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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 July 13, 2015

Bills Signed into Law by Governor
Senate Bill 284 – Act 17 and Senate Bill 285 – Act 18 – authorizes an “Honoring Our Veterans” license plate for motorcycles;
Senate Bill 397 – Act 16 – privatizes and regulates Bail Bondsmen;
House Bill 1276 – Act 15 – clarifies recent changes to the Child Protective Services Law.

Palmyra High School Marching Band Represents PA in Washington, D.C.
Congratulations to the 47 members of the Palmyra Area High School marching band, and their Director, Andrew Spotts, on being one of 17 bands selected, and the only band from Pennsylvania, to participate in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Congressman Charlie Dent nominated the marching band in March 2014.

"Marching down Constitution Avenue on July 4th was a wonderful experience. There were tons of people cheering for us and we could see famous buildings.” - Emily Moore, Senior

Their selection allowed them to participate in the mile-long parade down Constitution Avenue playing a patriotic medley while doing their signature “Cougar Shuffle.” While in Washington, D.C., the group toured several museums, and watched fireworks and the A Capitol Fourth concert on the U.S. Capitol Lawn. Photographs courtesy of Jill Buchle.

“The band (members) were celebrities. I had people coming up to me to have their pictures taken with a real live drummer.” - Zach Caley, Junior

Column: Fighting for Openness, Transparency & Accountability
One of the first questions anyone asks whenever making a large purchase or entering into a long-term contract is: “how much is it going to cost?” The answer usually determines if we make a purchase or enter into an agreement. It’s pretty simple.

The General Assembly does the same thing: any legislation that could potentially cost the Commonwealth money cannot be passed by either the House or Senate unless it has a “fiscal note” from their respective Appropriations Committees. This gives elected officials and members of the public information on how much a proposed bill is going to cost before it becomes law. It’s both routine and noncontroversial.

My Senate Bill 644 attempts to apply this same principle to one of the biggest state budget items: state employee contracts. With over 72,000 state employees under contracts of over $4.5 Billion, each 1% increase would cost taxpayers approximately $45 Million per year – with additional costs for health care and pension benefits.

SB 644 would give the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) two weeks’ time to provide a cost analysis of collective bargaining agreements the Governor has negotiated with state employee unions – two weeks. SB 644 would answer the question: how much are these agreements going to cost before they’re signed?

As its name suggests, the IFO provides impartial and timely analyses of fiscal, economic, and budgetary issues to assist residents and the General Assembly evaluate proposed policies. The IFO does not support or oppose any policy it analyzes and it discloses its methodologies, data sources, and assumptions used in published reports and estimates.

SB 644 would not stop labor agreements from being signed. SB 644 would not inject the General Assembly into negotiations between the Governor and the unions. SB 644 would not change in any way any proposed agreements.

Consider how 12 other states handle collective bargaining.

  • Alaska requires schools allow public comment on issues to be discussed during bargaining and requires public inspection of initial proposals, last-best-offers, tentative agreements before ratification, and final agreements reached by the parties;
  • Florida makes bargaining sessions between government agencies and employee representatives open under their open meetings law;
  • Idaho requires open meetings and records of all labor negotiations (although government officials can meet privately to strategize);
  • Iowa exempts labor negotiations from its open records law but allows the public to attend sessions where both employer and employee sides present their “initial bargaining positions”;
  • Kansas labor negotiations are open meetings (but a government agency may go into executive session unless the employee side is present); records pertaining to collective bargaining negotiations are also open (unless they would reveal information “discussed in a lawful executive session ”);
  • Minnesota negotiations, mediation sessions, and hearings with public employees are open to the public, although government officials may close meetings to discuss strategy (but the meetings must be recorded and records kept for two years after the contract is signed and made available to the public);
  • Montana enshrines open access in its Constitution and requires all governmental bodies’ meetings to be open to the public (plus records of government business, meetings, and transactions);
  • An Ohio Supreme Court decision ruled draft and final collective bargaining agreements are public records because they document government officials’ activities;
  • Oregon requires labor negotiations be open unless both sides request negotiations shift to executive session;
  • Tennessee labor negotiations between public employee unions/associations and representatives are open to the public and both sides must give advance notice of when and where negotiations will be held;
  • Texas requires collective bargaining agreements be publicly available after a government entity is ready to ratify any proposed agreement and deliberations between a governmental entity and employee association must be open to the public, and;
  • Colorado requires school boards negotiate collective bargaining agreements in meetings open to the public.

Opponents of SB 644 argue it’ll bring “chaos” to the collective bargaining process, it will delay negotiations, it is anti-union/anti-worker, and it conflicts with the Right to Know Law.

Please! All my proposed SB 644 does is call for two weeks’ time to allow the IFO to develop a cost estimate – nothing more. It’s that simple.


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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