A roundup of issues in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Trimmed State Budget Passes House
After weeks of intense negotiations, the 2008-09 state budget has been passed by the House.
Highlights of the Budget
- Republican lawmakers successfully negotiated a plan that cut the spending proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell and House Democrats. The overall 3.98 percent increase falls under the anticipated 4.4 percent rate of inflation for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
- There are no new taxes or fees and I stood firm against a plan to raid the Commonwealthâ€™s Rainy Day Fund.
- I am pleased to report a major victory for school districts and students across the state. A plan to mandate graduation tests statewide without legislative oversight (a projected $40 million unfunded mandate) led the fight to increase the minimum basic education subsidy to 3 percent. The governor’s draft of the budget would provide our schools only an additional 1.5 percent.
GOP Health Care Measure Wins Unanimous Support of House
Legislation that would provide state support for community-based health centers to make pediatrics, obstetrical and gynecological care and family education services more widely available has passed the House with broad, bipartisan support.
- House Bill 1824 would allow an additional 55,000 residents to immediately benefit from using community-based health centers.
- This legislation is part of a broader legislative package designed by Republican lawmakers to provide access to quality, affordable health care.
The legislation now heads to the Senate for its consideration. For more information on this plan, visit HealthCareForPAFamilies.com.
Budget Package Funding For Infrastructure, Energy Initiatives
The General Assembly voted to make significant investments in infrastructure improvements and energy conservation initiatives as part of the 2008-09 budget process.
- Financial support exceeding $1 billion is going to be available at the state level for communities faced with mandates to meet demands for water and sewer treatment facilities, as well as bridges and dams in critical need of repair.
- The state has been authorized to invest $350 million to accelerate the repair and replacement of 411 of the stateâ€™s structurally deficient bridges and $800 million for water and sewer projects.
- Certain components of a tax-free, comprehensive energy plan developed by House Republicans were also approved last week.
- The legislation, which includes $25 million for loans and grants to individuals and small businesses that utilize energy-conserving technology, $40 million to assist low-income families with their heating bills, and $25 million to fund environmental improvements to small coal power plants, was built upon the Republican â€œEnergy for PAâ€ plan.
- It dedicates $650 million over the next eight years to move the state toward energy independence by encouraging conservation and development of alternative sources of energy.
For more details, visit PAHouseGOP.com.
House OKs Coal Minersâ€™ Safety Legislation
The Commonwealthâ€™s 40-year-old mine safety statutes are set for a facelift under legislation recently passed by the House.
- If enacted, Senate Bill 949 would update safety statutes related to bituminous coal mining with the creation of a Coal Mine Safety Board, stricter inspection duties and defined responsibilities for mine operators during accidents.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would administer the stateâ€™s mine safety program, including making inspections, conducting investigations and issuing orders.
- The DEP would also be responsible for conducting semi-annual inspections on electrical components and general safety inspections on a quarterly basis.
- The Coal Mine Safety Board would have authority to establish new regulations.
The measure is currently awaiting signature by the governor.
Legislation Requiring Insurers to Cover Autism Treatment Passes House
Families affected by autism disorders will have improved access to care under legislation requiring private insurance companies and government insurance programs to cover autism treatments.
The legislation, which passed with unanimous support, calls on insurers to:
- Provide up to $36,000 a year in coverage for Applied Behavior Analysis and other medically necessary treatments to individuals under the age of 21.
- Could affect more than 21,000 children between the ages of 2 and 20, who have been diagnosed with the disorder.
It is estimated that the new law will save the Medicaid program as much as $13 million in its first year, while increasing the average monthly premium for policyholders by about $1.