An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
COUNTY PRIORITY SPOTLIGHT: COUNTIES URGE SWIFT APPROVAL OF
TWO CRITICAL ELECTIONS PRIORITIES
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.