Government Affairs & General Updates
September 8, 2023
1. The last part of the Pa. budget standoff is costing state courts millions of dollars Thanks to budget dysfunction in the state Capitol, people filing divorces, estates, and many other legal actions across Pennsylvania are getting a financial break while courts lose millions of dollars. Authorization under state law for a pair of surcharges totaling $21.25 that the court system usually collects on many types of filings expired on July 31. While lawmakers and Gov. Josh Shapiro have put in place much of the state budget, a laundry list of legislative items remains undone. One is approving language that reauthorizes surcharges that help fund the state’s Unified Judicial System. The lost revenue amounts to about $3.7 million a month for the court system. On the flip side, though, the same amount of money is being saved by people who usually pay the surcharges. The affected list of filings includes divorces, estates, civil suits, protection from abuse orders, guardianships, custody proceedings and adoptions, to name a few. In the Butler County Register of Wills office, it’s lawyers who are paying more than 80% of the time, according to Register of Wills Sarah Edwards. The biggest inconvenience, she said, typically is that people who were familiar with the total cost of a filing have been surprised by the reduction and “have had to go back and make out a new check.” In the office of Washington County Prothonotary Laura Hough, though, there is a sense that a wide range of people are saving a little bit of money. Read More
2. Lawmakers take aim at 'speculative ticketing'. Legislation to combat speculative ticketing - in which scalpers sell tickets at inflated prices before they've even obtained the tickets - appears to be gaining traction in both chambers of the General Assembly. Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver, the majority chairman of the House Consumer Protection, Utility and Technology Committee introduced House Bill 1658 on Tuesday. Matzie's anti-speculative ticketing bill was co-sponsored by Rep. James Marshall, R-Beaver, among others. In the Senate, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers - Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, and Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna - released a cosponsor memo indicating they plan to introduce similar legislation. Matzie's committee held a hearing on the controversy on Thursday. Entertainment industry representatives described a variety of problems being caused by the speculative ticket sellers, problems that go beyond just selling tickets they may not have to sell. Though lawmakers said they were drawn to the issue over outrage at the fact that re-sellers have been taking money from ticket-buyers and then failing to deliver valid tickets.
3. Senate bill would allow teens to pre-register to vote before turning 18. A state senator has introduced legislation that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. "In an effort to encourage increased civic engagement among young voters and make it easier for them to exercise their right to vote when they turn 18 years of age, my legislation would al1low 16- and 17-year-old individuals to preregister to vote," Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, said in a cosponsor memo for Senate Bill 904. If the measure became law, pre-registered teens would then automatically be registered to vote when they turn 18. Twenty-three states allow teens under the age of 18 to pre-register to vote, Collett said in the cosponsor memo.
4. Medical Marijuana Advisory Board rejects bid to allow patients to buy edible products. Medical marijuana patients who prefer to take their medicine in edible forms will have to continue traveling to neighboring states. The state's Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Wednesday rejected a proposal to allow dispensaries to begin selling edible products, The Center Square reported. "Concerns about safety, efficacy and legal enforcement gave members of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Program pause. Six abstained from voting on the recommendation at all during its Wednesday meeting. Only two members supported the proposal, while two more rejected it," the website reported. Legislation to allow medical marijuana patients to buy edibles in dispensaries was approved by the Senate Law and Justice Committee in June, but that bill, Senate Bill 538, has not received a vote before the full Senate.
5. Warehouses dominate discussion of proposed law to add oversight to Pennsylvania development Three hours of discussion Wednesday over a proposed new Pennsylvania law came down to familiar fault lines: growth versus preservation, development versus tradition. State Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Northampton) led the hearing on House Bill 782, which would require more information from builders about the impact of big developments. The bill would also invite more scrutiny from government before construction proceeds, adding a regional element to what is now a local decision. Freeman is the Democratic chairman of the state House's Local Government Committee. "This legislation does need work" the bill's sponsor, Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), said in prepared remarks. He did not attend the hearing because of a family member's illness. The bill may not be in final form, but the opinions for and against it are already firm. HB 782 attempts to give local government more power to guide how development affects communities. Builders of "mega-developments" would have to provide more analysis of impacts, including how construction would affect traffic, roads, emergency services, stormwater and more. The law would also invite neighboring towns to weigh in on the use of private property across borders. That is a local decision now. State Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Northampton) led the hearing on House Bill 782, which would require more information from builders about the impact of big developments. Yet what some people see as a problem, others see as the cost of an economy that is moving forward. Schlossberg's proposal is a big step in the wrong direction, according to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. Read More
6. Public investment alone won’t be enough to safeguard our water infrastructure Communities across Pennsylvania all share a common desire for reliable, safe and affordable water services. Residents should be able to turn on the tap and have access to high-quality drinking water and know that their wastewater is being properly managed in a way that protects Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. That’s why the recent announcement by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration that it will invest $116 million to upgrade water infrastructure projects across Pennsylvania, including in Chester County, is a positive step forward. This wise use of Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority funds is a good start – but we cannot rest on our laurels. With the average age of most Pennsylvania sewer and water systems approaching 75 and 50 years respectively, our aging infrastructure will require billions in investment to maintain and modernize systems in a way that effectively addresses growing public health threats from “forever chemicals” and other emerging issues. This is a tall order for many municipalities that must finance necessary improvements to comply with increasingly stringent regulatory requirements while keeping these vital services affordable. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2022 Report Card estimated Pennsylvania will require $18.6 billion in investment over the next 10 years to improve the state’s water and wastewater infrastructure – a number that is only barely offset by recent federal and state infrastructure funding. To address this challenge, an all-of-the-above approach is necessary. Our state must utilize both public and private investment. Read More