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Welcome to "Mike's Memo," an update on what's happening in the 48th Legislative District, the State Capitol, and the progress of my legislative priorities. If you haven't done so already, please take a few moments to visit my website at www.senatorfolmer.com to learn more about issues that may affect you and your family.

Week of May 8, 2017

Auditor General Releases Completed Labor & Industry UC SIIF Performance Audit
Auditor General Euguene DePasquale has released his recently completed audit of the PA Department of Labor & Industry’s Unemployment Compensation Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund (SIIF), in which results indicate “L&I failed to use proper accounting methods to record and track SIIF funds.” According to DePasquale, “If L&I had appropriately accounted for SIIF funding from the beginning, we may not be dealing with this chaos and looking at such high costs to address the problems going forward.” The audit coincides with why I was unable to support Senate Bill 250, which allocated $15 Million in additional but temporary funding to L&I for Unemployment Compensation call centers, as the Department could not justify the spending of hundreds of Millions in taxpayer moneys. I look forward to pressing for more accountability from the Department in the future. 

Upcoming Senate State Government Committee Public Hearing
The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, May 9 at 9 a.m. in Hearing Room One of the North Office Building. The hearing will be on Senator Aument’s Senate Bill 527, which would establish the Independent Office of Inspector General. Check my Facebook that day for the link to watch live. 

Tax Amnesty Program Available Now through June 19
Under Act 84 of 2016, Pennsylvania authorized a tax amnesty period that is currently open through June 19, 2017. During this time the PA Department of Revenue will waive all penalties and half of the interest on eligible tax delinquencies for individuals or businesses who participate. The Department has provided a fact sheet for additional information. To apply, visit www.backtax.pa.gov or call 1-844-727-8283, submit an application by June 19, file all required returns and make a payment! 

Commonwealth Charter Academy Students Compete in Engineering Competition
Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA) public cyber charter school students recently competed nationally against 24 teams from across the U.S. and China in an engineering competition. This is the seventh consecutive year CCA has won the PA state championship in the Real World Design Challenge and has advanced to compete in the national level. The CCA team took Second Place, and the roster included: Kenya Mitchell of Steelton and the 48th Senatorial District; Ashraya Ananthanarayanan, Collegeville; Chloe Ciora, Butler; Devin Hoffman, Hummelstown; Joseph Patterson, Hyndman; Nicholas Antoni, Huntingdon Valley; Timothy Clark, Clearfield, and; Ann Camp (Chemistry Teacher/Team Advisor), Carlisle. Congratulations! This year’s competition focused on the agricultural industry and designing an unmanned aircraft system that could be used as a multipurpose tool for a farmer. To develop its design, the CCA team reached out to PA mushroom grower Giorgio Foods to obtain information for its model. 

PA DCED Approves Early Intervention Program Grant for Myerstown Borough
The PA Department of Community and Economic Development approved a grant in the amount of $129,200 for Myerstown Borough, Lebanon County. Funds are provided through the Department’s Early Intervention Program and are to be used for a performance management system and succession plan, GIS data collection, capital equipment and facilities replacement schedule, an infrastructure improvement plan, starting a business center, community signage and downtown façade work. 

Ace Hardware to Establish New Northeast Distribution Center in Lebanon County
Ace Hardware Corporation, a retailer-owned hardware cooperative, will establish its new northeast distribution center in Bethel Township, Lebanon County, creating 208 full-time jobs and retaining 65 current Pennsylvania positions over the next three years. Ace will lease an 874,126-squre-foot facility in Bethel Township, Lebanon County, and will expand an additional 206,000 square feet to operate a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center that will serve stores throughout PA, NY, VA, NJ and D.C. 

State Transportation Commission Approves RTAP and RFAP Projects
The State Transportation Commission (STC) approved $40 Million for nine projects through the Rail Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) and 25 projects through the Rail Freight Assistance Program (RFAP). RTAP is a capital budget grant program funded with bonds, and RFAP is underwritten through a new Multimodal fund created by Act 89. In the 48th Senatorial District, the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad, Dauphin County, was approved for $220,500 under RTAP to rehabilitate five miles of track, a wye and a turnout.

Column: Protecting Property Rights
The Pennsylvania Senate recently passed my and Senate President Pro Tempore Scarnati’s Senate Bill 8 to reform Pennsylvania’s asset forfeiture laws. 

Asset forfeitures are civil proceedings against property that allow law enforcement to take possession of property of certain persons suspected of crime. Drug arrests are the most common examples of seizures: cash, cars, and sometimes homes. Law enforcement can seize personal property from citizens based only on the suspicion the property has been involved in criminal activity – and without ever having to charge the owner with a crime. 

The proposed changes to Pennsylvania law reflect nearly two years of work with various parties, resulting in recommended changes to civil asset forfeiture that would be significant improvements to the status quo in a number of key areas, including:

  • Higher burdens of proof imposed on the Commonwealth;
  • Protection for third-party owners by placing an additional burden of proof on the Commonwealth;
  • Improved transparency in auditing and reporting of forfeited property;
  • Specific and additional protection in real property cases by prohibiting the pre-forfeiture seizure of real property without a hearing, and;
  •  An extra level of protection for anyone acquitted of a related crime who is trying to get their property back. 

The current legislation is similar to last Session’s proposal, but for a few modifications, including the elimination of an unintended yet nonetheless unfunded mandate on counties and various technical modifications that would add further clarity and consistency to asset forfeiture. 

Support for these proposed changes included the US Justice Action Network, a national organization working to curb the abuse of civil asset forfeiture, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association. 

Countless hours were devoted to drafting and redrafting to establish a careful balance between the rights of property owners with the realities law enforcement faces on a daily basis. The parties recognized the status quo doesn’t provide adequate protections for property owners and they worked together to bring important first steps and significant reforms to Pennsylvania law. 

The alternative to this proposed legislation is doing nothing at all, which would allow the status quo to prevail with few – if any – protections for property owners. 

Hopefully, the House of Representatives will agree and send this measure to the Governor to be signed into law.


Contact Information
Please feel free to contact me at any time on state-related issues that are of concern to you. I may be reached through my website or my Lebanon or Harrisburg offices.

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