Wolf Vetoes COVID-19 Liability Protection Measure
Arguing that it would undermine mitigation efforts and endanger the public health by enacting overly broad civil liability immunity protections, Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday vetoed legislation providing temporary safe harbor protections against unwarranted COVID-19-related lawsuits for those who comply with public health guidelines.
The PICPA was one of more than 70 organizations who supported passage of the legislation, which was approved by the General Assembly largely along party lines. House Bill 1737 would have provided limited liability protections to entities that followed guidance from the state and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of coronavirus. It also would have ensured bad actors who fail to follow the guidance are held accountable for their actions.
“As a result of the governor’s action, restaurants, stores, hospitals, and others face a bleak outlook for economic recovery,” said Curt Schroder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, of which the PICPA is a member. “Once the pandemic passes, they will face a barrage of lawsuits second guessing the decisions of those who followed health care guidelines, sanitized their stores and restaurants, and took all of the correct steps to protect the public.”
In addition to COVID-19 liability protections, the measure would have helped pave the way for farmers who want to expand their businesses to include agritourism by providing them with limited liability protections as well.
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Revenue Department Demos myPATH for PICPA Committee
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (DOR) recently hosted a demonstration of its now live myPATH system for members of the PICPA State Taxation Committee. The system went live on Dec. 1, 2020. The demonstration can be viewed here.
DOR’s myPATH is the portal that external customers will use to interact with the department. This new portal will replace personal income tax (PIT) e-Services (sometimes referred to as the PIT Portal) as well as PAdirectfile. The new myPATH provides many self-service options such as the ability to register an account, file returns, pay balances, and manage an account online.
Users will also be able to review correspondence received from the DOR, submit correspondence and communicate electronically with department representatives. A user’s guide is available online.
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CPE Carryover, Budget Among Bills Signed into Law
Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Gov. Wolf signed into law more than two dozen bills, including legislation that allows for the carryover of excess continuing education credits.
House Bill 64, now Act 116 of 2020, sponsored by Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny), allows professional licensing boards and commissions within the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs to permit their licensees to carry over continuing education credits in excess of the number required for biennial renewal.
The governor also signed into law the 2020-2021 Supplemental Appropriations Bill (Senate Bill 1350), which provides full funding for state programs and services through June 30, 2021, along with amendments to the Fiscal Code (House Bill 2536).
Another bill signed into law amends the Public School Code (Senate Bill 1216, now Act 136 of 2020). Now, education tax credits awarded to a business during the 2020-2021 or 2021-2022 fiscal years that cannot be used during the fiscal year in which it was awarded may be carried forward and used during the two taxable years following the taxable year in which the credit was awarded.
To see all the bills signed into law in 2020, click here.
The governor also vetoed House bills 1747 and 2440 and Senate Bill 790.
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November State Revenue Collection Report
Pennsylvania collected $2.3 billion in General Fund revenue in November, bringing the total fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections to $14.8 billion.
According to the Independent Fiscal Office’s (IFO) November Revenue Update, which compares collections to the prior year, General Fund revenues for the month show a decrease of $18.3 million (-0.8%) compared to the same month in the prior year. Actual collections were $90.9 million above IFO projections.
IFO notes that the monthly outcome was due to stronger than expected sales and use tax and corporate net income tax collections, which were largely offset by lower than expected personal income tax withholding collections. Withholding collections in November were reduced by a $200 million transfer to the Property Tax Relief Fund under Act 114 of 2020 (which was not included in IFO’s official estimate). General Fund fiscal-year-to-date collections exceed the estimate by $1.11 billion (8.0%).
Other General Fund revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor, and gaming taxes, totaled $176.8 million for the month.
Nontax revenue totaled $203 million for the month.
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Wolf Announces Plan to Address Flooding from Climate Change
Gov. Wolf this week announced executive actions that will support communities impacted by flooding.
According to a 2015 Department of Environmental Protection Climate Impacts Assessment, Pennsylvania has seen a 10% increase in average yearly precipitation over the last century. By 2050, the average yearly precipitation is projected to increase by another 8%.
There are two programs within the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can provide federal aid after a flooding disaster: public assistance and individual assistance. Public assistance provides reimbursements to state, county, and local governments and eligible nonprofits for costs associated with response and recovery efforts. Each county included in a public assistance request must meet a cost threshold based on population and, in turn, Pennsylvania overall must meet a threshold of $19.5 million in damage costs. Individual assistance includes a wide range of programs for homeowners and renters, including cash grants and housing or home repair assistance.
Read more about the climate change initiative.
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Broadband Funding Proposal Now Law
Legislation to help boost broadband access in the state’s most rural communities has been signed into law.
Act 132 of 2020 creates the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program to provide grants in support of broadband expansion in areas most in need of these services. Initial funding comes from a repeal of the $5 million Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit, though the law calls for supplementing the $5 million with additional state or federal funds.
The grant program will be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Preference will be given to projects in the most unserved areas of Pennsylvania as defined by the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum speed requirements and to projects that already have federal funding allocated to them.
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Pension Review Bill Becomes Law
Legislation by Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York) to protect investments made in Pennsylvania’s retirement systems by requiring each to undergo yearly stress tests is now law.
House Bill 1962, now Act 128 of 2020, requires the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) to perform an annual stress test, which includes a scenario analysis, a simulation analysis, and a sensitivity analysis.
It then requires each pension system to submit its stress test to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) so that it may prepare a summary report. That report from the IFO would then be available to legislators for use during annual budgetary considerations. Consideration of stress test results would aid in budget decisions by allowing legislators to see the potential long-term implications of pension funding decisions and market forces.
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