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Senator Don White

Harrisburg Happenings
A Report on the Legislative Session of
June 5, 2017

Dear Friend,

I am pleased to send you my Session Wrap Up e-newsletter. This e-newsletter features legislative activities during the Session Week of June 5, 2017.

If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatordonwhite.com for more information about your state government. If you do not wish to receive these e-newsletters, please click the "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of the page. If you would like to contact my office, please go to my web page and click the "contact" button. Please do not "reply" directly to this e-mail.

Sincerely,

Don White


Senate Approves Public Pension Reform Measure

The Senate approved Senate Bill 1 on Monday. This measure restructures the state’s two public employee pension systems – the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System – in order to make them viable in the long term and ease the burden on taxpayers.

This proposal is a step in controlling the runaway costs of Pennsylvania’s public systems. These costs increase every year and the burden ultimately falls upon taxpayers. Pension obligation payments are hammering school budgets and are the driving force behind a large majority of property tax increases. Reform of the current system is the only answer. Senate Bill 1 is a practical and workable proposal that shares the burden and the risks.

Under Senate Bill 1 all new public-sector employees could select from three different retirement planning options – a defined contribution plan similar to the 401(k) system offered by most employers in the private sector, or one of two hybrid plans that combine a 401 (k)-style system with a variation of the defined benefit system that state employees and school employees already enjoy.

While there are several reforms and changes in Senate Bill 1, the bill does not touch benefits already earned by employees and it does not affect retirees at all. There are absolutely no changes in payments for current retirees. It’s also important to remind the organizations opposing these reforms that every dollar spent on pensions is a dollar that cannot be spent by school districts to hire employees, pay reasonable salaries and benefits to workers or to ensure that essential government services are provided.

The reforms in Senate Bill 1 are projected to save more than $5 billion and shield taxpayers from $20 billion or more in additional liabilities if state investments fail to meet projections. In addition, the bill creates a new Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission to study ways to reduce investment costs with the goal of saving an additional $3 billion.

Senate Bill 1 includes a shared risk and shared gain provision further protecting taxpayers. If investment returns fail to meet projections over a long enough period of time, employees in the hybrid plans could pay slightly higher contribution rates. However, if investments perform better than projections, employees would pay a lower rate for their benefits.

Senate Bill 1 is now before the House of Representatives for consideration.

The Senate also approved and sent to the House five additional bills this week.

Senate Bill 353 is a land conveyance bill.

Senate Bill 434 would reduce the allotted period of time that is necessary in order to acquire a title of a blighted or abandoned property through adverse possession under various situations and circumstances.

Senate Bill 497 eliminates the “waste” designation for steel slag when it is sold as a commodity and is not a discarded material.

Senate Bill 589 increases the maximum allowable gross weight for commercial vehicles powered by natural gas from 80,000 pounds to 82,000 pounds.

Senate Bill 624 amends the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act, providing for planned subsidence and for retroactivity.

Committee Considers Election Issues Impacting Pennsylvania

6/6/17 - Election Issues

On Tuesday, I participated in a Senate State Government Committee public hearing on various election topics impacting Pennsylvania. I raised concerns about reports of fraud and asked state election officials if there is a system for purging voter rolls to ensure that they are complete and accurate. I also asked about instances where polling places reported every vote in an election going to one party’s candidate and others where turnout was higher than the number of registered voters. Click here for video of the complete hearing.

Resolution Calling for Study of Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Rail Service Adopted

The Senate approved a measure on Tuesday calling for a comprehensive review of passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Senate Resolution 76 directs the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the feasibility of increasing passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

Western Pennsylvania has historically had a high level of passenger rail service with twelve daily trains as recently as the 1960s and two daily passenger trains in 2004 serving the Keystone corridor west of Harrisburg.

In January 2015, The Keystone West High-Speed Rail Study: Feasibility Report & Preliminary Service Development Plan, prepared for PENNDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration, evaluated the feasibility of options to reduce rail travel times and increase trip frequency on Amtrak’s Keystone West portion of the Pennsylvanian service and identified incremental improvements that would make the line compatible for both freight and passenger rail service.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Resolution 33, which establishes a task force to study lead exposure in Pennsylvania.

CTE Measure Sent to Governor

The Senate approved a measure on Tuesday that provides career and technical education (CTE) students with additional options to meet state graduation requirements. House Bill 202, which amends state law regarding Keystone Exams and alternative testing for CTE students, now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law. House Bill 202 would allow CTE students to show career readiness through measures such as industry-based competency certifications.

Committee Roundup

Appropriations

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 1 on Sunday. Senate Bill 1 would provide three options for new employees and teachers. They could opt for a defined benefit plan, similar to a 401k, or one of two hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plans, with different levels of employee contributions and benefits.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved six bills on Monday.

House Bill 202 eliminates the statutory requirement for the development and implementation of Keystone Exams in English Composition, Algebra II, Geometry, U.S. History, Chemistry, Civics and Government, and World History.

Senate Bill 458 provides new penalties for illegal household goods movers.

Senate Bill 561 would require the approval of the General Assembly and the Governor for all new regulations with an economic impact or cost exceeding $1 million to the Commonwealth, its political subdivisions, and the private sector.

Senate Bill 624 amends the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act, providing for planned subsidence and for retroactivity.

Senate Bill 630 reforms insurance licensure requirements for travel agents.

Senate Bill 646 amends Act 101 of 1988, the Municipal Waste Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act.

State Government

The Senate State Government Committee approved two bills on Monday.

Senate Bill 527 creates an independent Office of Inspector General.

Senate Bill 595 authorizes the electronic notarization of documents in cases where the signer appears before the notary by means of real-time audio-video communication.

Finance

The Senate Finance Committee approved three bills on Monday.

House Bill 453 requires any agency receiving state funds to respond to an audit by the state Auditor General or future funding may be suspended.

Senate Bill 515 raises the cap on the Net Operating Loss carryforward amount to 45 percent of taxable income.

House Bill 1071 prohibits political subdivisions from imposing a recyclable plastic bag ban or levying a fee, surcharge or tax on plastic bags.

Urban Affairs & Housing

The Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee approved Senate Bill 446 on Monday. The bill provides for the regulation and certification of addiction recovery houses.

Labor & Industry

The Senate Labor & Industry Committee approved Senate Bill 183 on Tuesday. The bill creates a state plumbers licensing program.

Local Government

The Senate Local Government Committee approved three bills on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 690 establishes a mechanism for the initial apportionment of any home rule or optional plan municipality without a mayor that will be dividing into wards either partially or totally.

Senate Bill 691 establishes uniform residential qualifications of office for persons seeking election to, or appointment to fill a vacancy in, a municipal elected office where recent service in the military might interfere with the person’s ability to satisfy the relevant residency requirements.

Senate Bill 693 allows political subdivisions and authorities to enter into contracts for services when two consecutive advertisements fail to induce bids.

Judiciary

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved four bills on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 529 provides those with low-level, nonviolent criminal records a mechanism to have their record sealed from public view.

Senate Bill 662 establishes a second degree felony for the delivery or distribution of an illicit drug that results in "serious bodily injury" to the user.

Senate Bill 741 addresses sunset provisions related to funding for the courts and indigent legal services.

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