In Pennsylvania’s Legislature, bills introduced in one calendar year can carry over to the next, provided the first year was an odd-numbered year.
That’s the case as we head into 2020, which means lawmakers have been free this month to introduce new pieces of legislation without fear that they would simply evaporate at midnight Dec. 31.
Some of the notable pieces of legislation introduced this month include bills that would ease property taxes for seniors, provide for the video streaming of government agency meetings, and reform the state’s system of colleges.
TAX BREAK: Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Scotrun, who has previously championed legislation that would eliminate the state’s property taxes, announced that he intends to introduce a bill to give seniors making less than $60,000 a year a $5,000 property tax break.
“Property taxes continue to rise at an alarming rate and senior citizens are among our most vulnerable populations, given that they are on fixed incomes,” Scavello wrote in a memo to his Senate colleagues. “As has been said before, no tax should have the power to leave you homeless. Furthermore, no citizen should be forced to choose between paying for food, medicine, or their school property tax bill.”
FIGHTING FRAUD: Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Pittsburgh, announced that she’s working with Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, on a piece of legislation aiming to take on false claims on governmental funds.
“By encouraging private citizens to come forward as whistleblowers, the [federal] false claims act holds those filing false or fraudulent claims against the government accountable to taxpayers across the United States,” Williams wrote in a memo. “Here in the Commonwealth, we should be holding those who seek to profit off the backs of hardworking taxpayers by filing false or fraudulent claims with the Commonwealth to the same standard.”
Williams noted that the federal act saved $2.8 billion in 2018, and she said Maryland has saved $81.6 million since it enacted a state-level version in 2015.
HIGHER ED REFORM: Three Republican state representatives, Curt Sonney, Jesse Topper and Meghan Schroeder, are working together on a package of bills to reform the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Sonney’s bill, HB2171, would institute a series of changes for the PASSHE system’s Board of Governors and the Councils of Trustees. Powers and duties of the board members would change, along with the criteria for eligibility.
Topper’s HB2172 has a variety of aspects that would, for instance, clarify how the 14 schools in the system can handle funds that come from state appropriations vs. those from other sources. It would also reform bidding on construction projects.
Schroeder’s HB2173 relates to purchasing agreements and reporting requirements and exempts student records and emails from the state’s Right-to-Know Law.
WATCHING AGENCIES IN ACTION: Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Connellsville, introduced legislation in October to stream all House and Senate committee meetings; now, he has announced plans for a similar bill that would require the governing entities of various state agencies do the same.
“Some agencies, like the Fish & Boat Commission, have already taken this proactive and transparent step,” Stefano wrote. “I believe given the importance of the work done by agencies like the Liquor Control Board, The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the Game Commission, Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency, PennVEST, and the Commonwealth Finance Agency just to name a few, should be publicly accessible.”
CHARTER FUNDING: Funding for charter schools has become a hot-button topic in Harrisburg, and with that in mind, Rep. Karen Boback, R-Dallas, wants the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study on the issue and provide recommendations.
“Since the enactment of the Charter School Law in 1997, there has been a growing debate over how the Commonwealth funds charter schools,” Boback said in a memo. “This study will provide the members of the legislature with the information necessary to ensure that charter schools continue to be a strong and quality choice option for our Commonwealth’s students.”
SAVING BASEBALL: In the wake of reports that Major League Baseball is considering eliminating more than 40 minor league franchises, including three in Pennsylvania, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, is pushing his colleagues to take steps to save those teams.
“Sadly, Major League Baseball recently announced they are considering cutting ties with 42 of its 160 minor league teams across the country,” he wrote. “Three of the teams are here in Pennsylvania; the Erie SeaWolves, State College Spikes and the Williamsport Crosscutters. … The teams in these three cities are major economic contributors, providing jobs, tax revenues and additional foot traffic to other local business. Not only is the economic loss devastating, the elimination of this affordable family entertainment is a loss for generations to come.”