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Government Outreach -September 14, 2023

Government Affairs & General Updates
September 14, 2023

1. Supreme Court hears arguments in challenge to preemption law barring local governments from passing stricter gun laws than the state's. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in the most significant challenge in almost 30 years to the preemption law barring local governments from passing stricter gun laws than those enacted by the state. The case, Crawford v. Commonwealth, was filed in October 2020, claiming the state preemption law "handcuffs local governments so that they cannot enact or enforce even simple, well-researched policies that have been repeatedly shown to save lives, while it also refuses to enact statewide gun safety laws. … In short, the Pennsylvania General Assembly's actions have stoked the gun violence epidemic." Jasmeet Ahuja, representing the plaintiffs in the case argued that Article 1, Section 1, of the state Constitution provides a "right to self-defense by legislation" which should empower local municipalities to determine if they should have stricter gun laws. The lawsuit was brought by Philadelphia and survivors of gun violence. In May 2022, Commonwealth Court dismissed the case with three judges favoring dismissal and two dissenting. The plaintiffs appealed the Commonwealth Court decision to the Supreme Court.

2. House panel to act on bills to deter ticket sale manipulation. A House committee heard favorable testimony Wednesday on legislation to do more to stop on-line scalpers from buying tickets in order to manipulate the market and sell the tickets at higher prices to consumers. The Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee took testimony on House Bill 1378 regarding the use of so-called grinch bots to buy large numbers of tickets quickly for popular events The panel held a related hearing last week on House Bill 1658 to ban the practice of speculative ticketing. HB1378 addresses how technology is being used to work against consumers, said Rep. Steven Malagari, D-Montgomery, the bill sponsor. "We need to have a serious discussion on this to keep ahead of technology and scam tactics," said Malagari. Malagari described grinch bots as software that creates an artificial scarcity of tickets for a popular event. Operators then sell these bot-purchased tickets at a significant markup to desperate consumers. They lose out on paying a fair price for a ticket, he added.

3. Lawmaker proposes stiffer penalties for employers that exploit child workers. A House Republican has announced plans for legislation to increase the criminal penalties for employers who illegally exploit child workers. "Any violation of child labor laws in not appropriate, but some violations can be much more serious and dangerous to the child than others. We should amend our state laws to better protect any at-risk child who is the subject of a child labor violation - and more strictly penalize the employers who would take advantage of a vulnerable child," Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, said in a cosponsor memo released Wednesday. Mackenzie said he intends to author legislation that would make it a second degree misdemeanor for an employer who intentionally hires juveniles "without proper parental care and control," and require the Department of Labor and Industry to notify child welfare authorities and federal authorities of child labor complaints and the legislation will require the state to produce an annual report detailing the nature of child labor law violations and where they occurred. The state House approved legislation in June that would double the fines for employers who violate child labor laws. House Bill 1354 would increase the penalties for Child Labor Act violations from $500 to $1,000 for initial violations. The fine for repeat violations would be raised from $1,500 to $3,000. That legislation has not moved in the state Senate. The Department of Labor and Industry earlier this month reported that the number of child labor law investigations has increased 276% in 2023 compared to the first eight months of 2022.

4.  UPS’s 4th largest hub in the country is in central Pa. and it’s now fully operational Hundreds of people were on hand Wednesday morning to mark the grand opening of UPS’s massive 775,000-square-foot “Super Hub” facility in Lower Swatara Township. The facility opened about a year ago but was developed in three phases and only recently became fully operational. Officials say the advanced automation and location of UPS’s new “super hub” near Middletown is helping businesses in Pennsylvania and beyond to reach more markets on the East Coast faster and more reliably. “This building is going to ensure that we continue to deliver best-in-class service to you,” said Carol Tome, CEO of UPS. The 24/7 East Zone Regional Hub is located at 2110 N. Union St. and is the fourth largest hub in UPS’s network. The facility is home to the largest renewable natural gas fueling station in the UPS network as well. UPS, the sixth largest employer in Dauphin County as of the first quarter of 2023, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, employs more than 1,700 people at the facility. "The economic impact of this project is massive,” said Rick Siger, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development. “When this project was first announced a few years ago it was part of a statewide investment by UPS of about 1.4 billion into their operation.” Read More

5.  Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry now has a direct line to state government Pennsylvania has launched a new office to give outdoor recreation businesses a direct line to the state government. The Office of Outdoor Recreation, announced by the Shapiro administration last month, will use its $422,000 budget to hire two staff members and fund travel to meet with outdoor recreation advocates, business owners, and government officials statewide. Stakeholders said they hope the creation of the office will result in improvements in parks and forests, increased visitation numbers, and continued growth within an industry that contributes an estimated $14 billion to the state economy each year. “I see us being able to really tap into understanding how we can advance our recreation because now, there’s somebody really attentive to that at the state level,” said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Susquehanna Economic Development Association-Council of Governments, which represents 11 central Pennsylvania counties. The Office of Outdoor Recreation was created as part of this year’s budget after months of discussions with a 50-member advisory coalition about expanding the outdoor industry in Pennsylvania. Officials said they hope the office identifies ways to make targeted investments in parks, forests, and other outdoor attractions. Read More

6.  Op-ed: Pennsylvania can help our country meet the growing demand for rare-earth minerals Historically known as a hub of industrial innovation, Pennsylvania is now poised to enter a new era of economic prosperity through the mining and refinement of rare-earth minerals. As global demand for these critical elements skyrockets, the Commonwealth has a unique opportunity to leverage its rich geological endowment to not only boost its economy but also contribute significantly to technological advancements and our nation’s security. Rare-earth minerals, a group of 17 elements, play a pivotal role in modern technology. They are crucial to manufacturing consumer electronics, renewable energy systems, and advanced defense technologies. Electric vehicles, rechargeable batteries, wind turbines, smartphones, laser and missile guidance, and even medical devices depend on these minerals for their functionality. With the nation’s increasing focus on electrification and technological innovation, the demand for rare-earth minerals has reached unprecedented levels. As the United States has only 1% of the world’s reserves of primary rare earth mineral sources, those being reserves readily mined in traditional manners, our nation is profoundly net import reliant. The current rare-earth supply chain is heavily concentrated in a handful of countries, primarily China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where extraction occurs under lax environmental regulations, often resulting in ecological devastation and human rights violations. Read More

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