Pennsylvania

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Do Soda Taxes Hurt or Help Consumers?

 

Philadelphia rang in the new year with a tax on soda and other drinks. With city residents living under this tax for three months, we can begin to see its impact. Some observers are happy with the changes it has brought to consumer behavior, but others are calling for an end to the soda tax.

 

One effect is clear: beverage sales are down. This makes sense, of course. Generally, if the price of a product goes up, sales decrease. Public health experts are no fans of sugar-sweetened drinks, so this could have a positive impact on health. However, some experts question whether the Philadelphia tax is written in a way that will have a significant impact, since it taxes drink volume (not sugar content) and also covers sugar-free and zero-calorie drinks.

 

The economics of the tax may be as unclear as its health effects. What is apparent is drink companies and other businesses are reporting a negative fallout from the tax:

 

  • Pepsi has stopped selling 2-liter bottles and 12-packs in the city. Pepsi also laid off 80 to 100 workers at a local distribution plant.
  • Temple University increased the price of its meal plan by almost 5%.
  • Canada Dry distributor announced it would cut its workforce by 20%.
  • A grocery chain said it would lay off 300 workers.

 

What do you think about soda taxes? Should government target these drinks to improve public health? Or should consumers (and workers) not be penalized for choosing certain drinks over others?

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 3: Limit Dismemberment Abortions

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Pennsylvania, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 3, Limit Dismemberment Abortions: Passed 32 to 18 in the state Senate on February 8, 2017

 

To impose strict limits on the use of abortions using the technique of dilation and evacuation, or dismemberment, and to ban the use of this technique, with limited exceptions, before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 3!

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 166: Ban Deduction of Fees for Union Political Activity

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Pennsylvania, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 166, Ban Deduction of Fees for Union Political Activity: Passed 28 to 22 in the state Senate on February 8, 2017

 

To prohibit governments from deducting money from employees on behalf of unions that the unions will then use for political purposes.

 

 Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 166!

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 181: Establish Performance-Based Budget Review

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Pennsylvania, and check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted.

 

Senate Bill 181, Establish performance-based budget review: Passed 49 to 0 in the state Senate on February 6, 2017

 

To direct the Secretary of Budget to review agency budgets based on performance instead of on subtracting or adding to traditional spending levels. Under a performance-based review, an agency would have to show how its proposed spending is being allocated to meet certain performance goals and benchmarks. The bill would allow the Secretary to undertake a review at least once every five years, and the General Assembly could also request such a review. The bill also directs the state to undertake a review of the effectiveness of various state tax credits.

 

Modify government pensions, strip pensions from felons, transparency and costs of union agreements

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania during the most recent legislative session, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

Senate Bill 1071, Modify the public pension system: Passed 30 to 20 in the Senate on December 4, 2015, and failed 52 to 149 in the House on December 19, 2015 (the House passed an amended version of the bill on June 14, 2016)

To make changes to the defined-benefit pension plan for state and public school employees, including:  1) transitioning to a hybrid model comprising a smaller defined-benefit component and a defined-contribution component; and 2) implementing a risk sharing provision to reduce, but not eliminate, risk for taxpayers due to investment losses.

 

Senate Bill 1, Overhaul the pension system for state and public school employees: Passed 28 to 19 in the Senate on May 13, 2015, 106 to 89 in the House on June 30, 2015. Vetoed by the governor on July 9, 2015.

To replace the current defined-benefit retirement plan for state and public school employees with a hybrid plan that includes a defined-contribution component and a defined-benefit component. Currently, state and public school employees are eligible for an annual pension benefit after five years of full-time employment with the Commonwealth and/or a public school that is equal to:  the number of years they were employed by the Commonwealth and/or a public school, multiplied by the average of their three highest annual salaries, multiplied by .025 (.03 if they are a state legislator). The legislation requires new state and school employees (those hired after this legislation goes into effect) to enroll in a 401k-style plan as well as a cash-balance (defined-benefit) savings plan with a guaranteed annual interest rate equal to the long-term treasury bonds, capped at 4 percent.

 

House Bill 17, Strip pensions of public employee felons: Passed 188 to 2 in the House on May 18, 2016

To remove pensions from public employees convicted of, or pleading guilty to, felonies or crimes which are punishable by a prison sentence of more than five years.

 

Senate Bill 645, Require government entities to post proposed collective bargaining agreements on their websites: Passed 29 to 19 in the Senate on May 6, 2015

To require a proposed collective bargaining agreement to be made available on a public employer’s website. An agreement would have to be posted online two weeks prior and thirty days following the signing of the collective bargaining agreement. The posting would have to include: 1) a statement of the terms of the proposed collective bargaining agreement; and 2) an estimate of the costs to the public employer associated with the agreement.

 

Senate Bill 644, Require cost analysis of labor agreements: Passed 108 to 83 in the House on March 21, 2016

To require the Independent Fiscal Office to analyze proposed collective bargaining agreements to determine their cost before the state approves the agreements.

 

School spending transparency, phone fee hike, renegade plumbers, EPA carbon rule, and penalties for gun ownership

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania during the most recent legislative session, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 224, Establish a database of receipts and expenses related to public schools: Passed 195 to 0 in the House on February 15, 2016, and 30 to 19 in the Senate on September 18, 2015. Vetoed by the governor on September 29, 2015.

To require the Department of Education to establish a searchable database of the receipts and expenses of school districts, charter and cyber charter schools, and area vocational-technical schools.

 

House Bill 911, Increase the state surcharge on all phone service: Passed 134 to 59 in the House on May 4, 2015, and 49 to 0 in the Senate on June 16, 2015

To increase the state surcharge on all phone service (wireless, landlines, and voice-over-Internet protocol) by $0.15 per month, from $1.50 to $1.65, which would require Pennsylvanians to pay an additional $326 million annually. The legislation also modifies how revenue raised from the phone service surcharge is distributed by the state to counties for maintenance and enhancement of their 911 emergency response systems.

 

Senate Bill 703, Prohibit plumbers from operating without state license: Passed 45 to 5 in the Senate on June 26, 2016

To ban anyone from working as a plumber unless he or she obtains a state license. A person seeking a license must undergo testing requirements and pay a fee. The bill established penalties for working as an unlicensed plumber of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000, or a civil fine of $10,000.

 

Senate Bill 1195, Extend consideration of federal carbon rule: Passed 41 to 9 on June 8, 2016, and 147 to 41 in the House on June 15, 2016

To extend the time that the General Assembly has to consider a state plan to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from power plants, from 100 days to 180 days. This bill also forbids the state from implementing a compliance plan until after the Supreme Court lifts its stay of the Clean Power Plan.

 

House Bill 1496, Increase penalty for illegal firearm ownership: Passed 187 to 8 in the House on June 14, 2016

To increase the penalty for felons who possess firearms from a maximum of 10 years to a maximum of 20 years.

 

Medical marijuana, right to try experimental medication, no pensions for felons, laying off bad teachers, unborn child murder

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania during the most recent legislative session, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 1799, Impose life sentence for murder of an unborn child: Passed 152 to 37 in the House on May 24, 2016

To provide the penalty of life in prison for the murder of an unborn child.

 

House Bill 17, Strip pensions of public employee felons: Passed 188 to 2 in the House on May 18, 2016

To remove pensions from public employees convicted of, or pleading guilty to, felonies or crimes which are punishable by a prison sentence of more than five years.

 

House Bill 805, Require schools to lay off poor performing teachers first: Passed 100 to 91 in the House on June 23, 2015, and 26 to 22 in the Senate on May 9, 2016

To require school districts, when facing a situation where they must reduce employees, to lay off or dismiss teachers who have ratings of “failing” or “needs improvement” first. This would end the current practice of laying off or dismissing teachers based on seniority.

 

Senate Bill 3, Allow use of medical marijuana: Passed 40 to 7 in the Senate on May 12, 2015, and 149 to 43 in the House on April 13, 2016

To permit the use of medical marijuana with a doctor's certification. Under this legislation, medical marijuana may not be smoked or used in edible form, but can be used in pill, oil, liquid, or topical forms, and it may also be vaporized.

 

House Bill 1104, Allow terminal patients access to more medication: Passed 182 to 0 in the House on June 15, 2016

To allow terminally ill patients the ability to obtain drugs that have not yet been approved for general use by the Food and Drug Administration. These drugs must have already gone through trials to determine their safety, and can only be obtained upon a recommendation from a physician.

 

Making it easier for Pennsylvanians to buy alcohol and gamble

 

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania during the most recent legislative session, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 1196, Expand alcohol sales: Passed 50 to 0 in the Senate on May 18, 2016, and 157 to 41 in the House on July 1, 2016

To create a special alcohol license for the Democratic Convention allowing longer hours for alcohol sales, remove the requirement that wine sales take place at different store registers than beer and food sales, permit Sunday alcohol sales starting at 9 a.m., allow alcohol sales at locations where casinos have slot machines, and decriminalize bringing alcohol purchased out-of-state into Pennsylvania.

 

House Bill 1690, Expand alcohol sales: Passed 29 to 21 in the Senate on December 10, 2015, and 157 to 31 in the House on June 7, 2016

To allow more businesses to sell wine, to permit state liquor stores to open on holidays and be open more hours on Sundays, to allow these stores to sell discounted items and lottery tickets, and to permit casinos to sell alcohol at all times of the day.

 

House Bill 770, Allow liquor licensees to offer discounts to patrons who are part of a “mug club”: Passed 184 to 10 in the House on May 15, 2015

To allow liquor licensees to offer discounts on food and malt or brewed beverages to patrons who are part of a club or group program that the licensee offers, often known as “mug clubs.”

 

House Resolution 619, Urge Congress to legalize sports betting: Passed 140 to 59 in the House on June 29, 2016

To urge the U.S. Congress to lift the federal ban on sports betting and allow states to legalize this type of gambling.

 

House Bill 2150, Expand legal gambling: Passed 114 to 85 in the House on June 28, 2016

To allow casinos to expand the games they currently offer as well as to allow slot machines at locations outside of casinos and at airports. In addition, the bill legalizes online casino games, such as poker. The bill also permits daily fantasy sports betting, with companies running these games paying a maximum $50,000 fee and a 5% tax.

 

 

Medical marijuana, shrink the General Assembly, Remove Kathleen Kane from office, welfare for drug traffickers

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania during the most recent legislative session, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 1948, Limit dismemberment abortions: Passed 132 to 65 in the House on June 21, 2016.

To impose strict limits on the use of abortions using the technique of dilation and evacuation, or dismemberment, and to ban the use of this technique, with limited exceptions, after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Senate Bill 3, Allow use of medical marijuana: Passed 40 to 7 in the Senate on May 12, 2015, and 149 to 43 in the House on March 16, 2016.

To permit the use of medical marijuana with a doctor's certification. Under this legislation, medical marijuana may not be smoked or used in edible form, but can be used in pill, oil, liquid, or topical forms, and it may also be vaporized.

House Bill 153, Amend the constitution to reduce the size of the General Assembly: Passed 139 to 56 in the House on May 5, 2015, and 43 to 6 in the Senate on January 27, 2016.

To place a constitutional amendment before the voters that would reduce the size of the state House of Representatives to 151 districts from its current 203 districts.

Senate Resolution 284, Remove Attorney General Kane from Office: Failed 29 to 19 in the Senate on February 10, 2016 (the measure required approval of two-thirds of the Senate to pass)

To direct the governor to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office due to the suspension of her law license by the state supreme court. Kane was eventually convicted of nine counts of conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice on August 15, 2016. She resigned from office effective August 17.

House Bill 222, Deny welfare to drug traffickers: Passed 170 to 20 in the House on March 14, 2016.

To prohibit individuals who have been convicted of certain drug trafficking crimes from receiving state welfare benefits.

Do Banking Regulations Need Reform?

 

In the wake of the Wells Fargo scandal, banking regulation has become a top issue in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. Senator Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, plays a large role in setting the rules governing how banks handle our money and overseeing regulations on banks. His challenger, Katie McGinty, has been denouncing the senator’s actions in these areas.

 

One of the key points of disagreement is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency established by the Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the Great Recession. According to McGinty, “Toomey has been working overtime to bust not the banks but the protection bureau. I think those priorities are a little upside-down, and I don't think we're going to take it anymore.”

 

The basis for this attack is Senator Toomey’s support for changing the way the CFPB operates. He has backed amendments and legislation that would change the funding mechanism for the agency. Currently, the CFPB receives funding through an independent account in the Federal Reserve. Other federal agencies are funded through the appropriations process, whereby Congress and the president allocate money on a yearly basis for their operations. The CFPB is exempt from this process, and Congress has no authority to review the budget set by the CFPB’s director.

 

Senator Toomey would like the CFPB to be treated like any other federal agency – Congress and the president set the agency’s budget. The Heritage Foundation points out that “the bureau’s independence from congressional appropriations or budgetary review prevents Congress from exercising its key means of oversight: the power of the purse.”  Critics of congressional control of agency funding say that this is a means to weaken the agency: “This would not only give Republicans an opportunity to slash the bureau's funding, but to leverage its budgeting control to pressure the agency against cracking down on lenders.”

 

The structure of the CFPB has also come under attack by Senator Toomey. He would like to replace the director of the agency with a bipartisan board to govern it.

 

As you may expect, Senator Toomey disagrees with McGinty’s characterization of the issue. He contends that his reform proposals will make the agency operate better. “The CFPB is completely unaccountable,” he said in 2015. “It is unique among enormously powerful regulators in having no accountability to Congress. It has exceeded its authority in part because it's not subject to congressional oversight. And it's frankly outrageous that they are able to operate with the budget that they have and with the latitude they have without having to come to Congress for this oversight.”

 

Do you agree with Sen. Toomey that the CFPB is in need of reform and should be overseen by Congress? Or is Katie McGinty right that these reform proposals are designed to weaken the agency?

Ethanol Fuels Pennsylvania Senate Differences

In his race for re-election, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is touting his opposition to ethanol. Is this a winning issue for him? It just may be.

In 2005 and 2007, there was bipartisan support for legislation to impose and broaden the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This law mandates that a certain volume of biofuel must be used in gasoline. Because ethanol is the only commercially viable biofuel, the RFS has resulted in E10 (gasoline containing 10% ethanol) being widely sold across the U.S.

While there was bipartisan support for this biofuel mandate in 2007, there is growing bipartisan opposition to it now. Senator Toomey is one of the most vocal critics of the RFS in Congress. He has worked with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on legislation and amendments that would eliminate the mandate.

According to the Morning Call, Senator Toomey’s opponent does not share his view: “McGinty, a long-time clean-energy advocate who served as a top environmental policy adviser to former Gov. Ed Rendell and former President Bill Clinton, supports the use of corn ethanol as a renewable fuel that can replace the need for some fossil fuels, according to her campaign.”

Ethanol producers agree with McGinty, saying, “Ethanol is one of the best tools we have to reduce harmful emissions and fight air pollution from our vehicles.” However, a recent report from a University of Michigan researcher concluded, “Despite their purported advantages, biofuels — created from crops such as corn or soybeans — cause more emissions of climate change-causing carbon dioxide than gasoline.”

There is strong political support for ethanol in farm states, especially Iowa. Senator Toomey may have picked a good issue for Pennsylvania, however, since the state is increasingly important for fossil fuels. In addition, as Senator Toomey points out, the ethanol mandate can be a burden on the state’s refineries.

Do you support ethanol in our fuel? Or do you think that it’s time for the ethanol mandate to be repealed?

Should Pennsylvania Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

If Governor Tom Wolf gets his way, Pennsylvanians will no longer be going to jail for possessing modest quantities of marijuana.

The governor told WITF-FM, “There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families, and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step.”

Gov. Wolf is proposing decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is different from full legalization. Decriminalization means that it is still against the law to possess marijuana, but it is a civil infraction or a misdemeanor with no chance of jail time. Legalization, on the other hand, is removing any criminal or civil penalties for marijuana possession.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Fifteen of those states impose only a civil penalty (such as a fine) for possession, while in 6 states possession is a misdemeanor that does not involve jail time.

Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) along with the District of Columbia have fully legalized possessing minor amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Voters in those states have approved initiatives that removed criminal and civil penalties for this type of drug use.

Do you think that the commonwealth should follow the lead of 21 other states and decriminalize marijuana possession?

A New Attorney General for Pennsylvania

The tumultuous tenure of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane came to an end on August 16. She resigned from office following her conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice. Governor Tom Wolf has nominated Bruce Beemer to replace her.

Kane was charged in August 2015 with felony perjury and other charges. The charges stemmed from Kane’s leaking of grand jury testimony in an attempt to smear a rival prosecutor. This prosecutor had alleged that Kane shut down an investigation of Democratic elected officials for political reasons. Kane leaked confidential grand jury testimony to embarrass that prosecutor, then lied about the leak under oath and conspired with others to impede the investigation.

Kane’s resignation comes after a long refusal to give up the office. Governor Wolf and others had called upon her to resign, but Kane vowed to stay in office and fight the charges. A state Senate resolution directing the governor to remove her from office failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote, although it did receive support from a majority of senators. The state House voted to open an impeachment investigation in February. Even though Kane has resigned, the impeachment investigation will continue.

The state Senate must confirm Gov. Wolf’s nomination of Bruce Beemer, the current inspector general for the commonwealth. Given Republican leadership’s support for Beemer, it seems that he will obtain the necessary two-thirds supermajority vote to become the state’s next attorney general.

What’s the Fuss over Sanctuary Cities in Pennsylvania?

Senator Pat Toomey doesn’t like sanctuary cities. He’s trying to make it a big issue in his campaign for re-election. So what are sanctuary cities?

When the federal government passes a law, it cannot direct state or local police to enforce that law. These agencies can cooperate with the federal government, but they are under no obligation to do so. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, use this leeway to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. While policies differ in municipalities that term themselves “sanctuary cities,” local police in these cities generally do not inquire about the immigration status of people they arrest. They also do not comply with federal orders asking them to continue detaining illegal immigrants who would otherwise be released from custody.

 

Senator Toomey sponsored legislation that would deny federal Economic Development Assistance and Community Development Block Grant funding for cities that do not share information about an individual’s immigration status with the federal government or that refuse to comply with an immigration detention order. In a July vote, that bill failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to proceed in the Senate.

 

According to Senator Toomey, “Sanctuary cities also create serious obstacles for the war on terror” by limiting local law enforcement cooperation with the federal government. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney disagrees, saying Sen. Toomey’s claims are “nothing more than fearmongering to further his re-election campaign.”

 

Katie McGinty, who is challenging Sen. Toomey, says, “No one thinks sanctuary cities are the solution, but it’s the result of the immigration crisis Senator Toomey made worse.  Instead of trying to help Philadelphia solve this problem, he opposed comprehensive immigration reform and is now embracing the hateful policies of Donald ‘let’s build a wall’ Trump.”

Pat Toomey's sanctuary city bill fails to advance

The Senate failed to pass Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s legislation to bar some federal funds from cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration laws. Do you think that cities, which are under no obligation to enforce federal law, should be denied funds if they do not cooperate with deportation requests from the federal government?

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/elections/mc-pat-toomey-sanctuary-city-senate-vote-20160706-story.html

Sen. Bob Casey does an 'about-face' on gun-control, report

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, once an opponent of gun control, says his views on this issue are changing. He is now willing to support some gun control measures, such as banning rifles with military-style features. Do you think Sen. Casey is on the right track? Or is he simply bowing to public pressure?

http://blog.pennlive.com/capitol-notebook/2016/06/sen_bob_casey_does_an_about-fa.html

PA. still hasn't gotten booze sales right

Even with recent reforms, Pennsylvania still has complicated laws governing the sale of alcohol. These laws include mandating that all liquor sales take place at state-run stores to limiting the number of bottles of wine you can buy at grocery stores. Is this the proper role of state government? Or should Pennsylvania legislators reduce restrictions and allow private businesses to sell alcohol?

http://www.ydr.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/06/13/pa-still-hasnt-gotten-booze-sales-right-editorial/85690622/

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