In this update:
Governor to veto bill that received unanimous support of the General Assembly requiring transparency during emergency declaration
According to press reports, the governor indicated he will veto a bill that won the approval of every single member of the General Assembly (excluding one representative, who is on military leave) to require greater transparency during a disaster declaration.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved Representative Seth Grove’s House Bill 2463 by a vote of 50-0 to restore transparency in state government by prohibiting the governor from directing a state agency to ignore records requests during an emergency declaration. Under the bill, an agency could only deny a request for records for the reasons already authorized under the state’s Right-To-Know Law.
I stood up to encourage an affirmative vote on this important matter, which you can watch below.
Here was the governor’s response to this legislation in the midst of announcing sweeping statewide changes to the restaurant industry:
I’ll cover more on why transparency is critical, especially when the governor is making unilateral decisions without any oversight or ability to see the data he is using to base his decisions.
However, as this is a House bill, the House of Representatives will have to first vote to override the governor’s veto before the Senate could consider the measure. I strongly support a veto override to restore transparency in your state government.
Read my article titled “Wolf’s latest mandate gives restaurants 8.5 hours’ notice to adjust to latest draconian shutdown measures” below.
Constitutional amendment to limit emergency declarations clears first hurdle
The Senate voted in favor of a bipartisan bill this week that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to limit future emergency declarations and require legislative approval of any declaration lasting more than 21 days.
The bill would create three separate ballot questions: one to limit emergency declarations, another to clarify the General Assembly’s authority to terminate or extend a disaster declaration without the governor’s approval, and a third to ensure equality under the law and prevent discrimination based on race or ethnicity.
Because the bill would amend the state Constitution, it does not need to be approved by the governor. Instead, it must be approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions before being approved by voters via referendum.
Firework survey results are in: overwhelming opposition to status quo
As I noted in my last email update, I voted against significant changes to our state’s laws pertaining to fireworks. The law that was approved without my support allows for the use of bottle rockets, Roman candles, and other aerial fireworks. These fireworks continue to be a major issue for many local citizens.
I put together a survey seeking your feedback on this issue, as my office has fielded over 40 complaints over the last two weeks regarding these fireworks.
The results show a clear path on the issue, based on the response provided by neighbors who opted to take my survey. Here are the results:
The survey mirrors calls and emails received at our offices over the last several weeks from concerned local neighbors.
This feedback will be shared in your state Capitol. I will formally request a hearing to allow voices to be heard on this growing concern throughout York County and across the state to determine how we move forward to allow our community to safely and responsibly enjoy the Fourth of July holiday.
As always, feel free to contact me with any opinion, suggestion or concern as it pertains to this issue or any state-related matter.
General Assembly passes proposed constitutional amendment reforming judicial election process
The Senate approved a potential amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution this week to reform the process of electing appellate court justices. The bill would divide the Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court into judicial districts to ensure a broader range of regional interests are represented on Pennsylvania’s highest courts.
Since judges are currently elected on a statewide basis, the majority come from the state’s two most populous counties, resulting in most of the state being underrepresented on the state’s highest courts. Dividing the state into judicial districts will end the current system of disproportionate representation and ensure the perspectives of all regions of the state are reflected in the makeup of the judicial branch.
The Senate and the House of Representatives have each approved the bill, which does not require the governor’s signature. As a constitutional amendment, the legislation must be approved again in the next legislative session before being put on the ballot for voters to decide.
Wolf’s latest mandate gives restaurants 8.5 hours’ notice to adjust to latest draconian shutdown measures
At 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Governor Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Levine issued sweeping rules to require every restaurant that has been allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity for dine-in service to be moved to 25 percent capacity effective at midnight on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
These sweeping guidelines went into effect a mere 8.5 hours after the governor first announced them.
In addition to restaurant limitations, bars are not allowed to serve alcohol unless the customer orders food and sits at a table or booth. Furthermore, with wedding season in full swing across the state, the governor is limiting these indoor venues to 25 people or less. Full guidelines can be found here.
After the governor announced this major shift that essentially pulls the rug out from underneath many locally owned restaurants and venue, he said he would veto the bill I discussed above to require transparency.
When the York Dispatch inquired how the governor came to make the decision on limiting restaurants, bars and venues this week, the newspaper reported: “The governor’s office did not provide answers to questions about the data or scientific reasoning the governor relied on to write the latest restrictions.”
If the governor wants to make sweeping unilateral decisions without consulting or working with the General Assembly, he should be able to point to the data he is using to make these decisions. The governor should not be able to operate in the cloak of secrecy while shielding the public from the metrics he is using to base his decisions. I have sent the governor several letters seeking clarity and information on these matters. I have not received a single response.
I want to point out that churches and synagogues were not included in this latest edict from the governor. Our right to worship will not be infringed.
Applications now available for beginning farmer tax credits
Experienced farmers will now have an incentive to sell or lease land, buildings and equipment to beginning farmers thanks to a new tax credit program that was created last year. Applications for the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program can be filed now at esa.dced.state.pa.us.
Under the program, landowners will receive a one-time personal income tax credit for the sale or a multi-year lease of property. The legislation requires all leases be enforced through written agreements and that the sale of property be for fair market value in order to qualify for the tax credit.
Complete program guidelines, eligibility, and application instructions are available here.
Senate takes steps to mitigate blight in communities
Municipalities would have a new tool to crack down on dangerous abandoned and dilapidated properties under a bill approved by the Senate this week. The bill would allow municipalities to file condemnation orders on the properties with the county recorder of deeds.
The order would be considered a lien on the property and its validity would not be impacted by upset, judiciary, or repository sale of the property. Under current law, anytime a condemned property’s ownership changes hands, local officials must expend significant time repeating their code enforcement process. This bill closes that loophole and allows municipalities to take the appropriate steps to remove these dangerous eyesores from our communities.
Bipartisan probation reform proposal clears Senate
A bipartisan bill to improve Pennsylvania’s probation system received the unanimous approval of the Senate this week. The bill would give the courts stronger guidelines and restrictions on sentencing to ensure periods of incarceration are limited to individuals who commit new crimes or serious violations.
The bill also creates incentives for probationers to succeed through credits for good behavior, such as maintaining a job and performing community services.
In current practice, technical violations that are not actual crimes – such as being late for an appointment, traveling out of state or being unable to pay fines and restitution – can lead to extensions of probation or prison time that far exceed the original sentence handed down at trial. The cost to incarcerate these individuals is much greater than the cost of supervision, resulting in wasted taxpayer dollars without any benefit in terms of public safety.
Bill to provide greater flexibility in obtaining teacher certifications
The COVID-19 pandemic created a severe disruption in the certification process for teachers, as testing centers were closed statewide. The Senate approved a bill this week that would help teachers, recent graduates, undergraduate students and paraprofessionals to navigate the state required certification process.
The legislation will enable graduates to obtain temporary certifications and extend certain deadlines to provide additional flexibility so schools are not faced with additional challenges in recruiting staff when reopening schools.
Upcoming public hearing to review General Election integrity
The Senate State Government Committee, which I serve as Vice Chair of, will convene for a public hearing on election-related issues and challenges ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election. The hearing will feature testimony from the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar, several county commissioners and election directors from across the state.
The hearing will take place on Thursday, July 23 at 10 a.m.
You can view testimony and learn more about the hearing here.
I will stream it live on my Facebook Page.
New laws address police reform, child safety and blight remediation
Several noteworthy bills that were approved by the Senate recently were signed into law this week, including:
Upcoming PennDOT projects
PennDOT shared with me the upcoming maintenance project list for next week. You can view that below.
In addition to the projects listed above, there will be work at the Mt. Rose Interchange resulting in a road closure. And no, I’m not kidding. Details can be found here.
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