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Government Outreach -August 17, 2023

Government Affairs & General Updates
August 17, 2023

1.  A plan to stop diverting road dollars to Pa. State Police could be a final piece of this year’s budget - For at least 50 years, Pennsylvania has used taxes drivers pay at the pump to fund its State Police force. But lawmakers are hopeful that the main budget bill passed by the divided Pennsylvania General Assembly and recently signed by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro is the first step to ending those transfers, which have diverted $8 billion from road and bridge construction in the past decade alone. The spending plan gives the 6,600-person law enforcement agency an almost 8% budget bump up to $1.6 billion, including paying for almost 400 new troopers. But where those dollars come from has shifted. Compared to last year, State Police will receive $125 million less from the state’s Motor License Fund, which is the bank account where the commonwealth deposits billions of dollars in annual gas tax revenue along with other vehicle fees. In turn, the agency will get $239 million more from the state’s General Fund, which is the bank account that receives most state income and sales taxes. For decades, gas tax transfers have helped pay for State Police at the expense of infrastructure projects, said Jason Wagner, managing director of the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association. “We totally understand that the State Police need to be funded, but our premise has been that funding the State Police out of Motor License Fund has a trade-off cost — it’s less road and bridge projects, it's less construction projects,” Wagner said. Read More


2. Nursing home industry presses for Medicaid reimbursement rate fix in budget bills. Nursing home providers are seeking a provision in the state Fiscal Code to address changes in Medicaid reimbursement rates that could affect whether some nursing home facilities stay open, the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA) said. The issue of nursing home reimbursement rates could be among issues lawmakers consider as they complete work on the state budget package, including a Fiscal Code bill, for Fiscal Year 2023-24. The main state $44.5 billion budget bill was enacted Aug. 3, but legislative action is still needed to implement an estimated $1.1 billion of that spending through the passage of code bills and other enabling legislation. The resolution of that $1.1 billion in spending is tied to solving a partisan dispute over state funding for school vouchers in a new student scholarship program. There is a short time frame for lawmakers to address the reimbursement issue with a federal deadline in coming weeks for states to finalize the rates, said PHCA spokesman Eric Heisler. The budget impasse that lasted most of July is still having an impact, he added.


3. Child deaths attributed to abuse ticked up in 2022. There was a slight increase in the number of children's deaths attributed to abuse and the number of cases of nearly-fatal child abuse in 2022 compared to the prior year, data released this week by the Department of Human Services. The Child Protective Services Annual Report shows that 60 child deaths were attributed to abuse in 2022, up from 58 in 2021. The number of near-fatal abuse cases increased from 217 in 2021 to 236 in 2022. The number of reports from mandated reporters about suspected abuse increased, but the percentage of reports substantiated decreased.


4. Lottery profit tops $1 billion for 12th straight year. Interest in several huge jackpot Mega Millions and Powerball drawings helped drive Pennsylvania Lottery revenue past the $1 billion mark in 2022-23, according to data released by the state this week. This is the 12th consecutive year the Lottery has generated more than $1 billion. Profits from the Lottery are directed toward senior programs, including property tax and rent rebates, free and reduced transportation and prescription assistance. Sales of scratch-off tickets were down almost 5% in 2022-23, compared to the prior year. Even so, gamblers spent more than $3.3 billion on scratch off tickets last fiscal year. Sales of draw games - like Powerball and Mega Millions - topped $1.4 billion, an 11.6% increase compared to the prior fiscal year.


5. What's on the line as Wabtec strike in Erie nears the two-month mark? There's a lot on the line as striking members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America continue to picket outside the Wabtec plant in Lawrence Park Township. In a recent opinion column published in the Erie Times-News, Luke Bernstein, CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, offered a worst-case scenario as the strike at the former GE Transportation plant nears the two-month mark on Aug. 22. According to Bernstein, "Both parties must ask themselves: How long can this strike continue before it spirals into a plant closure?" Along with his executive board, James Grunke, CEO of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, raised the same question in a recent opinion column in the Erie Times-News. Grunke wrote: "As the strike lingers with no progress in sight, it is time to face the unfortunate fact that Wabtec will have to begin making hard decisions regarding which facilities to continue investing in and which facilities will ultimately become dormant. To ignore the looming reality that the Erie plant may not make the cut would be irresponsible and is a conversation that can no longer be ignored." That "would be crushing for Erie and Pennsylvania," Bernstein wrote.


6. Regulations preventing LGBTQ+, hairstyle and religious discrimination now in effect in Pennsylvania New regulations to prevent LGBTQ+, hairstyle, and religious discrimination are now in effect in Pennsylvania. The new regulations more clearly define the definitions of ‘sex,’ ‘religious creed,’ and ‘race,’ the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which enforces state laws that prohibit discrimination, explained. Under the new regulations the protected class of ‘sex’ includes pregnancy status, childbirth status, breastfeeding status, sex assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, affectional or sexual orientation, and differences in sex development. The protected class ‘race’ includes topics associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles. The definition of ‘religious creed’ was updated to include all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief. The commission’s regulations were approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission in 2022, and by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General in 2023. They were then published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin in June 2023.  Read More

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