Legislative Bulletin

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Number 19

September 14, 2018

www.pacounties.org

Twitter: @PACountiesGR 

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 

 

717-526-1010

GENERAL ASSEMBLY RETURNS TO SESSION SEPT. 24     

The legislative summer recess is coming to an end, with both the House and Senate scheduled to return to voting session on Sept. 24. With the end of the 2017-2018 session approaching on Nov. 30 and a custom of not convening post-election, the House has just nine voting days on the calendar, while the Senate has ten. Any legislation which does not make it to the Governor's desk during that time will have to be reintroduced in January at the start of the 2019-2020 session to start the process anew.

One of the prominent issues facing lawmakers as they return to Harrisburg is SB 261, Senator Joe Scarnati's (R-Jefferson) legislation to extend the statute of limitations for criminal complaints involving child sexual abuse. The legislation won the unanimous approval of the Senate in February 2017; it was later amended by the House Judiciary Committee to remove the limits on damages that may be awarded in civil lawsuits against governmental entities if those lawsuits involve child sexual abuse. While the bill has been before the full House since April 2017 without further action, following the August release of the grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Catholic church, both House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) have told the media they expect the bill to be scheduled for a vote this fall.

Several bills important to counties also remain before the General Assembly, among them legislation to update and combine the County Code and Second Class County Code into a single comprehensive statute. Senate Bill 1005, introduced by former CCAP member Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), is the result of a multi-year effort coordinated by the Local Government Commission. CCAP expects final amendments to be offered to the bill in the House, which means a concurrence vote in the Senate would also be needed to send the bill to the Governor.

On the Senate side, the Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee has before it HB 1810, which would give counties across the state accurate information about room rentals being made through online platforms such as Airbnb, so that hotel taxes can be more uniformly enforced. Rep. Doyle Heffley's (R-Carbon) legislation won the overwhelming approval of the House in June, and will need to be brought up in the Senate quickly to have a chance to make it through the legislative process yet this year. Additional talking points about HB 1810 can be found on CCAP's Legislative Action Center.

Finally, legislation developed by the Local Government Commission's Assessment Reform Task Force also remains before the General Assembly. The Senate Appropriations Committee may consider two bills introduced by Sen. Eichelberger when that chamber returns on Sept. 24 - SB 689, which would add two Certified Pennsylvania Evaluators (CPEs, the designation that must be held by county assessors who value property) to the State Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers and SB 832, to clarify that revaluation company personnel contracted by counties to complete a countywide reassessment must be certified as CPEs. Their companion bills, HB 1361 and HB 1594, offered by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), were approved by the House in 2017 and remain before the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

CCAP will continue to provide updates as the session winds to a close through the Bulletin, calls to action and on our Twitter feed, @PACountiesGR.

 

SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL RECOVERY MONTH  

September marks National Recovery Month, a time for individuals, families, groups, and organizations across the country to share their stories and raise awareness of substance use conditions, celebrate individuals in recovery, and acknowledge the work of prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Several counties have approved individual resolutions or proclamations recognizing National Recovery Month as well.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Association of County Drug and Alcohol Administrators (PACDAA), a CCAP affiliate, will be hosting its annual Recovery Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Sept. 25. A media event will be held in the Capitol rotunda at 11 a.m. that day with members of the recovery community, and will include remarks from several legislators. The annual event allows participants to engage with their legislators and convey a message of hope that people can and do recover. More information about the event can be found at www.pacdaa.org.

Preventing substance abuse and drug overdose has been a county priority for many years, as counties seek strong state and local partnerships, as well as increased capacity for prevention, intervention and treatment to effectively address the opioid epidemic.

 

DOS, CCAP SEND JOINT LETTER ON ELECTION SECURITY RESOURCES  

With the 2018 midterm elections quickly approaching, CCAP recently joined with Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres to send a letter to county commissioners and election directors outlining the numerous resources that are available to maintain and reinforce the security and integrity of elections. These services are provided by both state and federal partners, and include training and services offered by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as cybersecurity exercises and physical assessments of facilities. Other resources are offered by the national Center for Internet Security, the National Guard and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. In addition, CCAP has partnered with the state's Office of Administration on resources to better train employees on recognizing and responding to security attacks. More details about these resources and how to access them can be found at www.pacounties.org on the County Fact Sheet page under the Government Relations tab.

State and county personnel also continue to take advantage of other training opportunities, such as participating in national election cyber exercises hosted by DHS. Another tabletop exercise is planned for late September to help election, IT and security personnel practice and train in incident response management.

 

SHERIFF FEES BILL NEEDED TO RESTORE TRAINING FUND 

Counties are owed almost $1.5 million in reimbursements for sheriff and deputy sheriff training activities for FY 2017-2018, after reimbursements were suspended in July 2017 by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, on the recommendation of the Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education Training Board, due to insufficiency in the dedicated sheriff fee funding account. The specific sheriff fee surcharge for training and education programs and county reimbursements has not been updated since 2000, while training hours and costs have increased, and thus the decision to suspend was made based on waning funds and insufficient revenues.

It is anticipated that reimbursement would resume once fund collections become sufficient, although a specific date to resume payment to counties is unknown at this time. The longer term fix, though, is to update the surcharge; Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) has introduced HB 388, which would provide a comprehensive update to the sheriffs' fees, including an increase in the training surcharge from $10 to $20. The bill has been before the House Judiciary Committee since it was introduced in February 2017.

 

CCAP ADVOCATES FOR COUNTY TAXING OPTIONS 

As legislators continue to focus on property tax reform for school districts, CCAP continues to push for county taxing options to also be part of the conversation. On Sept. 6, the House Finance Committee held a hearing on HB 2329, legislation introduced by Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton) that would allow a 100 percent homestead exclusion for school district taxpayers, funded by an increase in the state's personal income tax. The bill implements a constitutional amendment approved in November 2017 allowing the homestead exclusion to be expanded from a maximum of 50 percent of the median value of homesteads in a taxing district up to a maximum of 100 percent of the value of each homestead.

CCAP Director of Government Relations Lisa Schaefer told committee members that while county government is not directly impacted by the bill, it offers an opportunity to talk about how tools like an expanded homestead exclusion could benefit counties if they had access to them and the resources to implement them. Since counties rely only on property taxes for locally generated general fund tax revenue, they have asked the General Assembly to provide them with local taxing options such as earned income, personal income or sales taxes so each of the 67 counties can decide what best meets the needs of their demographics, economics and other characteristics. And, Schaefer said, counties need to be at the table as part of property tax reform discussions so Pennsylvania can talk about real, comprehensive solutions. CCAP's full testimony can be found at www.pacounties.org, linked under What's New. 

 

CONGRESS APPROVES VETERANS JUSTICE OUTREACH PROGRAM EXPANSION

In late August, Congress passed H.R. 2147, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018, which would expand the Veterans Justice Outreach Program and incentivize new veterans treatment courts. Specifically, the Secretary of the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be required to hire at least 50 Veteran Justice Outreach Specialists, who would be placed at eligible VA medical facilities and serve as part of a justice team in a veterans court. In doing so, these specialists will allow communities to serve veterans in a way that accounts for their needs and experiences as veterans, such as issues with PTSD and other traumatic injuries, rehabilitation, and ultimately avoidance of recidivism. Although H.R. 2147 has passed both chambers, it is also included in a larger legislative package, H.R. 6, which has passed the House and is awaiting Senate consideration. It is unclear at this time if President Trump will sign H.R. 2147 into law alone or if he will wait for the larger combined package.

Supporting services for veterans and their families is a county priority for 2018.