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PA Farm Show Starts on Saturday
Just a reminder, the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show will kick off Saturday, Jan. 5, and run through Saturday, Jan. 12. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Pennsylvania’s Story.”
I will be at the Farm Show Wednesday and Thursday. I hope you can join us. And, in addition to all the delicious food offerings, the Farm Show features 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibitors. Admission to the show is free, but parking is $15 per vehicle. Shuttle service is provided.
If you’re participating in or attending the Farm Show, take your camera or phone along and snap some photos. You can share your memories and photos on my Facebook page at facebook.com/RepFrankRyan.
And when you’re posting the photos, don’t forget to insert the hashtag #PAFS19.
More information is available at farmshow.pa.gov.
First Order of Business
On Tuesday, I was officially sworn in as the representative for the 101st Legislative District for the 2019-20 session.
My legislative priorities for this session are the elimination of property taxes, giving the Auditor General the ability to conduct fraud and forensic audits, and passing a ‘government go lean” bill to reduce spending.
Our first order of business Tuesday was to vote to adopt the rules the House must operate under for the 2019-2020 legislative session. These rules further promote efficiency, address issues relating to sexual harassment and misbehavior in office, and institute other important reforms, such as enhancing legislative authority.
• Efficiency. One of the chief complaints of members and the public is the chronic problems the House has in efficiently moving legislation. While the legislative process is supposed to be deliberative, it shouldn’t be crippled by inefficiencies.
So, we enacted changes to improve the operations of the House.
o House Rules now allow for legislation to be considered in a timelier fashion.
o House Rules now eliminate the practice of “ghost amendments” which became a tool of obstruction and consumed an incredible amount of staff and institutional resources.
o House Rules now move up the time for amendments to be filed so they can be in print and ready to be caucused or voted on in a timelier fashion.
• Institutional Reforms. Over the past several years, the House has been challenged by specific issues relating to member conduct as well as other issues, such as “ghost voting,” and working past 11 PM.
So, we enacted clear rules regarding member conduct and the associated consequences relating to misbehavior in office. Additionally, we implemented a responsible, limited leave policy.
o House Rules now provide for the handling and disposition of sexual harassment complaints.
o House Rules now provide for what happens if a member is convicted of a crime relating to the scheduling of an expulsion resolution.
o House Rules now provide for what happens if a member is sentenced for an enumerated crime in the Constitution.
o House Rules now end “ghost voting” because members can take an “immediate personal leave” to attend to important business during the legislative session.
o House Rules now require a 3/4 vote to work past 11 PM (as opposed to 2/3 vote).
• Enhancing Legislative Authority. One of the biggest concerns members have raised is the continued erosion of legislative power that is envisioned in our Constitution. We are to be a separate, but entirely co-equal branch of government with the Executive and Judicial branches.
So, we created a new tool for us to use as we engage in our third constitutional assignment, oversight.
o The House Rules now have a Government Oversight Committee which has subpoena power to investigate matters in a professional and appropriate way that are managed by the Speaker, Majority and Minority Leaders.
The House is now comprised of 110 Republicans and 91 Democrats, including 43 first-term members. There are two vacancies.
Redevelopment Assistance Applications for 2019 Now Being Accepted
The Office of the Budget has opened a new application period for the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). This new window (Round 2019/1) will be open through January 31, 2019.
If you have a project that was included in a previous Capital Budget Itemization Bill, now is the time for your local organizations to apply for the funding. If you have potential organizations in your district who are looking for funding, they should fill out the online application as soon as possible. Without an application for funding, the project will not be considered.
Applications must be filed online using the e-RACP application on the Office of the Budget’s website.
Project guidelines can be found here.
Projects eligible for funding can be found at this link.
New Law Cracks Down on Repeat DUI Offenders
A new law cracking down on habitual DUI offenders is now in effect. Statistics show repeat offenders cause 40 percent of all DUI-related crashes.
Pennsylvania was previously one of four states that did not punish repeat DUIs as felonies.
Act 153 fixes that by increasing penalties for repeated DUI crimes.
Under the new law, any individual convicted of his or her third DUI with a BAC of 0.16 or higher could be found guilty of a felony offense.
The same penalty would apply to all individuals convicted of four or more DUI offenses.
Repeat offenders who are convicted of homicide while DUI now face a minimum prison sentence of five or seven years, up from the previous three-year minimum.
Increased Funding to Aid Ambulance Services
Ambulance companies across Pennsylvania will see a much-needed increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates this year.
Approved as part of the 2018-19 budget, reimbursement rates have increased from $200 to not less than $300 for Advanced Life Support (ALS) services and from $120 to $180 for Basic Life Support (BLS) services, effective Jan. 1.
The increases, to be funded by $4 million in state funds and approximately $8 million in federal matching funds, are necessary to help meet growing costs faced by the Commonwealth’s emergency medical service providers. It is the first increase since 2004.
To further support these life-saving services, another new law, Act 103 of 2018, requires both private insurers and Medicaid to reimburse for treatment provided regardless of whether transport takes place. This is a common occurrence with patients suffering with diabetes as well as for drug overdose calls.
Additional initiatives to shore up the state’s fire and emergency response organizations were outlined in a recent report released under Senate Resolution 6 of 2017. The report includes 92 concepts incorporated into 27 recommendations to address challenges in the fire and EMS communities, with most of them focused on staffing, funding and training needs.
Farm bill includes billions aimed at keeping dairy industry afloat
By Jessie Higgins, United Press International - Dec. 27, 2018
EVANSVILLE, Ind., Dec. 27 (UPI) -- With years of low milk prices driving American dairy farmers out of business, the federal government plans to pour billions of dollars into new support programs.
The goal of the Dairy Margin Protection Program -- part of the 2018 farm bill signed into law Dec. 20 -- is to guarantee that farmers earn a certain amount for their milk. If farmers' earnings drop below a minimum threshold, the government will cover the difference.
“The program looks to be very generous,” said Andrew Novakovic, a professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University. “The money should help [farmers] keep even with bills and maybe catch up a bit.”
This is welcome news to struggling farmers, many of whom have not made any money since milk prices dropped in 2014, Novakovic said.
That “was really the last year dairy farmers could make money,” he said. “Since then it's been what I've called the long scrape. It's been a long haul of below-average returns that are just wearing people out.”
The enduring low prices are hardest on small to midsize dairies that don't have the capital to cover years of low revenue. Across the country, they are shutting down.
Wisconsin lost more than 600 dairy herds in 2018, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. That's 7 percent of the state's dairies.
Other states are losing farms at a similar pace.
“There are many cases where very well-managed farms will have to make the decision to leave the industry,” said Dianne Shoemaker, an Ohio dairy farmer who works with other farmers through the Ohio State University extension office.
That process is a painful one. Dairy farmers -- especially those who manage smaller farms -- tend to love what they do, Shoemaker said. And, in many places, the farms have been in their families for generations. They grew up on that land, as did their parents, their grandparents and the lineage can sometimes stretch beyond that.
“There are farms in the Northeast that have been in a family for 200 years," Novakovic said. "So you're losing family history, you're losing your house. It's a lot more gut-wrenching than going out of business may seem.”
The suicide rate among dairy farmers is inching up alongside dairy closures, and farm news outlets are running articles about how to deal with depression.
“It's an ugly moment in the dairy industry,” Novakovic said.
The mechanics of the new program are complex. Because so many factors contribute to whether dairy farmers earn a profit for their milk, rather than simply guaranteeing an arbitrary milk price the program operates based on profit margins. Put simply, farmers are guaranteed that the price they're paid for their milk will be a set amount above the average cost of cattle feed. In that way, the government will maintain a set margin of difference between milk and feed price.
“The rates created by this program should give enough breathing room to survive,” said Alan Bjerga, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation.
The program is meant to support small farms, Bjerga said. It is set up like crop insurance, which means farmers must buy coverage. The rates for the first 5 million pounds of milk -- which is what a small to medium-size dairy might produce in a year -- are low, and receive generous coverage. Insuring anything beyond 5 million pounds becomes more expensive, Bjerga said.
This guards against the risk that heavily subsidizing large dairies will create an incentive to overproduce, flooding the market with cheap milk and costing taxpayers even more money.
Even with that safety net in place, there is concern that any farm subsidy program will keep prices low, Novakovic said.
“The danger is if it helps too much,” Novakovic said.
Prices increase when the demand for a product is greater than the supply. That's basic economics. The United States is producing more milk than there is demand for, Novakovic said.
Demand for milk within the United States is fairly stable and predictable. There is some room to increase trade and create new demand that way. (America's trade war with China and the enduring tariffs set by Mexico have hurt the dairy industry.) But, ultimately, production will have to decrease for prices to rebound. And, as painful as it is, the only way for production to decrease is for dairies to go out of business, Novakovic said.
“This government program, the only thing it can do is make it easier for farmers to stay in business,” he said. “And that's why we do it, we feel sorry for the farmers and we want to help them stay in business. But that could be curtailing the mechanism for prices to stabilize. That could perpetuate a situation where prices are low.
“There is this notion that one day the clouds will part and the sun will shine and it will be a nice day again. But that's not how economics works. And in the meantime, this could be a pretty expensive program.”
DEP Says Winter Best Time to Test Homes for Radon
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) encourages Pennsylvanians to start off the new year by conducting a simple test of their homes for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Winter is a good time to test in the commonwealth because doors and windows are closed, providing more accurate results.
Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that occurs from the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It enters homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings. As a result, high levels of radon tend to be found in basements, but the gas can be found anywhere in the home.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 4 picocuries of radon per liter (pCi/L) of air as an Action Level. If your radon level is higher than this, EPA, DEP, and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend having a radon mitigation system professionally installed to lower it. Typically consisting of a pipe and exhaust fan, the system will vent radon to the outside.
All radon testers, mitigators, and laboratories in Pennsylvania must be certified by DEP, which provides a public list of certified radon service providers. People can also obtain a hard copy or verify a company’s certification by calling DEP at 800-23RADON (800-237-2366).
DEP will send free follow-up test kits to Pennsylvanians who’ve tested their homes and have results higher than 100 pCi/L or who’ve installed an active mitigation system in the past year.
Compared with the associated risk of lung cancer, a radon reduction system is very affordable, generally in the price range of other common home improvements.
Having a system installed will also make the future sale of your home easier. If you’re building a new home, DEP recommends installing a passive radon system during construction. There is no reliable way to test the ground in advance for radon, and the cost of installing the radon system during construction is typically much less than installing one after the fact.
For people buying or selling a home, Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act requires sellers to disclose the results of any known radon testing. The DEP website lists radon testing options for real estate transactions.
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