In this Update:
Impact Fee Brings $43.5 Million Back to 46th District
The Impact Fee on unconventional natural gas wells will once again deliver millions of dollars in funding to communities and projects throughout the 46th Senatorial District, including Washington and Greene counties and parts of Beaver County.
Impact Fees are levied in addition to regular business taxes paid by every corporation in Pennsylvania. The disbursements were based on a formula established in Act 13 of 2012 to ensure communities affected by drilling receive their fair share of funding for projects such as road and bridge repairs, housing and other infrastructure needs. The Impact Fee provides funding to the Commonwealth Financing Authority, which in turn has generated more than $43.5 million in grants for the 46th Senatorial District.
Click on the picture to watch my remarks on this story. A complete list of disbursements to counties and municipalities is available on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s website at www.puc.state.pa.us
Improving the Permit Appeals Process
The Senate passed two of my bills to improve the permit appeals process. Senate Bill 198 would better balance the need for citizens to have the chance to voice their concerns while also making Pennsylvania’s permit appeals process efficient and predictable. When the Department of Environmental Protection deems appropriate, appeals would be limited to issues that were raised in the public comment period, which would give businesses more assurance that their projects will not be delayed. Under the current rules, environmental groups have used the appeal process to unfairly hold up projects they oppose by filing appeals on issues not even raised during the public comment period.
The second bill, Senate Bill 199, would require judges who would like to stay on the Environmental Hearing Board for more than one term to be reconfirmed by the Senate after their term expires. Current law states that members of board should serve six-year terms. Yet, there are members who are currently serving 28 years. These members have not been subject to the reappointment and confirmation process through the Senate. By requiring appointments to go through the reappointment and confirmation process through the Senate, my bill would uphold the intent of the law. It would also restore accountability and integrity to the process.
Both bills now move to the House of Representatives for consideration. Click the picture to watch my remarks from the Senate floor.
My Bill Supporting Veteran-Owned Businesses Passes Senate Committee
It is not easy to transition from serving our great country to civilian life. The men and women who wish to run their own business while navigating life after military service are inspiring and deserve our support. This week the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee unanimously passed my legislation that would create a logo promoting Pennsylvania’s veteran-owned businesses.
Senate Bill 438 would authorize the creation of special logos to promote veteran-owned businesses. To be eligible, a business must be registered with the Department of State and at least 51% of the ownership interest must be held by a veteran, reservist or member of the National Guard. Half of registration and renewal fees would be used to cover the program’s administrative costs with the other half benefitting the Veterans’ Trust Fund, which issues grants to statewide charitable organizations assisting veterans and organizations that help veterans.
The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. You can watch my remarks on Senate Bill 438 by clicking the picture.
Ensuring Adequate Funding for Roads and Bridges
To ensure sound funding for Pennsylvania roads and bridges, the Senate approved Senate Bill 656 to replace the state Alternative Fuels Tax on electric vehicle owners with a flat annual fee of $290.
The fee was calculated based on the average annual gas taxes paid by owners of gas-powered vehicles. Like the gas tax, the revenue from the flat fee will be deposited into the Motor License Fund for highway maintenance and construction.
Currently, owners of electric vehicles are required to file monthly statements with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and remit the alternative fuels tax on how much electricity their vehicle uses. However, most electric vehicle owners do not do this, or are inconsistent at doing so, due to the cumbersome process or simply being unaware.
Senate Passes Bill Protecting Prescription Coverage for Social Security Recipients
The Senate passed Senate Bill 607 to protect PACE and PACENET participants who may be pushed beyond the eligibility limits due solely to a cost-of-living increase in Social Security payments.
The PACE and PACENET programs help Pennsylvanians age 65 or older to afford their prescription medications. Eligibility for the programs is based on income, and Pennsylvanians on Social Security received an 8.7% cost-of-living increase in their benefits for 2023.
Single older Pennsylvanians earning $14,500 or less are eligible for PACE, while those earning between $14,500 and $33,500 are eligible for PACENET. Married couples earning $17,700 or less are eligible for PACE. Those earning between $17,700 and $41,500 are eligible for PACENET.
Bill to Prevent Distracted Driving Deaths Passes Senate
Legislation prohibiting the handheld use of cellular and other devices while driving passed this week in the Senate.
Senate Bill 37 would enhance driver responsibility by prohibiting the handheld use of cell phones or other communication devices while operating a motor vehicle on a Pennsylvania highway or trafficway. A driver could only use their wireless device while holding or supporting it when the vehicle is parked on the side or shoulder of a roadway and the vehicle is safely able to remain stationary.
To help educate drivers of the change in the law, this legislation includes a provision directing law enforcement to issue warnings for violations for the first 12 months following the signing of the bill.
Senate Acts to Exempt Newer Vehicles from Emissions Test
To relieve motorists from outdated and unnecessary emissions testing, the Senate approved Senate Bill 561 to exempt the five newest model-year vehicles.
Pennsylvania is mandated by the federal government to implement an emissions inspection and maintenance program to comply with federal 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. Pennsylvania’s program requires motorists in 25 counties to participate in an annual emissions test.
As fuel-efficient cars have become more widespread, a vehicle emissions test has proven to be less effective at reducing air pollution. Between 2010-19, there were more than 21 million newer vehicles that passed the emissions test 99.65% of the time. Newer vehicles consistently pass emissions tests due to newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market.
Senate Approves Expanding Access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners
To provide comprehensive, trauma-informed quality care to survivors of sexual assault, the Senate passed Senate Bill 414 to improve access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).
SANEs collect critical forensic evidence when a sexual assault survivor seeks medical attention after an attack. In addition to conducting forensic exams or rape kits, SANEs may provide expert testimony if a case goes to trial.
There are less than 50 certified SANEs across Pennsylvania despite the state having about 280 hospitals. Most hospitals do not offer access to a SANE.
The bill would improve SANE availability as it identifies a funding stream for hospitals to establish and maintain operation of SANE programs; and directs the Department of Health to compile a list of all hospitals in the commonwealth that offer SANE services and to make that information available statewide.
Prioritizing Workforce Development and Job Opportunities
The Senate has approved legislation to help establish Pennsylvania as an international leader in the development, testing and implementation of cutting-edge technologies.
Senate Bill 497 establishes the Max Manufacturing Initiative Act, which provides grants and loans to state universities so they can partner with engineering entities to enhance research capabilities, promote business alliances, produce high-value products and create family-sustaining jobs.
Advanced manufacturing is the use of innovative technologies to create and enhance products and is utilized in most industries. The manufacturing industry in the United States produces more than $4 trillion annually and thousands of job opportunities in the commonwealth.
Women Veterans to Benefit from Health Care Task Force
To provide care for the unique health needs of women veterans, the Senate approved a measure establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care in Pennsylvania.
The task force will study health issues facing women veterans and make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly. The panel will be composed of individuals with relevant specialties, including the chair of the State Veterans’ Commission and health care providers.
Senate Resolution 46 would also pave the way for Pennsylvania to potentially receive additional federal funding to address women veterans’ health care issues.
I had Visitors!
It was a pleasure to have a couple McGuffey School District students stop by my office and say hello this week. Stefanie Mounts (left) and Abigail Noble (right) are both in the National Honor Society and FFA. They visited Harrisburg this week with the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Keystone Girls State, a government and civics program designed to teach the importance of responsible citizenship and to empower young women to make a change in their community. You rock girls!