Week Ending May 29, 2020

May 29, 2020


State Lawmakers Approve $25 Billion Interim Budget

By a 44-6 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a nearly $26 billion partial 2020-2021 budget bill on May 28. Passage of the stop-gap fiscal year budget capped an active week of the General Assembly. Approved by the state House earlier in the week, the bill is now before Gov. Tom Wolf for his approval. The General Appropriations budget, found in House Bill 2387, funds state budget operations and services through five months of the new fiscal year that begins July 1, and includes guaranteed full-year funding for basic and higher education and other priority items at 2019-2020 levels. Wolf had proposed a $36 billion spending plan in February.

“This interim five-month budget … is the responsible approach to have taken given the still-to-be-determined financial implications/ramifications the Commonwealth, businesses, and individuals are facing due to the COVID-19 health crisis and the stay-at-home order that limited business activity and state revenues,” Sen. Pat Browne, CPA, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told his colleagues. “To budget for a full year at this time without any ability to forecast revenue projections or to compare to similar previous experiences – since there are none – would … potentially increase greatly the state’s financial imbalance for years to come. This interim budget provides funding to ensure our communities and citizens have access to vital programs and services over the next five months while we develop a better understanding of the impacts the crisis has had on the state’s economy and revenues.”

In addition to the General Appropriations bill, a number of housekeeping bills involving state agencies – including the Public Utility Commission, Gaming Control Board, Small Business Advocate, State Employees Retirement System, and Public School Employees Retirement System – and nonpreferred appropriations are headed to the governor’s desk. This legislation is found in House Bills 2467 through 2475, and House Bills 2441 through 2445.

The budget package also includes Fiscal Code (House Bill 1083) and Public School Code (House Bill 1210) legislation. Both bills are before the governor for his consideration.

Lawmakers also approved legislation (House Bill 2510) that establishes the Regional Response Health Collaboration, a public-private partnership of regional health system collaboratives focused on helping long-term care facilities and their residents by administering and managing personnel, protocols, testing, and expenditures. The bill provides $767 million in federal CARES funding in support of long-term care in Pennsylvania. House Bill 2510 is also on the governor’s desk.

The PICPA will have more details on the budget package in the coming weeks. Watch for details of a PICPA Legislative Update webinar.

 

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June 2 Pennsylvania Primary Prep for CPAs

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives – including the upcoming primary election. The Pennsylvania primary, originally scheduled for April 28, was postponed to June 2 to ensure that election officials and voters can prepare for a safe election.

The primary election is an opportunity for voters to select their political party’s nominees for various elected offices. Not only is 2020 a presidential election year, but there are also many other critical races happening. Please review PICPA’s Primary Election Guide for a comprehensive overview of the key races before casting your ballot:

  • U.S. House – All 18 of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Congressional seats are up for reelection.
  • State Executive Offices – Three statewide executive offices are up for reelection: state auditor general, attorney general, and treasurer.
  • Pennsylvania Senate – 25 of the 50 seats in the Pennsylvania Senate are up for reelection.
  • Pennsylvania House – All 203 seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are up for reelection.

You can find your polling place online if you need assistance.

Feel free to contact PICPA’s government relations team if you have questions about our voting guide or the upcoming primary election.

 

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Business and Health Care: Legislature Must Take Action to Ensure Full Recovery

Health care providers should be able to deliver care and Pennsylvanians should be able to reopen the economy without fear of getting sued. Leaders of Pennsylvania’s business and health care community this week, along with the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR), of which PICPA is a member, called on the legislature and governor to provide safe harbor protections to businesses and health care providers so Pennsylvanians can safely restart the economy and continue to provide access to care without being impeded by lawsuits.

“Once again, Pennsylvania is the outlier when it comes to offering liability protection for our businesses and healthcare providers,” said Curt Schroder, executive director of the PCCJR. “Our neighbors, New York and New Jersey, have taken strong legislative steps to enact protections for health care providers that are much more comprehensive than Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order. No protection is provided at all in the executive order for businesses meeting the unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment, nor are businesses protected as they re-open in the face of the continuing pandemic. The legislature needs to act with urgency to provide necessary protections to prevent any delay or impediment to Pennsylvania’s economic recovery. Pennsylvanians need to focus on getting the economy going again, not the constant worry and threat of being sued.”

The PCCJR is a 501(c )(6) not-for-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization comprising diverse organizations and individuals committed to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by raising awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal reform.

 

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Lawmakers Approve Resources to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic

State lawmakers approved legislation to appropriate more than $2.6 billion in federal funds aimed at addressing the myriad challenges arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 1108 appropriates about $2.6 billion out of the $3.9 billion that the federal government has sent to Pennsylvania in the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The bill provides federal supplemental appropriations to various executive branch departments to address program costs and financial burdens incurred during the pandemic. The bill makes the following appropriations:

  • Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency – $150 million
  • Department of Agriculture – $40 million
  • Department of Community and Economic Development – $930 million
  • Department of Education – $9 million
  • State System of Higher Education – $30 million
  • Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency – $42.2 million
  • Department of Health – $20 million
  • Department of Human Services – $1.11 billion
  • Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency – $100 million
  • Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency – $175 million

In addition, Senate Bill 1122 provides the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency with $50 million in grants available to help support fire and EMS companies that have seen excess costs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Both bills are before the governor for his approval.

 

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Resolution Disapproving Overtime Regulation Approved, Sent to Governor

The Pennsylvania Senate approved a measure disapproving a controversial proposal to expand overtime eligibility standards. House Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution 1, which has already been approved by the state House, is now before the governor.

On Oct. 17, 2019, the state Department of Labor & Industry submitted a Final Form Regulation with several significant changes to overtime eligibility standards, including increasing the salary threshold by over 92% within about two years, and providing for regular increases thereafter. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved the final-form rulemaking on Jan. 31, 2020.

The resolution passed along a party-line vote, with Republicans voting for the disapproval and Democrats voting against. Once presented to the governor, he has 10 calendar days to sign, veto, or let the resolution take effect without his signature. If he vetoes it, the House and Senate will each have 10 session days or 30 calendar days (whichever is longer) to attempt a veto override.

 

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Legislation to Boost Rural Broadband Access Earns Committee Approval

The House Consumer Affairs Committee advanced legislation authored by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter) and Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) to help bring broadband services to the state’s rural communities.

House Bill 2348 would create the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program. The program would be funded by repealing the Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit. This credit is currently limited to $5 million per year and is available to mobile telecommunication providers to invest in broadband equipment in Pennsylvania. The $5 million instead would be directed toward a grant program.

Under the bill, the grant program would be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Along with the $5 million appropriation called for in the bill, additional state and federal funding could be directed to the account and used for grant awards.

Entities eligible for grants would include nongovernmental entities with the technical, managerial, and financial expertise to design, build, and operate high-speed broadband service infrastructure within the state, as well as rural electric cooperatives or local development districts in the commonwealth. Any nongovernmental entity that qualifies for a grant would have to invest at least 25% of the project cost from its own funds.

The committee also approved House Bill 2438, which would allow rural electric cooperatives to use their existing infrastructure to deploy fiber lines for broadband service.

Both bills now go to the full House for consideration.

 

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House Passes Bill to Address Conventional Oil and Gas Act

The Pennsylvania House approved legislation to ensure reasonable, responsible oversight of the conventional oil and gas industry that would both protect the environment and ensure the 160-year-old industry can remain a vital source of jobs and energy in the state.

Senate Bill 790, sponsored by Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), would enact the Conventional Oil and Gas Wells Act to govern the conventional, shallow-well oil and gas industry, which is vastly different from unconventional, deep-well drilling in the Marcellus shale. Characteristics specific to conventional operations include oil and gas well locations which are many times smaller than unconventional locations, operations in shallow low-pressure formations, low-pressure wells, and natural gas systems that feed local consumers (homes, schools, hospitals) rather than intrastate or even interstate systems.

The bill passed by a vote of 109-93 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

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