Summary of Legislation | January 2019

Funding Infrastructure Improvements, Maybe

It’s the start of the new legislative session and optimism is high for getting things done. But the general assembly’s track record suggests that bold plans rarely reach fruition when navigating Pennsylvania’s legislative process. But despite the daunting task ahead, newly reelected Governor Tom Wolf and DEP announced plans for a sweeping infrastructure investment program that tackles a slew of areas that are genuinely deserving of additional funds. His plan includes funding for:

  • Expansion of high speed internet access
  • Storm water management improvements
  • Energy efficiency and delivery initiatives
  • Brownfield remediation projects
  • Additional road and public transportation support

Few would argue that these areas don’t deserve more attention. The catch? The funding mechanism for all this is dependent on enactment of a severance tax.  Passage of such a tax has been Governor Wolf’s search for the Holy Grail. Even with Democratic gains in both chambers, it feels like a long shot given how many times this effort has fallen short.

One area of need not included in Wolf’s pitch for additional funds is school construction. How to pay for fixing or rebuilding schools across the state is a topic that has been gaining attention ever since the Commonwealth budget placed a moratorium on new applications for reimbursement through the PlanCon process a few years ago. While that issue isn’t tied to the Governor’s severance tax proposal, it has risen to the top of the agenda for both the appropriations leaders in the Senate. That higher level bipartisan support gives it better odds of passage. Of course, the question still comes back to how much money and where will it come from. Stay tuned for that answer….

DEP to Build on Modernization and Efficiency Measures in 2019

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced continued reductions in both the review time and backlog of pending permit applications, and debuts two modernization and efficiency measures that will continue to increase permitting efficiency.

This week, DEP formally opened the Regional Permit Coordination Office (RPCO), a centralized permitting office to assist with construction permitting and coordination related to erosion and sediment control (Chapter 102) and water obstruction and encroachment (Chapter 105). Specifically, the RPCO will assist with construction permitting for large-scale, multi-county or multi-regional infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and highways. DEP also announces that it will be rebalancing workload among its regional offices by transferring responsibility for all applicable regulatory programs in Armstrong and Indiana counties from its Southwest Regional Office to the Northwest Regional Office. 

“The department receives more than 30,000 permit applications a year, and each of these permits is important to a project somewhere in the commonwealth,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Over the past four years DEP has focused its efforts on increased responsiveness, improved customer service, and working smarter and more efficiently to improve operations.”

In January 2018, Governor Tom Wolf and DEP announced plans to modernize the permit process, reduce the backlog, improve oversight, and sought a $2.5 million budget allocation to facilitate the strategy.

In the past year, DEP’s Southwest Regional Office reduced backlog of permits in the region by more than 75 percent and shortened its review timeline for erosion and sediment control general permits by more than 220 days. The allocation of two counties to the northwest region will aid in anticipated continued commercial, energy, and infrastructure development in the southwest. Mining and radiation protection programs are not affected by this regional office change.

In addition to assisting with construction permitting for large-scale, multi-county or multi-regional infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and highways, the RPCO will work with existing DEP bureaus to provide statewide technical support to regions and add additional emphasis on project coordination and consistency. DEP will transfer some of its permitting functions from the regions to streamline project development and permit processing, reduce redundant operations, and provide effective service and project delivery. 

In addition to these new measures, DEP has also aggressively focused on data-driven tools and resources, including the development of e-Permitting and e-Inspections: 

  • DEP now offers e-permitting for well drilling and erosion and sedimentation control at oil and gas sites (ESCGP), surface coal mining, air emissions from certain natural gas activities (GP-5 and GP-5A), Chapter 105 water obstruction and encroachment general permits, storage tank renewals, radiation protection x-ray registration renewals, and other regulated activities. 
  • DEP now performs e-inspection for oil and gas sites, erosion and sedimentation, waterways encroachment, waste management, spill cleanup, and emergency response. In the Oil & Gas program specifically, e-inspections have increased inspector efficiency by 20 percent.
  • DEP is embarking on an effort to digitize regional files while also requesting electronic submissions. Electronic files and databases housed on DEP’s website and other operational changes are designed to improve the Right to Know Law and informal file review processes, reinforcing DEP’s commitment to transparency.
  • DEP has significantly improved permitting efficiency by meeting with and clearly communicating permitting and regulatory requirements to the regulated community and consultants. 

“As we move to more data-driven tools and resources, we’re also able to evaluate current and anticipated staffing needs,” said McDonnell. “While we strive to increase efficiency, we’re also making sure our professional staff have the resources and training necessary to carry out regulatory oversight.” 

With these changes, McDonnell would like to continue working with the regulated community to determine their needs, and address opportunities to improve consistency in applications.

Effective January 10, 2019, inquiries and correspondence regarding new permit applications, reporting, and compliance matters related to sites in Armstrong and Indiana Counties should be directed to DEP’s Northwest Regional Office. Questions on permit applications under review as of January 9, 2019, and pending enforcement matters for Armstrong and Indiana Counties should be directed to DEP’s Southwest Regional Office. Inquiries can also be directed to RA-epcontactus@pa.gov.

The RPCO can be reached by calling 717-772-5987 or kgoudy@pa.gov.

Alloway, White Announce Early Retirements

Two long-serving Republican state Senators announced that they would not finish their current terms, and would leave office at the end of February. Sen. Rich Alloway (R- Chambersburg) and Don White (R-Indiana) both made relatively surprise announcements just weeks after the start of the new legislative session. Alloway announced he would be reopening his law firm, and speculation followed that he would also resume lobbying in Harrisburg, a career he pursued prior to his service as an elected official. White, in a heartfelt speech on the Senate floor, said he would be returning to his home in Indiana, while giving little indication of his future plans. Both also indicated that the timing of their announcements was designed to allow Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to call special elections to fill the vacancies to coincide with the May primary elections. Those specials had not been called at presstime for this report.

Special Election Candidates Chosen to Succeed Sid Kavulich

The race in Northeast Pennsylvania to fill the vacancy left by the passing of long-time Democrat Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, who died in October at the age of 62 from complications of open heart surgery, is now set. Last month, Bridget Malloy Kosierowski easily won the Democrat nomination over three others. At the same time, the Republican committee chose Frank Scavo for their party’s nomination. Scavo has run for public office multiple times in, most recently this past November, losing to incumbent state Sen. John Blake. The race is taking place on March 12, along with another in the 190th House District, to replace Rep Vanessa Lowery Brown, who resigned after being convicted in a bribery case. The 114th House District special election is to fill the seat of the late Democratic Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich,.

Legislative Activity

The following bills and co-sponsorship memos for bills to be introduced of interest to PSPE were acted on by the General Assembly this past month.

Bidding / Contracting

HB 163 RE: Separations Act (by Rep. Garth Everett, et al)

Amends Title 62 (Procurement), in general provisions, further providing for definitions; in procurement organization, further providing for specific construction powers, duties and procedures; in procurement of construction and design professional services, further providing for procurement of design professional services; providing for project delivery methods; and making a related repeal. The bill establishes that a government agency or a state-related institution shall utilize a project delivery method for the procurement of construction services for the design, erection, construction and alteration of a public building in this commonwealth if the total cost of the work exceeds $4,000.

Introduced and referred to House State Government Committee, 1/28/2019

Budget Related Bills

Cosponsor Memos Filed

HCO1018 (Wheatley) – Restore Pennsylvania. Applies funds raised by a severance tax to improving state technology, development, and infrastructure.
Filed, 1/31/2019

SCO 552 (Yudichak) – Proposes the governor’s infrastructure initiative Restore Pennsylvania. 
Filed, 1/31/2019 

Environmental Building Standards

HB 183 RE: High-Performance State Building Standards Act (by Rep. Chris Quinn, et al)

Requires the design, construction and renovation of certain State-owned or State-leased buildings to comply with specified energy and environmental building standards; and providing for powers and duties of the Department of General Services. It establishes all major facility projects shall meet or exceed the prescribed level of achievement under the high-performance building standards.

Introduced and referred to House State Government Committee, 1/28/2019

HB 247 RE: Reducing Surface Impact from Unconventional Gas Wells (by Rep. Donna Oberlander, et al)

Amends Title 58 (Oil and Gas) adding a new subsection allowing an operator to drill and produce a well that traverses, by horizontal drilling, more than one lease or unit, provided the operator reasonably allocates production from the well among the leases or units and the traversing well is not expressly prohibited by the terms of a lease. Further provides nothing in this new provision shall authorize any producer to drill or produce natural gas that is not subject to a valid lease and royalty agreement with a landowner.

Introduced and referred to House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, 1/28/2019

Liability

SR 20 RE: Venue (by Sen. Lisa Baker, et al)

Resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study of the impact of venue for medical professional liability actions on access to medical care and maintenance of health care systems in this Commonwealth and requesting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delay action on the proposed amendment to Pa.R.C.P. No. 1006.

Introduced and referred to Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/1/2019
Reported as committed from Senate Judiciary, 2/4/2019
Adopted, 2/5/2019 (31-18)
Transmitted as directed, 2/7/2019

Professional Licensure

HB 84 RE: Professional Licensees Illegal Employment Act (by Rep. Rob Kauffman, et al)

Prohibits certain licensees from knowingly employing illegal aliens; and imposing sanctions. “Licensee” is defined as an individual, corporation, partnership, limited liability company or other legal entity that holds a license issued by a licensing board or licensing commission.

Introduced and referred to House Professional Licensure Committee, 1/28/2019

HB 194 RE: Criminal Background for Licensees (by Rep. Harry Readshaw, et al)

Amends an act empowering the General Counsel or his designee to issue subpoenas for certain licensing board activities; providing for hearing examiners in the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs; providing additional powers to the Commissioner of Professional and Occupational Affairs; and further providing for civil penalties and license suspension, providing for qualifications for licensure. The bill establishes that a licensing board or licensing commission may issue a license to an applicant who has been convicted of a felonious act under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act; or convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance in a court of law of the United States or any other state, territory or country if at least five years have elapsed from the date of conviction, or the applicant satisfactorily demonstrates to the licensing board or licensing commission that the applicant has made significant progress in personal rehabilitation since the conviction.

Introduced and referred to House Professional Licensure Committee, 1/28/2019

Cosponsor memo filed

HCO 608 (Helm) – Sets statewide standards for home inspector licensing.

Filed, 1/9/2019

Worker’s Comp

HB 85 RE: Employer Credit (by Rep. Rob Kauffman, et al)

Amends the Workers’ Compensation Act, providing an employer credit for future compensation.

Introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee, 1/28/2019

Co-sponsor Memos Filed

HCO 668 (F. Keller) – Provides a method to certify whether an individual is an independent contractor for the purposes of worker’s compensation.

Filed, 1/11/2019

Workforce Development

SB 105 RE: Apprentice Supervision (by Sen. Scott Martin, et al)

Amends the Apprenticeship and Training Act further providing for powers and duties; providing for supervision; and abrogating a regulation. Regulations under section 4(a)(2) may not require more than one supervisor for each apprentice or trainee.

Introduced and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee, 1/24/2019

Co-sponsor Memos Filed

HCO 790 (Metcalfe) – Requires all employers in the commonwealth to use the Employment Eligibility Verification Program (E-Verify).

Filed, 1/17/2019

HCO 818 (Galloway) – Requires employers in the private construction industry to verify employees are legally permitted to work.

Filed, 1/18/2019

HCO 962 (Keefer) – Amends the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act by providing Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act registration at the time services are provided will be prima facie evidence that the individual is an independent contractor.

Filed, 1/29/2019

Upcoming Meetings of Interest

Some House Committee meetings and session can be viewed online at: http://www.pahousegop.com/

Senate Committee meetings and session can be streamed at: http://www.pasenategop.com/

 

THURSDAY – 2/14/19

House Appropriations Committee
3:00 p.m., Room 140, Main Capitol

Budget Hearing – Department of Labor and Industry

MONDAY – 2/25/19
Senate Appropriations Committee
10:00 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

Budget Hearing – Dept. of Labor & Industry

Senate Appropriations Committee
1:00 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

Budget Hearing – Dept. of General Services

TUESDAY – 2/26/19

House Appropriations Committee
3:00 p.m., Room 140, Main Capitol

Budget Hearing – Department of General Services

2019 SENATE SESSION SCHEDULE

February          4, 5, 6
March               18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27
April                 8, 9, 10, 29, 30
May                  1, 6, 7, 8
June                 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

2019 HOUSE SESSION SCHEDULE

February       4, 5, 6, 19, 20, 21
March         11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27
April           8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 29, 30
May           1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 22, 23
June           3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists Meeting Schedule 

2019 Meeting Dates (Subject to change):
January 9 CANCELLED, March 13, May 8, July 10, September 11, November 13

PUBLIC WELCOME 

All Board meetings are held at Penn Center, 2601 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA, at 9:30 a.m.

Other meeting dates may be scheduled as needed.

 

Copies of all bills of interest can be accessed online.

Take Action

Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Act Update

The Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Act (Pennsylvania) governs how these design professions practice.

House Bill 1106 addresses fundamental aspects of the act.

Click here to access a letter which you can e-mail your legislator as it is written, or you can customize it.

PSPE PAC

To give financial support to the PSPE Political Action Committee
Click here.

Legislative Summary Archive

Industrial Exemption