|Wolf Aims to Fund Voting Machine Replacement Without Legislative Authorization
After vetoing a key election reform bill that would have also provided $90 million in funding to help counties replace their voting machines, the governor announced this week he would simply go around the Legislature and supply the funding unilaterally.
I question the governor’s authority to take such action without legislative authorization.
The need for the funding was brought about by the governor’s decision to decertify every type of voting machine currently in use in the Commonwealth. It is estimated to cost $150 million to replace machines in all 67 counties, a significant burden on taxpayers across the state.
By vetoing the legislation, the governor is also robbing voters of other needed election improvements, including extending the deadline for submission of absentee ballots to ensure all votes count and creating a commission to manage the process for election machine decertification in the future.
Finally, the bill would have brought Pennsylvania in line with more than 40 other states by eliminating the “straight party” voting option, the measure most strongly opposed by the governor. The change could have opened the door to more minor party candidates and encouraged voters to cast their ballots for a person rather than a party.
New Debt-Reduction Law Protects Taxpayers
A new debt reduction law enables the state to pay off debt more efficiently and with less expense, thereby saving taxpayer dollars.
Act 43 of 2019 requires the principal for new state debt to be repaid in equal amounts over the term of the bond. Currently, the state uses a repayment scheme with lower principal payments in the first few years and much higher principal payments as the loan matures.
Since 2001, the Commonwealth has used a methodology whereby payments become more expensive as time goes on. Our new law requires the state to use a better method and the result is that we will reduce the debt we pass on to future generations and reduce the amount of tax dollars spent on debt service.
Have Fun – Go Fishing!
We can only hope for sunshine and no more flooding as we experienced the past couple days.
If Mother Nature cooperates, why not relax and have fun by taking the family fishing. There is a youth catfish event on Saturday, July 20, from noon to 11 p.m., and on Sunday, July 21, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The event will be located at North Park, at the boathouse pond.
The lake will be stocked before the event starts to ensure a better experience. There will be a fishing demonstration from 2-5 p.m. on July 20. The rest of the time will be spent mentoring youth on fishing.
Youth anglers must posses a Mentored Youth Fishing Permit or a Voluntary Youth Fishing License from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Permits and licenses are available at GoneFishingPA.com. and at more than 700 issuing agents.
For more information on the event visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.
Conservation Committee to be Terminated
The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee was created in 1968 to provide legislative oversight for water project authorized under a voter-approved bond issue.
In a cost-cutting move led by my House Republican colleagues, the committee will be terminated on July 1, 2021. The move is about centralizing different programs and reducing costs and recognizing that a lot of the initiatives of that committee are being taken up by other standing committees.
The two-year window aims to give committee staffers time to find other jobs. The committee will receive $582,000 in the state budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20.
State System of Higher Education Votes to Freeze Tuition
For the first time in more than two decades, Pennsylvania students who attend one of the 14 state-owned universities won’t see higher tuition next year.
Basic tuition for in-state undergraduate students at the system's 14 universities will remain at $7,716 for the 2019-20 academic year.
Nearly 100,000 students attend a state system university, making it the largest producer of bachelor's degrees in the Commonwealth. Nearly 90 percent of the student body resides in Pennsylvania, and 72 percent of graduates find work in the Commonwealth within two years of earning their degree.
The Board of Governors is made up of 11 members. Each voted in favor of the tuition freeze. The last time the Board of Governors held the line on tuition was 1998-99.
2019-20 Budget Invests in Future Workers, Leaders
One of the most important responsibilities of state government is to support the education and development of our children who will become the future workers and leaders of our Commonwealth.
The 2019-20 state budgets, which was signed into law last week, again makes record investments in our schools.
I am a very big career and technical education supporter, and this budget funds an additional $10 million to help our students prepare for today and tomorrow.
PreK-12 education funding is increased by $432 million, making this year’s state budget investment the highest in Pennsylvania’s history. This includes $160 million more for Basic Education Funding, $50 million more for special education and $25 million more for PreK Counts.
To ensure students and their families have options, the budget also includes $25 million more for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program.
Finally, our community colleges, state system universities and state-related institutions (PITT, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) each received a 2% funding increase.
To learn more about this year’s state budget, click here.
New Laws Will Help Grow PA Agriculture
A series of bills that aim to address several current challenges facing our farmers was recently signed into law by the governor.
These measures would create a special account to help fund the state’s response to threats to livestock or crops, such as African swine fever and spotted lanternfly; provide technical and financial support to farmers for implementing best management practices; and establish the Dairy Investment Program to provide grants for the struggling dairy industry.
They also address the future of the industry by reviving programs to educate school children about the importance of agriculture and healthy eating; raising awareness about career opportunities in the industry; providing tax credits to existing farmers or landowners who lease or sell their land, buildings and equipment to beginning farmers; and creating the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center to help every farmer create a business plan, transition plan or succession plan, helping to ensure farm operations continue to thrive through ownership changes.
To learn more about the efforts to support Pennsylvania agriculture, click here.
Bills to Support Crime Victims Signed into Law
Delivering on our commitment to help support victims of crime and ensure justice is served, I’m pleased to report several new crime victim protection bills were signed into law by the governor. The House focused heavily on these issues back in April.
• House Bill 315, now Act 21 of 2019, criminalizes the act of female genital mutilation by making it a first-degree felony.
• Act 23 of 2019 ensures a victim is permitted to be present in any criminal proceeding unless the court determines the victim’s own testimony would be altered by hearing other witnesses.
• Act 24 of 2019 helps protect victims of rape by preventing prosecutors from bringing up the victim’s sexual history or prior allegations of sexual abuse while prosecuting certain crimes.
• Act 29 of 2019 makes updates to the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act, including requiring the Pennsylvania State Police to create procedures for anonymous victims and establishing timelines for submitting, testing and storing rape kits.
• Acts 30 and 31 of 2019 expands the circumstances under which out-of-court statements may be used by including victims and witnesses with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorder (Act 30) and adding new crimes to the list that allows such statements made by a child under age 12.
In addition to these new laws, the General Assembly has approved a proposed constitutional amendment to include a Victim’s Bill of Rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution. Voters will have the opportunity to approve the proposed amendment in the upcoming November election.
For more information about our efforts to support crime victims, click here.
Supporting Our National Guard Members and Their Families
A new initiative to help our Pennsylvania National Guard members and their families has been signed into law.
Act 32 of 2019 extends the current Pennsylvania National Guard Military Education Program by including a Guard member’s spouse or child in this benefit program. The benefit will be offered in exchange for a Guard member’s six-year reenlistment.
Under the law, the educational benefit can be used at any Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institution or any institution of higher learning approved by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. If the approved institution costs less than the annual tuition rate charged by the state system schools, the student would not pay anything. If it costs more than PASSHE’s annual tuition rate, the student would only pay expenses in excess of PASSHE’s annual tuition rate.
Pennsylvania National Guard members will be eligible for the benefit beginning July 1. Their family members may begin claiming the benefit on Aug. 1, 2020.