We are now about one month away from the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and if this week was a preview of what to expect in June, it will be a busy month indeed. Plenty of bills were reported from the standing committees and voted on the House and Senate floors, as bills are positioned to be used as possible vehicles for legislation necessary to enact a complete state funding plan for 2017-2018.
Monday started with a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing on issues surrounding the possible imposition of a Marcellus Shale severance tax. Since Governor Wolf took office, he has consistently advocated for the enactment of a shale tax to plug the Commonwealth’s ever-growing budget deficit; however, it’s too soon to say whether or not it will be a part of this year’s budget package.
Another potentially hot budget issue is gaming expansion. The House Gaming Oversight Committee met Tuesday to consider a number of bills, possibly as a preemptive move to have legislation ready to roll in June when a budget agreement is reached. In the short term, however, legislation is needed to reinstate the casino local share requirement, which was struck down earlier this year and was to have been legislatively reinstated by today, according to a court order. To that end, the committee reported out H.B. 1342 (Santora, R-Delaware) and H.B. 1301 (Harkins, D-Erie), which would reinstate the local share payments. The committee also reported out H.B. 965 (Masser, R-Columbia) and H. B. 1281 (Quinn, R-Bucks), expediting loan payments due to the state by casinos.
The House Health Committee also met on Monday to consider H.B. 1388 (Irvin, R-Centre). The bill would extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, through December 31, 2019. The program is currently set to expire at year’s end.
On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee advanced a number of bills amending the Tax Reform Code. With all options on the table to balance the books, tax increases could be considered in this year’s budget negotiations. It’s possible that these bills are being poised to become vehicles for a comprehensive tax package if such an agreement is reached. The bills reported out included H.B. 1390 (Kavulich, D-Lackawanna), extending the personal income tax check off for wildlife resource conservation and H.B. 1406 (Cox, R-Berks), extending the personal income tax check off for the Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Trust Fund. The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee also reported out a Tax Reform Code bill, H.B. 984 (Mako, R-Lehigh), which would extend the tax check off for the Military Family Relief Program.
We typically see movement on a bill to amend the Human Services Code around budget time and keeping with that practice, the House Veterans’ Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee sent H.B. 699 (Causer, R-Cameron) to the full floor for consideration. The bill provides for medical assistance payments for ambulance transportation, but could eventually be amended with a Human Services omnibus amendment, should it be necessary as part of a budget deal.
In some non-budget news, the House Insurance Committee met to consider H.B. 1286 (Mentzer, R, Lancaster), which would amend the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (Mcare) Act, to require the Insurance Commissioner to study and report on the amount of punitive damages that have been paid into the Mcare Fund since 2007.The House Commerce Committee met to consider H.B. 593 (Thomas, D-Philadelphia), which would improve the process to receive funding under the Second Stage Loan Fund, and the House Labor & Industry Committee met to consider H.B. 176 (Pickett, R-Bradford) amending the Uniform Construction Code.
Shifting focus over to the Senate and back to the looming budget deadline, the Senate Finance Committee reported S.B. 1 (Corman, R-Centre), a comprehensive pension reform bill, to the full floor for consideration. Pension issues – in particular the state pension systems’ ever-growing unfunded liability – have been part of budget discussions for the past several years. A major priority of the Senate, movement on this bill could be a hint that this year is the year for pension reform. Another clue: the Senate is expected to schedule an additional session day – Sunday, June 4 – and word is that they’ll use that day to speed up final passage of S.B. 1.
The Senate also indicated that gaming expansion will be part of the budget: the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee reported out H.B. 271 (Ortitay, R-Washington), which would address the casino local share issue, allow internet gambling and fantasy sports and authorize the Pennsylvania Lottery to sell tickets online. The Senate finally passed H.B. 271 on Wednesday; the bill now returns to the House for concurrence or additional amendments.
Like the Tax Code and the Human Services Code, amendments to the Public School Code are also often considered at budget time, and on Tuesday the House passed H.B. 679 (Ortitay, R-Washington), which would provide for an online clearinghouse for educational materials.
Wednesday was also very busy this week, as both chambers advanced bills in anticipation of their return on June 5 to get down to the business of budgeting. The House Human Services Committee met to consider H.B. 825 (R-Carbon), requiring the Department of Human Services to maintain a registry of beds in facilities used for psychiatric and detoxification services, and H.B. 1233 (Murt, R-Montgomery), clarifying commitment procedures for outpatient psychiatric services. The House Transportation Committee also met to consider bills, including H.B. 1187 (Taylor, R-Philadelphia), amending the red light camera pilot program.
The House also sent a number of bills to the Senate for consideration, including H.B. 125 (Baker, R-Bradford), establishing the Health Care Practitioner Credentialing Act; H.B. 296 (Sonney, R-Erie) and H.B. 673 (Goodman, D-Schuylkill), both of which would provide exemptions from the calculation of income for participation in the PACE program; and H.B. 1280 (Baker, R-Bradford), which would require health insurance coverage for metastatic cancer.
The Senate was also busy on Wednesday; the Senate Finance Committee, like the House Committees early in the week, advanced a number of bills amending the Tax Reform Code, including S.B. 515 (Mensch, R-Berks), which would uncap the corporate net operating loss; S.B. 430 (Rafferty, R-Montgomery), which would provide a realty transfer tax exemption for nationally recognized veterans’ organizations; S.B. 469 (Blake, D-Lackawanna), stabling a nonprofit animal shelter tax credit; S.B. 594 (Stefano, R-Fayette), which would provide a sales tax exemption for equipment used by volunteer firefighters); and H.B. 46 (Calgatirone, D-Berks), which would provide for an income tax check off to fund pediatric cancer research.
The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee also met and reported out S.B. 586 (Argall, R-Berks), which would limit when taxing districts may make appeals of property tax assessments, and the Senate Majority Policy Committee and the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a joint hearing on issues affecting the Marcellus Shale industry.
Additionally, on Wednesday, the Legislature sent S.B. 133 (Ward, R-Westmoreland) to the Governor for his signature. The bill allows Pennsylvania to comply with federal Real I.D. requirements. The Governor has 10 days to act on the bill, and it is anticipated that he will sign it.
There was other news from the Governor’s Office this week: the Senate confirmed Patrick McDonnell as the Governor’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. Also, in an advanced staffing move, the Governor announced that should the legislature enact his proposal to combine the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Aging and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the current Insurance Commissioner, Teresa Miller, will be appointed to oversee the new super-agency.
A Look Ahead:
Next week will truly be the calm before the storm, with the Memorial Day holiday on Monday and then just a smattering of House Democratic Policy Committee meetings throughout the week. As of now, both chambers will resume for session the following week, making the month-long push toward enactment of a 2017-2018 state budget by June 30.
In Other News:
- Department of Health Secretary Karen Murphy announced that she’s leaving the Wolf Administration.
- A balanced budget will rely on government efficiencies. See how GO-TIME is helping.
- PA PUC Commissioner Rob Powelson had his confirmation hearing on Thursday, hoping to become the newest member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
- The IFO has issued a report on the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania.