Legislative Bulletin

See All Issues from July 2017 forward​​​​​​​.

 

 
Number 12
June 7, 2019

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

An e-newsletter of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania

 

 

 


 

717-526-1010

BUDGET PROCESS UPDATE         
The House and Senate returned to session on June 3, anticipating a busy month of budget negotiations with the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year less than four weeks away.

In early May, the state Department of Revenue indicated that the commonwealth was running about $828 million above estimate for the current fiscal year. Although revenues came in slightly lower than expected in the month of May, fiscal year-to-date collections remain about $813 million above estimate. In its initial revenue forecast offered on May 20, the state's Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) projected that FY 2018-2019 revenues would exceed expectations by $886 million, if general fund revenues come in the rest of the fiscal year as anticipated. However, there are some offsetting current year costs that will need to be addressed from these additional available funds, including supplemental requests attributable primarily to unbudgeted human services costs. The IFO is also projecting the state will have about $35.8 billion available for FY 2019-2020, or an increase of $994 million over current year.

The House and Senate have taken procedural action on two potential vehicles for the FY 2019-2020 budget,
HB 790 and SB 234. Each bill currently contains the FY 2018-2019 budget numbers as a placeholder while negotiations continue between the General Assembly and Governor's office. Each has been re-referred to its respective chamber's Appropriations Committee.

Counties' top
priority remains funding for election equipment replacement, which is driven by the Stein settlement agreement, and is legally binding on the commonwealth, and thus on counties. Counties seek maximum funding from the state and federal government for equipment replacement as part of the upcoming state budget process - any equipment replacement dollars that do not come from state or federal funds will be property tax dollars.

Another county
priority is to support full state funding for human services programs in the face of years of increasing mandates and caseloads, exacerbated by stagnant and even declining program funding. Counties also oppose any attempt to eliminate the Behavioral HealthChoices carveout, directly or as an amendment to budget legislation, completely or as a pilot of any size. Placing behavioral health services back into the physical HealthChoices program would unavoidably and pointlessly disrupt care for our most vulnerable citizens.

CHILD WELFARE CASEWORKER APPRECIATION WEEK   

Gov. Wolf proclaimed June 3-7, 2019, as Child Welfare Professionals Appreciation Week in Pennsylvania, and June 10-14 as Child Welfare Providers Appreciation Week. The proclamation recognizes the efforts of child welfare professionals serving the commonwealth's children and families, often working long hours in difficult situations to provide every child with safety, permanency and well-being.

House Children and Youth Committee chair Rep. Karen Boback (R-Luzerne) has also introduced
HR 362 and HR 382 in recognition of the respective weeks. CCAP's affiliate, the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators Association (PCYA), along with the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, also honored their members concurrently with the proclamation and extended their thanks and appreciation for the recognition.

HOUSE COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ELECTION REFORM BILLS

The House State Government Committee held an informational meeting on June 4 to begin a discussion of election reform issues.

Committee staff provided an overview of around 30 bills that have been introduced by House members so far this session, covering issues such as absentee ballots, polling places, ballot preparation, voter registration and early voting. Chairman Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) noted that the purpose of the meeting was to understand the depth, and breadth of issues the bill represent, to see which have some consensus and which the committee might want to bring up for consideration in the future. He also indicated his intent to invite in those with "boots on the ground" to talk with the committee about what they see at the local level, acknowledging his understanding there may be good ideas that would be challenging to implement.

The Senate has also been engaged in conversations around election reform. Following a hearing in late April on about a dozen bills, the State Government Committee voted in early May to report
SB 412, Sen. Pat Stefano's (R-Westmoreland) bill to remove language in the state constitution that prohibits public employees from serving as poll workers, as well as Sen. Scott Martin's SB 413, another constitutional amendment that would remove the language requiring a separate ballot for judicial retention elections.

More recently, a group of House and Senate members held a press conference on June 4 to announce legislation they hope will increase voter turnout, including among others a bill that would automatically register individuals to vote whenever they interact with a state government agency.

SECOND PHASE OF JUSTICE REINVESTMENT INVESTMENT ADVANCES      

On its return to session in June, the state Senate moved quickly to unanimously approve legislation comprising the second phase of the state's Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

JRI is a
comprehensive effort to reduce the prison population through criminal justice reform and redirect the resources saved by reducing prison admissions to the front end of the system to fund alternatives to incarceration that result in better outcomes and reduced recidivism.

Specifically, SB 500, introduced by Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) would create a County Adult Probation and Parole Advisory Committee to advise the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency on funding, standards and training for county adult probation and parole departments. Senate Bill 501, offered by former CCAP member Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware), would streamline the process for placement in the intermediate punishment program, which
provides community alternatives for non-violent offenders, diverting them from jail and incorporating drug and alcohol treatment to assist in changing behaviors and reducing recidivism rates. Last, Sen. Camera Bartolotta's (R-Washington) SB 502 would amend the Crime Victims Act to provide better information and improve compensation to victims.

All three bills now go to the House for consideration, where the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bills for June 17. 

RESTORE PA LEGISLATION INTRODUCED      

Legislation for Gov. Wolf's Restore PA initiative was introduced on June 5, in the House as HB 1585, sponsored by Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Tom Murt (R-Montgomery), and in the Senate as SB 725, sponsored by Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) and Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware).

In January, Gov. Wolf unveiled his concept for Restore PA, a $4.5 billion bond initiative that would provide funding over four years in areas such as expansion of high-speed internet access, flood control structures, storm water infrastructure, manufacturing sites, access to natural gas, blight demolition and rehabilitation, brownfield cleanup, green infrastructure and transportation projects.

The Governor is calling for a severance tax to fund the initiative, that would be a flat tax per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) and responsive to natural gas prices. The current impact fee under Act 13 of 2012 would remain unchanged and unaffected; CCAP supports maintenance of the shale gas impact fee as it is now, with the ability to grow as the industry grows and with the same distribution to impacted local governments as well as the Legacy Fund distributions to all counties and to conservation districts and state agencies.

BROADBAND STUDY RESULTS RELEASED       

A year-long research project, sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and conducted by Penn State University, demonstrates the discrepancies between the FCC's broadband availability data and the true state of availability that Pennsylvanians experience.

The FCC figures, based on ISP reporting, claim that every county has broadband access, defined as more than 50% of residents having access to broadband at speeds exceeding 25 Mbps, and that just 800,000 Pennsylvania residents do not have access to broadband. Using more than 11 million broadband speed tests from throughout the commonwealth, the project shows instead that there were zero counties where the 50% test was met
. The results also showed that connectivity speeds were substantially slower in rural counties than in urban counties. For the full report, visit www.rural.palegislature.us.

Rural broadband expansion is a county
priority for 2019; the collective future of Pennsylvania hinges on addressing the challenges to rural broadband expansion and providing our residents and businesses with access to opportunities and information. NACo is also engaged in compiling broadband speed data on a national scale to provide a better picture of where service may be overstated or underfunded, using the TestIT smartphone app.

NACO RESOLUTIONS PROCESS OPEN       

Ahead of the NACo Annual Conference in Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas) July 12-15, NACo members are invited to submit policy resolutions and platform changes to be considered by NACo's membership at the conference. The NACo resolutions process provides members the ability to participate in national policy decisions affecting county governments by proposing changes to NACo's platform or policy resolutions which, if approved, will be added to the platform for one year. All resolutions and platform changes must be submitted electronically to resolutions@naco.org by June 12. More information is available at www.naco.org.