FY 2018-2019 BUDGET PROCESS MOVES FORWARD
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees wrapped up a three-week series of budget hearings on March 8, gathering detail from state agencies on the Governor's proposed FY 2018-2019 commonwealth budget.
The House spent a full day discussing the opioid crisis in hearings with the Attorney General's office, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and the Department of Health (DOH). Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a former Montgomery County commissioner, noted the success of the drug disposal bag initiative, which allows for the safe disposal of pills and is currently in 17 counties, as well as the prescription drug monitoring program, which Shapiro described as one of the most effective tools his office has. He also noted the impact the opioid crisis has on children in two aspects - first, ten percent of the individuals who overdose are less than age 25, and second, there are many homes where parents or caretakers are dealing drugs with children in the house. DDAP and DOH told the committee they are constantly learning about best practices and what is occurring between agencies, and acknowledged the Governor's disaster proclamation has taken a unified approach to utilize each agency's strengths. Ellen DiDomenico, acting deputy secretary of DDAP, further discussed efforts to provide specific developmental treatment for veterans who have been through traumatic experiences. Preventing substance abuse and drug overdose is a CCAP priority for 2018, as is supporting veterans services.
House members also discussed the challenges of the opioid crisis in a hearing with the Department of Human Services (DHS) and DOH, as well as the challenges currently facing the long-term care industry and nursing homes. In addition, the hearing touched on the governor's proposal to restructure the two agencies into a single Department of Health and Human Services; in 2017 CCAP noted that counties are committed to exploring opportunities to incorporate strong state-local partnerships and innovative approaches toward meeting county service goals, and identified basic and necessary components that must be in place prior to implementation of a unified model.
The Senate Appropriations Committee held its hearing with Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, who discussed the implementation of Community HealthChoices, increasing long-term care options and the role of long-term care facilities, and the partnership with the local Area Agencies on Aging. However, due to weather, the Senate canceled its scheduled hearings with DHS and DDAP, recently rescheduling its hearing with DHS for March 28.
House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R-York) had previously introduced HB 2121 as a vehicle for the FY 2018-2019 appropriations bill, containing line items largely representing FY 2017-2018 allocations while negotiations among legislative leaders and the Governor continue. House Bill 2121 was advanced by the House Appropriations Committee on March 12 as a procedural move. Rep. Joe Markosek, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has also introduced HB 2077, an appropriations bill that reflects the Governor's proposal.
Regularly updated information on the Governor's budget proposal, including a spreadsheet and narrative analysis of the proposed funding levels for county line items, legislative analyses, media reports, and related materials can be found on CCAP's Budget News and Updates web page.
HOUSE HEARING ON LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
On March 14, the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee hosted an informal hearing on the current status of long-term care facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Kelly Andrisano, executive director of CCAP affiliate Pennsylvania Coalition of Affiliated Healthcare and Living Communities (PACAH), participated on a panel with the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and Leading Age PA to address the challenges facing the industry, particularly county-owned nursing homes.
The panel shared that overall there are 699 licensed nursing facilities in Pennsylvania, providing more than 88,000 beds. They pointed out that 70 percent of residents in Medicaid-participating facilities rely on Medicaid for their care. The figure is significant because of the gap between what the state's nursing facilities are reimbursed through Medicaid and the actual cost of providing care, as determined by the DHS. It is a worsening problem; in fact, it has been four years since funding for Medicaid reimbursements has been increased. Andrisano also noted the challenges of staffing and workforce issues facing nursing care facilities, commenting that the shortage of certified nursing assistants and the low Medicaid reimbursement makes it difficult to increase or even maintain quality and accountable staff.
In addition, Andrisano noted that county nursing facilities are the true safety net because they are required to take individuals who are eligible for Medicaid on day one, meaning they have no other resources. For this reason, the average Medicaid occupancy of county facilities is more than 80 percent. But this safety net may be in jeopardy; because of the rising health care costs at the county level, combined with a lack of Medicaid rate increases, 14 county homes have privatized in the last seven years.
The full presentation provided by the panel is available at www.pacounties.org by clicking Legislative Testimony on the Legislative Action Center page.
HOUSE APPROVES UPDATES TO DATA BREACH LAW
The House of Representatives unanimously approved amendments to the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act on March 13, seeking to tighten existing safeguards in the aftermath of the Equifax breach. Counties, as well as other state and local governments and businesses, are required to follow the provisions of the Act.
As reported by the House Commerce Committee in October, HB 1846, introduced by Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler), expands the definition of "personal information" under the law, and changes the time frame for notifying those affected to within 45 days of discovering the breach; current law requires notification "without unreasonable delay."
An amendment offered by Rep. Ellis and adopted by the full House prior to the final vote improves the bill by narrowing the definition of "personal information" to remove several items (postal address, telephone number or even email address) that may not be possible to keep private since they are available in so many other ways and are routinely shared as contact information. In addition, the amendment included a definition of "discovery" of a breach (when the final determination that a breach has occurred and there is reasonable causation of loss or injury), which will provide a more consistent interpretation of when the time period to notify affected individuals begins. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration .
COMMITTEE MOVES ASSESSMENT REFORM BILLS
Several bills developed by the Local Government Commission's Assessment Reform Task Force to improve the efficiency, transparency, modernization and fairness of Pennsylvania's property assessment system have been reported by the House Local Government Committee. CCAP and its affiliate, the Assessors' Association of Pennsylvania, have been an active part of the Task Force, which is chaired by former CCAP member Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair).
The Committee unanimously reported HB 1890, introduced by Rep. Warren Kampf (R-Chester), to establish a pilot program for counties to determine whether use of a uniform form would result in more accurate collection of real estate sales data. That data is used for several purposes, such as developing the common level ratio and school funding formulas, but without a standard form for verifying and submitting it, there can often be inconsistences.
Committee chair Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) offered two bills for consideration, including HB 1990 to make several clarifications and updates to the County Consolidated Assessment Law as they relate to assessment appeals. The legislation also institutes training requirements for assessment appeals board members in assessment valuation as well as legal and constitutional issues related to Pennsylvania's assessment process.
The second bill, HB 1991, would offer counties additional options to follow up with municipalities and third party agencies when building permits are not being properly and timely submitted, so they can better gauge when improvements to property are occurring. Allowing that information to be captured by the assessment office can assure each property is fully and fairly valued; when the value of improvements is not captured, the burden falls on other taxpayers whose value is accurate. The bill also authorizes counties to require all persons making substantial improvements to submit a county improvement certification to achieve the same goal. House Bill 1990 won the unanimous approval of the Committee, while HB 1991 was reported with one negative vote (Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon).
SPROCK FIX PASSES HOUSE
On March 12, the House of Representatives unanimously approved HB 1814, introduced by former CCAP member Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry), which would amend the Real Estate Tax Sale Law (RETSL) to clarify that the owner of property in the delinquent tax sale process remains responsible for the maintenance of that property, regardless of the property's status in the process.
In 2002, the Commonwealth Court held in Commonwealth v. Sprock that because a delinquent property exposed at tax sale, but not sold, was subsequently held in trust by the tax claim bureau, the tax claim bureau was considered the owner for the purpose of the local municipality's nuisance ordinance. HB 1814 would clarify that if a property is exposed to a tax sale but not sold, legal title remains with the owner of record. The county tax claim bureau's role as trustee would offer only the control necessary to convey the property under RETSL and would not subject the county to any liability for maintenance or nuisance remediation.
HB 1814 now goes to the Senate; similar legislation, SB 851, introduced by Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), was previously approved by that chamber in January.