June to Include More Than Just Budget Talks
June is arguably the busiest month for Pennsylvania lawmakers as they grapple with enacting a budget. The legislature will be in voting session every week in June or until the budget in enacted. However, much more gets done in June as all of those voting days provide an opportunity to vote on other bills. Also, a few construction related issues are expected to move in early June. If so, this could signal an intention by legislative leaders to get them resolved in the near term.
The Uniform Construction Code has been political football since it was enacted in the late 90s. Nevertheless, amendments to the statewide building code of just a few years ago have resulted in a process that has effectively stopped Pennsylvania from adopting any of the International Building Code triennial updates. The code Pennsylvania goes by is the 2009 version and unless the adoption process is altered again, that code will likely remain the state code for the foreseeable future. Legislative efforts to make the process more workable have languished in the Legislature. Still, one bill is moving forward. Senate Bill 1023 is scheduled for action in the Senate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the bill doesn’t address the problems associated with updating the code. As it is presently written, the bill is window dressing with minor tweaks to accessibility codes, adding a member to the Advisory Council that is responsible for updates and providing funding for that Council (even though it is unlikely to actual adopt any updates). Efforts to make real changes to the law don’t seem to have much traction in the Senate, but if Senate Bill 1023 reaches the House it could be an opportunity to make additional fixes there.
On the topic of fixes, the House is poised to consider a bill that would reform PlanCon (the multi stepped process which school districts utilize to receive reimbursements from the state for construction). The Commonwealth appropriates about $300 million a year for this purpose but no new projects have been let into the system since October of 2012. Districts wait years for their reimbursements but the statutory moratorium on funding new projects will ultimately end the program. The current administration has made no bones about its desire to this program. As you might expect, school districts and other construction related groups would like it continued. House Bill 2124 proposes to streamline the PlanCon process and rename it ArCon (Accountability and Reducing Costs in Construction) with the ultimate goal of keeping the program from slipping out of existence. That bill is already out of committee and is set for a vote by the full House. After that, it heads to the Senate. Yet, the Commonwealth budget projections are dismal so any proposal costing money faces an uncertain future.
Grove’s School Construction Reform Bill Headed for House Floor
Rep. Seth Grove (R-Dover)’s bill to revise the PlanCon process for school construction, House Bill 2124, was passed by the House Education Committee on April 30. The bill was amended, though, and the amendment split the parties on an issue that had appeared to previously have bipartisan support. The amendment reflected a compromise with the Department of Education that was less generous to school districts in the PlanCon system than the original provisions of the bill. The amendment was adopted on a 13-12 vote with 2 Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition to it. The bill then passed through the committee on a party line vote.
The state’s PlanCon system is currently halted in a moratorium as the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has no way to reimburse the projects already in the system. During a committee hearing on this bill, PDE acknowledged the financial troubles, admitting they owed school districts $1.7 billion from promised PlanCon reimbursements.
House Bill 2124 repackages PlanCon into the Accountability and Reducing Costs in Construction Process (ARC Con). ARC Con streamlines the process from 14 steps into five steps, which allows school districts to save time and money in the application process. ARC Con also attempts to save costs by rehabilitating old buildings whenever possible. ARC Con further works to reform PlanCon by reducing costs on new projects for the Commonwealth by 10 percent.
Grove maintains that ARC Con saves the Commonwealth money while allowing school districts to receive their reimbursement faster through a one-time lump-sum reimbursement of up 75 percent of the reimbursement. Currently, districts could wait years before receiving their full reimbursement. Providing a majority of the reimbursement up front saves the Commonwealth 25 percent on the project overall cost by eliminating interest, and also eliminates the backlog PDE is currently facing.
These lump-sum payments reduce debt obligations of school districts as the last decade saw school district debt increase 38 percent. By reducing the debt obligation of school districts, we assist them in focusing on their goal of educating students. ARC Con not only reduces costs but would also provide transparency by creating a website which school districts can access and see where their project is in the process.
Committee Holds Public Hearing on Soil Scientists’ Licensure
On May 7th, the House Committee on Professional Licensure held a public hearing on a bill that would create a state license for soil scientists. The bill doesn’t create a new or separate board for soil scientists. Instead, it would place them under the Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists. The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers submitted written testimony opposing the legislation. Not only would the bill add yet another licensed group under the engineers’ board (already covers land surveyors and geologists), but it would also infringe on the practice of geotechnical engineering.
The essence of the testimony spoke to the fact that soil science is one of the physical sciences and that when science is applied for the purpose of design that impacts the public’s health safety or welfare, it is by definition “engineering.” It also poses the question of how many of the sciences will Pennsylvania end up licensing. Additionally, a similar bill has been introduced to license foresters under the engineers’ board. No immediate action is expected on House Bill 997 or the foresters’ bill.
Primary Elections: Democrat Wolf to Face Corbett; Few Upsets Among Incumbent Legislators
In an embarrassingly low turnout day, despite great weather and important seats at stake, York businessman Tom Wolf proved the pollsters right and was able to win the Democratic nomination on May 20 and with it the right to take on incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in November. Wolf winning with nearly 58 percent of the vote, retiring U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz pulled 17.6 percent state Treasurer Rob McCord garnered nearly 16.9 percent; and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty took less than 8 percent. Wolf had wrestled the polling lead early in the race from presumed front-runner Schwartz after a series of mostly self-funded television ads showing the millionaire businessman and former Revenue Secretary as a compassionate employer who drives a Jeep. None of the other contenders were able to burst the bubble Wolf created for himself.
State Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia, won the five-way lieutenant governor primary with nearly 46.8 percent of the vote. Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley were unopposed in their primary contests.
In the Senate, all but one incumbent Senator who ran cleared the first hurdle. Philadelphia Democrat Sen. LeAnna Washington, who is facing several charges of using district staff for campaign purposes, was the lone sitting Senator to be defeated. Most of those running had no opposition in the primary. Newly elected Senator Scott Wagner of York County easily won his primary, and will win a full four-year term in November. Several other Senate seats saw contested open races, due to reapportionment and retirements. In Mercer County, Sen. Bob Robbins ends a long career in the State legislature. State Rep. Michele Brooks, author of HB 290 (now Act 92), won a three-way Republican primary, and is a heavy favorite to succeed Robbins. Fayette County Democrat Rep. Deb Kula won a contested primary race to succeed retiring Sen. Rich Kasunic. She will face Republican opposition in the fall.
In the House, due to the redistricting of several seats, numerous retirements, and still more charges of official corruption, there will be at least two dozen new faces in the House next January. Some of those retiring included Lebanon County Republican Rosemarie Swanger and Franklin County’s Todd Rock. Members would do well to thank these members for their service, and friendship, and also get to know the candidates aspiring to take their seats. It is only through building good relationships with the state legislators that an organization can move forward legislatively, and defend itself from those who want to bring it down.
Republican Lawmaker to be on Democratic Ballot in the Fall
Rep. Mike Fleck of Huntingdon County will be on the Democratic ticket come November’s General Election. The four-term Republican apparently has won the Democratic write-in votes in the 81st District by a margin of 15 votes. Rep. Fleck lost the Republican primary challenge to the Huntington County treasurer and Republican write-in candidate, Richard Irvin. According to unofficial totals, Fleck won 3,396 Republican votes in the 81st district, while Irvin collected 3,600 write-ins. Irvin had failed to acquire the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot, but then ran a rare, successful write-in campaign, defeating the first openly-gay legislator in PA history. Fleck says he will remain a Republican if re-elected.
State Registration Board for PEs, LS’s and Geologists May 14 Meeting Highlights
- The State Board met on May 14 in Harrisburg. Here are the highlights.
- Board Prosecutors reported on reciprocal discipline cases, and other matters for deliberation in Executive Session.
- Board Counsel Jeffrey Wood reported on the status of legislation of interest to the Board. Wood noted that HB 997, regarding Soil Scientist licensing had been the subject of a public hearing the House Professional Licensure Committee on May 7. The bill probably will not be voted in the House this session. Wood also noted that HB 1447, title protection for professional engineers, remains in the House. Professional Licensure Committee. John Wanner noted that the industrial exemption is “problematic”, and a public hearing will likely occur before the bill is considered.
- John Wanner updated the Board on issues of interest to PSPE and PSLS.
- Board Chair Lisa Catania reported she attended the NCEES meeting with Garlitz.
- Regulatory Counsel Larry Boyle was not in attendance, but Wood reported that the seals regulation is with the BPOA Regulatory Counsel. Publication date is not clear.
- John Fuehrer reported that the Wilkes-Barre program is losing two instructors and suggested the Board look into how they can help.
- Next meeting is July 9, in Harrisburg. Future 2014 meeting dates: September 10, and November 12.
The following bills of interest to PSPE have been introduced and acted upon in the past month.
BIDDING / CONTRACTING
HB 201 RE: Evaluation of Competitive Sealed Proposals (by Rep. George Dunbar, et al)
Amends Title 62 (Procurement) regarding the evaluation of competitive sealed proposals by providing no individual who has been employed by an offeror within the last two years may participate in the evaluation of proposals. The legislation also provides for Iran-Free Procurement by disallowing the procurement from any company having a relationship with the country of Iran. The amendment of 62.Pa.C.S. Ch 35 shall take effect July 1, 2015, or immediately, whichever is later; and the remainder of the act shall take effect immediately.
Reported as amended from Senate State Government Committee, and read first time, 5/6/2014
BUDGET RELATED BILLS: NONE
ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING STANDARDS
HB 1672 RE: State Agency Green Technology Implementation Act (by Rep. Ron Miller, et al)
Provides for the testing of new, environmentally beneficial and energy efficient technologies within various state agencies. The secretary of the Department of General Services is authorized to direct a state agency, with the approval of the governor, to test certain technology, products or processes that promote energy conservation or efficiency on a trial basis. The testing agency shall maintain records, proprietary information is exempt from the Right to Know Law, and the testing period shall be 30-60 days. Acquisition of any technology, product or process for purposes of the test program shall not be deemed to be a purchase under the provisions of the Procurement Law. After the test period, purchases would be subject to the procurement law. Provides for the promotion of demand-side management and for penalties for displaying Commonwealth endorsement when no such proper endorsement exists.
Reported as committed from Senate State Government Committee, and read first time, 5/6/2014
SB 1255 RE: Storm Water Management (by Sen. Ted Erickson, et al)
Amends Title 53 (Municipalities Generally), in municipal authorities, authorizing storm water authorities to establish programs that would allow property owners to reduce their storm water rates and charges by implementing and maintaining storm water best management practices that address their own contributions to the problems caused by storm water runoff.
Received in the House and referred to House Local Government Committee, 5/1/2014
HB 2079 RE: Uncertified Buildings (by Rep. Sam Smith, et al)
Amends the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act relating to uncertified buildings over which the department does not have jurisdiction. Requires a construction code official to issue a certificate of occupancy to an uncertified building if it meets the requirement of section 902 (b) relating to uncertified buildings under the department’s jurisdiction, the latest adopted version of the International Existing Building Code or Chapter 34 of the International Building Code. Also requires the construction code official to utilize the code that, in his professional judgment, he deems best to apply.
Read second time, and rereferred to House Appropriations Committee, 5/5/2014
Reported as committed from House Appropriations Committee, read third time, and passed House, 5/6/2014 (200-0)
Received in the Senate and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee, 5/16/2014
MANDATE WAIVERS: NONE
MECHANIC’S LIEN: NONE
MINIMUM WAGE: NONE
HB 336 RE: Expungement of Records (by Rep. Kate Harper, 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; and further providing for civil penalties and license suspension,” to provide a definition for “expunge” or “expungement” and to provide the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs the power to expunge a record based upon certain enumerated conditions. The Commissioner of Professional and Occupational Affairs has the authority and duty to adopt a schedule of civil penalties for operating violations.
Reported as amended from Senate Consumer Protection & Prof. Licensure Committee, and read first time, 5/7/2014
PREVAILING WAGE: NONE
LOCAL/PROPERTY TAX REFORM
HB 1513 RE: Business Privilege Tax (by Rep. George Dunbar, et al)
Amends the Local Tax Enabling Act, allowing local taxing authorities to levy a tax on the privilege of doing business in the jurisdiction of the local taxing authority if business transactions occur fifteen or more days in a year and/or the transactions occur through a base of operations in the jurisdiction of the levying local tax authority. Applies to taxable years beginning January 1, 2014. Effective immediately.
Approved by the Governor, 5/6/2014. Act No. 42 of 2014.
Upcoming Meetings of Interest
2014 SENATE SESSION SCHEDULE
June 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
2014 HOUSE SESSION SCHEDULE
June 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30