Pa. Senate Democrats, Republicans elect legislative leaders

Pennsylvania’s Senate Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday elected their respective leadership teams for the 2023-24 legislative session. 

The Senate Democratic Caucus welcomed a new member, Senator Nick Miller of Allentown. The new and returning members elected the following Caucus Leadership Team: 

  • Leader – Jay Costa, Jr. (Allegheny County) 
  • Caucus Whip – Tina Tartaglione (Philadelphia County) 
  • Appropriations Committee Chair – Vincent Hughes (Montogomery/Philadelphia counties) 
  • Appropriations Vice Chair – Tim Kearney (Chester/Delaware counties) 
  • Caucus Chair – Wayne D. Fontana (Allegheny County) 
  • Caucus Secretary – Maria Collett (Bucks/Montgomery counties) 
  • Administrator – Judy Schwank (Berks County) 

Costa issued a statement thanking his fellow Pennsylvania Democratic senators for entrusting him with the responsibility of Leader of the caucus. “I am excited about the work before us, and I am honored to be leading the Democratic caucus as we continue to deliver for Pa.’s families.” 

Senate Republicans elected Kim Ward (Westmoreland County) to serve as interim Senate President Pro Tempore from Dec. 1 until Jan. 2. The Senate will vote on Jan. 3 for a President Pro Tempore to serve for the new two-year legislative session. Ward becomes the first woman to hold the position, the third-highest post in Pennsylvania government. She previously served as Senate Majority Leader. 

The Senate Republican team includes the following: 

  • Senate Majority Leader – Joe Pittman (Armstrong/Butler/Indiana/Westmoreland counties) 
  • Majority Whip – Ryan Aument (Lancaster County) 
  • Senate Appropriations Committee – Scott Martin (Lancaster County) 
  • Majority Caucus Chair – Kristin Phillips-Hill (York County) 
  • Senate Majority Caucus Secretary – Camera Bartolotta (Beaver/Washington/Greene counties) 

Ward said in an statement that she looks forward to joining with all members of the Senate, Democrat and Republican, to “chart a path forward that requires us to selflessly work together advocating for all Pennsylvanians and their families by putting the principles and respect for this institution and our Commonwealth above all.” 

Stressing bipartisanship among members, she cited the work being done by Pennsylvania Senate Democrats and Republicans as “proof we can be diverse and unified at the same time.”

Pa. business, education leaders look forward to cooperation with Shapiro, Fetterman

Praise for the winners and optimistic glances to the future figured in the fallout from last week’s victories by Josh Shapiro in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race and John Fetterman for a seat in the U.S. Senate. 

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Luke Bernstein and Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) president Rich Askey extended congratulations and extolled the virtues of both men in the aftermath of the Midterm elections. 

“The PA Chamber congratulates Governor-Elect Josh Shapiro, Senator-Elect John Fetterman, and all candidates elected to serve Pennsylvania at the state and federal levels,” Bernstein said in a statement. “We look forward to working together to move Pennsylvania and our nation forward. This election featured spirited contests across the Commonwealth, with law passionate supporters advocating for their cause and preferred candidates.” 

Bernstein said that while Harrisburg has a divided government, Democrats and Republicans have demonstrated a willingness to cross the aisle for a common good. 

“We proved through the recent Corporate Net Income tax reduction and other bipartisan initiatives, that Republicans and Democrats can come together and tackle big issues. The PA Chamber looks forward to leading the way to foster that spirit of working together.” 

Askey offered his congratulations to Shapiro and Fetterman on behalf of the 177,000 educators he represents as PSEA’s president and in a statement, pledged “to work with them to make Pennsylvania’s public schools the very best that they can be.” 

He noted that the Gov.-elect has long supported public education and Pennsylvania students. “We look forward to working with him and the Legislature to ensure our students continue to have the tools they need to succeed.” 

“Just as important, we know that John Fetterman will be a strong voice for public education in the U.S. Senate and will advocate for federal support for programs that work for our public school students and the educators and support professionals who teach and serve them.” 

Askey said that addressing crisis-level staffing shortages in Pennsylvania’s public schools is a major issue awaiting the new governor. He added that Shapiro has shown himself to be “committed to continued investments in education and to working in partnership with educators, school teachers, and families to identify strategies to recruit and retain a new generation of teachers and support professionals.” 

Shapiro’s strong showing on Election Day makes it clear, Askey remarked, that Pennsylvanians are not interested in cutting billions of dollars in public school funding and redirecting it to voucher schemes. He stated that such ideas would dismantle public schools in their communities. 

“Shapiro is very focused on ideas that work in public education,” said Askey. “Throughout the campaign, Shapiro has promised to reduce the time students spend on standardized tests, keep our schools safe, and expand access to vocational, technical, and computer training as well as other academic and extracurricular activities.” 

Many students are struggling with mental and emotional health issues and Shapiro recognizes that, Askey noted. Shapiro is expected to take measures so that every Pennsylvania school has at least one mental health professional so that children and youths needing help can obtain it.

PA House approves bill to increase allotted deductibles for small businesses 

Tax reform legislation passed by the house on Tuesday would allow Pennsylvania’s small businesses to take full deductions on qualifying equipment up to $1.05 million on state personal income tax. 

House Bill 333, introduced in the House by Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland County, was approved on Tuesday by a 125-75 vote and is now headed to the Senate.  

The bill amends Section 179 of the Federal Tax Code, which allows owners of a pass-through business to take a deduction for the full purchase price of qualifying equipment. 

Currently, those subject to state corporate net income tax can take a full deduction up to $1 million. Those subject to the state personal income tax, however, can only take a deduction up to $25,000. 

House Bill 333 increases that deduction during the current year from $25,000 to $1.05 million, consistent with the federal limit. 

If passed in the Senate and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, the bill would help provide relief for struggling businesses, allowing them to create more jobs across the state, Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“The Commonwealth needs to be increasingly competitive, with both jobs and capital. Companies and investors have choices – both globally and among the states – on where to place their investments and we want businesses to remain here, invest here and grow here,” said Barr. “House Bill 333 is a key component of the Chamber’s Propel PA Forward initiative which focuses on policies that will improve the state’s business climate to create an equality of opportunity for every resident. We applaud the PA House for passing this bill with bipartisan support.” 

PA Senate passes bill allowing businesses a higher tax deduction on new equipment 

A bill that would allow Pennsylvania businesses to claim tax deductions of up to $1.05 million for the purchase of new equipment passed the state Senate in a 31 to 19 vote and is now headed to the House. 

Senate Bill 349 calls for the removal of a limit on Pennsylvania S corporations, partnerships and individuals that limits the amount to $25,000 annually for new equipment, software and vehicles. 

“The increase in the deduction found in Senate Bill 349 is not a tax credit, but simply allows a tax deduction earlier in the useful life of depreciable assets,” said Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the prime sponsor on the bill. “This overdue change is an incentive to encourage businesses to buy equipment and to invest, which promotes job growth in Pennsylvania.” 

The legislation brings Pennsylvania small businesses in line with the state’s C corporations, which could already use the deductions as part of section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. Pennsylvania’s personal income tax laws had limited other businesses to that $25,000 deduction, said Hutchinson. 

If passed by the house, the bill will provide a boost to the state’s small and independent businesses following 18 months of uncertainty and restrictions during the pandemic, said Greg Moreland, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses Pennsylvania. 

“This legislation mimics parts of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which allows full expensing up to $1,050,000 for the purchase of new equipment, but at the state tax level,” said Moreland. “Prior to the pandemic we saw how federal tax code changes helped drive business growth around the country, and if SB 349 becomes state law, small businesses will be better positioned to invest, grow, hire, and drive Pennsylvania’s economic recovery.” 

The legislation is part of a three-bill Small Business Reform Package that includes Senate Bills 347, 348 and 349. 

SB 347, introduced by Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin and Perry, would allow for tax-deferral when property is exchanged for similar property, a long-standing federal provision available in every state in some form except for Pennsylvania, DiSanto wrote in a memorandum for the bill. 

SB 348, introduced by Sen. Judy Ward, R- Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon,  would allow small businesses to use the Net Operating Loss deduction. 

Both bills have yet to be passed in the Senate. 

“The passage of SB 349 is the first step in helping advance a small business tax package to help employers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated shutdowns by bringing Pennsylvania tax law in-line with federal tax deduction law,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland. 

RGGI receives IRRC approval and now heads to the state General Assembly 

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that would reward power companies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, was approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission of Pennsylvania and will now go the General Assembly for debate.

RGGI is a partnership between 10 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. States participating in the program set a regional cap on CO2 emissions from electric power plants.

Each state has its CO2 allowance budget, which plants must purchase from in an equal amount to the CO2 they emit.

The state Department of Environmental Protection published its proposed rulemaking for the initiative in the Pennsylvania Bulletin in November and held a public comment period until Jan. 14. This summer it released its final rulemaking documents on the program, which were then brought to the IRRC.

IRRC’s decision is a win for the Wolf administration, which has pushed for its passage. In a statement, Wolf said RGGI “is one more way for Pennsylvania, which is a major electricity producer, to reduce carbon emissions and achieve our climate goals.”

Opponents, however, oppose the plan saying the initiative would harm business and could ultimately send Pennsylvania’s power plants to other states.

In its own statement on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said businesses need to have a seat at the table when addressing climate change.

“While we were afforded the opportunity to provide input into this process, the final regulation did not, in our view, adequately address the potential for Pennsylvania to lose vital power generation capacity to neighboring states,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the chamber. “Nor did it adequately protect our industrial manufacturers, and the rule will impose significant cost on ratepayers, families and businesses at a time when Pennsylvania is struggling to recover from the pandemic.”

Legislators prepare to introduce $650M hospital grant program in House, Senate

Incoming legislation in the House and Senate looks to give back to Pennsylvania’s “health care heroes” with $650 million in grant funding.

From closing down elective surgeries to testing and vaccinating for COVID-19 – and integrating telehealth to a historic number of patients – Pennsylvania hospitals have had their hands full with large-scale changes to their operations.

The Health Care Heroes and Public Health Preparedness Act, legislation soon to be introduced in both houses of the legislature, would use funds from the $7.2 billion in federal funds set aside for Pennsylvania through the American Rescue Plan Act to help hospitals and hospital systems strengthen their workforce, maintain public health infrastructure and more.

“This is designed as a grant program,” said Andy Carter, president of the Hospital and Healthsystem association of Pennsylvania (HAP) during a press conference announcing the legislation. “It’s an opportunity for each member hospital to identify their highest priority needs and show the Commonwealth how they will advance health care in their community.”

A report by the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council published earlier this year found that from January to September of 2020, Pennsylvania hospitals reported $4.9 billion in COVID-19 related expenses and revenue loss.

If the state act is signed into law, hospitals and hospital systems could apply for grant funding for programs such as employee counseling and resiliency initiatives, training programs for care delivery models such as telemedicine, and retention initiatives for high-need clinical staff.

“We know what you did in the last year and a half in retooling your hospitals and treating those who needed treatment from COVID and now helping to vaccinate Pennsylvania,” said State Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland). “We also know that you gave up the more elective surgeries and have suffered just like the rest of our economy has suffered through COVID.”

The act would help address behavioral health capacity issues among both patients and providers, according to Dr. Erika Saunders, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“The impact on people with mental illness, addiction and intellectual disabilities has been profound due to the disruption in services and community support and the stress on our workers in frontline industries has created the second epidemic of distress and despair,” said Saunders.

The bill are expected to soon be introduced in their respective chambers with Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene and Washington) as prime sponsor of the Senate bill and Rothman and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia) as the co-prime sponsors of the House bill.

The legislation is expected to be swept into the state’s larger discussions regarding the state budget, which will close at the end of the state’s fiscal year in June.

NFIB hires late Lebanon senator’s chief of staff as new state director

Gregory Moreland. PHOTO PROVIDED.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) announced its newest state director for Pennsylvania on Monday.

Greg Moreland, a veteran and former chief of staff to the late Sen. David Arnold (R-Lebanon, Dauphin and York), now leads the small business organization’s Pennsylvania branch.

Moreland has over five years of experience in Pennsylvania government, where he has held positions as legislative intern for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, policy analyst and policy advisor for Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and, most recently, chief of staff for Senator Arnold.

Arnold was in the Senate from Jan. 14, 2020 to Jan. 17, 2021 and died shortly after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Prior to joining the Senate, Arnold held a 14-year term as Lebanon County’s district attorney.

“NFIB is thrilled to have Greg Moreland as our permanent voice of small business in Harrisburg,” said Greg Biryla, NFIB senior state director. “As we find ourselves in the middle of 2021’s legislative session and state budget process, NFIB and our Pennsylvania members need a state director who is prepared to hit the ground running, will be a leader for struggling small businesses still trying to get back on their feet, and someone who understands that NFIB’s advocacy is about defending and advancing the interests of main street.”

The NFIB is a member-driven nonprofit advocating for small and independent business owners across the country.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, those business owners need a voice speaking for them at the Capitol now more than ever, according to Moreland.

“They need a strong voice in Harrisburg that will speak out about the issues that most impact them on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Our small business owners are busy running day-to-day logistics and creating jobs. I am eager to communicate their stories to lawmakers.”

Wolf Administration and General Assembly form COVID-19 vaccine task force

A joint task force that includes members of the General Assembly and the Wolf Administration was empaneled and is expected to help the state streamline how it communicates vaccine information and issues.

Announced by Gov. Tom Wolf, task force members will represent the viewpoints of their caucus while members of the Wolf Administration will act as subject matter experts to provide answers and suggestions to problems, according to the Wolf administration.

Task force members are Alison Beam, acting Secretary of Health; Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency; Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery and Philadelphia; Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna; Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster; and Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington.

“We have a good working relationship with our legislators, and we know they are the eyes, ears, and voices for Pennsylvanians,” said Wolf. “The feedback they receive from their local communities is extremely important, particularly as the commonwealth continues to improve upon this once-in-a-generation vaccine rollout. Working with leaders from each caucus in the General Assembly, we are creating a task force to ensure collaboration and strengthen communications about the state’s vaccine plan.”

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, applauded Wolf’s attempt to improve collaboration and communication between the General Assembly and his administration as the two bodies work to distribute more vaccines.

“Vaccine distribution must be the top priority for all levels of state government at this time,” Cutler said. “We have reached a critical moment in our battle to defeat the virus, and every misstep at this time is a delay that could result in additional harms.”

Gov. Wolf proposes $145 million fund transfer for business aid

Pennsylvania businesses whose operations and revenue were adversely affected by the pandemic could have access to $145 million in grant funding, pending approval from the state legislature.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that he is looking to transfer $145 million in funds from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund at the state Insurance Department to be used in grants for businesses.

“Business owners and employees have worked hard to protect their customers and their communities during this pandemic, and I thank all of those who have prioritized health and safety despite the hardship of the past several months,” Wolf said. “Our business owners and workers have been forced to make sacrifices because of COVID-19 and they need and deserve our support.

Before the funds can be distributed to businesses through grants, the fund transfer into the state’s general fund will need legislative authorization, the Wolf Administration wrote in a press release.

Since March, the state has provided over $525 million in relief to businesses and non-profits along with federal support through programs like the Paycheck Protection Plan.

Earlier this month, Wolf announced that the state would be shutting down indoor dining and alcohol sales from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4.

The move was lampooned by businesses, especially restaurant owners, who said that there was not enough warning for the closures and there was no safety net offered to businesses as there was in March thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program and additional unemployment compensation.

New bill would help hospital systems support nursing and personal care homes

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has proposed legislation that would provide approximately $500 million to hospital systems to help lower the rate of COVID-19 related deaths in nursing and personal care homes.

Turzai’s legislation would designate at least one health system in six regions to receive the funds to administer or manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to ensure the elder-care facilities can protect their residents.

Turzai’s proposal came as the state Department of Health reported that nearly 70% of the Commonwealth’s 3,416 COVID-related deaths were nursing or personal care home residents.

“These settings are not fully equipped to protect their residents; we need the expertise of Pennsylvania’s outstanding academic medical experts, who are located in every region of the state,” Turzai said.

The $500 million for the program would come from the $3.9 billion in COVID-19 funding the state received from the federal government and would be distributed by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

The legislation was created with help from experts at UPMC in Pittsburgh, which prepared a prototype for how the program could be implemented in southwest Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania needs to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our seniors, many with underlying health issues,” he said. “This proposal, developed by medical experts in our state, is a direct response to the COVID-19 crisis here.”

Casey to propose G.I Bill for health care workers

U.S. Senator Bob Casey says he will introduce the legislation he says would act as a modern G.I. Bill for the country’s health care workers.

The Pandemic Responders Service Award Act would award millions of U.S. health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic access to money to pay for student loans, additional education or for savings for the future.

“This is a piece of legislation that should thank appropriately health care workers who have answered the call of their country during this terrible pandemic,” said Casey, D-Pa., during a press conference. “I think most would agree that if there is a front line, these are the workers that are there.”

Casey’s bill would give eligible workers the equivalent of four years of in-state tuition at a public university, which is currently $39,880, over a four year period.

The awards would not include additional costs such as room and board.

Those eligible for the award would include people employed by emergency medical services; workers involved in health care and patient care in hospitals including janitorial, transport, laundry and food services; home health care workers; residential care workers; and behavioral health workers.

Recipients of the award could use the funds to pay off existing student loans and seek further education such as apprenticeship training, certification programs or associate, bachelor’s or graduate programs. The funds could also be used as savings for the future for workers to fund their own businesses, purchase a home or save for their children’s future, Casey said.

Casey and his team modeled the bill off of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the G.I. Bill. The bill was originally signed into law by President Roosevelt to reward the country’s World War II veterans and help them enroll into universities.

“These front line health care workers are soldiers on a battlefield, it’s just a different kind of battlefield,” Casey said.

The Senator estimates that if the bill were to pass, it could benefit “tens of millions” of health care workers across the country. Casey and his team have yet to announce an estimated cost for the bill, but plan to provide a ballpark estimation when the bill is introduced this week.

“When you are fighting a war and finding the impact of that war, we can’t be penny pinchers,” he said. “We are going to work to make this part of the next piece of major legislation or get it passed in some other legislation. As we introduce it, we will be looking for both sides of the aisle in senate.”



Former Gov. Ridge asks Republicans to promote clean energy policies

Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge spoke to lawmakers during a symposium on clean and renewable energy on Tuesday. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Conservative legislators must remember their party’s legacy of conservation and the importance of promoting clean energy, former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge told lawmakers during a symposium on clean and renewable energy on Tuesday.

Ridge, the nation’s first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania, spoke at the Clean and Renewable Energy Symposium held by the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum in Harrisburg. Citing Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, who created the National Park system, and Richard M. Nixon, whose administration created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and signed both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law, Ridge reminded Republicans not to surrender their history of environmental stewardship.

“Neither party should claim that they are the heirs of one kind of energy or another,” he said, “Let’s be smart, innovative and supportive but as Republicans lets accept the reality that we are blessed with multiple sources of energy and when it’s appropriate to use them lets embrace them all.”

Ridge challenged party members who ignore scientists when writing policy. The former governor said decades of research provided by scientists related to carbon emissions and the improvements that clean energy sources can have on the environment should be at the heart of policy.

As Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, Ridge is known for advancing Pennsylvania’s economic development, education and health care. Under Ridge’s leadership, the state established Growing Greener, legislation that has since funded a number of state agencies to administer farmland preservation projects, state park renovations and upgrades to water and sewer systems.

If Republicans articulate the need for clean, renewable energy policies as not only an issue spearheaded by Democrats, the party will be able to continue to attract new, young voters, Ridge said.

“From my experience, (young voters) are a lot more concerned about where our country is going and what we are doing to our environment than other demographics in the political world,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum is a part of the Conservative Energy Network, a Lansing, Michigan-based nonprofit that works with conservatives in 21 states to promote clean energy policies.