Government Affairs & General Updates
August 1, 2023
1. House lawmaker seeks to ensure funding for essential services during impasse. A House lawmaker wants to ensure that state payment for delivery of essential services continues during a state budget impasse. Rep. Marla Brown, R-Lawrence, plans to introduce a bill to declare payments funneled by three state agencies for a variety of services are essential. These would include payments for domestic violence, mental health services, behavioral health services, intellectual disabilities, payments to counties for children and youth programs, the Human Services Development Fund, medical assistance payments for outpatient services and drug and alcohol treatment services. For some of these services, counties contract with non-profits as providers. The proposed legislation defines an essential service as a service for which payment was made during the previous fiscal year from federal and state appropriations to the Department of Human Services, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and Department of Aging. As the current state budget impasse enters a second month, there is concern about delays in state payments that support social services provided by local non-profits across Pennsylvania.
2. PCCD due to get another big boost in budget. For the second year in a row, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) is looking at a large funding boost and expanded role under the state budget bill for Fiscal Year 2023-34 awaiting final enactment. The PCCD is receiving a nearly 40 percent, or $6.7 million, boost to bring its appropriation to $23.5 million. This is on top of a 50 percent boost in PCCD's budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23. PCCD is slated to oversee a new criminal justice program -- $7.5 million in state funding for the first time to provide grants to support legal counsel for indigent defendants unable to pay for it.
3. Venkat pushing to get medical debt relief included in code bills. The prime sponsor of legislation that would create a statewide medical debt relief program says he hopes that the proposal gets included in one of the code bills that lawmakers must pass to implement the now-delayed state budget. The House approved legislation, House Bill 78, which would create a medical debt relief program on June 26 by a 114-89 vote. And while many of the bills approved by the state House in June faced stiff Republican opposition, six of the nine Republicans on the Health Committee voted in favor of HB 78 when it was approved by that committee (by an 18-3 vote). Pennsylvanians would be eligible for relief if they have a household income at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or medical debt equal to 5 percent or more of the individual's household income.
4. Shapiro announces $400M workforce training program Surrounded by allies in government and labor during a visit to Pittsburgh, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced the creation of a new $400 million workforce training initiative on Monday that he said will leverage federal funds to address – and, ideally eliminate – workforce shortages plaguing the state. “It’s very clear: More trained workers equals quicker progress, cleaner water, better infrastructure, more economic opportunity for Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said. The governor created the Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Program through an executive order he signed on Monday. The initiative that will distribute money made available for workforce training programs under the two laws was recently enacted at the federal level. The grant program, which applies to organizations working on federally funded infrastructure projects, will distribute grants of up to $40,000 for each new worker hired by an eligible company. The funding, made available through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, could create 10,000 new jobs over a five-year span, according to the Shapiro administration. Read More
5. Allegheny County Dems select Lindsay Powell for House special election On Saturday, Democrats in Allegheny County selected Pittsburgh-area nonprofit director Lindsay Powell to be their nominee in a special election that will determine the balance of power in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Powell, who is director of workforce strategies at the economic development coalition InnovatePGH, will run for the House District 21 seat vacated by Sara Innamorato, who is the Democrats’ nominee for Allegheny County Executive. Innamorato announced on July 19 that she was resigning the seat she was first elected to in 2018. That resignation eliminated Democrats’ slim lead in the House and left them tied with Republicans tied 101-101. Since it’s a special election, rather than holding a primary members of the county Democratic committee hold a meeting and vote to select their choice. The state Democratic Party will either reject or accept that nomination, but as reported by WESA-FM, the state party usually accepts the local committee’s choice. The Legislature has yet to approve a budget for the new fiscal year, and Republicans hold a majority in the state Senate. The special election will be held Sept. 19, before the Legislature returns to session. It’s not yet clear whether Powell will face an opponent. Read More
6. Pa. Liquor Control Board’s grip on liquor sales faces a new round of resistance On July 3, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board launched a new version of its licensee online order portal, a digital system that bars and restaurants use to place orders for wine and spirits. The rollout of the system known as LOOP — already over budget and delivered about six months late — was riddled with bugs and confusing prompts, creating a three-week nightmare for Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry and businesses trying to sell or buy alcohol. “I’m guessing, but we’ll probably do a third of the business we normally do this month. Every dime matters and every bottle we sell matters, but they don’t seem to care much about that,” says John D’Andrea, co-owner of D’Andrea Wines, founded by his father, Joseph, in Penn Hills in 1982. Those in the industry also are unhappy about new fees built into the system that they say they didn’t see coming and might be passed on to consumers. While state officials defend improvements they say the new system will deliver, the disruption has many in the commercial wine and spirits world once again asking: Why does state government continue to be directly involved in wholesale alcohol sales at all? Read More