Governor Wolf signs a partial Pennsylvania state budget for Fiscal Year 20-21

On Friday, May 29, 2020, Governor Wolf signed a partial state budget for Fiscal Year 20-21 (FY 20-21). The Fiscal Year begins on July 1, 2020. The budget bill, House Bill 2387, was designed to provide flat funding for most line items for five months. PreK-12 education funding and funding for higher education was extended for a full twelve months. A subsequent budget process is anticipated for November 2020, at which time budget decisions will be more completely informed by the impacts to revenue collections and service needs from the COVID-19 crisis.

The General Assembly sent budget-related code bills to the governor in conjunction with the general appropriations bill. A Fiscal Code amendment, providing for specific programmatic allocations, was also signed by the governor on Friday, May 29, 2020. Most allocations in the Fiscal Code maintain FY 19-20 funding for five months into FY 20-21.

Non-preferred appropriations – appropriations for entities not under direct state control but which receive appropriations of state funds – were also signed by the governor on May 29, 2020. Non-preferred appropriations include funding for entities such as state-related institutions of higher education, expenses related to administering workers’ compensation and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

An Administrative Code bill was vetoed by Governor Wolf on May 29, 2020. The bill would have prohibited state professional licensing authorities from taking action against a Pennsylvania business for operating despite the governor’s shutdown order for non-life sustaining businesses. Wolf’s veto message referred to the bill as “a legislative infringement on executive authority and violates  the separation of powers which is critical to the proper functioning of our democracy.” The bill had also required a comprehensive report on the June 2, 2020, primary election, legislative notification of the governor’s suspension of statutes or regulations due to a disaster emergency and a review of outstanding state debt to identify refinancing options.

Wolf also vetoed a republican-backed resolution which would have abrogated an overtime regulation which was adopted in January 2020. The regulation increased the salary threshold under which employees are to be assumed eligible for overtime pay, resulting in an estimated 81,000 additional overtime-eligible employees statewide. Wolf vetoed the resolution abrogating the regulation on procedural grounds, and also stated that the regulation bolsters the  “increased competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s employers to attract skilled labor, positive economic impact due to increased spending by affected workers, and discretionary time returned to employees…Now, more than ever, Pennsylvania needs the benefits that Final-Form Regulation 12-106 provides to its citizens.”

In addition to the state appropriations to stabilize executive branch functions for five months, Wolf approved three bills to distribute federal CARES dollars to state and local entities. Senate Bill 1108 distributes approximately $2.6 billion in federal funds received by the Commonwealth to executive agencies to address costs incurred due to the COVID-19 disaster emergency. Senate Bill 1122 bill created a $52 million grant program for fire and EMS companies to be supported by federal CARES dollars. House Bill 2510 allocates federal CARES dollars to health care collaboratives, counties, long-term living facilities, museum preservation, economic development corporations, dairy farms, food purchases to the needy, and multiple other purposes.

Amidst final actions on budget-related measures, the Pennsylvania legislature gained national attention when on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, democratic members discovered that a republican member had been diagnosed with COVID-19 a week prior without disclosing the diagnosis to the democratic caucus. Democratic members noted that republicans had conducted contact  tracing, and that other republican members were in quarantine following contact with the infected member. The discovery prompted calls from democratic members for the resignation of republican leaders and for an official investigation of possible misconduct. A republican spokesman defended the caucus’ actions by saying they had followed CDC guidelines.

The House and Senate return to session on June 8, 2020.

An Election Day like never before: Mail-in balloting, new voting machines, multi-day counts for Pa.’s primary

By: Charles Thompson

It’s going to be an election like we’ve never had in a year we’ll never forget.

Many Pennsylvanians have already voted by mail for the first time; others will be voting on new machines for the first time; and – importantly – no one’s likely to have final results for several days after the polls close.

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Coronavirus case in Pa. Capitol takes partisan rancor over pandemic to new level

By: Julia Terruso and Angela Couloumbis

HARRISBURG — The already fraught political fight over the coronavirus in Pennsylvania reached a fever pitch this week.

Democratic lawmakers in Pennsylvania voiced growing outrage Thursday after the belated revelation that one of their Republican colleagues had tested positive for the coronavirus. Allegations of a cover-up prompted calls for the top GOP House leader to resign and even a push for an official investigation, although that prospect was quickly shot down by the state’s top law enforcement official.

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Liquor privatization gets another push in Pa.

By: Jan Murphy

A state lawmaker is making a renewed push for privatizing Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor system amid findings from the state of Washington that its voters now regret making that move in 2011.

Rep. Timothy O’Neal, a Washington County Republican, on Tuesday introduced legislation that calls for closing state stores, privatizing the wholesale liquor system, and creating private retail liquor outlets.

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Pa. House narrowly passes short-term budget with no tax increases

By: Marc Levy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania state government began advancing a temporary, no-new-taxes budget plan Tuesday that maintains current spending levels while budget makers watch to see how badly coronavirus-related shutdowns damage tax collections and whether the federal government sends another aid package to states.

Officials in the House and Senate Republican majorities said that they expected to wrap up votes on a roughly $25.8 billion package this week. The main budget bill squeaked by the House, 103-99, just hours after it was unveiled Tuesday.

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Pa. House fails to override Gov. Wolf’s veto of bill that would’ve allowed more businesses to operate

By: Jan Murphy

Hoping to get barbers, hair stylists, animal groomers and more businesses reopened, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday attempted unsuccessfully to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bill that he said would undermine his measured phased-in approach to bringing back the state’s economy.

By a vote of 115-87, it fell short 21 votes of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Had the House been successful in its override vote, the Senate also would have had to achieve support from two-thirds of the 50 senators for the measure to become law.

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Gov. Wolf talking with sports leagues, says it could take until vaccine for Pennsylvania to reach ‘normal’

By: Megan Guza

Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday he is talking with professional sports leagues about holding events in Pennsylvania, but he doesn’t believe residents will be completely comfortable going back to pre-pandemic normalcy until there is a coronavirus vaccine.

“Ultimately, I think what it’s going to take for everybody to feel safe going to a Penn State game or a basketball game is they have some confidence that they’re not going to get sick by being in close contact with somebody else,” he said during a call with reporters.

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