Mar. 24, 2017

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol

My Bill Passes Out of Committee

This week the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted in favor of a my resolution congratulating the Pennsylvania National Guard and its environmental office on winning first place as a sustainability team in the 2016 Army National Guard Environmental Awards contest.

I introduced this measure because these soldiers won in part because of the effort to recycle batteries and brass.

Also, at an informational hearing held jointly with the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee on Thursday, veterans groups provided updates regarding programs and initiatives.

The Network of Care website, veterans.networkofcare.org, assists veterans and their families with mental treatment information, knowledge and referral empowerment. It was launched in November as a way to connect veterans with services available in their area.

A focus of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is promoting the state’s veterans registry. Brig. Gen. Anthony Carrelli shared that most veterans believe that they have done all that is necessary by signing up for the federal registry. Until there is a centralized database, veterans must sign up for the state registry – which can be done here – to receive information about available state benefits and relevant programs.

Another common misconception is that by electing the veterans designation on the Pennsylvania driver’s license, the information is passed along to the DMVA. Research is currently being done to determine whether that is legally possible. As more than 300,000 veterans in the Commonwealth have acquired the designation, it would be an efficient way to reach more veterans.
 
 
Measure to Speed Emergency Municipal Repairs Passes House

Living in a limestone valley, many of us are familiar with sinkholes and the destruction and displacement they can cause. It is a little ironic that House Bill 99, which I voted “yes” on this week, was being voted on at the same time a tour bus fell into a sinkhole that had opened up right outside the Capitol on State Street and needed to be lifted out with a crane (see picture).

Under current law, Title 8 requires that a borough undergo a competitive bidding process for all public works projects over $19,700. Just in November, a 30-foot-wide sinkhole more than 20 feet deep opened up in Ephrata Borough in Lancaster County, forcing residents of two nearby apartment buildings to evacuate. That meant that the sinkhole could not be fixed immediately, keeping folks out of their homes for longer than needed.

House Bill 99 would do two things.

First, in effort to expedite the ability of a borough to respond swiftly to emergency situations within their jurisdictions, such as broken water mains or sewer lines, the bill will amend Chapter 14 to allow a borough to make necessary purchases in response to the situation.

Secondly, the bill will require the borough council to adopt a resolution stating the extent of the emergency addressed and the actions taken at the next public meeting.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
 
 
Caution Urged in Wake of Tennessee Avian Flu

The United States Department of Agriculture this week confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) of North American wild bird lineage in a commercial chicken breeder flock in Tennessee. This is the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry in the United States this year.

This issue is critical to Lancaster County’s economy as we raise 33 percent of all the commercial poultry in Pennsylvania. There are also many families in our area that maintain “backyard” flocks that could become infected if a worst-case-scenario plays out.

The state Department of Agriculture is urging poultry producers and backyard poultry enthusiasts to take important safety measures. The department has previously issued two interstate quarantine orders which remain in effect. The first requires poultry moving to live bird markets and eggs destined for a commercial breaking operation, from states with infected HPAI flocks, to meet 72-hour testing, paperwork and reporting requirements that certify the shipment tested negative for avian influenza.

The second order requires that all vehicles, conveyances, containers and materials that transport poultry and related products be completely cleaned and disinfected using commercial truck washing equipment or other equivalent cleaning and disinfecting equipment prior to entry onto a new premises or poultry operation. Additionally, written documentation of cleaning and disinfection must be maintained.

Poultry owners who see signs of potential HPAI infection are urged to call the department’s Bureau of Animal Health at 717-772-2852. You may also visit agriculture.pa.gov and refer to the “Avian Influenza” box on the right side of the homepage.
 
 
Self-Driving Cars in Pennsylvania?

 
With highly automated vehicle technology currently being tested in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania could be at the forefront of this type of transportation, even though state law never anticipated this type of advancement.

That’s why members of the House and Senate Transportation committees learned more about highly automated vehicles, known as driverless or self-driving cars, during a joint hearing on Tuesday. The goal involves striking the right balance between encouraging innovation and ensuring public safety.

The hearing featured testimony from National Conference of State Legislatures, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Pennsylvania State Police, Carnegie Mellon University, Uber, General Motors, the Global Automakers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.

Experts in the field have said that driverless cars can lead to greater safety, mobility, innovation and economic development. Several of the cars were also on display after the hearing.
 
 
Performance Based Budgeting Passes State Government Committee

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Also this week, the State Government Committee, of which I am a member, passed legislation requiring state budgets to use performance based budgeting. Currently, the various departments – Labor and Industry, Education, Human Services, etc.) come to the Capitol assuming they get the same amount of taxpayer dollars as they did last fiscal year, plus an increase to make up for inflation.

Performance based budgeting would require them to come before the Appropriations Committee each year and justify every single spending line for their respective departments.

I voted for the measure, and expressed some frustration with my fellow members on the panel who don’t see a need for something like this to combat what I see as out-of-control spending by state government.
 
 
Discount Vehicle Registration to Expand to More Retirees

 
More retirees on fixed incomes would be able to apply for discount vehicle registrations under legislation that passed the House on Tuesday.

Currently, PennDOT offers a vehicle registration at a discounted rate of $10 to retirees who receive Social Security or other pension income that does not exceed $19,200 annually. Only one vehicle per person may be registered at the discounted rate.

House Bill 188 would increase the income limit to $23,500, the same threshold set for the state’s PACENET prescription drug assistance program. The income limit for the program was last increased in 1998. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Additional information about the existing program is available at dmv.pa.gov.
 
 
Restitution Package Seeks to Help Crime Victims

 
To make it easier for crime victims to receive the restitution owed to them, the House passed four bills designed to make sure criminals pay their legal obligations.

The bills would make it easier for counties to collect restitution; authorize wage attachment; require that any bail money be applied to restitution; and require that correctional facilities make minimum deductions from the wages and personal accounts of inmates.

In addition to meeting restitution, the bills also contain provisions that would require criminals to also address any owed court costs, fines and other obligations.
The bills now head to the state Senate.
 
 
Celebrating Women’s History

 
To celebrate the contributions of women throughout the Commonwealth’s history, House Resolution 88 recognizes March as National Women’s History Month in Pennsylvania.

This year’s theme is Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business, which recognizes women who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and the paid labor force and demonstrated that women can succeed in leadership roles in whatever jobs and careers they pursue.

House Resolution 88 passed the House unanimously on March 20. For more information, click here
   
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