Week Ending June 19, 2020

Jun 19, 2020

State House Leadership Elections Imminent

State House and Senate lawmakers return to the capital on June 22 for what may be the last week of session before the summer recess. Highlighting the week’s activities in the House will be the election of the chamber’s next speaker after the departure of Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) on June 15.

Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), who currently serves as majority leader, is the only declared candidate seeking the speaker position and likely will be unopposed. The speaker, as presiding officer of the Pennsylvania House, is elected by the 203 members of the chamber, and is almost always a member of the majority party. Cutler, 45, was first elected to the state House in 2006. He is in his first session as majority leader, after having served as majority whip from 2015 through 2018.

Cutler’s likely ascension to speaker will set off jockeying within the House Republican Caucus. The current front runners for majority leader are Reps. Stan Saylor (R-York) and Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre). Saylor is chair of the House Appropriations Committee and Benninghoff is the majority whip. The loser will not have to relinquish his current office, but an election will be held to replace the eventual winner. That election could have ripple effects through the caucus.

Lawmakers have a busy week of meetings and a host of unfinished legislation to consider before summer recess, including a package of state Medicaid reform bills: House Bills 2350, 2351, 2352, 2353, 2354, and 2355. These bills are pending in the state House. For a complete listing of committee hearings and meetings click here.

For more on these developments, watch this vlog update from Peter Calcara, PICPA vice president of government relations.


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PICPA, Department of Revenue Team Up for Webinar on Reopening

With the July 15 state tax filing and payment deadlines fast approaching, the PICPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (DOR) are teaming up once again for a webinar on Thursday, July 9, at 1:00 p.m. Join Dan Hassell, secretary, John Kaschak, CPA, executive deputy secretary, Radee Skipworth, deputy secretary for compliance and collections, and Jason Weimer, director, Bureau of Audits, as they answer practitioners’ questions and discuss what you can expect as the DOR begins to reopen for business.

Questions can be submitted now to governmentrelations@picpa.org. This webinar is free and open to the public. There are no CPE credits with this program.


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Senate Confirms Two to State Accountancy Board

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously confirmed two nominees to the State Board of Accountancy (SBOA). Keri Ellis, CPA, and Charles O’Brien, CPA, were both nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf in May.

Ellis will begin a second four-year term and is the current vice chair of the SBOA. She is an audit managing director in the Pittsburgh office of Deloitte & Touche LLP. Ellis has over 20 years of public accounting and auditing experience serving a variety of large public and private clients primarily in the manufacturing, consumer business, and life sciences industries. She is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University.

O’Brien replaces Barry Berkowitz, CPA, who completed two terms on the SBOA. O’Brien is an audit partner with over 27 years of experience, concentrated in the financial services industry. In 2017, he was selected to serve as KPMG’s Pennsylvania audit professional practice partner. In this role, O’Brien has statewide oversight of audit quality, training, risk management, and compliance. He is a graduate of Saint Joseph’s University.

Both are members of the PICPA.


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COVID-19 Liability Protections Introduced

Proposals to extend protections from lawsuits to health care facilities and businesses for claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic were introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature recently. The legislation follows weeks of calls by the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, of which PICPA is a member, and its members to protect heroes of the pandemic and ensure the economy can get started again.

The series of bills covers businesses, hospitals and nursing homes, among others. Trial lawyers have already started filing COVID-19 suits, including a lawsuit against Giant Eagle, a grocery store chain in western Pennsylvania, for requiring customers to wear protective face masks in compliance with Gov. Wolf’s executive order.

Senate Bill 1194, introduced by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette), would grant businesses protection from claims of coronavirus exposure, provided they engaged in good faith efforts to adhere to public health guidelines. This bill does not apply to cases of gross negligence.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1181, would provide safe harbor to hospitals and nursing homes, in certain situations, from medical malpractice and other negligence claims for treatment provided during a declared state of disaster emergency. Introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), this bill does not apply to criminal liability, intentional conduct, or claims of gross negligence.

Sen. Kristen Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams) introduced Senate Bill 1161, a bill to protect businesses from both criminal and civil liability related to their ongoing authorized operations during a declared disaster emergency. Additionally, the proposal would prevent actions from being taken to impose administrative sanctions against licensed professionals for providing services during disasters. Rep. Dawn Keefer has introduced House Bill 2384, which mirrors Senate Bill 1161.

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) introduced House Bill 2546 to provide lawsuit protections to health care providers and makers of personal protective equipment during the emergency.


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House Committee Votes to Strengthen Police, Community Relationships

The state House Judiciary Committee passed a series of police and criminal justice reform bills this week. Two relate to police hiring and training, and a third will help citizens with past convictions return to the workforce. All passed unanimously.

House Bill 1841 aims to ensure the best police officer candidates are hired. While current law requires a thorough background investigation of both criminal history and past employment, the law does not require a previous employer to turn over this information, and many do not out of concern for civil liability. Proponents of the legislation say this could leave critical gaps of knowledge, including disciplinary actions against the police officer candidate. To close these gaps, the bill would require an employer to disclose employment information and provide protections from civil liability for sharing information in good faith.

House Bill 1910 would require police officers and members of the minor judiciary to receive mandatory training to help recognize the early signs of child abuse and be fully aware of reporting requirements and the resources available for effective forensic interviewing of abuse victims.

Senate Bill 637 would provide a pathway for individuals who have served their time for past criminal convictions to be licensed by the state for several required occupational licenses. Specifically, it creates a pathway for barbers and cosmetologists, but it allows all other professional licensure boards to make similar exceptions for people who have completed their sentences.

All three bills are before the full House for consideration. 


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Wolf Signs Law to Prepare for the General Election

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 2502, now Act 35 of 2020, which requires the Department of State to publish a report on the June 2, 2020, primary election. The report will help identify any needed changes to the Pennsylvania Election Code before the general election in November.

The report will include a series of data points for each county relating to the reforms of Act 77 of 2019 and Act 12 of 2020, including the number of mail-in ballots that were applied for and received, the number of new voter registrations received, and what time each county began to precanvass and canvass absentee and mail-in ballots.

The primary election was the first time Pennsylvanians could vote by mail-in ballot without having to provide an excuse. Nearly 1.5 million mail-in or absentee ballot were cast, 17 times the number that voted absentee in the 2016 primary, when approximately 84,000 absentee ballots were cast.

Twenty-two counties also debuted new voting systems in the primary, completing a two-year initiative to bring state-of-the-art equipment to all 67 counties.


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Pennsylvania Primary Update

The 2020 Pennsylvania primary may go down as the most chaotic in our lifetime, with so many large and novel challenges for voters, candidates, and election administrators.

Because most people voted by mail prior to the (revised) primary election day of June 2, and because Gov. Wolf allowed any ballots to count that were postmarked by June 2 and received by June 9, tabulating the votes has been challenging.

Days after the election, there’s finally a winner for the Democratic nomination for state auditor general, and Pittsburgh controller Michael Lamb conceded the race to Nina Ahmad, former deputy mayor for public engagement in Philadelphia.

Other results of note:

  • Emily Kinkead defeated state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (House District 20) without party endorsement in the Democratic primary.
  • In a big victory for Philadelphia’s progressive left, Nikil Saval defeated state Sen. Larry Farnese, according to the Associated Press.
  • State Sen. Daylin Leach’s bid for a fourth term representing District 17 fell short. Amanda Cappelletti, formerly of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, bested Leach by winning more than 60% of the vote.


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