Government Affairs & General Updates
July 27, 2023
1. Senators spar over school choice in Pennsylvania - While the Pennsylvania budget stalemate remains, senators argued over the importance of school choice and increasing public school funding at a committee hearing in Reading. The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss “student opportunities for success,” hearing from parents of children in public and private schools in Reading, as well as public school leaders of Reading School District. “There’s a lot of frustration inside the room and outside the room regarding public education,” Sen. David Argall, R-Pottsville, said. “In the last few years, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to make billions of dollars in additional investment in public education. But we’re concerned that the results have not been what any of us have hoped.” Parents who support Lifeline Scholarships, which would provide grants to low-income students in underperforming schools to attend charter or private schools, spoke about their desire to have options. “Children across the commonwealth are falling behind,” said Sara Torres, a mother in Reading with a child in high school. “I would like to have an alternative to save my child.” Torres was also critical of money in the school budget going to places other than the classroom and focused on students. “I send my son to a private school because it makes us feel like family. It’s a smaller community,” Leann Thomas, another Reading mother said. “I hope that you guys are willing to listen to what others have to say and take into consideration what scholarships do for low-income families.” Read More
2. Pa. Broadband Development Authority announces public comment period for Commonwealth’s BEAD plan Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) Executive Director Brandon Carson recently announced that public input will be gathered from community members including residents, businesses, and organizations on the draft five-year action plan to expand internet access across the Commonwealth using $1.16 billion in funding through the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) plan. The new online survey is available beginning July 26, through August 8. Feedback submitted by community members will help focus and finalize the development of Pennsylvania’s BEAD plan. Extending and expanding access to broadband across Pennsylvania and making connection more reliable and affordable is a top priority of Governor Josh Shapiro and his Administration. “The Broadband Development Authority is looking for feedback on the draft plan that will be used to expand access to affordable, high-speed internet across the Commonwealth,” said Executive Director Carson. “Pennsylvania’s broadband initiative is called 'Internet for All' for good reason, and input from our residents, businesses, and organizations is crucial to addressing connectivity barriers and needs.” As part of the “Internet for All” initiative, Governor Shapiro announced the Commonwealth will receive $1.16 billion through the BEAD Program to expand broadband infrastructure for communities lacking reliable, affordable, high-speed internet access. The BEAD funding to the Commonwealth will be administered by the PBDA – an independent, bipartisan agency created by law in December 2021. The five-year action plan for Pennsylvania’s BEAD allocation will set the vision for the implementation of these funds. Following federal approval of the plan, Pennsylvania is expected to receive the BEAD funding in 2024 and will then begin awarding subgrants to approved, eligible applicants. Read More
3. DCNR working on forest strategic plan. State forestry officials are working on a final draft of a new strategic plan to guide planning and management of Pennsylvania's forest lands for the next two decades. The plan titled Forests For All would be a successor to the last strategic plan written in the 1990s. Forestry officials outlined the components of the plan Wednesday during a meeting of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Citizens Advisory Council. The plan looks at stewardship of both public and private forest lands in Pennsylvania. The goals of the plan include helping ecosystems respond to climate change, addressing how forests relate to a public that is more diverse, looking at the social benefits of forests and promoting conservation practices in the forests, said Abby Jamison, a planner in the Bureau of Forestry.
4. Attorney General testifies before congressional committee on 'junk fee' plague. Attorney General Michelle Henry testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs that "junk fees" are becoming more pervasive in Pennsylvania and are damaging the competitive marketplace by inflating costs for borrowers, renters, travelers, and ticket buyers. So-called "junk fees" are surprise charges that do not appear in initial price advertisements, but often inflate the final purchase price by hundreds and thousands of dollars. Attorney General Henry testified that junk fees are becoming more common in consumer financing, landlord/tenant arrangements, and hotel and ticket sales in Pennsylvania and beyond. "Junk fees prevent consumers from effectively shopping for the best overall price. Honest businesses lose out to competitors who charge junk fees because the competitors' prices appear - at first - to be a better deal," Attorney General Henry testified. The Office of Attorney General has taken on businesses that charge these "junk fees" several times over the past few years. In August 2022, the Office filed suit against Mariner Finance. Mariner charged Pennsylvanians more than $27 million in junk fees and interest for add-ons from 2015 to 2018 and another $120 million in 2019. This case is in active litigation in Federal Court in Philadelphia, with the Office of Attorney General requesting that Mariner refund all junk fees and associated interest, pay penalties, and stop charging junk fees, among other relief. In April 2022, sixteen Attorneys General- including Pennsylvania- called on the CEOs of some of the biggest banks in America - JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo - to eliminate harmful junk fees including overdraft fees and non-sufficient fund fees.
5. Looking to harness ‘great potential,’ Pa. banks on the future of organic agriculture As demand for organically grown food continues to increase across the country, Pennsylvania is bolstering its efforts to capitalize on the trend and position itself as a leader in the organic sector through substantial investments at the state level. Building on the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, which allocates $1.6 million annually to support organic farming, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed another $1 million investment in organics in the 2023-24 fiscal year budget, calling organics the “future of Pennsylvania agriculture.” Shapiro’s budget includes funding to create the Organic Center of Excellence to act as a “gateway” to services and resources for farmers and producers transitioning to organic farming. To that end, the administration has said that the Organic Center of Excellence would provide a “coordinated, multi-faceted, and strategic effort to invest in and nurture the growth of organic agriculture.” The center would remove obstacles for producers, such as streamlining access to state services and building on existing public-private partnerships with industry groups such as The Rodale Institute in Kutztown. “We need to come together to support this innovation with smart investments – and that’s what our Commonwealth has done with the Rodale Institute, investing over $5.3 million in grants that fund research and job training initiatives,” Shapiro said. “My administration will continue to make these investments, fully funding the Pennsylvania Farm Bill and creating an Organic Center of Excellence to support the future of Pennsylvania agriculture.” Read More