Budget Season May Bring Passage Of Other Pa. Laws

Associated Press

State lawmakers will soon return to the Pennsylvania Capitol with the state budget as the top order of business, accompanied by three marquee issues: liquor system privatization, public pension changes and transportation infrastructure funding.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but they will still have time to work on other matters. Budget season horse-trading is a time-tested way to get things done.

So what else might move?

In the House, Children and Youth Committee Chairwoman Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, said she hopes to see passage of a new definition of child abuse, part of the changes being looked at after the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal illustrated shortcomings in current law.

Education Chairman Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, wants changes to charter and cyber charter schools that address funding, accountability and conflicts of interest. He also is pushing for anti-bullying legislation.

A proposal to pull the plug on a block grant pilot program for county human services will get a hearing next week before the Human Services Committee, said chairman Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks.

“I just don’t think you should be making these poor people fight amongst themselves for money,” he said.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states without standards for water wells, said Energy and Environment Chairman Ron Miller, R-York, but that would change under a bill he is working to get approved.

The Senate is poised to vote on the House-passed bill that would bar coverage of abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, under health insurance policies offered in the federally run insurance marketplaces.

Labor and Industry Chairman John Gordner, R-Columbia, said he’s trying to work out the difference in the competing bills each chamber has passed to address “triple dipping,” where retired state workers come back on the job for three months, then collect unemployment. His committee priorities also include funding for unemployment compensation centers and a bill to prevent customers who have paid what they owe to general contractors from being sued by subcontractors who themselves have not been paid.

Negotiators are working on competing House and Senate bills to address human trafficking, and a compromise may be produced in the coming weeks, said Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery. Another proposal in Judiciary’s on-deck circle would expand protection-from-abuse orders so they can be authorized against people accused of sexual assault.

High profile issues that probably won’t get done in the Senate in June include a bill to address municipal borrowing rules to prevent situations like the one involving hundreds of millions in debt tied to the Harrisburg incinerator, said Local Government Chairman John Eichelberger, R-Blair.

A set of amendments to the state Right-to-Know Law and changes to the makeup of the Penn State Board of Trustees also will get pushed back to the fall, said State Government Chairman Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster.

“Both of those issues require additional vetting, and we’re not rushing to move the legislation for either of those,” said Smucker.

But new requirements for electronic filing of financial reports by government officials could be in place by summer break, Smucker said.

The House and Senate are both in Republican hands, so minority Democrats have limited ability to determine what moves and what dies. That does not prevent them from offering an alternative of what the agenda would look like if they controlled it.

House Democrats want to see passage of a Medicaid expansion bill, Democratic-penned charter school reform legislation, a Marcellus shale extraction tax and the recommendations made last year by the Legislature’s child protection task force.

Medicaid is at the top of his list, too, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. He also wants to give smaller cities and large townships more tools to address growth and sustainability, a return to the economic development programs championed by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and passage of a variety of education-related matters.

In the Capitol, the coming weeks are sure to be filled with talk of liquor, pensions, transportation and the budget. But some smaller fish might make it into the boat, too.