Not fairly discussed

Article posted on March 31, 2017

Ben Shapiro

I met my young friend Branson and his dad at a breakfast at his school this morning in Altoona, then headed to the Capitol for a couple of meetings.  I got through scheduling and other things then headed to the PA Leadership Conference, the annual conservative gathering.  It’s great to see old friends and some of the all-stars of the conservative movement from across our country.  I was honored to sit at the table this evening with our keynote speaker, Ben Shapiro, his dad, David, and John Gizzi from Newsmax.  This is the weekend we conservatives recharge our batteries.  Many organizations have a table with information about their issue and are available to answer questions.  If you can’t make it tomorrow, watch it on PCN; you won’t see these issues discussed in the national media, at least not fairly discussed.

-John

Glad I was there to hear about their accomplishments

Article posted on March 30, 2017

I got to speak with the Community Bankers this morning in Altoona; they were in town for a conference and had me at their breakfast.  The regulations on the banking industry, particularly the small “thrift” banks, are crushing.  They can’t make the loans they used to, and that stops progress for many individuals and businesses.  I, along with other area legislators, also met with the EMS folks from the Southern Alleghenies region.  They have their own set of financial problems and are struggling to attract and retain personnel.  There hasn’t been a hard look at their issues by the legislature since 2003; that could change this year if a resolution passes to have a similar study done.  Although there were changes made because of the 2003 study, many of today’s problems are new.  I was able to attend the Huntingdon County Planning Commission’s Annual Dinner tonight.  They give a report on their work over the past year and speak about what they see ahead.  The work of county planning offices is important and goes largely unnoticed by the general public.  Glad I was there to hear about their accomplishments.

-John

Thanks to the members and staff for all of their work on these important bills

Article posted on March 29, 2017

I didn’t have room to mention last evening that I attended the Tuscarora Chamber’s Annual Awards Dinner at Whitetail Ski Resort.  It was a very nice event, and, I’m told, the first event in the new banquet room on the second floor.  Congratulations to the folks recognized for their contributions to the community.  We ran six bills addressing the needs of children and taxpayers through the Education Committee this morning.  We passed a bill that would penalize people who facilitate “passing the trash,” one that would eliminate “ghost teachers,” and a bill that would require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes by a school board.  Thanks to the members and staff for all of their work on these important bills.

-John

Education Panel Endorses Bills to End Practice of “Ghost Teachers,” Require a “Super Majority” Vote for School Boards to Raise Taxes

Article posted on March 29, 2017

HARRISBURG (March 29, 2017) –  The Senate Education Committee today approved two bills intended to protect taxpayers, control spending, and ensure that education dollars are spent wisely, according to Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr. (R-Blair), who chairs the panel.

The committee passed SB 494, sponsored by Senator Pat Stefano (R-Fayette), which will bar public school teachers from working full-time for their collective bargaining agent while remaining on their district’s payroll.  These teachers are commonly referred to as “ghost teachers.”  Under current law, a collective bargaining agreement between a union and a school district can require the district to allow work arrangements where school district employees work full-time for the union while remaining on the district’s payroll.  This type of arrangement is often known as official time, release time or union leave.  The teachers continue to receive their full salary and benefits – paid for by the district – and to accrue time towards their pension, even though they are not in a classroom.

“During an era of tight budgets and taxpayer concerns over increasing education costs, it is imperative that teachers on a school district’s payroll actually be in a classroom, teaching students,” Eichelberger said. “By banning this provision in collective bargaining agreements, this legislation will ensure a more effective use of public school resources and funds.”

The committee also approved SB 406, sponsored by Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), which would require a “super majority” vote for school boards to raise taxes.  The bill would amend the Public School Code to require all millage property tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the members elected to the board of school directors.

“Taxpayers are rightfully concerned that property taxes continue to increase, as does school spending,” Eichelberger said. “I believe there should be a compelling need and strong support by the board before property taxes go up.”

The legislation would provide greater taxpayer protections and ensure that school boards of directors first seek to control spending before raising taxes.

 

Please contact Patrick Schurr, Executive Assistant, at 814-695-8386 or email pschurr@pasen.gov for additional information.

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As long as it is necessary, we will

Article posted on March 28, 2017

I was remiss last night in not mentioning that the Southern Huntingdon High School band and chorus performed at the capitol yesterday.  I was tied up in a meeting and missed the band, but saw the chorus; they were excellent and I heard great comments from my colleagues about both groups.  I got to spend a little time with them after the performance, they were very polite and well-mannered young ladies and gentlemen.

The Southern Huntingdon High School Chorus and Band performed at the Capitol on Monday, March 27, 2017.

This morning, we got a preemption bill through the Judiciary Committee that would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances to ban guns from their municipalities.  As I have written about this issue before, local governments do not have the authority to address issues outside of their municipal responsibilities.  The bill’s sponsor, Senator Wayne Langerholc, said at the meeting that these ordinances are in direct contradiction to state law.  Of course, the constitutions, both state and federal, address the rights of our citizens to keep and bear arms.  It’s unfortunate that the General Assembly has to keep addressing these issues, but as long as it is necessary, we will.

-John

Last year, we ran out of time

Article posted on March 27, 2017

We passed my Fish and Boat Commission bill through the Senate today.  This bill would allow the Commission to set their own license fees.  Currently, they have to come to the legislature and ask for a bill to change any license fee, up or down.  Because of the complexity of this process, they come in after 10, 12, or so years and ask for large increases.  This hurts their sales and isn’t a businesslike way to manage their income.  The bill provides consumer safeguards including: public hearings for any proposed change, a review of any change by the Game and Fishery Committees of the House and Senate, and a sunset provision that the bill dies in three years unless re-upped by the General Assembly.  Additionally, the Commission receives federal match money for licenses, so they have an incentive to sell as many as possible.  Raising the price too much would cost them significant dollars.  Hopefully, we can get the bill through the House this session; last year, we ran out of time.

-John

We’d still be using town criers

Article posted on March 26, 2017

Again, not much in the Sunday papers regarding state government.  I was involved in a couple of conversations last week regarding legislation that has been around for several sessions, changing where local governments do their legal advertising.  Current state law says they have to do it in local papers, the proposed change is to the internet.  As papers close their doors, many go paperless with online-only subscriptions, and fewer papers are sold as more and more people get their news on the internet; it appears that it’s time to move into the 21st century.  The newspapers don’t like it for one reason: they will lose a lot of government money.  They don’t usually say that, however.  They talk about being a better venue for the advertising and watchdogs for the public, none of which is true.  More people would see the ads online; the papers don’t check over the ads for accuracy; and the local governments have to pay whatever rate the papers charge, usually much higher than they charge the general public, which is proof that they take advantage of local governments.  In other words, taxpayers.  Local governments spend tens of millions of dollars every year on ineffective mandated ads in local papers, and often make an additional effort to use the internet to reach the audience they need.  If we listened to the newspaper’s arguments, we’d still be using town criers.

-John

Our 2nd Amendment rights are alive and well

Article posted on March 25, 2017

The weather was great today, mid 60’s, and the rain held off.  I got some office work done, mostly reading things that accumulated over the past week.  I’m way behind on emails, in case anyone has been waiting for a response.  I hope to tackle recent ones this week.  I got to the Alleghenies Mountains Chapter of Safari Club International’s Annual Banquet tonight.  They had their usual big crowd and raised a lot of money.  I didn’t win anything, but had a great table of folks and enjoyed the evening.  You really get to see some unusual guns at these events and the Friends of the NRA banquets.  Tonight they had a 50 caliber pistol with a barrel long enough that you need two hands to hold it.  I’m glad they did well and glad our 2nd Amendment rights are alive and well in 2017.

-John

There aren’t many currently

Article posted on March 24, 2017

I drove to Plum, PA, outside of Pittsburgh, this morning for a PlanCon Advisory Committee Hearing.  We listened to five school superintendents, an architect, and a school board member talk about their experiences in school construction and any recommendations they have for the state’s role in it.  This is only my second hearing, but the committee has been working for many months before my assignment to their ranks.  What I’ve heard so far, is that no one likes the current 11 step process; they say it’s too convoluted and outdated, and I would agree.  There are a lot of issues that go into the design, construction and funding of school buildings.  One issue, of several I raised today, was about the perceived need to build new buildings instead of renovating what they have.  They talk about 40 year old buildings as being at the end of their life span.  As a former county commissioner, I reminded them that courthouses are rarely sold or torn down, and they’re a lot older than most any school building.  Of course, there are good reasons to build new, including consolidation of two or more buildings.  I just want to see some safeguards for the taxpayers built into any new process; there aren’t many currently.

-John

I’m impressed!

Article posted on March 23, 2017

Had meetings most of the day, including one by phone: my first PHEAA board meeting.  I met with a group of school superintendents this morning to discuss an array of issues important to them and their schools.  I picked up some good information and hopefully provided answers they can use to plan for their budgets and programs.  I had a number of constituent meetings in the office, two media interviews, a Blair Chamber event and spoke at a dinner in Altoona.  As I got around today, the question I was asked about the most was the budget.  Even in March, people are pretty tuned into this problem.  They know we’re in tough shape, they may not know the exact numbers, but they understand there’s a real problem.  I usually don’t get many budget questions until May or June; I’m impressed!

-John