Senate Weekly Session Wrap
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Senate Approves "Castle Doctrine" Legislation
The Senate approved legislation on Tuesday, March 8 that would expand the "Castle Doctrine" in Pennsylvania to protect gun owners who act in self-defense.
Senate Bill 273, which I co-sponsored, removes the "duty to retreat" clause when an individual is threatened by an attacker in any place that individual has a right to be, including the individual's home or vehicle. The bill would provide important protections against criminal prosecution or civil litigation for those who act in self-defense.
The General Assembly passed legislation expanding the Castle Doctrine in 2010 by an overwhelming margin, but then-Governor Ed Rendell vetoed the bill. Governor Tom Corbett has voiced his support for expanding the Castle Doctrine to protect law-abiding gun owners.
Senate Bill 273 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Governor Unveils Proposed 2011-12 State Budget
The Senate will carefully study the $27.331 billion General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2011-12 which was unveiled Tuesday, March 8 before a joint session of the General Assembly by Governor Tom Corbett.
The Governor's budget proposal represents an $866 million reduction in spending from the current fiscal year. The proposal is balanced, includes "no gimmicks" and does not call for increases in taxes or fees.
Overall, Governor Corbett is proposing $2.6 billion in cuts through eliminating 103 line items, reducing 154 line items and consolidating 55 line items. The budget proposal reduces general government operation costs by an average of 2.1 percent across the board.
Education funding is reduced in the Governor's FY 2011-12 budget proposal, in part due to the end of non-recurring America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other federal funding programs. During his last two budgets, Governor Rendell relied on federal stimulus funding to prop up his spending proposals. Senate Republicans cautioned school districts and other local recipients that the stimulus money be invested wisely and should not be used for recurring costs or programs.
Senate Approves Military Families Compact Bill
The Senate unanimously approved legislation on Monday, March 7 to help students of military families cope with the frequent and stressful relocations associated with active duty service.
Senate Bill 159, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children legislation that I co-sponsored, authorizes Pennsylvania to enter into the Interstate Compact as a way to make education more accessible to children of military families and make school transfers and transitions more uniform and less stressful.
The average student of a military family faces transition challenges more than twice during high school and most military children will attend six to nine different school systems from kindergarten through graduation. The Compact provides a comprehensive approach to address the major areas of education that are affected such as the transferring of education records, course sequencing, graduation requirements and power of custodial parents and guardianships during deployments.
Currently, 35 states have already passed similar legislation and joined the Compact.
The bill is now before the House Education Committee for consideration.
Four Committees Hold Hearings on Cabinet Nominees
The Senate continued the confirmation process for members of Governor Tom Corbett's Administration as four Senate committees considered nominees for cabinet positions this week.
The Senate Education Committee, on which I serve as a member, held a confirmation hearing on Monday, March 7 to consider the nomination of Ronald Tomalis to serve as Secretary of the Department of Education. Tomalis, of Clarksville, Maryland, is currently Director at Dutko Worldwide/Whiteboard Advisors.
The Senate Transportation Committee held a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, March 8 to consider the nomination of Barry Schoch to serve as Secretary of the Department of Transportation. Schoch, of Camp Hill, Cumberland County, is currently a vice president at McCormick Taylor, Inc.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, on which I serve as a member, held a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, March 9 to consider the nomination of Michael Consedine to serve as State Insurance Commissioner. Consedine, of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, is currently partner and vice chair of Saul Ewing's Insurance Practice Group.
Also on Wednesday, March 9, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of Eli Avila to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health. Avila, of Hampton Bays, N.Y., currently serves as Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Suffolk County, N.Y., Department of Health Services.
State Government Committee Examines Right-To-Know Law
The Senate State Government Committee held a public hearing this week to review the state's Right-To-Know Law. The law has undergone a number of changes in recent years to expand public access to government information. It is important for the General Assembly to examine the Right-To-Know Law to determine if additional changes are needed to promote greater transparency and accountability.
This week's hearing was the first in a series of hearings to be held in the coming weeks to examine the Right-To-Know Law. The committee heard testimony from Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of the Office of Open Records; Teri Henning and Deborah Musselman of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association; and, Elam Herr of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
Bill Sets Penalties for Dog Race Simulcasting
The Senate unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday, March 9 authorizing courts to impose a $10,000 civil penalty for the transmission or receipt of interstate or intrastate simulcasting of greyhound races.
Senate Bill 71 is similar to Senate Bill 214 of last session which unanimously passed the Senate last May, but did not receive consideration in the House. Greyhound racing is illegal in Pennsylvania. However, the greyhound industry still simulcasts live greyhound racing to other tracks, casinos and off-track betting parlors.
Senate Bill 71 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.