Legislative Bulletin

See All Issues from March 2018 forward​​​​​​​.

 

 
Number 2
January 17, 2020

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

CCAP ANNOUNCES 2020 PRIORITIES    

County leaders announced their five legislative priorities for 2020, each of which highlights counties' commitment to core county responsibilities and to working in partnership with the state to deliver critical services to the people and communities of Pennsylvania.

Led by 2020 CCAP President and Clinton County commissioner Jeff Snyder, counties shared that their priorities are led by a call for increased funding for mental health services, noting that state funding has lagged far behind needs for too many years. This has made it difficult for counties to keep up with increasing caseloads or to expand necessary services to meet demand. At the same time, counties support preserving the Behavioral HealthChoices program, so that they can continue to provide local mental health services in the most effective way possible.

In addition, CCAP's emergency medical services (EMS) Task Force will be moving forward with work to seek solutions to the EMS crisis. Under this priority, the Task Force will focus on implementing the recommendations in its November
report, such as developing a toolbox to assist counties in bringing stakeholders together to develop local solutions and legislation that would enable creation of countywide or multi-municipal authorities for EMS delivery.

Other county priorities include supporting local taxing options to reduce counties' reliance on property taxes, as well as working with federal, state, local and private partners to develop strategies for successful rural broadband expansion. Finally, as their fifth priority, counties seek increased funding for adult probation services, which support community supervision options for non-violent offenders and help counties make smart decisions about the use of jail.

Additional information, including fact sheets on each priority and sample resources for are available at
www.pacounties.org.

GOV. WOLF UNVEILS SUICIDE PREVENTION REPORT

Gov. Wolf's Suicide Prevention Task Force recently released its initial report, including a four-year suicide prevention strategy that is the result of 10 listening sessions held throughout Pennsylvania over several months.

The task force identified key themes from its listening sessions, including the need to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and suicide, which can affect the likelihood of individuals seeking help or treatment. In addition, the task force noted that additional resources are needed to emphasize mental health as a public health issue, and focused on the unique position Pennsylvania's schools have to utilize suicide prevention strategies and save lives. Barriers, such as cost of treatment, insurance gaps, lack of data available for policy makers to make meaningful decisions and mental health workforce issues were also identified.

The release of the task force report follows the Governor's
Reach Out PA initiative unveiled on Jan. 2, also seeking to expand resources and reduce stigma around mental health. In particular, this initiative seeks to strengthen access to mental health care by incentivizing the integration of physical and behavioral health services, removing barriers to treatment and raising awareness of the normalcy and importance of seeking mental health care and treatment.

Counties noted their support for this effort to expand support of the state's mental health system, and also called on the administration and General Assembly to work closely with them to address the mental health system as their top
priority for 2020. Without investments in the current safety net of services, it will become increasingly difficult to achieve the expansion of services that are needed.

NEW YEAR BRINGS SPECIAL ELECTIONS, NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS

The state Senate will soon welcome Dave Arnold (R-Lebanon) as its newest member, after Arnold was elected on Jan. 14 to represent the 48th Senatorial District. The special election was held to fill the vacancy following the September resignation of former state Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).

In the House, Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) has announced special elections to be held March 17 to fill vacancies in the 8
th (Butler/Mercer) and 58th (Westmoreland) House districts, following the resignations of Rep. Tedd Nesbit and Rep. Justin Walsh, respectively, who were recently elected as county judges. A third special election will be held the same day in Bucks County to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who is now a Bucks County commissioner, while a Feb. 25 special election will be held to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell in the 190th district in Philadelphia.

Speaker Turzai also announced that he has named Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery) as chair of the House Human Services Committee, which had previously been held by DiGirolamo. Rep. Gary Day (R-Lehigh) was named chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, replacing Murt's prior post to that position.

SUNSHINE LAW BILL PASSES HOUSE 

The House recently unanimously approved HB 1069, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence), to amend the Sunshine Act to require local governments to post meeting agendas on their website at least 24 hours prior to a meeting.

As originally introduced, local governments would have been prohibited from taking action on any item not contained in the posted meeting agenda, except in case of an emergency posing a danger to life or property, or if the matter were minor and did not involve expenditure or approval of a contract. Counties opposed the original bill as it would have severely limited a county's timely response to public issues and concerns by only allowing governing bodies to act only on those items listed on the posted agenda.

Two amendments have since mitigated this concern. The first, offered by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), was adopted by the House State Government Committee in June to would allow items to be added to the agenda by majority vote of those present and voting at the meeting. In September, the full House adopted a subsequent amendment offered by former CCAP member Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming) that would clarify that an agency could take official action on a matter added to the agenda, as well as require the agency to post the edited agenda no later than the first business day following the meeting. House Bill 1069 now moves to the Senate for consideration.

IFO ISSUES IMPACT FEE ESTIMATES  

The state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has released estimates of shale gas impact fee collections for calendar year 2019, which producers will remit in April 2020. Based on production data and recent natural gas prices, the IFO is estimating that collections will be $198.2 million, representing a $53.6 million decrease from actual collections the prior year. The decreases are attributed primarily to a lower fee schedule, noting the average price of natural gas was $2.63 per MMBtu - the first drop below $3.00 since 2016. In addition, the collections for 2018 had included collections from previously disputed stripper wells and outstanding payments which will not be collected again in 2019. However, some of this impact was offset by new wells coming online, since wells pay the highest fee in their first operating year. The full report is available at www.ifo.state.pa.us.

The exact effect on overall revenue collections - and therefore on local government distributions which will occur around July 1 - will not be known until after the April 1 collection deadline. Act 13 payment information will be available at www.act13-reporting.puc.pa.gov in mid-June, and the PUC will not release estimates or actual payment information prior to June 15
.

PA IN CROSSHAIRS OVER CHESAPEAKE BAY 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has instructed his state's attorney general to file lawsuits against Pennsylvania and the EPA, alleging that Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) would not be enough to meet the 2025 deadline for reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment levels going to the Bay. Other media reports have indicated that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is considering similar action.

At the same time, 20 members of Congress have also written a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inquiring whether the agency will move forward with enforcing Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction goals on the state jurisdictions and urging EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to take a stronger stance on enforcement.

Pennsylvania submitted its final Phase 3 WIP to the EPA in late August, addressing how the state will
meet reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus going to local waterways in the 43 counties in the state's portion of the watershed. It establishes countywide planning goals to help engage local, regional, state and federal partners; importantly, these countywide goals do not establish any new requirement or regulatory obligation on county government, but are a way to engage local stakeholders and focus resources. The state is working with groups of stakeholders in each of the affected counties to establish countywide action plans that combine local efforts with statewide actions to achieve the goals.

NACO LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE 

The National Association of Counties Legislative Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. from Feb. 29 to March 4, 2020, including sessions on a broad range of federal issues. NACo's policy committees will also meet during the Conference to consider interim policy resolutions that will guide NACo advocacy until the Annual Conference in July. All resolutions must be submitted via email to resolutions@naco.org by Jan. 29. Attendees will also have time for visits to Capitol Hill.

The Conference agenda and online registration information are available on
the NACo website,www.naco.org.