Senate Weekly Session Wrap
A Report on the Legislative Session Week of January 17, 2012
Important Harrisburg Happenings:
Well Safety Bill Headed to Governor
The Senate concurred on House amendments and sent to Governor Tom Corbett on January 18th a bill I co-sponsored that will set new reporting standards for well sites and require drillers to file emergency response plans with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Senate Bill 995 requires operators of unconventional oil and gas wells within Pennsylvania to register unique addresses for their wells, develop and submit emergency response plans and post signs.
The legislation requires operators to post signs displaying GPS coordinates and other emergency response information at all well sites and to provide those coordinates and emergency response plans to appropriate state, county and local officials.
Senate Approves SSHE "Modernization" Bill
The Senate unanimously approved legislation on January 17th that would provide new opportunities for Pennsylvania's 14-member State System of Higher Education (SSHE) to offer advanced degrees.
Senate Bill 1133 would allow the member universities to offer applied doctorate degrees, a level of education currently only available at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. SSHE officials stress the expansion will not impact IUP, but rather augment and modernize the entire system to make it more competitive and attract more students.
SB 1133 would set defined standards for establishing applied doctorate programs – a degree for working professionals who must be licensed to practice in their field of expertise – under the direct control and oversight of SSHE. IUP will remain the only SSHE-member university to offer PhD programs, which are for those pursing research and engaging in scholarship.
The bill now goes to the House of Representative for consideration.
Committees Approve Measure to Extend UC Benefits
Two Senate committees approved legislation that will enable about 17,000 Pennsylvanians to continue receiving unemployment compensation benefits.
The Labor and Industry Committee and the Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 1133, setting the stage for final Senate consideration of this measure.
Congress approved a 60-day extension of federal funding for the benefits in late December, but Pennsylvania must "tweak" the state's Unemployment Compensation Law in order to take advantage of the extension.
Independent Fiscal Office Issues Economic Projections
The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), which was created under Act 120 of 2010, issued its first report on the economic prospects for the Commonwealth during the week of January 16th.
The panel projects that economic growth will be modest for the Commonwealth (1.6 percent) for 2012 and that the statewide unemployment rate will remain "elevated" at 7.9 percent. Economic growth is expected to improve in 2014, but the unemployment rate will stay relatively stagnant, according to the IFO.
State revenues are projected to increase by about 1.6 percent per annum through Fiscal Year 2013-14, then increase to 4 percent thereafter.
The IFO identified three trends that we must take into account as we look toward the state budget: