedules and more are available at PASenateGOP.com.

Senate Committee Schedule

Review

Bill Ensuring PSU Fine Money Benefits Pennsylvanians Goes to Governor

Legislation to ensure that fines paid to the NCAA by Penn State would benefit commonwealth residents received final approval in the House on Wednesday and was sent to the governor for enactment into law.

Senate Bill 187, sponsored by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), would place the fine money – paid as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — in a trust fund administered by the state Treasury and appropriated to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for child advocacy programs and to combat child sex abuse.

The bill creates a policy that applies to all large fines levied on state-supported institutions that enter into agreements with governing bodies.

Senate Votes to Abolish Philadelphia Traffic Court

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) to abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

The Philadelphia Traffic Court has been plagued with sustained allegations of corruption and ticket-fixing over multiple decades, leading to the recent indictments of nine current and former Traffic Court judges.

Senate Bill 333 would eliminate the Philadelphia Traffic Court in the state constitution. Senate Bill 334 would statutorily transfer its responsibilities to Philadelphia Municipal Court. Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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Senate Acts to Set Uniform Standards for County Veterans Affairs Directors

The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) to set standards and provide uniformity across the commonwealth for county Directors of Veterans Affairs.

Senator Baker noted that Directors of Veterans Affairs in each county often serve as the first and only point of contact for current members of the military and older veterans. However, the training and resources given to these important gatekeepers varies.

Senate Bill 302 sets training requirements and minimum standards to ensure that veterans are working with full-time professionals who know how to link them to the assistance they need. The legislation is supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Pennsylvania State Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs, and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
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Committee Examines Governor’s Transportation Plan

The Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), on Feb. 12 was briefed by state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch on Gov. Corbett’s proposed transportation improvement plan.

Secretary Schoch detailed the governor’s proposal to lift the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax and the ways the additional $1.8 billion in revenues would be used to rehabilitate Pennsylvania’s transportation network.

Video from the hearing is available here.

Senate Finance Committee Advances Purely Public Charity Bill

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), on Feb. 12 approved legislation to further clarify a “purely public charity” in Pennsylvania and ensure these entities are eligible for a property tax exemption.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Senator Brubaker and co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to clearly define a purely public charity and ensure such organizations are eligible for an exemption from paying local property taxes.

Because the measure requires amending the Pennsylvania Constitution, the bill must receive approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and go before the voters in a public referendum.

For more on Senate Bill 4, please see In the Spotlight, below.
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Hearing Focuses on School Emergency Plans and Security Measures

On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), and the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), held a joint public hearing that examined school emergency plans and security measures designed to ensure student safety and increase school-to-parent communication during an emergency.

Among the strategies discussed at the hearing was legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), Senate Bill 10, to dramatically increase the amount of funding available for grants which schools could utilize for school safety and violence prevention initiatives, including training and hiring armed guards to protect their students, teachers and administrators.

Video and written testimony from the hearing are available here.

PA Community College Affordability Task Force Approved by Committee

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) to establish the Pennsylvania Community College Affordability Task Force was unanimously approved Feb. 12 by the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).

Community colleges are currently funded through a formula that aims to keep student tuition at no more than one-third of the educational cost. The remainder comes from state funding and local sponsorship which is from either school districts or counties. When either the local share or the state funding is reduced, the financial burden is placed on the students.

Senate Bill 360 will create a panel of experts to examine and make recommendations regarding the viability and sustainability of the current community college funding model, accessibility of community college services across the commonwealth, and the long-term affordability and accessibility of a community college education.

Committee Reviews Technology, Communications, eHealth

The Senate Communications and Technology Committee, chaired by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), held a public hearing Wednesday to hear experts detail projected advances in a variety of technological fields.

The hearing – titled “Technology, Communications and eHealth” – provided the Corbett Administration, telecommunications representatives and health care officials with an opportunity to speak about the current environment and projected technological advancements that could impact Pennsylvanians.

For video and the written testimony from the testifiers, click here.

In the Spotlight

Senate Bill 4 was drafted as a result of a state Supreme Court ruling in 2012 – Mesivtah v. Pike County Board of Assessment Appeals – which applied a different standard to determine which entities qualified for an exemption, therefore questioning the eligibility of many charities. Currently, purely public charities in the state have been exempt from paying real estate taxes as part of a law approved by the General Assembly (Act 55 of 1997).

Senator Brubaker emphasized that the renewed urgency for this legislation stems from the tax exempt statuses for many statewide charitable organizations being revoked in recent months, such as Warren Hospital, Warren County YMCA, Habitat for Humanity and others.

Senator Brubaker: “It is unfortunate that last year’s court ruling has led to new challenges regarding the charitable status of similar institutions and has created a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the law. Our goal with Senate Bill 4 is simple: To give the Legislature the sole authority to establish criteria for a tax exemption, thereby providing a clear avenue to protecting our charities which serve the interests of our communities throughout this commonwealth.”

Fast Facts

Majority Members of Senate Appropriations Committee

Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) Chair
Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) Vice Chair
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) Ex-Officio
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware)
Ex-Officio
Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill)
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne)
Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster)
Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia)
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery)
Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery)
Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery)
Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster)
Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland)
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver)
Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny)
Sen. Mike Waugh (R-York)