Week Ending Oct. 16, 2020

Oct 16, 2020

General Assembly to Return Week of Oct. 19

State House and Senate lawmakers return to session Oct. 19. It is the last officially scheduled week of the 2019-2020 legislative session before the Nov. 3 general election. Additional session days could be added to the calendar in November to allow lawmakers to tie up loose ends.

It is expected to be a busy week with a full calendar in both chambers. The PICPA continues to focus its lobbying efforts in Harrisburg on three bills: House Bill 1796, which addressed Philadelphia net operating loss, and House Bill 2408 and House Bill 2497, both of which address state-level Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness. The bills have all passed the state House and are currently pending in the Senate.

In the Senate, lawmakers are nearing finalization on legislation to ease teacher certification requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Bill 1216, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria), gives state education officials authority to issue temporary teaching certificates and take other action to assist teaching graduates who need certification to start their careers during the 2020-2021 school year.

For a list of public hearings and meetings for the week, click here.


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Restaurant Opening Bill Awaits Gubernatorial Action

Legislation on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk would create more certainty for dining establishments operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Bill 2513, sponsored by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), would allow restaurants that adhere to state and CDC-issued health guidance to operate above 50% capacity. House Bill 2513 would go farther than the governor’s order by removing a self-certification process requirement, allowing bar seating, and eliminating the meal requirement for consumers to be allowed to order an alcoholic beverage.

In mid-July, Wolf set indoor capacity limits for restaurants at 25%. In September, Wolf relaxed the guidelines by boosting indoor occupancy to 50% if a restaurant completes a health and safety certification process, and allowing for alcohol sales until 11:00 p.m.


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House Republicans Unveil Bills to Drive COVID Comeback

House Republican lawmakers unveiled a series of measures they believe will kickstart the economy. The “Commonwealth’s COVID Comeback” initiative focuses attention on lowering taxes, incentivizing manufacturing, and reforming the state's permitting process.

Rep. Josh Kail’s (R-Beaver/Washington) bill would allow the Commonwealth Financing Authority to designate strategic and targeted zones in the state to be used as the base of operations for manufacturing. Businesses in those zones would receive tax abatements for state and local taxes and would be eligible for targeted job creation tax credits.

Another bill, drafted by Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington), would encourage entrepreneurs and businesses to create more jobs in Pennsylvania by lowering the corporate net income tax from 9.99% to 5.99% by Jan. 1, 2025.

The resolution in the package, drafted by Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland/Somerset), would create a committee to review opportunities for the development of new industries, including advanced manufacturing.

Another bill in the package, authored by Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Susquehanna/Wayne), would ensure permitting decisions are made promptly and reliably by deeming Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit applications administratively complete if accompanied by a professional engineer’s affidavit attesting to the sufficiency of the application. DEP would be required to render a decision on any permit application without an affidavit within 45 days.

The final bill, authored by Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland), would provide limited liability protections to suppliers, health care providers, and employers operating during the pandemic.

The bills will be referred to committee once formally introduced.


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Bill Proposes Hazard Pay for Nonprofit Workers

State Rep. Patrick Harkins (D-Erie) is proposing legislation to help workers at nonprofit organizations.

House Bill 2931 would use federal CARES Act funding to create a program that would provide hazard pay to workers at nonprofits who provide vital charitable efforts during the pandemic. Like the current hazard pay grant program, once their employers are approved these workers would be eligible for $3 per hour extra for a 10-week period.

The bill has been referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee for evaluation. 


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Lawmaker Introduces Truth in Hiring Legislation

State Rep. Bud Cook (R-Washington) is seeking to end a practice used by governors from both political parties that masks the true cost of their administration.

House Bill 2913, known at The Truth in Hiring Act, aims to add transparency to Pennsylvania’s leadership. Under the bill, no state agency would be able to charge another agency to cover their expenses, including employee salaries. The bill would also require the budget secretary to provide the General Assembly with a report on the total number of employees and the cost associated with them for each agency.

House Bill 2913 is pending before the House State Government Committee.


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Study Examines State Economic Development Incentive Programs

A recent Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) research brief examines Pennsylvania economic development incentives for fiscal years 2014-2015 through 2019-2020. The brief divides economic development by tax credits, state spending or grants, job training programs, and state loan programs.

Estimates in the study represent a mix of conventions and data sources. In addition, most tax credit data were provided by the Department of Revenue and reflect the use of tax credits (i.e., the application against tax liability), while data on state spending, grants, and loans are from the Department of Community and Economic Development. Information on certain tax credits and spending programs that was not available from either agency was sourced from the executive budget or estimates by the IFO.

For recent years, estimates from these sources may reflect total credits awarded or the program cap. 


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Wolf Once Again Calls for Legalization of Marijuana

Gov. Wolf is again calling on state lawmakers to legalize adult-use cannabis. Wolf’s latest argument for adult-use cannabis focuses on the potential for economic growth that the historic farm bill of 2018 did for hemp farming after decades of government prohibition of the industry.

Hemp was once a widespread crop in Pennsylvania, cultivated in the commonwealth for more than 250 years, according to Wolf. Hemp and marijuana are two different varieties of the same plant species, but hemp does not contain high levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana a controlled substance.

Along with stressing the economic growth opportunities of legalized adult-use cannabis, Wolf focused on how cannabis criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities in Pennsylvania and contributed to economic harm and trauma in historically disadvantaged areas of the state.


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