Reforming State Government | Prison Reform | Animal Welfare |
Protecting the Environment | Property Tax Relief | Reducing Crime and Cutting Costs Through Early Childhood Education and Intervention Programs | Protecting Pennsylvania’s Jobs and Economy
Each year, state agencies and the legislature spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a variety of projects and citizens have a right to access this important information. Until very recently, government did not need to provide a reason for denying access to such records. In fact, citizens were required to prove to the government why a record should be made public.
In 2000 I introduced legislation that would have reversed that burden of proof, requiring government agencies and the Legislature to prove to the people why a record cannot be made public.
It was not until 2008 that a similar bill was approved and signed into law. Pennsylvania’s updated Right -to-Know law places the burden of proof on state government and has created a clearing house for records known as the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. The legislation was the first expansion of the state’s Right-to-Know Law in over 50 years.
This legislation has created a greater trust between citizens and state government. As well, the Office of Open Records will allow journalists more in depth coverage of state issues.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of the Office of Open Records and review the process for obtaining government records.
The work of all government officials and elected members of the Legislature should be easily accessible to the public. Democracy works best when there is a high level of trust between the citizens and those elected to represent them. Over the past several years, the State Legislature has focused on reforms making Harrisburg more transparent and accountable.
The Senate adopted several reform proposals in the 2007-2008 legislative session—important first steps towards bringing greater transparency to the Senate.
The reforms include:
- All roll call votes are posted on the Internet no later than 24 hours after a vote and committee votes on bills are posted within 48 hours of the vote. This allows citizens to read the bills that are being voted on, and see how senators are voting.
- To give the public insight on why certain votes were cast, the Senate’s Legislative Journal – which includes the full text of all floor debates – are posted on the Internet upon Senate approval of the Journal or within 45 days, whichever is earlier.
- To prevent late-night votes, session is now limited to the hours between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.
- The Senate is now required to wait at least six hours before voting on an amended bill or a conference committee report, and amendments are posted to the Internet before being offered on the Senate floor. This allows legislators and the public time to understand changes to a bill before it comes up for vote.
- An updated fiscal note is now prepared if a bill is amended after consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee and if the amendment is expected to have a financial impact.
Lobbyists, whether representing industry, professional associations, or non-profit organizations, play a significant role in state government and the public should be able to see who is lobbying elected officials.
In 2006, The Senate passed landmark legislation requiring lobbyists to file regular reports detailing who is lobbying the Legislature and the Governor’s Office and which issues they are supporting.
Act 134 of 2006 (House Bill 700), as amended by the Senate, states that every lobbyist, lobbying firm and the groups that hired them are required to register and disclose their spending each quarter. The reports must include a list of funds spent on communication, gifts, hospitality, transportation and lodging. These reports must then be filed with the Department of State, which will provide a directory to the public of all registered lobbyists by May 1 of each odd-numbered year. Random audits will be conducted on the registrations every two years.
Lobbyists who violate the law will be subject to civil fines of up to $2,000 and the possibility of being prohibited from paid lobbying for up to five years. Groups that retain lobbyists and intentionally violate the law could receive a fine of up to $25,000.
To read the Department of State’s annual lobbying disclosure report, visit www.pasen.gov and select “Department of State Lobbying Disclosure” under the heading “Topics of Special Interest”.
During the 2010 legislative session, I have signed on to Senate Resolution 228, the Senate Rules of Ethical Conduct.
The Senate Rules of Ethical Conduct include:
- No Senate employee may conduct any campaign activity on Senate work time.
- No campaign activity may be conducted in a Senate office or with Senate resources.
- The solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions on Senate work time or with Senate resources is prohibited.
- No Senate employee may serve as an officer on a campaign committee or a campaign finance committee on behalf of any Senator or Senate candidate.
- No Senate employee may be required to perform campaign activities or to make campaign contributions.
- No Senate employee may be required to perform any non-work-related task.
- Senate mailing lists and email lists may only be used for legislative purposes, and cannot be sold or given to any other entity, including campaigns.
- Senate employees who are responsible for taking or recommending official actions are required to file Financial Interest Statements with the Secretary of the Senate.
- No Senate-funded newsletter may be sent within 60 days of an election.
- Annual training shall be provided to all senators and all Senate employees related to the Senate Rules of Ethical Conduct, the Ethics Act, and the Lobbyist Disclosure Act.
- Any alleged violations of the Senate Rules of Ethical Conduct would first be investigated by the Secretary of the Senate. If a more detailed investigation is warranted and the subject of the report is a senator, the matter will be referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Official Conduct. If the subject of the report is an employee, an independent party will conduct the investigation.
- Sanctions for violations by an employee can range from a warning to termination of employment, depending on the circumstances. Sanctions for violations by a senator can range from a warning to requiring restitution and any other sanction provided for under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Current Reform Legislation
Efforts to change the culture of state government are ongoing. Several pieces of legislation are underway to restore confidence in state government by making it more open and accountable to its citizens. During the previous legislative session, 9 out 10 bills focused on reform passed the Senate, but failed to gain final legislative approval. These bills have been reintroduced in the 2009-2010 legislative session:
Senate Bill 101 – Increasing penalties for violating the “Sunshine Law” governing open, public meetings.
Senate Bill 105– Creating a public, searchable, online database of state expenses.
Senate Bill 103– Prohibiting salary bonuses for Commonwealth employees.
Senate Bill 104 – Increasing accountability related to the use of state-owned vehicles.
Senate Bill 106 – Eliminating “Lame Duck” legislative sessions, which allow legislators leaving office to cast votes.
Senate Bill 107– Posting government salary information online.
Senate Bill 108 – Reforming the process for filling Lieutenant Governor vacancies.
Senate Bill 109 – Requiring disclosure of all taxpayer-funded advertising.
Senate Bill 102 – Improving the way professional service contracts are adopted by state agencies by requiring an open “most qualified bidder” process.
Senate Bill 110 – Improving access to, and expanding information contained in, state plane logs.
When I began my career in the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 1976, the two previous decades saw the rise of America’s drug culture, and an increasing public awareness of drug abuse. By the 1980’s America’s largest urban areas were experiencing a narcotics epidemic, especially the widespread use of crack cocaine and heroin. Faced with controlling this problem, legislators could only see one logical course of action: if a criminal activity was increasing, then tougher penalties were needed to repress that crime. It was seemingly obvious that Pennsylvania’s laws were too lenient, and we needed to get tough on crime. A “get tough” movement was underway across the country as most states and federal authorities were rewriting drug laws to be tougher and guarantee that offenders were more sufficiently punished. Longer, mandatory sentences passed with wide margins, and everyone confidently waited for a corresponding reduction in drug crime.
Now, after nearly 30 years of the tough on crime punishment model, we cannot construct prisons fast enough, hire enough police, or sufficiently staff courts to keep pace with the onslaught of drug and property crime offenders entering the system. These low level offenders that have overrun the system pose the least threat to public safety, but take up the most resources of law enforcement and corrections departments. Sixty percent of Pennsylvania’s inmates do not have a history of violence or any significant drug dealing activity. Four out of five drug arrests in the state are for possession of illegal substances, while only one out of five drug arrests were for sales. There is simply no prison sentence long enough or tough enough to stop drug users as is evidenced by the nearly half of released offenders returning to prison within months of parole. Non-violent drug offenders are hopelessly caught in a revolving door of incarceration that costs billions to maintain with little positive results. With over half of current U.S. prisoners convicted of a non-violent crime, too few resources are left to effectively prosecute and detain criminals who are truly dangerous and must be removed from society.
As well, technical parole violators are driving up the state’s prison population. 3,000 Technical Parole Violators (TPVs) were re-incarcerated in 2008 alone for violations such as breaking curfew or failing to report to their parole officer. These TPVs spend an average 14 additional months in prison without having committed an actual crime. This long sentence for a parole violation has no real affect on recidivism over those diverted for shorter periods.
Most Pennsylvanians have been unaware of the crisis that has been quietly mounting in our state’s prisons. Pennsylvania’s inmate population has increased by 522.6% between 1980 and 2009 (from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,326 inmates in November 2009). Pennsylvania’s total state population increased by only 6.2% between 1980 and 2009 (from 11,863,895 in 1980 to an estimated 12,604,767 in 2009). Between 1940 and 1980, the state’s inmate population averaged between 5,000 and 8,000. Over the past decade, little more than 2 percent of the increase in inmates is attributed to violent offenses. Fifty five percent of growth is due to nonviolent drug and property crimes. In Pennsylvania, we have 27 state prisons. Twenty-five years ago there were only nine. Approximately 1 of out 273 Pennsylvanians are in state prisons. There are an additional 30,000 inmates in Pennsylvanians county jails.
These numbers correspond with enormous cost. In FY 1980-81, the Commonwealth spent $110,388,000 on Corrections. In FY 2009-10, state funding for Department of Corrections is budgeted at $1,785,240,000. This represents a 1,517.2% increase between 1980 and 2009. According to the Department of Corrections, the State prison population grew by 28% over the past ten years. The prison population is expected to grow another 24% over the next five years. At this rate of growth, the State will be required to build three new prisons by 2012 at the cost of $600 million as well as an additional prison per year after 2012 at the cost of $200 million per prison. Each prison has an annual operating cost of $60 million. Prisoners who are 65 or older cost between $65,000 and $100,000 per year for medical care. Pennsylvania citizens annually pay about $40,000 for each state prisoner and about $18,000 for those in county prisons. It costs about $3.42 per day for probation to $7.47 per day for parolees or $1,250 to $2,750 per year, respectively.
We know now that punishment without rehabilitation is a failure. While we have earnestly sought to incorporate rehabilitation into the punishment process, too few inmates are receiving the needed programming. Programs such the State Intermediate Punishment Program (SIP) are underutilized. As well, many inmates do not receive parole because of a backlog of those waiting to complete programs before the end of their minimum sentence.
Once inmates have been released, they easily lapse into criminal behavior because of their inability to find employment and living with the stigma of incarceration. In addition, family ties are broken during incarceration, separating inmates from what is often their only means of support. The children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves.
Many of the state’s non-violent offenders would be better served completing treatment or other sanctions in a community based setting rather than in a state prison. This would better enable these individuals to reestablish healthy, crime free lives while they continue to support their families. As well, this would save Pennsylvania’s prison space for dangerous criminals who must be confined.
Since November of 2009, I have introduced several pieces of legislation that I believe will help to keep non-violent offenders out of prison help communities hard hit by the cycle of incarceration.
Senator Greenleaf’s Prison Reform Package:
SB 1145: Risk and Needs Assessment
Because current alternative sentencing programs are underutilized, the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission would develop a worksheet to help judges identify offenders with the lowest probability of being reconvicted of a serious crime. These offenders are then considered for alternative sentencing programs, so that correctional resources are focused on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety. *This bill was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, 2009 and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 1, 2010.
SB 1161: Short Minimum Cases
This legislation would allow inmates with short minimum sentences of less than one year to be moved to community corrections centers for community-based treatment. The bill overturns a regulation that an inmate may not be transferred to a prerelease center until the inmate has served at least nine months in a state correctional institution. These offenders, with short sentences, are the less serious offenders and there is no reason to hold them in secure prison cells when they are otherwise eligible for prerelease. While confined at a community corrections center, these offenders could participate in job training and take advantage of educational opportunities. *This bill was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, 2009 and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 1, 2010.
SB 1193: HOPE Program
Hawaii’s HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) is gaining national attention after reducing drug use by 90 percent among probationers. Focusing on offenders who have committed drug-related crimes, HOPE lays out clear expectations for drug-free behavior, then backs it up with swift, certain, but brief punishment. The legislation would authorize county courts of common pleas to establish similar programs for their counties. *This legislation was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 26, 2010 and referred to the Appropriations Committee on March 9, 2010.
SB1198: The Safe Community Reentry Program
This program would link the education, vocational training, and treatment offenders receive in prison with what they will need for a successful reentry into the community. There is a need to ensure that the training inmates receive in prison will correspond with job opportunities once they are released. The legislation directs the Department of Corrections to contract with private vendors, including non-profit and faith-based organizations, to transition inmates from prison to the community by helping them secure housing and employment, providing medical and mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment and education. They may also work with offenders to re-establish family relationships and create mentoring programs to help develop accountability and personal responsibility. *This legislation was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 16, 2010, referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 13, 2010.
This legislation establishes a graduated sanctioning process for state parole violators. The system is designed to hold the parolee accountable for a technical parole violation while avoiding the cost of recommitting the parolee to prison. A technical parole violation can be as minor as failing to meet a curfew or reporting to a parole officer, but violators can be recommitted to prison for over a year. A violation sanctioning grid will be developed that divides violations into high, medium and low range violations. An example of a high range violation is assaultive behavior; a medium range violation is the possession of unauthorized contraband; and a low range violation is the failure to pay supervision fees. The grid will include high, medium and low sanction ranges. An example of a high sanction is shock incarceration; a medium sanction is electronic monitoring; and a low sanction is increased reporting requirements. *On April 13, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported Senate Bill 1275 from committee. On April 20, 2010, the Senate re-referred Senate Bill 1275 to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
This legislation will invest an additional $50 million into criminal justice agencies and programs that will help reduce our state and county prison populations and, in the long run, improve public safety and save money for the Commonwealth and counties. *This legislation was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 30, 2010.
This legislation makes more nonviolent offenders eligible for Pennsylvania’s alternative sentencing programs. These programs include county intermediate punishment (CIP), state intermediate punishment (SIP), state motivational boot camp, and the recidivism risk reduction incentive (RRRI).
SIP is an intensive drug treatment program involving incarceration in state prison initially followed by community-based treatment. Currently the district attorney must request that a defendant be referred to the Department of Corrections for an assessment that will determine whether SIP is appropriate. The defendant must agree to be referred. Once the assessment takes place, the district attorney and the defendant must agree to the commitment. The legislation removes these requirements so that the judge may refer the defendant for assessment and the judge may commit an eligible offender to SIP. *On April 13, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported Senate Bill 1299 from committee. On April 20, 2010, the Senate re-referred Senate Bill 1299 to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
For far too long, Pennsylvania has earned the distinction of the Puppy Mill Capitol of the east. This has recently started to change with the passage of reforms to stop the inhumane breeding of dogs in the state and put an end to the ill gained profits of unscrupulous breeders.
My efforts began in 1997 with the passage of the Puppy Lemon Law which allowed dog owners to pursue reimbursement from sellers of dogs that were unhealthy and required medical attention. This was instrumental in forcing many sellers to demand healthy pets and stop doing business with breeders who were not willing to breed healthy animals.
In 1998 I was successful in amending language into a bill which made clear that no live animal may be sold in conjunction with the operation of a lottery or contest. My legislation prohibiting the sale of fur, skin or hair of a dog or cat or its use in a product was signed into law in 2001. I also successfully amended language into another bill in 2004 which made it a misdemeanor of the first degree for a person to hold, conduct or operate a greyhound race for public exhibition and for monetary remuneration.
During the last legislative session, I was very pleased to see the passage of HB 2525 providing for a comprehensive overhaul of Pennsylvania’s Dog Law. Despite some revisions to the bill, I believe this measure will set a higher standard for commercial kennels in Pennsylvania and ensure that dogs living in commercial breeding operations are provided with a humane and healthy environment. This measure is supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs.
In addition, I have supported legislation in the past that that would ban the inhumane practice of pigeon shoots and have sponsored bills in the past to prohibit canned hunts. I also introduced legislation in a prior session to prevent the utilization of bull hooks to control or punish elephants.
For the past two sessions I have introduced legislation, currently SB 50, making numerous revisions to the Puppy Lemon Law as suggested by the Attorney General’s Office which will further strengthen the law. I am also sponsoring SB 214 which would prohibit simulcasting of a greyhound race for commercial purposes.
I regularly hear from my constituents concerning these issues, and I continue to advocate in Harrisburg for the needed reforms to Pennsylvania’s animal welfare laws. Over the years, I have been proud to receive the recognition of several organizations for my work including the Humane Society and The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. I look forward to continued success in creating better environments for out domesticated animals.
Pennsylvania is blessed with a great wealth of natural lands. Even for those who live in urban areas, state parks, forests, and trails are never far away. Opportunities for recreation are limitless throughout the Commonwealth’s mountains, rivers, and woodland trails. To enhance these opportunities, I authored the Rails to Trails Act of 1990 which authorized DCNR to acquire abandoned railroad rights of way for public use.
Throughout our nation’s history, Pennsylvania’s natural resources have been critical for energy production. Coal, timber, and oil are part of the Commonwealth’s history, and still today, our state is home to a significant sustainable logging industry and some of the nation’s largest coal mines are located in Greene County. However, we have also learned throughout history that the extraction of natural resources can come at a great environmental cost. In fact, many of the Commonwealth’s waterways are still suffering from abandoned coal mine drainage. Clear cut logging practices of the past have left very little old growth forests in the state.
Today, Pennsylvania is at the center of a natural gas boom that many believe will have a long lasting impact on US energy production and our state’s economy. While we welcome jobs, the hard learned lessons of the past cannot be forgotten as this latest energy boom develops. Just as valuable as the gas beneath our feet, Pennsylvania’s unbroken tracks of wilderness, wildlife, and pristine rivers are of immeasurable value to our quality of life and, most importantly, public health.
As the natural gas industry grows, every precaution must be taken to ensure that public health is protected and our system of public lands is preserved for future generations. Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acre state forest system is one of the largest expanses of public land in the eastern United States. Despite its size, this only represents 12% of the total forested area of the State. This doesn’t include the many state parks, game lands, and the 512,998 acre Allegheny National Forest. Currently, 700,000 acres of our state forest land is under lease to natural gas development.
A deep drilling process, known as hydraulic fracturing, is used to extract natural gas using millions of gallons of water injected into the earth at high pressure to break open the gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale rock formation. Much of this water will flow back out of the wells and must be properly treated to remove harmful chemical additives used in the drilling process.
Despite industry assurances of safety, I believe that greater caution is necessary and that we cannot predict the long term effects of intensive drilling. Act 13 of 2012 established fees on gas drillers, set strong environmental safeguards, and strengthened oversight of the drilling industry, which was a step in the right direction.
This session, I have once again cosponsored legislation (SB 540) that would place a three year moratorium on additional drilling on public lands and requires the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to regularly assess the impact of natural gas exploration, drilling and production on state forest lands in the Commonwealth. In addition, I have introduced SB 790 that would allocate $3 million annually from the state’s shale gas impact fee to the Department of Health to conduct health services research to determine if health services are adequate in areas where drilling occurs and provides training to health care providers in occupational and environmental medicine. Also, it would include collection and reporting of health data in areas of drilling and conduct research on affects of air quality on health and disease in areas where wells are drilled. I believe these two bills will help hold the natural gas industry to the highest standards.
I hope that all Pennsylvania residents will recognize and value the beauty of our Commonwealth and help conserve and protect our environment. I urge all outdoor enthusiasts to share their passion for the outdoors with others so that we may all come to know and strive to protect our natural lands. Please take the time to introduce a young person to the outdoors so that we can instill an ethic for conservation in future generations.
More information can be found at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s website.
Senate Environmental Initiatives:
In 1999, led by Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chair Mary Jo White (R-Venango), the Senate approved the largest environmental investment in Pennsylvania’s history: the $645 million Growing Greener environmental initiative.
Signed into law by Gov. Tom Ridge, Act 68 cleaned up abandoned mines and restored watersheds, protected open space, eliminated the maintenance backlog in state parks, and provided new and upgraded water and sewer systems. In 2002, Gov. Mark Schweiker signed into law Act 90, which extended Growing Greener into a 13-year, $1.24 billion program.
Funding Growing Greener Bond
In 2005, the Senate passed legislation to implement a $625 million Growing Greener environmental bond approved by voters. Under Act 45, debt service on the bond is paid by using a portion of the existing fee charged for waste disposal at landfills.
Water Supplies and Recycling
Act 220 of 2002 launched the first comprehensive review of Pennsylvania’s water supplies in more than 25 years. In 2006, the Senate approved Act 140, which extended funding of the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction program until 2012. The recycling fee was scheduled to sunset in 2009. The measure exempts smaller communities from certain mandates and provides more local control and flexibility for larger communities.
Alternative Energy Investment Act
During the 2007-2008 session the Senate passed the $650 million Alternative Energy Investment Act to boost renewable energy development and reduce energy consumption without imposing new taxes, improved and expanded the state Alternative Fuels Incentive Fund, and continued funding of the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act through 2010-11 without raising taxes.
Alternative Energy Research
Special Session Act 1 of 2008 supports research and development of alternative energy technologies, helps municipalities and businesses implement clean-energy projects, and provides assistance to consumers to cover up to 25 percent of the cost to install energy-saving equipment.
It also boosts funding of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by $100 million and provides rebates for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. The measure invests a total of $650 million over 10 years, funded by anticipated growth in the state gross receipts tax, and includes no new taxes.
Alternative Fuels Incentive Fund
Special Session Act 2 of 2008 will improve and expand the state Alternative Fuels Incentive Fund, which is aimed at reducing air pollution and providing the Commonwealth with the independence to manufacture its own fuel sources. The law authorizes an additional 75 cents per gallon subsidy for biodiesel producers who produce more than 25,000 gallons per month, up to a total of $5.3 million annually. Individual producers could receive no more than $1.9 million. The law will also increase the reimbursement to producers of alternative fuels from 5 cents to 10 cents per gallon up to 12.5 million gallons annually. Alternative fuels emit no particulate matter, less carbon monoxide, and fewer pollutants that contribute to smog than conventional gasoline and diesel fuel.
Act 35 of 2007 – This law will steadily increase the amount of solar energy used in Pennsylvania through 2020. (Summary of Act 35/HB 1203) This bill increases the expected level of solar energy required to be sold to retail customers, ensures that the alternative energy that counts for compliance is derived locally, mandates an annual truing up for net-metering customer-generators, strengthens noncompliance penalties, and authorizes the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to determine if alternative energy resources are reasonably available or if alternative energy credits may be required before a force majeure is allowed.
Hazardous Sites Cleanup Funding
Legislation that would ensure funding of state hazardous sites cleanup efforts was approved by the Senate.
Act 77 of 2007 would fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act through 2010-11 without raising taxes.
Funding for HSCA, which finances cleanups at contaminated sites and the investigation of illegal hazardous waste disposals, was not included in the final state budget adopted by the General Assembly in July. The Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that the HSCA program will be shut down if a funding solution is not found.
The measure provides $17 million for HSCA through the 2007-08 fiscal year. It earmarks $40 million out of the state Capital Stock and Franchise Tax for the following three fiscal years.
Limiting Truck Pollution, Noise
The Senate approved legislation to reduce the noise and noxious exhaust fumes of idling tractor trailers.
Act 124 of 2008 bars commercial diesel vehicles from idling for more than five minutes during any 60-minute period.
Violators could face fines ranging from $50 to $150. The measure includes a list of exceptions to allow truckers to do their jobs.
Eliminating Phosphate in Detergents
Legislation to virtually eliminate the amount of phosphate in automatic dishwashing detergents was approved by the Senate. Act 15 of 2008 would amend the Phosphate Detergent Act to require household dishwashing cleaning agents to contain no phosphorous. Phosphorus is destructive to fish and plant life when it makes its way into rivers and other bodies of water.
Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Program
Act 20 of 2007 – This law provides a five-year sunset extension for the Underground Storage Tank Environmental Cleanup Program and Underground Storage Tank Pollution Prevention Program These initiatives were due to expire in July 2007.
PA Climate Change Act
The Senate approved the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act. Act 70 of 2008 would create a stakeholders group to advise the state on climate change issues and identify green economic opportunities in Pennsylvania.
The advisory committee will be made up of members appointed by the governor and the General Assembly. The committee will issue a report on scientific predictions regarding changes in temperature and precipitation that could result from climate change, as well as the potential impact of climate change on health, the economy, wildlife, agriculture and tourism.
The bill requires that the predictions reflect the diversity of views within the scientific community. The measure also requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to annually create an inventory of greenhouse gases in Pennsylvania. Within 15 months of the bill becoming law, DEP and the advisory committee will submit a climate change action plan that identifies greenhouse emission trends and evaluates cost-effective strategies for reducing or offsetting emissions.
Comprehensive Mine Safety Law
The state Senate approved a sweeping mine safety bill that will provide for the first rewrite of Pennsylvania’s mining laws in nearly half a century.
Act 55 of 2008 would create a new Board of Coal Mine Safety to keep Pennsylvania’s mine safety standards regularly updated.
The legislation also provides for greater legal responsibility for operators to ensure mine safety, and enables the state to establish a central database of mine maps. It also addresses responses to accidents, requiring mine operators to notify DEP within 15 minutes of an accident, and updates ventilation and roof support requirements.
Reforming State Conservation Districts
Act 75 of 2008 proposes to streamline and increase operating funds for the conservation districts, better coordinate efforts between districts, provide uniform staff capabilities, and establish fair review fees.
The bill also requires the General Assembly to provide one appropriation directly to the State Conservation Commission at a level sufficient to meet the 50 percent funding goal for certain district positions. It allows districts to receive advanced funding for certain programs and not be required to lapse unused funds. It recommends districts apply for DCED land use assistance grants, and requests that the Commission consider alternative funds, including possible fees to support the Nutrient Management Program. The measure also requires that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection develop a training program to certify inspection personnel and improve standardization of enforcement activities.
Links to Outdoor Recreation in Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania offers 6,763 miles of trials for hiking, biking, and backpacking. To find a trail visit www.explorepatrails.com
At www.dcnr.state.pa.us/getoutdoorspa you can learn about a variety of outdoor activities and where to find them. Or, www.visitpa.com can help you plan a variety of outdoor activities.
Farm Stay Vacation Program
Pennsylvania has 229 miles of the 2,175 miles A.T., which runs from Maine to Georgia and is a unit of the National Park Service.
PA Game Commission
Information on watchable wildlife, bird breeding, and state hunting regulations.
PA Fish and Boat Commission
Fishing and boating regulations and information on state waterways.
Find state forests and recreations opportunities
Pennsylvania’s state parks competed with the best systems in the country and was awarded the top honor as the 2009 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
Property taxes continue to burden our region, especially during a time when so many are unemployed or underemployed. Over the years, I have heard many ideas for reducing or even eliminating property taxes. Elimination of property taxes would only trade one tax for another, as funding for education would simply have to come from somewhere else. The State Sales Tax would need to be increased to 14 percent or the Personal Income Tax could be doubled to replace the $10 billion that is generated by property taxes. I support a three part approach to property tax relief that includes 1.) Controlling costs and school district spending; 2.) Allocating a Larger Share of State Education Funding to our Local Schools; 3.) Direct aid to taxpayers.
Controlling School District Spending
We count on our school districts to provide a top quality education, and while this is a costly effort, there must be protections in place for taxpayers. In the past, there were few controls set to prevent schools from dramatically increasing property taxes due to spending. Act 1 of 2006 has set a new course for controlling property taxes by mandating that school districts keep spending in line with the Inflation Index. Spending above the Inflation Index must be approved by voters during a general election. Until it expired in June, a mandate waiver program was in place that allowed school districts to apply to the Department of Education to be exempt from certain costly state mandates. I will push for the Legislature to vote to renew this important cost saving program.
Allocating a Larger Share of State Education Funding to our Local Schools
The school districts in our region receive the least amount of state funding, forcing most education costs on local taxpayers. Because the state delivers education dollars according to each district’s per capita income rather than actual expenditures or enrollment, as much as 80 percent of our local education budgets are supported though property taxes. Each year the basic education subsidy is increased, however, our local districts normally only receive the minimum 2% increase. Some districts fund as much as 75% of their budget with the state subsidy, even though their enrollments are dropping. The funding formula has to be changed. Even as our area schools have seen a rapid increase in enrollment, as much as 70 percent since the mid 90s in some districts, we still receive among the lowest aid ratios in Pennsylvania. While the majority of education dollars should go towards the neediest school districts, I believe those in our area are short changed and bear too great a burden. Each year, I fight for a more adequate share of state education dollars for our local school districts. While our students are receiving a top notch education, more needs to be done to reduce the burden on local taxpayers.
Direct Aid to Taxpayers
Pennsylvania has made significant progress in recent years to provide direct aid to taxpayers. The Homestead Exemption Program provides for property tax relief through the state’s gambling revenue.
If you have not applied for the Homestead Exemption:
In 2006, my proposal expanded the Property Tax / Rent Rebate Program that benefits the state’s seniors, helping many stay in their homes.
Most recently, in the Senate I have been working to pass the Senior Citizen Property Tax Freeze Act, legislation that would freeze property taxes at their current level for eligible senior citizens. School districts would be reimbursed for the lost tax revenue by the Commonwealth.
For the Future
There is no easy fix for property tax relief, but I believe that we are on the right track. I don’t believe that we must relentlessly tax residents in order to have quality education, nor do we have to sacrifice quality education for taxpayer relief. Pennsylvania must better distribute its resources among our schools. We must as well continue to build upon the many programs already in place that are working to relieve the tax burden.
August 31, 2009 – Senator Greenleaf discusses education funding and property tax relief at a meeting at Upper Dublin High School.
Despite the ongoing ramifications of the recession, the Legislature was able to pass a $28 billion budget that reflects our current economic climate. Even though we were focused on closing this year’s $1.1 billion deficit, the Legislature must look to reduce government spending in the long term. This is not always as simple as cutting costs and eliminating waste, though it is a good place to start. The fastest growing state departments are education, welfare, and corrections—budgets that cannot simply be cut. Investments in education are necessary and ongoing in order to ensure a competitive workforce and decent standard of living. However, unlike education, there is little return on the state’s investments in welfare and corrections. A great portion of welfare spending goes towards federally mandated entitlement programs that cannot be eliminated. Corrections spending has skyrocketed in recent years due to 48 percent of released inmates returning to prison, and a high rate of non-violent drug crime. Welfare and corrections spending are not sustainable at their current rate of growth. We are already spending more on corrections than on higher education. While we cannot simply release inmates, or deny those who are dependent on public assistance, we must reach those who are at risk of becoming involved in both of these systems early in life.
Research shows that early learning and intervention programs are highly effective at keeping at-risk children and youth on track. They are proven to reduce dependency on public assistance and involvement in the criminal justice system, reduce drug use, and increase high school graduation and college attendance. Many behavioral and learning problems can be identified early in a child’s life and addressed before they have long term consequences such as truancy, delinquency, addiction, or violent behavior. The Pew Research Center reports that the number one predictor of behavioral problems is if a child cannot read by the third grade. The programs used are evidence based, meaning that they have been proven successful on a large scale with real life, measurable results. There are many programs that sound good, but are unproven, and a potential waste of time and money.
A landmark study of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program in Chicago tracked two groups of at-risk 3 and 4 year olds throughout their lives. By age 40, those who participated in the program were almost twice as likely to have earned an Associate’s degree than those left out. By age 27, those at-risk children who had not attended the program were five times more likely to be chronic law breakers.
Many programs do exist in Pennsylvania, but they are underutilized and underfunded. The state’s current investment of $3,073 per child is well below the national cost of providing for high quality early learning programs which is $8,700 per child. The cost of high quality early learning programs is nominal compared to the $35,000 per year to house an inmate, also far less than the cost of public assistance. The non-profit organization, Fight Crime, Invest in Kids, estimates that one quarter of Pennsylvania’s $1.8 billion Corrections Budget can be cut if early learning programs were fully funded—a savings of $450 million per year.
While Pre-K Counts, Head Start, and other early learning programs have been working in Pennsylvania, thousands of eligible children are still denied access to early learning programs due to lack of funds. The federally-funded Head Start program for children in poverty serves only half of eligible children nationwide due to inadequate funding. Early Head Start serves about three percent of eligible infants and toddlers nationally. In Pennsylvania, state-funded pre-kindergarten programs like Pre-K Counts and state subsidized Head Start serve more than 60,000 at-risk Pennsylvania children from low-income families. That still leaves 65 percent of at-risk three- and four-year-olds who are not served according to Fight Crime, Invest in Kids.
While it is effective, early education is only half the solution. Intervention programs are often needed for families in crisis with children at a greater risk of suffering life-long consequences as a result of their circumstances. While these children are often placed in foster care, some of Pennsylvania’s foster placements have had poor success. Many children have lengthy stays in foster care, with multiple placements, often aging out of the system with little support from family or the community. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Children, Youth and Families is working to reverse the trend and train human services staff to keep children with their own families whenever possible. Their approach has been developed in conjunction with the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices. Plans for safely reducing the number of children in foster care are underway in 16 counties, which will hopefully be used as models for the rest of the state. The paradigm for dealing with families in crisis has changed dramatically over the years from a reliance on institutionalization to an acknowledgment that every family has assets. Professional counselors work to solve problems on a case by case basis, with a focus on keeping families together and bringing permanency to the lives of children. Special attention is given to meeting children’s educational and emotional needs. They may address academic difficulties, truancy, or domestic violence and neglect at home.
York County has experienced dramatic results using these principles. The county’s child welfare system was reduced from 611 children in June, 2007 to 250 in June, 2010. The county has also been able to eliminate its juvenile detention facility, combining it with nearby Lancaster County. This is an enormous success, considering that a high percentage of all children involved in the child welfare system will end up in prison. Once allowed to languish in an institution, they rarely gain the skills necessary to function in society and resort to criminal behavior. According to county human services officials, many inmates are victims of some form of childhood abuse or neglect. The United States spends billions each year on neglect and abuse victims for special education, mental health treatment, juvenile justice, and the criminal justice system.
This year’s budget was certainly a challenge, but things will not be any easier in 2011. It is imperative that we begin to more aggressively implement evidence based programs that are proven to reduce the number of individuals that must be supported by the state or under its supervision. Not only can the state save money, but can realize a larger tax base and a more competitive workforce. It is better to invest in children early than spend millions of dollars on them over the course of their lifetime. As we look towards the next budget cycle, I will ask the Legislature to consider these findings and join me in supporting early education and intervention programs for children.
Two years into the recession, economic recovery is still slow. The past two years have been among the most difficult for many local residents who have suffered the loss of a job or home. Today, it is critical that state government works to create a favorable environment for employers and consumers. My goals for bringing about economic recovery are 1.) Enacting sustainable state budgets that control spending with no broad based tax increases; 2.) Supporting emerging high technology industries; 3.) Provide a favorable environment for small businesses; 4.) Protect American business from the theft of intellectual property such as copyrights and patents; 5.) Prevent the hiring of undocumented workers through the E-verify system so more jobs are available for PA workers; 6.) Provide capital grants for projects that create local jobs.
Enacting sustainable state budgets that control spending with no broad based tax increases
The 2009 / 2010 state budget reduced spending by $467 million while maintaining services and programs without increasing the personal income tax or sales tax as some in Harrisburg proposed. The Legislature was faced with passing the 2010 / 2011 state budget with a $1.176 billion shortfall. Some had proposed a variety of new taxes such as an expansion of the state sales tax as a way to close the budget gap. These taxes would have only further strained family budgets and would have curbed consumer spending. I supported a spending plan with no broad based tax increases that was nearly revenue neutral with less than a one percent spending increase. These past two budgets have reflected the current economic climate, and are keeping Pennsylvania on a sustainable course. There are more creative and productive approaches to dealing with revenue shortfalls other than taxation.
Supporting Emerging High Technology Industries
Many of the careers of tomorrow will be in the high technology fields. High tech firms are attracted to Pennsylvania thanks to innovative state programs that are designed to provide the capital, infrastructure, and other resources to create high-paying, highly skilled technology jobs. Pennsylvania is home to some of the top university talent in the nation that leads research and development efforts in areas such as alternative energy and medical technology. Pennsylvania colleges and universities produce many of the new technologies that create new markets and jobs.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has created incentives for high technology businesses looking to expand or relocate to Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Initiative for Nanotechnology is one such statewide effort to make Pennsylvania a leader in nanotechnology research.
Provide a favorable environment for small businesses
Most new jobs in Pennsylvania are created by small businesses. Small businesses in Pennsylvania employ 49.98% of the state’s private nonfarm workforce. The 234,540 small businesses in Pennsylvania produce over $77.4 billion in annual income, including benefits.
It is important that we create an environment in which small businesses can thrive and continue to be the backbone of our economy. Avoiding broad based tax increases is critical to sustaining small businesses through a difficult economy. Also, legislation is now being considered in the Senate that would provide employers an alternative to layoffs. Senate Bill 1205 would allow employers who are facing the prospect of layoffs to implement a temporary shared-work program that would reduce employee hours and allow those employees to receive proportionate unemployment compensation benefits. We need to continue to partner with small businesses so they can continue to do business in Pennsylvania.
Protect American business from the theft of intellectual property
Intellectual property accounts for a great portion of the United States’ economy, and is one of our most valuable assets. It is estimated that intellectual property crimes such as piracy and counterfeiting costs American business $250 billion each year and 750,000 lost jobs. Unfortunately, we are losing valuable assets because the United States is failing to enforce the laws that protect intellectual property such as copyrights and patents. Foreign competitors are getting away with stealing American ideas and reproducing our products. Laws are needed to better protect intellectual property beyond our borders and put Americans back to work.
Prevent the hiring of undocumented workers
Particularly during times of high unemployment, we must ensure that jobs are not awarded to undocumented workers. I support Senate legislation requiring the verification of all construction workers in Pennsylvania. The proposed Construction Project Verification of Employees Act would utilize E-Verify, a web-based system run jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration, which electronically verifies the employment eligibility of newly hired workers.
Provide capital grants for projects that create local jobs
Priority must be given to capital projects that create jobs and strengthen the economy. As part of this year’s budget package, a jobs bill was signed into law that will invest $1.2 billion in the state’s economy with the potential to create 18,000 jobs. The legislation expands the Redevelopment Assistance Capitol Program (RACP) which has supported nearly 1,000 projects and invested $4 billion into every region of the Commonwealth since 2004. The bill authorized a $600 million investment by the state, and because of its match requirement, the total investment will be $1.2 billion. I have supported several of these projects in our local communities to create jobs and spur economic development.