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Government Outreach -August 31, 2023

Government Affairs & General Updates
August 31, 2023

1. Senate passes pair of code bills but House Democrats say there's no agreement on the provisions in the legislation. The state Senate sent a pair of budget-related bills Wednesday though it's unclear how much, if any, progress the effort made toward settling the unresolved issues with the state budget. Senate Republican leaders acknowledge that even if the House were to pass the bills approved Wednesday, there would still be other unresolved budget matters that need addressed. They said some of the measures are "non-controversial" provisions that the House should be able to pass while one of the bills staked out issues, such as the creation of a school voucher program, that Senate Republicans insist are a priority for their caucus. The House is not scheduled to return to the Capitol until Sept. 26 - after a special election to fill a vacancy. With that vacancy, the House is split evenly with Democrats and Republicans both holding 101 seats.

2. School vouchers are back up for debate in Pa - Private-school vouchers are back on the table in Pennsylvania. The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday again approved a $100 million initiative — this time in a 28-19 vote — that would allow some students in Pennsylvania’s poorest districts to attend private schools. The move comes less than a month since Gov. Josh Shapiro vetoed the same proposal, one he helped develop. In addition, the Republican-led Senate cut a number of Democratic priorities from the state’s spending plan, including tens of millions of dollars in supplementary funding for the poorest school districts and money to continue a popular home-repair assistance program. Shapiro, a Democrat, led the state through a monthlong state budget impasse after negotiations broke down between him, Senate Republicans, and House Democrats over school vouchers. He created the program with Senate Republicans but soon realized he could not garner enough support among House Democrats — who hold a one-seat majority in the chamber. The state Senate returned Wednesday for an unusual August session day to pass two code bills, which contain the legislative language that allows the state to actually spend about $1.1 billion of the money legislators allocated in the $45.5 billion budget bill signed into law earlier this month. As talks continue to stall between House Democrats and Senate Republicans, GOP leaders said the ball is now in House Democrats’ court. Read More

3. Senate panel approves bill to move state primary, though there is no consensus on which date the primary should be held. A Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday to change the 2024 presidential primary date to March 19, launching action in coming weeks on a time-sensitive issue. The State Government Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 224 to change the primary date from the current April 23 on the fourth Tuesday of April to March 19 on the third Tuesday of March. After the vote, Committee Majority Chairman Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, said there will be further discussions to make sure a new primary date fits with ballot requirements. Sens. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, introduced SB224 last January as a way to give Pennsylvania more weight in the presidential nominating process. In recent weeks, there have been calls from Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and others to move the April 23 date to another date as it conflicts next year with the Jewish religious holiday of Passover. Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, majority chairman of the House State Government Committee, said this week he intends to call a committee meeting to deal with the issue during the first week of October to vote on both SB224 and House Bill 1634 to move the primary date to April 2. HB1634 is sponsored by Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, and Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia.

4. Shapiro announces that avian flu outbreaks in state have been eradicated. Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Wednesday that agriculture officials have determined that the highly-pathogenic avian flu outbreaks in the state have been eradicated. Shapiro said Pennsylvania has reached the critical milestone of HPAI-free status recognized by the World Animal Health Organization. The designation marks a return to normal international trade conditions for Pennsylvania's $7.1 billion poultry industry for the first time since April 2022, when the outbreak of the current strain began, affecting 31 commercial flocks, 36 backyard flocks, and causing the loss of 4.6 million domestic birds.

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