BY: DAVID G. GREINEDER, IOM, ABC KEYSTONE DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
While the Capitol Building has been closed to the public for several months, the government affairs team has been working hard advocating on behalf of the construction industry. Utilizing email, phone, and virtual platforms, we continue to engage elected officials on behalf of our members. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly did not slow down activities of state government, in fact, the General Assembly has been in session more days and has been more active than in “normal” years. Here is a rundown of just a few of the happenings over the last month:
Speaker Turzai Resigns: Earlier this year, Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced he would not seek re-election. It was expected the Speaker would leave office for the private sector early in the spring session. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed that timing. In June, the Speaker formally announced his resignation, effective June 15. ABC Pennsylvania sent a letter of congratulations, as Speaker Turzai has been a strong supporter for the commercial construction industry throughout his public service. In fact, the Speaker was the key force in convincing the Governor to re-open construction earlier than anticipated. The Speaker’s resignation set up a leadership election within the House Republican Caucus. Four representatives were elected to new leadership posts:
- Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) will serve as Speaker.
- Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) will serve as Majority Leader.
- Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) will serve as Majority Whip.
- Martin Causer (R-McKean) will serve as the House Republican Policy Committee Chair.
State Budget: At the end of May, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, a $26 billion budget that flat-funds education programs for a full twelve months and most other statewide programs for five months. State leaders will have enormous challenges budgeting the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. Deficits are projected to be $5 billion, and negotiations need to be completed before November 30, which is the end date for the spending plan and the legislative session. There is a realization between the administration and legislative leaders that the state cannot cut or tax its way out of the budget hole; however, solutions are unclear at this time, and fiscal decisions will be based on future federal assistance. ABC Pennsylvania will continue to monitor the situation and engage lawmakers on issues of importance, such as taxation and other regulatory matters.
Concurrent Resolution: In June, the General Assembly, along bipartisan lines, passed House Resolution 836, which terminates the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. Legislators who supported the resolution argue the Governor cannot issue a veto because the emergency code states the General Assembly may terminate an emergency order, and thereafter the Governor shall do so. On the other hand, Governor Wolf is arguing he does have power to veto the resolution, citing the state constitution, which says every order, resolution, or vote, shall be presented to the Governor. Because the Governor has yet to terminate the order, per the resolution, the Senate filed suit in Commonwealth Court. No matter which side you agree with, there are strong arguments on both sides. The case is pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which agreed to expedite the case.
Impeachment Resolution: Also in June, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), along with 24 co-sponsors, introduced five articles of impeachment against Governor Wolf. The articles outline objections to the Governor’s management of the pandemic, from the waiver process to the massive delays in unemployment compensation. At the time of this writing, it is unclear if the House will take up the articles. The process would largely mirror the federal government’s impeachment process, where the House would vote to impeach, and the Senate would vote to remove the person from office.
Primary Election: Pennsylvania held its primary election on June 2. As in any election, there were some surprises. In the southwest, one ten-year incumbent Democrat lost their primary election. In the southeast, five incumbent Democrats in the Philadelphia region lost their primary election. One Republican resigned his House seat to run for Senate and won. These numbers, combined with 18 retirements, means there will be at least 25 new state Legislators elected in November. No matter what side of the aisle, these newly elected candidates continue recent political trends, where voters are electing more progressive candidates on the Democratic side and more conservative candidates on the Republican side. What this means broadly is both political parties will have very different views on policy priorities. These views will drive the agendas of the party caucuses as a new two-year session begins in January 2021.
Police Reform Bills: Republican and Democratic leaders have agreed to move a package of bills as a first step to addressing law enforcement reform. The first, House Bill 1841, would require law enforcement agencies to disclose a current or former officer’s personnel file if the person is seeking a position in another agency. The bill is intended to stop the practice of withholding information, complaints, or disciplinary actions in the hiring process out of fear of civil liability. The second bill, House Bill 1910, would add additional required trainings for law enforcement officers, including recognizing signs of child abuse, annual instruction on the use of force, de-escalation and harm reduction techniques, and biennial instruction in community and cultural awareness.
The summer and fall months are sure to be just as active on the advocacy front. Please keep apprised of ABC news and resources so you can stay in the know and participate in opportunities to let your voice heard. Thank you for your membership. Stay safe, stay informed, and stay engaged.
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