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In this Email Update:
Senate, House vote again to end budget stalemate
Working to finally close the book on the stateís Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget, the Senate and House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would restore money slashed by the governorís line-item vetoes, while providing a modest increase for education without the need for new taxes.
House Bill 1801, as amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and approved by the full Senate and House on Wednesday, is a $30.031 billion spending plan that restores much of the $6 billion in funding for essential programs and services that were line-item vetoed by the governor from the FY 2015-16 budget enacted last December.
Basic Education will see $5.95 billion in funding, an increase of $200 million from Fiscal Year 2014-15 including Ready-to-Learn Block Grant money. The total also represents a $50 million increase over the funding vetoed by the governor.
HB 1801 reverses the governorís line-item vetoes of funding for community colleges and the State System of Higher Education, while providing full funding for Pennsylvaniaís state related universities: Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
The bill would provide funds to preserve programs such as agricultural extension and research and 4-H that are currently in jeopardy since they were defunded by the governorís line-item vetoes.
This budget plan gives funding needed by school districts, hospitals and the agriculture community, along with several other areas that were vetoed by the governor in December. Most importantly, unlike other proposals, this plan does not jeopardize our ongoing bipartisan efforts to eliminate school property taxes, which is by far the number one issue for the residents of Berks and Schuylkill Counties.
The Senate also approved House Bill 1327, the Fiscal Code companion bill to the budget.
Both HB 1327 and HB 1801 were returned to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.
More information on the state budget can be found at www.SenatorArgall.com/Budget.
Senate approves veteransí preference hiring measure
The Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would let Pennsylvania employers adopt and use a veteransí preference employment policy.
Senate Bill 1013 would exempt employers with a written veteransí employment policy from violations of state and local equal employment opportunities law. Legislation allowing veteransí preference has been signed into law in a number of states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
Senate Bill 50 provides for an industrial hemp industry in the Commonwealth through the establishment of a permitting process within the Department of Agriculture to license and regulate the cultivation, growth and sale of industrial hemp. The 2014 Federal Farm Bill permits industrial hemp research if it is authorized by a state.
Senate Bill 1056 updates the law on the assignment of custody and visitation rights of deployed parents.
All three bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Ag Committees hold hearing on cuts to agriculture funding
With an increasing groundswell of public outcry regarding the governorís slashing of $72 million in state funding for agricultural programs, the Senate and House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees held a public hearing on Tuesday on the impact of those cuts on Pennsylvaniaís farmers and the various programs that support their livelihood.
Iím sponsoring legislation along with Senators Vogel, Aument, Yaw and Smucker to restore funding for vital agriculture programs that were vetoed by the governor. Read more about our efforts here.
With the governorís line-item veto of agricultural funding, Pennsylvania is close to becoming the only state in the nation that does not run an Agricultural Extension program. We might soon be the only state without 4-H, and we may soon be the only state without a state-supported College of Agricultural Sciences. These are essential programs that provide vital services to Pennsylvaniaís farming families.
Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding testified at the hearing. Penn State discussed the schoolís agricultural extension and promotion programs. Officials from the University of Pennsylvania discussed the universityís School of Veterinary Medicine. Other testifiers included officials representing the Pennsylvania 4-H, the Westmoreland County Extension, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, and the PennAg Industries Association.
Click here for video from the hearing.
Senate Majority Policy Committee listens to concerns from state, national experts on drones
I held a public hearing on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, after several requests from my colleagues. The hearing was held in conjunction with the Senate State Government Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Due to the growing concerns of security, privacy and public safety as it relates to the relatively new technology, the hearing focused on both hobbyists and commercial drone users.
The committee received testimony from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Joint State Government Commission, Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania State Police, PennDOT, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. PULS, Inc. and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International also provided feedback to the committee.
The goal of the hearing was to review what other states are doing to address the many concerns with this relatively new industry, as well as evaluate concerns from state agencies and prosecutors in Pennsylvania.
There are proposals before the General Assembly looking at a range of issues related to the industry including a study on the governmental uses of drone technology and a moratorium of government drones over private property with various exceptions, including executing search warrants, rescue missions, traffic assessments, and other provisions.
In 2015, 45 states considered proposals dealing with UAVs with 26 states having UAV laws on the books.
You can watch the hearing in its entirety as well as view testimony and presentations submitted to the committee here.
Young men from Berks, Schuylkill Counties earn rank of Eagle Scout
Last weekend, I had the honor to present congratulatory citations from the Senate of Pennsylvania to Christopher Schatz of Schuylkill Haven, Christian Gauker of Pottsville and Jonathan Templin of Sinking Spring for earning the rank of Eagle Scout during their respective Courts of Honor.
Each of these young men were required to perform a community service project in their local communities as part of their Eagle Scout. Christopher, a member of Troop 651, installed a flagpole and landscaped the surrounding grounds; Christian, a member of Troop 604, refinished a picnic table and grill, installed an additional picnic table and two benches and planted several dogwood trees at Terry Reilly Memorial Park in Pottsville; and Jonathan constructed a bulletin board for the Lincoln Park Pool in Sinking Spring.
Berks County Farm Bureau concerned about budget impasse, governorís vetoes
On Thursday, March 10, I attended the Berks County Farm Bureau breakfast to discuss the ongoing state budget impasse and other news from the state Capitol. As I stated earlier in this email, I am very concerned about the governorís line-item vetoes to several important agriculture programs, which is why Iíve joined my colleagues to fully restore funding for vital programs.
Thank you to the Berks County Farm Bureau for the invitation. I look forward to continue working with our agriculture community in both Berks and Schuylkill Counties to ensure that our vital ag programs are fully funded.
Celebrating Charter Day at the Conrad Weiser Homestead
Committees review every Student Succeeds Act
This week the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Committee held a joint public hearing on the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act ((ESSA). ESSA is touted as a more state-centered and flexible replacement to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The hearing was important for many reasons, not the least being that those committees will be studying the impact of the specific provisions of the ESSA on Pennsylvaniaís schools. The committees will also develop the proper policies and legislation to implement this new federal accountability measure in Pennsylvania.
Click here for video from the hearing.
High school students from Pottsville Area School District visit state Capitol
Representative Mike Tobash and I met with high school students from the Pottsville Area School District during their visit to the state Capitol on Monday. The students asked me questions about the state budget and other state-related issues during the visit.
Meeting with Tulpehocken FFA
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Tulpehocken FFA, who were visiting Harrisburg in during their State FFA Legislative Leadership Conference. It was an honor to meet so many bright young men and women who are the future of Pennsylvania agriculture.
The Senate is scheduled to convene on Monday, March 21 at 1 p.m. You can watch session live and view the voting calendar on my website.