Protecting workers, taxpayers, and horses

Article posted on January 31, 2017

We had our first Education Committee meeting this morning with just two bills on the agenda, both sponsored by myself.  The first changed the process of contract renewals for school superintendents and assistant superintendents.  Currently, a nonrenewal notice to the superintendent needs to be made at least 150 days prior to the expiration of the contract; if that deadline is missed, the contract is re-upped for another full term.  My bill changed the notice requirement to 90 days and provided for a one-year renewal if the deadline was missed.  The next bill would take sick, bereavement, and sabbatical time from statutory law and make these benefits subject to negotiations, just like every other collective bargaining unit in government.  Why these benefits were put into law, no one seems to know.  Both bills passed.  In the Senate State Government meeting this afternoon, my Paycheck Protection bill was passed after a lengthy debate.  This bill would stop the payroll deduction of political contributions from public sector union members.  Using government resources for political activity is illegal in most instances, but somehow, this practice has been permitted to continue.  Although the union bosses are hyperventilating over the thought of losing access to their members’ paychecks, the majority of their members support this bill.  Finally, Cordelia’s Law, the bill I’ve worked on to protect horses from being abused, was unanimously passed by the full Senate today.  I appreciate the help of many of the members who supported these efforts to improve the workplace, protect taxpayers’ interests, and bring people who harm innocent animals to justice.

-John

I hope the bill becomes law and helps to protect kids

Article posted on January 30, 2017

We’re back in session and have committee meetings scheduled every day.  This afternoon we had a Judiciary Committee meeting to vote on the statute of limitations bill the Senate passed last session.  This bill was the product of the child sex abuse reports issued by the Attorney General about the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.  This bill made a lot of improvements to the bill sent over from the House last year and corrected the language to pass constitutional muster.  It passed through committee unanimously.  Getting this and other bills done early in the session improves the chances of them getting through the House.  I hope this is the year the bill becomes law and helps to protect kids.

-John

The initial news cycle has already passed

Article posted on January 29, 2017

I got 11 total miles in this morning, 5 before and 6 after church.  I did office work all day and grilled chicken for dinner.  I haven’t been home much lately, so we enjoyed an evening together before I go back to Harrisburg tomorrow.  The papers today had a few interesting stories.  One thing I didn’t mention this week is that a Senator from Philadelphia was in court this week for federal charges of bribery for giving campaign funds to help a ward leader’s child get into a program.  The case, according to the papers, seems to be going well for the Senator, Larry Farnese.  We’ll know soon.  There was also a story about the proposal from the Governor to consolidate four departments into one.  One thing that occurred to me today is that these announcements from the administration come when the legislature is out of town.  The prison closure hit the day after we left this week and the consolidation the day after that.  I’m sure we’ll talk about these issues tomorrow, but the initial news cycle has already passed.

-John

Under his authority as the chief executive

Article posted on January 28, 2017

As it turns out, the Wolf administration decided to close one prison instead of two.  I didn’t see any information to justify the decision to close just one, other than it was the largest prison of the five under consideration.  This was not given as an option at the hearing on Monday.  It may be the best solution, I don’t know, but there seems to be a pattern of decision making recently by the Governor that concerns many of us.  He announces changes and figures out the details of how things can work afterwards.  Earlier this week he fired the Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Services.  The governor said that the Secretary was too close to an advocate that lobbies that department; the Secretary said that what the governor really wanted to do was close the department. By the end of the week, the Governor did, in fact, say that he wanted to consolidate four departments, with Drug and Alcohol Services being part of the consolidation.  There is no communication with the General Assembly before these bombshells are dropped.  Fortunately, closing departments needs to be done statutorily, but some of the other changes are under his authority as the chief executive.

-John

Thanks to everyone who came out and those who support the life movement

Article posted on January 27, 2017

Today was the 44th Annual March for Life in Washington, DC.  I came down on a bus from Huntingdon County this year.  The weather was better than most years, low 40’s, but windy.  The crowd seemed to be bigger than ever.  It was filled with a lot of young people and had a sense of optimism, given the change from a pro-abortion to a pro-life President.  In fact, two of the speakers at the rally held before the March were Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence.  Although the number of abortions has been declining, the Obama administration tried to promote and expand these killings with Hillary Clinton lining up to do even more.  Technology seems to be what is turning people’s hearts and minds around.  Today, the images of babies in the womb can be seen very clearly.  It’s hard to make the argument that they are a blob of tissue when you can see these babies and watch them respond.  Thanks to everyone who came out and those who support the life movement.

-John

More about what the task force is doing

Article posted on January 26, 2017

This morning, we had the first meeting of the Local Government Commission Assessment Reform Task Force.  The task force was formed to look at the assessment laws and the process of reassessment.  Each state does things differently when it comes to this issue and we’re looking at what other states do that makes sense for us.  The changes recommended by this body will be for legislative action, regulatory change, and to encourage best practices.  From the time the real estate parcel is recorded at the court house, the system that tracks information used to determine property taxes needs to be accurate.  The state needs this information for various purposes, property owners have their taxes based on this value, and municipal governments determine their revenue from it.  I’ll have more about what the task force is doing in future posts.

-John

What’s next, city governments telling people where they have to go on vacation?

Article posted on January 25, 2017

We had two important bills go through the Local Government Committee this morning, both challenged by the Democrats on that committee.  The first was sponsored by Senator Guy Reschenthaler and would penalize “municipalities of refuge” for their decisions to not cooperate with federal law enforcement officials by withholding state grants.  The disregard for the rule of law by large cities around the country is dangerous and should not be tolerated by their respective state governments.  The other bill was sponsored by me and would not allow municipalities to enact ordinances forcing private sector employers to provide certain sick day benefits.  With over 2,500 municipalities in PA, having a hodgepodge system of sick leave requirements on employers is unworkable, not to mention that the last time I checked, we are Americans and work in a free-market, private-sector driven economy.  What’s next, city governments telling people where they have to go on vacation?

-John

I think there’s a Patriots fan running loose in Harrisburg

Article posted on January 24, 2017

At the start of a session we have no bills on the calendar so we have very little time on the floor.  There is a flurry of committee meetings, however, which start the bills in the process.  I had a Judiciary Committee meeting today and have a Local Government Committee meeting tomorrow.  I spent most of my day in meetings with education industry groups or members talking about education issues.  The fire alarm went off this afternoon at the Capitol and everyone evacuated for a while, probably 20 minutes or more.  Interestingly, I was at a breakfast this morning at the Hilton and their alarm went off.  I think there’s a Patriots fan running loose in Harrisburg.

-John

Hearings like this will, most likely, be held again in a few years

Article posted on January 23, 2017

This morning’s hearing on the planned prison closures was held jointly by the Senate’s Republican Policy, Democrat Policy, and Judiciary Committees. The Wolf administration plans to announce on Thursday the closure of two state prisons.  The closings are projected to save tens of millions of dollars each year.  There are 6,502 empty male beds in the system today; the closures would take about 2,481 of them.  The prison population has been going down, and is projected to decrease by 2,000 more in the next few years.  In fact, a contract with a county jail to house their 300 inmates expires next year.  The closings will be a blow to the communities where the prisons are located and the employees who work there.  The employees will all be offered jobs within the system, but some are expected to retire and others will not want to take a new assignment or possibly move their families.  The influx of employees into other facilities is expected to significantly cut the soaring overtime costs.  The closings are a trend happening around the country and are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.  Laws were changed in the ’80s that resulted in the inmate population’s tremendous growth, seeing as much as 2,000 additional inmates per year added to the system.  The laws have changed for various reasons, including less expensive alternatives for house arrest and electronic monitoring, a federal court decision affecting minimum sentencing and treatment alternatives for non-violent drug offenders.  The bottom line is that hearings like this will, most likely, be held again in a few years.

-John

Could get heated between the members and the administration

Article posted on January 22, 2017

There wasn’t much in the papers today concerning state government; they used their ink to rehash the Presidential inauguration.  Many of the stories blamed the new President for a divided nation when, in fact, thanks to the old President, race relations were at the lowest point in this country for decades.  We get started tomorrow with the new session and have a very busy first week scheduled.  With the Governor’s Budget Address coming on February 7th, there is a need to set the legislature’s agenda beforehand.  I’ll keep you posted on this as it unfolds.  We start at 9:00 tomorrow with a hearing on the planned prison closures.  This is a bi-partisan hearing, but could get heated between the members and the administration, we’ll see.  To answer a frequently asked question, the truck hit 430,000 miles last night on the way home from Hagerstown.

-John