Legislative Bulletin

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June 4, 2021
www.pacounties.org

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

COUNTY PRIORITY SPOTLIGHT: COUNTIES URGE SWIFT APPROVAL OF TWO CRITICAL ELECTIONS PRIORITIES

CCAP leaders expressed their frustration at the lack of legislative action on two key election priorities during a June 1
virtual press conference. Commissioners once again called on the General Assembly to immediately advance a bill to increase time for pre-canvassing and move back the mail-in ballot application deadline to 15 days prior to an election.


Together, these two Election Code reforms would go a long way in resolving many of the challenges counties faced in implementing Act 77 of 2019. When counties can only begin processing mail-in ballots on election day, they are forced to run two separate elections on the same day. Expanded pre-canvassing time would allow them to better use resources – staff, volunteers and time – to effectively and efficiently administer both the mail-in and in-person elections. Counties would know of any issues with mail-in ballots prior to election day and would be more likely to be able to deliver timely results on election night, all while conducting pre-canvassing securely, following strict chain of custody and storage procedures.


Moving the mail-in ballot application deadline back is also critical. When the current law says that voters can apply up to seven days prior to an election, it indicates the process will work as advertised and they can be assured that their vote will be able to be counted. Unfortunately, this is a promise that cannot be guaranteed because the timing is too tight and the anxiety of not knowing whether a ballot will be able to make it from the county, to the voter, and back to the county again through the mail, leads many voters to come to the polling place anyway, either to spoil their ballot or to vote by provisional ballot, wholly undermining the flexibility of mail-in ballots.  It also adds to the time it takes counties to provide results. While 15 days still requires a responsibility on the part of the voter to return their completed ballot on time, it gives a better chance of setting voters up for success and works in parallel with counties taking advantage of additional pre-canvassing time.


With the summer recess looming, time is running out to pass these critical reforms with enough time for counties to implement them for the November election. Counties urge the General Assembly to pass and the governor to sign a bill that accomplishes just these two measures of expanded pre-canvassing and moving back the mail-in ballot application deadline and will continue to advocate for these top elections reforms
priorities.

 

 

 
 
 

 

IFO PRESENTS INITIAL REVENUE ESTIMATES FOR COMING FISCAL YEAR

The state's fiscal picture for the current fiscal year is better than originally expected, and the coming fiscal year will be subject to longer-term budget impacts left by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO)
.


In its
Initial Revenue Estimate offered on May 26, the IFO projected that FY 2020-2021 revenues will exceed budget expectations by $1.674 billion, largely supported by federal economic stimulus funding.


Looking forward to FY 2021-2022, the IFO is projecting that the state will have about $37.96 billion to spend, a decrease of $2.15 billion compared to the current year, which assumes the end of federal spending and reverting back to a more typical state budget environment. The IFO did raise concerns as one-time revenues and expenditures will need to be offset in the coming fiscal year, with a portion of that adding to budget holes that will need to be addressed in future budgets.


The IFO’s revenue forecast does not include more than $13 billion in federal funds from the most recent round of federal stimulus funding, with approximately $7 billion allocated directly to the state and the remaining funds to local governments. This funding has yet to be appropriated and will likely be considered during commonwealth budget conversations. Another pandemic impact that will have uncertain effects on future budgets is employment, noting Pennsylvania is still has about 400,000 jobs than pre-pandemic.      


The IFO's official revenue estimate will be released by June 20. The full initial estimate can be found on the IFO
website.


Additionally, the 2021-2022 fiscal year begins July 1. House Appropriations Committee chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) has offered
HB 935 as a vehicle for the FY 2021-2022 budget; although the bill has seen some procedural movement in the House, no formal legislative budget proposals have yet been introduced. The House and Senate return to session the week of June 7.

 

 

 
 
 

 

COUNTIES TESTIFY IN SUPPORT OF OPTIONS FOR LEGAL ADVERTISING 

On May 26, Bradford County commissioner Daryl Miller
testified before the House Local Government Committee in support of HB 955, sponsored by Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Allegheny), which would give local governments a menu of flexible options to comply with their current requirements to advertise and provide public notice in a physically printed newspaper under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.


House Bill 955 would modernize advertising requirements for public meetings and other required notices by providing options for electronic advertising, which is critical at a time when printed newspapers have become less accessible due to considerable reduction in, or even elimination of, print publishing, as well as increasing advertising costs. In addition to efficiency of advertising and increased immediate access to online advertisements by constituents, the options available under HB 955 provide much needed cost savings to local governments' already tight budgets
.


Even more, the last year has showed us all how important online operations are to the ability of local governments to continue to offer transparency and accountability to their constituents. Counties saw an increase in the number of residents going online to access services, file documents, pay fees and so on, all items that have now become a regular matter of course in our everyday lives. Counties were already using electronic communication, such as websites, email and social media, to reach their residents because they have found it to be an effective way to provide information and be transparent about county government. House Bill 955 would assist counties with continuing the practice of reaching constituents electronically in a way that is efficient and effective.

 

 

 
 
 

 

COUNTIES TESTIFY ON PUBLIC WORKER SAFETY DATA

On May 27, CCAP’s Keith Wentz, Risk Management and Underwriting Manager,
testified before the House Labor and Industry Committee Workers’ Compensation and Worker Protection Subcommittee on public worker safety data.


Wentz stated that both CCAP and its county members agree that public worker safety is of the utmost the importance and explained the considerable measures local government employers take to ensure that workplaces are safe. Wentz went on to explain that a number of Pennsylvania counties are self-insured, while many others participate in pooled programs, such as CCAP’s own programs, which incentivize worker safety through premium reductions earned by completing an extensive array of loss control and prevention activities. Currently, 35 counties participate in CCAP’s workers’ compensation program and 52 counties participate in CCAP’s liability program. Overall, CCAP programs have experienced remarkably successful safety records and results among participating counties and the cost of claims is lower than average, indicating proof that these programs work to keep employees safe.


Additionally, Wentz discussed the wide variety of workplace safety statutes and regulations in the commonwealth applicable to counties. He noted the importance of considering these effective safety procedures that are already in place, before mandating or shifting to any other model, which could have unintended negative consequences on employee safety
.

 

 

 
 
 

 

ASSESSMENT REFORM TASK FORCE BILLS ADVANCE

In late May, two bills related to improving submission of building permits saw action in both the House in Senate.
House Bill 1169, sponsored by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams), would improve proper and timely submission of building permits to county assessment offices by offering counties additional options to follow up with municipalities and third party agencies when they believe such submission is not occurring. The House approved the legislation unanimously and it will now head to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate companion,
SB 477, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair), also saw movement in the Senate, unanimously passing the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 25. Both bills are products of the Local Government Commission’s Assessment Reform Task Force.

 

 

 
 
 

 

BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE BILL PASSES SENATE  

On May 25, the Senate approved
SB 442 (Sen. Phillips-Hill, R-York), which calls for an inventory of state-owned assets that the commonwealth could then leverage for the development of mobile broadband services. In addition, the legislation includes an option for counties to add county-owned assets to the inventory if they would be interested in being part of the state’s effort. The bill was approved by a 27-20 vote, with those opposing noting a state inventory project is currently underway by the Department of General Services. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.


Broadband expansion is a
county priority for 2021.

 

 

 
 
 

 

OFFICE OF OPEN RECORDS SUBMITS DRAFT REGULATIONS

The Office of Open Records (OOR) announced on May 26 that it took the first formal step in promulgating
regulations related to the Right to Know Law (RTKL). OOR stated that the regulations are intended to promote greater clarity of the requirements for both agencies and requestors under the law during the appeal process. The draft regulations provide clarifications of definitions, computation of timeline for RTKL actions and additional procedures. A period for public comment will be announced.

 

 

 
 
 

 

NACO ANNUAL CONFERENCE

The National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference will be held in-person and virtually in Prince George’s County, Maryland from July 9-12, 2021, including meetings of NACo's policy committees and the NACo Annual Business Meeting and Election. Additional details and registration for this hybrid conference are available on the
NACo website.