Occupational Licensure Reforms Become Law
On July 1, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law legislation reforming the occupational licensing process in Pennsylvania. The measure is part of a broader bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform working through the General Assembly. Senate Bill 637, now Act 53 of 2020, was sponsored by Sens. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) and Judy Schwank (D-Berks), and passed both the House and Senate unanimously, 201-0 and 50-0, respectively.
“Government licensing boards act as the gatekeepers to more than 1 in 5 jobs, and as our economy reopens it is paramount we extend the recovery to all Pennsylvanians—including those turning their lives around upon release from the criminal justice system,” DiSanto said. “We will provide fairness and transparency in licensing decisions, eliminate an old or irrelevant criminal record’s lifelong barriers to employment, and support our commonwealth’s skilled workforce needs.”
Act 53 overhauls Pennsylvania’s occupational licensing laws that deny many qualified residents the right to work because of an old or irrelevant criminal record. The new law requires the Department of State’s 29 licensing boards and commissions, which regulate more than 255 types of licenses, to complete individualized reviews to determine if an applicant’s criminal conviction is a disqualification for licensure.
Act 53 makes the following reforms for the 29 licensing boards:
- Boards and commissions can no longer use a person’s criminal history to deny a license unless their criminal history is directly related to the occupation in which they are seeking licensure.
- Boards must individually consider applications based on the offense, the amount of time since the conviction, and the applicant’s personal progress and training, among other factors, before withholding licensure.
- Boards are required to create a public list of criminal offenses that may prevent licensure.
- Potential applicants may get a preliminary decision as to whether their conviction will likely disqualify them from licensure so they do not waste time and money on training. Individuals can still apply and present evidence to support their licensure.
In 2017, Gov. Wolf signed an executive order requiring a review of job licensing compared to other states. A task force appointed by Wolf issued a report in 2018 outlining many proposals to cut red tape and modernize job licensing.
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PICPA Joins Call for Assistance for Nonprofits
The PICPA joined the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and thousands of other organizations requesting that Congress assist nonprofit associations affected by COVID-19. The ASAE-led effort seeks access to federal relief programs created to assist small businesses and industries struggling with payroll and other basic operations during the pandemic.
In its July 1 letter to members of Congress, the coalition urged access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for 501(c)(6) associations and reauthorization of the PPP until at least Dec. 31, 2020.
The letter also calls for the passage of the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020 (H.R. 7011), which would establish a system of shared public and private compensation for business interruption losses and event cancellations resulting from future pandemics or public health emergencies, and passage of the Skills Renewal Act (H.R. 7031/S. 3779), which would provide Americans who have been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19 a $4,000 tax credit to pursue post-secondary skills training and career development.
Congress specifically authorized financial assistance to 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organizations under the CARES Act, but to date most associations have not been given access.
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State Supreme Court Hands Wolf Win in Closure Debate
In a 5-2 ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down an effort by Republicans in the General Assembly to end Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 executive order issued on March 6, 2020, and revised on June 3. House Resolution 836, which was adopted by the House and Senate on June 9, sought to end Wolf’s order.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate were quick to denounce the court’s decision.
“Pennsylvanians have made it clear; they will not sit idly by while one person makes every decision regarding COVID-19. Throughout this event, Gov. Tom Wolf has refused to engage with the General Assembly, the elected voices of our Commonwealth’s residents, regardless of the implications of his decisions,” noted House Speaker Bryan Cutler.
“This decision represents a titanic shift in power which we believe is wrong and not in the best interest of justice,” Sen. Jake Corman, Senate Republican Leader, said. “The unilateral decisions made by the executive branch caused hardships for families and communities in every corner of the Commonwealth. Despite the challenges that can be seen across the state, the governor repeatedly spurned attempts by the General Assembly to provide input through legislation.”
Undeterred by the court, the House State Government Committee this week approved Senate Bill 1166, a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring passage of a concurrent resolution by the General Assembly for any disaster emergency declaration a governor wishes to extend beyond a period of 21 days. This would ensure the governor’s authority to act quickly in an immediate emergency while also enabling the legislature is properly engaged in the process of addressing long-term response and recovery processes. Before a constitutional amendment can be enacted, it must be approved by both the House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions and then put before the voters in a statewide referendum.
Senate Bill 1166 is now before the full House for consideration.
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House Bill to Halt Executive Action on Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The state House voted to advance legislation that would require legislative authorization before Pennsylvania could impose a carbon tax. The bill was passed by a bipartisan majority of 130-71.
House Bill 2025, sponsored by Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana), would require legislative authorization before Pennsylvania could impose a carbon tax on employers engaged in electric generation, manufacturing or other industries operating in Pennsylvania, or enter into any multistate program, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), that would impose such a tax.
Last fall, the governor issued an executive order directing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to commence RGGI regulations. RGGI would establish a regional cap on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution that power plants can emit by establishing a trading system. Each unit of trade, known as an allowance, would represent authorization for a power plant to emit one short ton (2,000 pounds) of CO2. Power plants in RGGI member states can trade allowances, thus preventing the total amount of CO2 emissions in the region from increasing. RGGI would also establish a carbon tax on fossil fuel users for the resulting CO2 emissions.
The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
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Police Reform Measures Sent to Governor
Reform legislation designed to ensure police officers are properly vetted before hiring and trained to appropriately interact with individuals of diverse backgrounds received unanimous, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The bills are now on the governor’s desk.
House Bill 1841 would require a thorough background investigation on an applicant for employment as a law enforcement officer, including a review of the applicant’s employment information and separation records from prior law enforcement employment before the applicant may be employed. It would also require the establishment and maintenance of an electronic database containing separation records of law enforcement officers for use by other law enforcement agencies when hiring certified law enforcement officers.
House Bill 1910 would require the training of officers on interacting with individuals of diverse racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds; implicit bias training; recognizing and reporting child abuse; and annual training on the use of appropriate force. In addition, the bill would establish better access to mental health evaluations for officers.
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Ryan Proposal for Financial Study Commission Wins House Approval
House lawmakers passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan, CPA (R-Lebanon), to develop a roadmap for improving Pennsylvania’s financial condition.
House Bill 1995 would create a Keystone Solvency Operating Study (SOS) Commission to analyze the state’s financial situation and risk factors related to the unfunded obligations of municipalities, school districts, public pension plans and postemployment benefits, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bipartisan commission would examine lessons learned from coronavirus mitigation efforts – most notably the impact of the statewide shutdown – as well as the recent default in Puerto Rico and the threat of insolvency facing several states.
Under Ryan’s bill, which is now on its way to the Senate, the commission would have six months to conduct its study and report its findings and recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.
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Revenue Department Releases Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Collections
Pennsylvania ended the 2019-2020 fiscal year with $32.3 billion in General Fund collections, according to the state Department of Revenue. The total is $3.2 billion, or 9.1%, below estimate.
General Fund collections for June totaled $2.7 billion, which was $577.4 million, or 17.8%, less than anticipated. The department estimates that approximately $133 million of the $577.4 million shortfall can be attributed to moving due dates for various taxes. The remaining $444.4 million of the June shortfall is likely due to reduced economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sales tax receipts totaled $974.2 million for June, $60.5 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date sales tax collections total $10.8 billion, which is $636.6 million, or 5.6%, less than anticipated.
Personal income tax (PIT) revenue in June was $1 billion, $241.8 million below estimate. This brings the fiscal-year total PIT collections to $12.8 billion, which is $1.7 billion, or 11.9%, below estimate.
June corporation tax revenue of $398.7 million was $208.5 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date corporation tax collections total $4.8 billion, which is $769.4 million, or 13.7%, below estimate.
Inheritance tax revenue for the month was $80.1 million, $21.8 million below estimate. The fiscal-year total of $1.1 billion was $18.1 million, or 1.6%, below estimate.
Realty transfer tax revenue was $33.1 million for June, $26.5 million below estimate. The fiscal-year total of $497.8 million was $58 million, or 10.4%, less than anticipated.
Other General Fund tax revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor, and gaming taxes, totaled $136.8 million for the month, $41.3 million below estimate. This brings the fiscal-year total to $1.5 billion, which is $96.6 million, or 5.9%, below estimate.
Nontax revenue totaled $35.5 million for the month, $23 million above estimate. The fiscal-year total of $664.9 million is $92.7 million, or 16.2%, above estimate.
In addition to the General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $246.9 million for the month, $6.2 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund – which includes gas and diesel taxes as well as other license, fine, and fee revenues – total $2.7 billion, which is $186.4 million, or 6.5%, below estimate.
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