While the primary order of business of this week was committee reorganization for the 2021-2022 legislative session, both the House of Representatives and Senate moved bills that, if enacted, serve as the first steps in amending the Pennsylvania Constitution. Bills amending the Constitution may be proposed in either chamber. If passed by a majority of members in both chambers in consecutive legislative sessions, the proposed amendment will be placed on the ballot for consideration by the voters. If approved, the Constitution will be so amended.
There were three proposed amendments the General Assembly considered this week that already passed in the 2019-2020 legislative session. As soon as they each are finally passed in this session, they will appear on the ballot for voter consideration at the next election.
- H.B. 14 (Gregory, R-Blair) was passed by the House. It would amend the Constitution to provide for a two-year window in which civil lawsuits alleging childhood sexual abuse may be filed in court notwithstanding any otherwise applicable statute of limitations defense. The same legislation passed in the House last session by a vote of Y:177/N:15. The Senate also sent a companion bill, S.B. 8 (Baker, R-Luzerne) to the House for its consideration. The same legislation passed last session by a vote of Y:42/N:6 in the Senate.
- H.B. 55 (Grove, R-York) was also passed by the House, which would: (1) limit the duration of emergency declarations issued by the Governor to no more than 21 days unless extended by the General Assembly through passage of a concurrent resolution; and (2) prohibit the denial or abridgement of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity. The same legislation passed last session in the House by a vote of Y:115/N:86. The Senate sent its companion bill, S.B. 2 (Ward, R-Westmoreland) to the House for its consideration. The same legislation passed by a vote of Y:33/N:17 in the Senate last session.
- S.B. 106 (Argall, R-Schuylkill), which would to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their own running mate, instead of the voters electing the Lieutenant Governor as a separate office. The same language passed last session in the House by a vote of Y:130/N:67 and Y:46/N:2 in the Senate.
The Senate tackled another important issue this week, passing S.B. 109 (Pittman, R-Indiana), which would allocate $912 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Although still needing the House to agree to the bill, as written, the money would be appropriated in the following manner:
- $569.8 million for rental and utility assistance;
- $150.0 million for non-public schools;
- $145.0 million for a hospitality and industry recovery program to assist hotels, restaurants, bars, and taverns;
- $17.5 million for career and technical centers;
- $17.5 million for intermediate units;
- $7.0 million for charter schools for the deaf and blind and approved private schools; and
- $5.0 million for the State System of Higher Education.
In other legislative news from the week, on Monday the Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the Department of Transportation's Public-Private Partnership (P3) tolling initiative.
Tuesday, the House Insurance Committee reported out two bills: H.B. 162 (Davidson, D-Delaware), which would prohibit insurers from denying coverage to a person who has an opioid reversal agent in their prescription profile; and H.B. 203 (Toohil, R-Luzerne), which would establish the Living Donor Protection Act to prohibit insurers from taking actions against an individual based solely on the person's status as a living donor.
On Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee held a public hearing on the current struggles of the restaurant industry. Also, the House Labor and Industry Committee held a public hearing on the status of unemployment compensation.
The House State Government Committee reported out H.B. 47 (Dowling, R-Fayette), which would merge the Department of State and the Department of Community and Economic Development into a newly created Department of Local Government and Community Affairs; and H.B. 40 (Grove, R-York), which would establish the Office of Information and Technology to consolidate and oversee all IT systems and contracts within the executive branch.
The committee also reported out H.B. 284 (Metcalfe, R-Butler), which would update and modernize the History Code relating to archives. The Senate State Government Committee favorably voted on the companion legislation, S.B. 116 (Scavello, R-Monroe).
Two bills that are part of a legislative package to prevent fraud and stop improper payments passed in the House and will go to the Senate for consideration:
- H.B. 104 (Gaydos, R-Allegheny), which would require state agencies to assess improper payments no less than once every two years; and
- H.B. 108 (Owlett, R-Tioga), which would require state agencies that make payments by expending federal funds to participate in the do-not-pay initiative aimed at preventing state funds from going to entities that are ineligible to receive funds.
The Week Ahead
Both chambers are in session next week as Governor Wolf will give his 2021-2022 fiscal year budget address on Tuesday.
On Monday, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee will hold an informational meeting on the natural gas industry. In addition, the House Health Committee will hold a public hearing on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The House Finance Committee will meet Tuesday to consider H.B. 230 (Ryan, R-Lebanon), which would require the Independent Fiscal Office to do a dynamic scoring on all changes in the law that have a fiscal impact in excess of $10 million.
Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee will hold a public hearing regarding the impact of COVID-19 on taverns, clubs, and VFW's. Furthermore, the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee will hold an informational meeting with the Department of Community and Economic Development's Office of Marketing, Tourism, and Film on the state' tourism marketing and promotion activities.
Finishing up the week, on Thursday the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hold a joint public hearing on the implementation on the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan.
A full list of committee meetings can be found here:
In Other News
- Governor Wolf announced his 2021 agenda, which prioritizes economic recovery, building bipartisan measures, and government reform.
- The Governor and Department of Health gave an update on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
- The Department of Human Services awarded funding in preparation for the suicide prevention lifeline launch in 2022.
- Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) was elected House Majority Caucus Chairman.
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