Wolf Targets May 8 Reopening in North Central, North West Regions
Gov. Tom Wolf presented his plan for reopening the commonwealth, with a targeted regional start date of May 8. The plan categorizes reopening into three phases – red, yellow, and green – each of which is based on specific conditions in a county or region.
The administration will first study conditions in the north-central and north-west regions of the state with a target of moving from red to yellow on May 8. After continuing monitoring, additional direction will follow in the next week.
The administration says it will use Department of Health metrics and a data tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University to decide when to move to a new phase. For a region to be labeled ready to reopen and return to work, the state will evaluate the incidence rate of COVID-19 cases per capita, relying upon existing regional health districts used by the Department of Health. A regional assessment will measure the COVID-19 cases to determine if the target goal of an average of less than 50 new cases per day per 100,000 individuals over the course of 14 days is met. The administration will work with county and local governments to ease the communities’ transition back to work.
For daily state and national COVID-19 updates, visit PICPA’s Coronavirus webpage.
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Local Government Emergency, EITC Bill Signed into Law
Senate Bill 841, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), provides flexibility on property tax deadlines and allows remote public meetings and notarization of documents. The bill was signed by Gov. Wolf as Act 15 of 2020. The law does the following:
- Provides relief for funding of Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit commitments, including allowing funding by Dec. 31 rather than the traditional 60 days from approval of an application for credit. Also, the bill provides relief so that entities that made a two-year commitment would not be penalized if their 2020 application and ultimate funding of year two was not an amount equal to 2019.
- Reauthorizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council and requires a study of the impact of COVID-19 on hospitals and health systems.
- Allows local governments to conduct remote public meetings.
- Provides property tax relief by allowing taxing districts to waive late fees and penalties for property taxes paid by Dec. 31, 2020.
- Allows school districts to renegotiate contracts with service providers to ensure payment of personnel and fixed costs during school closures.
- Allows remote notarization of documents.
Senate Bill 613, which would have reversed Wolf’s state shutdown orders, was vetoed by the governor.
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Busy Week for General Assembly Amidst Pandemic
Both the state House and Senate have been in session. Republicans pursued bills that would open up specific sectors of the economy that are open in other states. The Senate held several committee meetings focused on advancing more bills to address health care, judicial, first responder, human services, and data reporting issues brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Senate amended House Bill 1869 to ensure first responders, law enforcement, and active Pennsylvania National Guard members are covered under the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefit Law if they miss work due to COVID-19 infection, being tested for it, or having to quarantine because it. The bill is with the governor.
The House again amended Senate Bill 327, this time removing Senate-inserted language to give counties the authority to develop their own business reopening plans. The bill was also altered to reduce the membership of the proposed Interbranch COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force, from 23 to 9. All but one of the original panel’s executive branch members would now be executive advisers to the task force. The bill is back in the Senate.
Additionally, the House had a disapproval vote (109-93) on a new overtime work regulation that was introduced previously, when the state was experiencing record low unemployment. The resolution now goes to the Senate for consideration.
The House passed House Bill 2376, which would allow retail stores of all sizes to open if they follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for social distancing and safety; House Bill 1822, which extends employee protections related to COVID-19; House Bill 2400, which allows for construction work to safely resume by following a COVID-19 mitigation plan; and House Bill 2388, which allows car dealerships to reopen by following CDC social distancing guidelines. The bills now go to the Senate for consideration.
The state House has scheduled session for next week while the Senate remains at the call of the President Pro Tempore.
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Depletion Bill for Mines, Oil and Gas Wells, and Other Resources
State Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) introduced legislation that will align the state’s personal income tax (PIT) law with the federal Internal Revenue Code for the purposes of calculating cost and percent depletion of mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.
Pennsylvania law does not provide this kind of depletion deduction for the PIT, notes Dunbar. A regulation adopted in 2006 appears to provide for a cost depletion method, but the documents required by the regulation make it unworkable for most taxpayers who otherwise would be able to take the deduction.
House Bill 2244 would amend the state Tax Reform Code to provide for the cost or percent depletion of mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits in conformity with federal law. Dunbar believes his bill will provide much-needed clarity and uniformity for taxpayers who elect to deduct the depletion of these natural resources by either a cost or percent method.
The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee for consideration.
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Telemedicine Bill Sent to Governor
As Pennsylvania continues to cope with the impact of COVID-19 on its health care professionals and delivery system, the state Senate this week gave final approval to a bill that promotes telemedicine.
Senate Bill 857, which had already been approved by the House, goes to the governor for his signature after the Senate approved the bill by a party line vote (29-21). The bill defines telemedicine as “the delivery of health care services provided through telecommunications technology to a patient by a health care practitioner who is at a different location.” It also establishes guidelines regarding who can provide telemedicine services and provides clarity regarding insurance company reimbursement for those services.
Wolf likely will veto the measure due to a House-added provision that prevents doctors from prescribing a drug used for medical abortions through telemedicine.
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New Pa. COVID-19 Legislation in Early Stages
Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) announced plans to introduce a bill to direct some of the federal CARES Act dollars toward public health and safety measures. The proposal also includes provisions on accountability over the appropriations.
The CARES Act requires relief funds only to be used to cover necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19. Included among the amount is $300 million for long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, where nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred. Specifically, Grove’s legislation would drive out dollars targeted to public health and safety. The remaining balance would be held in a contingency fund, which would only be appropriated by the General Assembly.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northhampton) plans to introduce legislation that would create a state guarantee program to help small businesses. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, it has been clear that access to credit for working capital and inventory are out of reach for many small businesses, even with efforts to help them through this pandemic. This plan would create a state guarantee program to help businesses with needed capital for inventory to get back on their feet after the crisis wanes. The fund would be targeted to small Pennsylvania businesses that employ between 1 and 250 people.
Rep. Liz Hanbidge (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) plan to introduce legislation to extend deadlines for filing property taxes due to COVID-19. This legislation would waive the requirement that tax collectors must hold office hours during the last two weeks of the discount period, and require counties, municipalities, and school districts to give taxpayers an additional 60 days to pay their property taxes.
Additionally, Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Philadelphia) plans to introduce legislation that requires large businesses with essential workers to issue hazard pay to their workers. Rep. Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) plans to introduce legislation that will assist Pennsylvania businesses in receiving payment for business interruption insurance claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Michele Brooks (D-Mercer) plans to introduce legislation that would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide personal protective equipment to all poll workers throughout the state on primary election day.
All these bills await formal introduction.
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Creditor Payment Bills Introduced
State Reps. Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland), Timothy O'Neal (R-Washington), and David H. Rowe (R-Union/Snyder) introduced a package of bills that will restructure the manner in which creditors receive compensation following the tax sale of property with delinquent real estate taxes.
The lawmakers note that Pennsylvania has long held a process to help guide county tax collection bureaus for the conduct of an upset tax sale or a judicial tax sale for property with delinquent real estate taxes. These guidelines, enacted through the Municipal Claim and Tax Lien Law, the Real Estate Tax Sale Law, or the Second-Class City Treasurer’s Sale and Collection Act, also stipulate the manner for the distribution of proceeds to creditors following a tax sale.
To provide a more equitable process, this package of bills – House Bills 2316, 2317, and 2318 – will restructure the distributions of proceeds to effectively establish a first-come, first-served basis. Instead of providing a specific order in which local tax collection bureaus must distribute proceeds, this legislative package will require distributions to be made in the order in which a judgment was filed.
All three bills have been referred to the House Finance Committee.
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