A Busy Session

With the passage of the 2018 – 2019 state budget, the Commonwealth will spend $32,714,991,000 in taxpayer moneys for the General Fund.  This translates to $89,630,112 a day, $3,734,588 an hour, $62,243 per minute, and $1,037 per second.  Minus one-time allocations to balance, this year’s budget was within the limits of my Taxpayer Protection Act as it grew less than the combined rates of inflation and population:  1.7%.

During budget deliberations, a number of other issues were also advanced – most notably, how election lines are drawn.  Over the past year, legal and legislative actions collided with one another and I was pleased to help break the logjam by advancing a bill to establish an independent commission of citizens.  Although the mapping of judicial districts was added to this proposal over my objections, passage by the Senate gave advocates another option to pursue in the House. And, while it fell short in the House, I look forward to continued discussions in the future.

An initiative that was unanimously passed by both chambers and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature is my bill to further the modernization of the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission.  This legislation built upon work we started two years ago when modest changes were enacted.  The new law will continue efforts to better meet those seeking employment with the Commonwealth – especially veterans – needs.

Hiring responsibilities will be moved from the Civil Service Commission to the Governor’s Office of Administration.  Merit-based hiring will not be affected as agencies will continue to hire people based upon their qualifications.  The new structure will also retain the Civil Service Commission’s jurisdiction over appeals from employment decisions.  Most importantly, there will be NO changes to veterans’ preference requirements.

I was also pleased to address a court decision that had delayed an important component of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program:  research.  When medical cannabis came to Pennsylvania two years ago, one of the key provisions that made our Commonwealth unique was the so-called “Chapter 20” provision providing for cannabis research.  Of course, the devil is always in the details and there were (and continue to be) many issues related to Chapter 20.

Thanks to the work of all four legislative caucuses, the Governor’s Office, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, temporary regulations were drafted over many months.  Unfortunately, the ink on these regulations was barely dry when they were challenged in court, which granted a temporary injunction to delay implementation of the research provisions.  As patients have been – and will continue to be – my focus, the new law will address the Court’s misunderstanding of medical cannabis in general and Chapter 20 in particular.

My legislation to provide Pennsylvania notaries with the additional option of remote or online notarization also passed the Senate unanimously.  My goal is to give notaries safe and secure online notarial tools.  Hopefully, the House will take action on this bill in the Fall.

A number of efforts were also initiated to advance bills providing for the total elimination of school property taxes.  The plan was to build upon the constitutional amendment approved by the voters to allow for a “homestead exemption” – people’s primary residences.  While there was much discussion on how to best reach this much needed and long overdue goal, we were not able to get it to the full Senate for a vote.  Rest assured, our efforts will continue.

In the interim, I’d like to thank everyone who provided input and support for the measures we advanced and I look forward to securing additional accomplishments in the weeks and months ahead.