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In this email update:
School property tax elimination update
This week, the state’s largest newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, provided an update on our efforts to drive a stake through the heart of our unfair property tax system. At the start of session earlier this month, Senate President Pro Tempore, Senator Joe Scarnati, provided remarks highlighting some of the legislature’s key priorities and initiatives for 2018, with school property tax elimination at the top of the list.
With school property tax elimination a key issue in the legislature this year, I am hopeful that this is the year when we finally eliminate this burdensome tax that has been stifling homeownership and creating hardships for Pennsylvania’s residents for far too long.
Supporters of the complete elimination of the school property tax gained significant momentum during the November 7 election when Pennsylvania voters approved a measure by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent that permits the General Assembly, for the first time ever, to enact legislation to expand the homestead exclusion up to 100 percent.
After the election, I first met with the grassroots advocacy groups that are pushing for school property tax elimination to select our best options to present to members of the Senate. Now, my key allies and I in the Senate are meeting with each Senator to map out our best path forward. Our goal is to have this bill passed by the Senate in the near future, for the first time in history, so that it can be sent to the House and the Governor and eliminate our archaic and unfair school property tax system.
Public hearings now mandatory prior to state prison closures
Back in January of 2017, the PA Department of Corrections announced the possible closing of SCI Frackville. Upon hearing this news, many local residents reached out to Representatives Knowles, Goodman, Tobash and me to voice their concerns about the negative impact it would personally have on them. 5,670 local residents signed a petition urging the governor and Secretary Wetzel to keep this facility open.
Fortunately, the Department of Corrections agreed with us that SCI Frackville is an efficiently-run facility that should be expanded – not eliminated.
In order to prevent short notification of these decisions in the future, our local representatives and I, in a bipartisan effort, amended the law, which will now require the PA Department of Corrections to hold public hearings before they close state prisons.
Ensuring that public hearings on potential state prison closures are held is critical because thousands of PA’s residents are employed at these facilities across the state and their voices, along with the community’s, should be heard and they have the right to participate in the decision-making process.
Representatives Kurt Masser (R-Columbia/Montour/Northumberland), Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon), and Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne), as well as Congressman Matt Cartwright, the Schuylkill County Commissioners, Ryan Township supervisors, and the Schuylkill Economic Development Corporation were all instrumental in making the case to keep SCI Frackville open. Credit also goes to the Schuylkill County Municipal Authority, Frackville Area Municipal Authority, Wheelabrator Frackville, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, and SCI Frackville Superintendent Kathy Brittain for their efforts.
We still have challenges ahead when it comes to our state prison system. In a recent story from Capitolwire, they reported that for the fourth straight year, the inmate population within our state prisons has declined. Despite this decrease in inmates, there are still more inmates than there are beds available in our prisons. Since June 2012, the population of inmates has been reduced by 6.4 percent, or 3,319 inmates.
Revitalization efforts in Pottsville underway
Revitalizing our communities is critical in order to boost economic growth by creating more local jobs, attracting more businesses and enhancing property values in the community.
Earlier this month, I attended two meetings to provide Pottsville residents with updated information on the revitalization efforts of the Pottsville Area Development Corporation, Pottsville Business Association, and the City of Pottsville.
During the meetings, we heard positive news regarding the development of a new parking garage, as well as a possible new movie theater and more visitors to Yuengling’s historic brewery, which is already one of the most visited sites in the region.
I look forward to the future developments that will bring more visitors, and even more importantly, more much-needed jobs to the Pottsville downtown.
You can watch my remarks here.
Read more about the developments from the Republican Herald here.
Senate unanimously approves Argall bill to penalize negligent property owners
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan bill I introduced to hold negligent property owners, not the taxpayer, accountable for properties that are in the delinquent tax sale process.
Senate Bill 851 amends the Real Estate Tax Sale Law to clarify ownership of these properties, many of which have code violations pending against them.
The goal of this legislation is to correct the flaw that was made in a 2002 court decision and to place the burden of the costs where it belongs – on negligent property owners of severely blighted properties, not the taxpayer.
The bill will now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
First winter season with Libre’s Law in effect
On June 28, 2017, House Bill 1238, a comprehensive animal welfare package, was signed into law as Act No. 10 of 2017.
Act No. 10, also known as “Libre’s Law,” strengthens Pennsylvania’s existing animal abuse laws when an individual knowingly mistreats, neglects and abuses an animal.
It is important to remind pet owners that under this law they are prohibited from leaving their pets tied outside for more than 30 minutes when temperatures are below 32 degrees. Pets left outside under harsh weather conditions for an extended period of time can succumb to hypothermia or frostbite.
Failure to comply with the law can result in increased penalties for animal abuse. For example, an individual found guilty of aggravated cruelty could be charged with a felony of the third degree, which entails up to 7 years in prison and/or a fine of $15,000.
The re-write of Pennsylvania’s animal abuse laws is based on a bill introduced by Senator Richard Alloway (R-Adams/Cumberland/Franklin/York) last year in response to the story of Libre, a Boston terrier puppy who was rescued last year from a Lancaster County farm after suffering from weeks of severe neglect.
Public hearing on free speech on college campuses
At the suggestion of a Berks County constituent, the Senate Majority Policy Committee took a closer look at free speech issues on Pennsylvania college campuses during a public hearing that was held at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
The hearing, which I chaired, included an examination of successful and unsuccessful strategies colleges in Pennsylvania and across the country have adopted to handle controversial speakers.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that promotes free speech on campuses across the country, as well as Widener University Delaware Law School and Temple University, provided testimony during the hearing.
In light of the protests and violence we have seen on campuses in other states, including UC Berkley and Middlebury, it is critical to ensure every college in Pennsylvania has a clear strategy to ensure the free exchange of ideas can take place without jeopardizing the safety of students.
You can watch the full hearing here.
Read more about the hearing from the Reading Eagle here.
Bills passed by the Senate
The Senate passed the following bills this week:
Senate Bill 817, which authorizes the Department of General Services to extend the term of a lease of certain property, being a portion of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans’ Center in East Vincent Township, Chester County.
Senate Bill 827, which extends a fiduciary’s existing authority over a person’s tangible assets to include the person’s digital assets, with the same fiduciary duties to act for the benefit of the represented person or estate.
Senate Bill 373, which directs insurance companies to pay a dentist directly for services rendered to a patient.
Senate Bill 978, which relates to the opioid epidemic/drug disposal after hospice care.
Senate Bill 977, which provides additional legislative oversight of the regulatory review process.
Senate Resolution 228, which establishes a Task Force on Global Education.
House Bill 1608, which designates the bridge carrying U.S. Route 22 over the Juniata River, Norfolk Southern Corporation rail tracks and State Route 1010 (Penn Street) in Huntingdon County, as the Trooper Landon E. Weaver Memorial Bridge.
House Bill 1448, which relates to the Higher Education Accountability and Transparency Act.
Longer wait periods at Unemployment Compensation call centers
Residents in Pennsylvania, particularly in the Northwest, are experiencing longer wait periods when calling Unemployment Compensation call centers to obtain claims and have follow-up questions answered.
According to the Department of Labor & Industry, the heaviest volume of calls received is from November through mid-February.
Individuals trying to receive information about a claim are encouraged to do so through the Office of Unemployment Compensation’s online services or the PA Teleclaims system at: 1-888-255-4728.
For more information, please click here.
Celebrating the 70th anniversary of Koziar’s Christmas Village
Located near Bernville in Jefferson Township, the inception of Koziar’s Christmas Village began in 1948 when William M. Koziar adorned his home and property with Christmas lights, displays and decorations.
The Koziar Family should be very proud of their accomplishments. For the past 70 years, Koziar’s Christmas Village has put smiles on faces from around the world and allowed us to experience the magic of Christmas. I look forward to seeing this attraction grow and prosper for many years to come.
To learn more about Koziar’s Christmas Village, click here.
Congratulations, Colin James Rickard, our newest Eagle Scout
On Saturday, Representative Jerry Knowles, Schuylkill County Commissioners Gary Hess and George Halcovage and I presented a congratulatory citation to Colin James Rickard for earning the rank of Eagle Scout. Colin held his Eagle Scout ceremony at Christ Church Mckeansburg in New Ringgold.
Colin earned his Eagle Scout designation by completing his project of painting the doors and railings at the Friedens Church in East Brunswick Township, as well as installing benches and placing a sign at the church.
As an Eagle and an “Eagle Dad,” I always enjoy recognizing young men who have completed this difficult program.
Welcoming Jacob Sachleben to the State Capitol
I welcomed Jacob Sachleben, a student residing in Girardville, to the State Capitol on Monday.
Jacob was visiting the State Capitol and participated in a school choice rally as part of National School Choice Week.
During my visit with Jacob, he shared with me his personal experience as a cyber charter school student and the positive impact it has had on his education.
The Senate is scheduled to convene on Monday, January 29 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and view the voting calendar on my website.