Legislative Bulletin

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Number 7
March 27, 2020

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION ONLY    

The Legislative Bulletin is being published only via this electronic newsletter this week. Hard copies will not be provided.

STAYING INFORMED ABOUT COVID-19

As the situation related to the spread of COVID-19 continues to change on a daily and even hourly basis, CCAP is gathering the latest information provided by state and federal agencies. We recognize this is a challenging situation for all of our counties and will continue to provide information and resources as they become available.

CCAP encourages all counties to use the
CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health resources as the most up-to-date and accurate sources of information and for communicating information with constituents.

As of March 26, all non-life-sustaining businesses required by the governor's order to close their physical locations, with ten counties also under a stay at home order. The latest information and resources from the administration are captured on a state
COVID-19 Response website.

CCAP has also developed a
COVID-19 Resources web page with information for counties that is updated frequently, while the National Association of Counties (NACo) website provides resources related to federal agencies and legislative activity.

PENNSYLVANIA PRIMARY ELECTION POSTPONED DUE TO COVID-19 

Under temporary emergency remote voting rules, the House and Senate convened this week to approve SB 422 (Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver), with amendments that will postpone Pennsylvania's primary election from April 28 to June 2, 2020. Gov. Wolf has indicated he will sign the proposal.

In addition to the critical postponement, SB 422 includes other emergency provisions for the primary election that will allow poll workers to come from any part of the county (rather than just the election district) and give counties flexibility to consolidate or move polling places. Counties may also use any previously printed ballots with the April 28 primary date.

In addition, the legislation includes additional updates to the Election Code, such as authorization for pre-canvassing of absentee and mail-in ballots starting at 7 a.m. on election day, rather than having to wait until 8 p.m., to help mitigate delays in election results due to expected demand for mail-in ballots. Pre-canvassing includes opening the outer envelope of the ballots, inspecting the inner envelop for identifying marks, removing ballots and scanning the ballots, but not recording or publishing votes. Senate Bill 422 further adjusts the timeline to challenge applications for absentee and mail-in ballots to 5 p.m. the Friday prior to the election or during pre-canvassing (whichever is earlier) and extends the time for holding challenge hearings from five to seven days.

Beginning with the November general election, SB 422 will permit electors to bring their absentee or mail-in ballot, along with the barcoded envelope, to the polling place and sign a declaration to be allowed to vote a regular ballot at the polling place. Provisions of Act 77 which only allow an individual who had applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot to vote by provisional ballot if they came to their polling place on election day remain in place for the June primary
.

FEDERAL CORONAVIRUS LEGISLATION 

The U.S. Congress has been negotiating emergency legislation in response to the rapidly-changing coronavirus pandemic, with several aid packages already signed into law, including an $8 billion emergency funding bill, with a $1 billion set-aside for state and local public health emergency preparedness grants, signed on March 6 and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed on March 18.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act:
H.R. 6201 requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19; employers will receive tax credits to offset these costs. Additional details are available at www.dol.gov.

In addition, the Families First Act offers free COVID-19 testing through a variety of waivers so that testing costs are
covered by either insurance or government programs, expanded unemployment benefits, and a temporary 6.2% increase in federal Medicaid payments to states. Almost $1 billion is also appropriated in aid for states for unemployment costs and a similar amount for emergency nutrition assistance to families through WIC and other programs.

$2 Trillion Stimulus Package:
A third aid package totaling $2 trillion was approved by the U.S. Senate on March 25 and was expected to be considered by the U.S. House on March 27, with President Trump indicating he would sign the measure. This relief package includes $250 billion in direct payments to individuals and families, with federal aid amounts based on income level, filing status and children claimed on 2019 (if completed) or 2018 tax returns. This bill also includes $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion for unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies, as well as $150 billion for state, tribal and local aid.

OOR OFFERS RIGHT-TO-KNOW GUIDANCE AMID PANDEMIC CLOSURES 

The state Office of Open Records (OOR) recently issued advisories related to the Sunshine Act and the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), to assist agencies and requesters with navigating issues related to the ongoing coronavirus emergency, with an emphasis on maintaining as much transparency as possible.

For the RTKL, the OOR has provided guidance on how agencies should handle deadlines for response during an emergency. The Office has also invoked an indefinite extension on all incoming appeals to ensure due process and to ensure that all parties have a full and fair chance to meaningfully participate in the appeal.

In the guidance for the Sunshine Act, OOR notes that the
Sunshine Act is clear that public meetings should be held at public buildings with open public participation whenever possible. However, if an official emergency declaration prevents that from happening, a meeting via teleconference, webinar, or other electronic method that allows for two-way communication is permissible in most circumstances. OOR also recommends that agencies holding a meeting using alternate means record the meeting and make it available so that the record is available to the public.

More specific information and to access the guidance advisories can be located on the OOR website,
www.openrecordspennsylvania.com.

EMERGENCY LEGISLATION APPROVED

In addition to the primary delay legislation, the House and Senate approved several other pieces of emergency legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including sending HB 1232 (Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland) to the Governor's desk. House Bill 1232 wouldprovide up to $50 million in additional funding to healthcare facilities for the purchase of medical equipment and supplies to address the demands that COVID-19 could place on the state's healthcare system. The legislation also extends the deadline to file and pay state income taxes until July 15 and authorizes the Department of Community and Economic Development to coordinate with local political subdivisions to extend filing and payment deadlines for the local Earned Income Tax to July 15 as well.

In addition to providing funds for COVID-19 relief, the legislature approved amendments to 
House Bill 68 (Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon) to ease eligibility requirements and access to unemployment compensation for workers impacted by COVID-19. This includes waiving the one-week waiting period for all claimants during the disaster declaration, as well as waiving job search and registration requirements for claimants The measure further provides automatic relief from benefit charges for any employer whose account would otherwise be charged for weeks of unemployment occurring during the duration of a disaster declaration.

PA GENERAL ASSEMBLY APPROVES REMOTE VOTING

The PA House of Representatives met on March 16 to change its rules to temporarily to allow for remote voting through the party whip and committee chairs so that House members can continue with critical business while also observing social distancing measures. Under these rules, caucus leaders must be present on the House floor and committee chairs must be present in the Capitol but others may vote remotely through their respective leadership. The House also shortened the amount of time needed to move legislation between the House and Senate.

On March 18, the Senate also convened to implement temporary emergency voting rules, allowing lawmakers to vote remotely through technology. The rules expire at the end of July or when the governor lifts his disaster declaration.

Both chambers pledged to limit the conduct of business to emergency-related measures. After utilizing the new rules the week of March 23, it is unclear when the House and Senate will convene next as both recessed Wednesday until called back by their respective chamber leaders.

House and Senate session and committee meetings remain available to the public through
live streaming.

ACT 13 REPORTS DUE APRIL 15

Local Government Unconventional Gas Well Fund Usage Reports required under Act 13 of 2012 are due to the PUC by Apr. 15, 2020; this deadline has not changed. All Local Government Unconventional Gas Well Funds received in 2019 must be reported. 

Details about the usage reports, including necessary information regarding the online and paper reporting systems,
can be found in CCAP's Act 13 Frequently Asked Questions or on our Act 13/Shale Gas Resources web page. Reports can be filed electronically via the Act 13 Reporting website or via paper form.