By: Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone
If you’ve had your fill of pumpkin pie, stuffing, and fruitcake for the year, you’re not alone. Mountains of leftovers can seem like a good idea at the time, but after a while, everyone has had enough. But, if you think staring at your leftovers is bad, it’s nothing compared to what’s left on the table for the Pennsylvania legislature in 2019.
Committed to an aggressive conservative agenda out of the gate, new House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler is aiming to make good on his commitments to both his Lancaster County constituents and to a growing number of conservative House Republicans, who constructed a major stumbling block for former Majority Leader Dave Reed throughout his tenure. Conservative factions were critical of Reed for lack of effort in holding the line on several key policies like tax reform and labor rollbacks, while also lambasting his efforts to compromise with the Wolf administration during budget negotiations. To keep the train on the tracks, Cutler will look to work closely with more conservative allies in an attempt to offer hardline legislation to Governor Wolf for a potential veto. And without several key moderate voices, the Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), are expected to shift further to the right as well. But before either chamber can hit the ground running, there are a number of advocate groups that will hold them accountable for 2018.
In what many view as an effort to protect more vulnerable Republican members up for re-election in 2018, leaders held back on many key policy proposals, leaving outside groups screaming for a vote. In the end, the plan wasn’t as successful as many had hoped and the issues at hand are still lingering as lawmakers get set to head back to Harrisburg for another two-year term. Here’s a look at some of the issues that won’t be going away any time soon.
- Statute of limitations reform. Perhaps the biggest untouched issue in Harrisburg last year, the grand jury report outlining decades of abuse by Catholic diocese parishioners garnered national news attention. Attorney General Josh Shapiro detailed not only the abuse, but systematic recommendations on how to rectify the situation. At the top of the list is removing the cap for the statute of limitations, allowing victims to pursue civil action against their abusers from decades ago. Without legislation to do so, victims are left with little recourse and no justice, claim advocates. Late last year, the House approved a measure to provide a twoyear window for victims to pursue legal action, however Republican leaders in the Senate claimed that such a move would violate Pennsylvania’s Constitution. The lack of action on the issue was criticized across the nation and has remained in the forefront ever since. This issue will certainly remain in the news in 2019.
- Redistricting reform. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped into the 2018 election cycle and redrew Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional districts, candidates and officials were in chaos as they struggled to understand the legality of such a move as well as the new constituencies. The move highlighted the lack of input into the redistricting process and the complexity of how legislative districts are drawn. Another redistricting process is set to occur after the 2020 census, so legislators are eager to ensure that such a move by the court doesn’t happen again. Outside advocates are calling for legislation that ensures citizen participation and greater buy-in from minor political parties, however the clock is ticking on any move to reform the process.
- Power subsidies. After the midyear announcement by power giant Exelon that they would be shutting down the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power generation site in 2019, a battle ignited between local supporters of the hundreds of jobs that are slated to be eliminated and fiscally conservative groups who claimed that any attempt by the state to revive the site would amount to a public energy subsidy. Because of the falling costs of fossil fuels and natural gas production in Pennsylvania, nuclear energy isn’t as financially superior as it once was. Exelon testified last year that TMI had lost money for six years in a row, leaving the company no choice but to shutter the energy production site. But local elected leaders like Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) have vowed to save the facility, claiming that it’s not only an economic engine, but also a stable supplier of power for the region. With state expenditures already tight going into 2019, this will be a crucial issue for central Pennsylvania and conservatives across the Commonwealth.
- Workforce development. Although the legislature made minor reforms to Pennsylvania’s labor climate in 2018, many bills were left untouched that could have helped bridge the gap for a new generation of skilled workers. A key component to this formula will be reducing requirements for career & technical education (CTE) students and instructors. While Governor Wolf signed a bill into law in 2018 exempting CTE students from the Keystone exams, instructors are still held to a high continuing education (CE) requirement – one of the highest in the nation. This time commitment has led many valuable industry professionals to abandon their commitment of passing on knowledge to a new generation. Legislation is required to reduce that commitment. In addition, legislation is required to adjust or remove the caps on instructor salaries, which are typically far lower than industry professionals.
January 3, 2019