Capitol Wire: State graduation exam criticized in House committee hearing

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

HARRISBURG (June 26) Graduation competency exam requirements for Pennsylvania public schools were roundly criticized by panel and committee members during a public hearing of the House Education Committee Wednesday.

The new graduation exit exam, supported by Gov. Ed Rendell and the State Board of Education, has come under fire from critics for depleting classroom teaching.

“We don’t know what problem the state board is trying to solve,” said Pat Halpin-Murphy, the government relations director of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The real issue is a lack of reading comprehension development in the earliest grades, which wouldn’t be solved by establishing another testing obstacle for high school graduates, she said.

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Budget negotiations start getting serious

HARRISBURG (June 25) State legislators are narrowing their focus on budget negotiations as its deadline rests just five days away.

Leaders from the four caucuses broke from a final meeting on general issues this afternoon and will return at 6 P.M. to begin talks on education, said House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Mario Civera, R-Delaware.

The focus of this afternoon’s negotiations were still on “tightening global issues” and few details had been agreed upon yet, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gibson E. Armstrong, R-Lancaster.

“Everything is still on the table,” Civera said.

Negotiations have remained tethered to a debate on overall spending, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia. Republicans want to keep state spending near the four percent rate of inflation, said Senate President Pro-tempore Joseph B. Scarnati III, R-Cameron, which is less than Democratic proposals.

“Some steps forward,” said Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna.

The leaders will be available to meet late into the night to broker a deal that will have to be approved by the General Assembly and the Governor.

“Nobody has left the table,” Civera said. “So that’s good news.”

Image courtesy of Art Voice.

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Capitol Wire: Tuesday's budget negotiations focus on Rainy Day Fund

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

HARRISBURG (June 24) – The battle over the state surplus was a major element of Tuesday’s budget negotiations, said legislative leaders who participated in those discussions.

“The Rainy Day Fund is not to be touched,” said House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Mario Civera, R-Delaware. “If that’s resolved, I think we would be good, not June 30, but maybe a day or two late.”

Democrats proposed to take about $375 million of the state’s Rainy Day budgetary reserve fund and spend it. That would leave about $500 million in it after this budget, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia. Evans and Civera spoke after Monday’s round of negotiations.

Republicans, however, steadfastly oppose that plan.

“One thing that is not acceptable is touching the Rainy Day Fund,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster.

The caucuses could agree to use a portion of the year’s surplus destined for the Rainy Day Fund, though not already part of the fund, said Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna.

“We certainly haven’t made a backwards step,” said House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene.

….

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Capitol Wire: Bill: bullet-proof vests would be required for security companies

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

HARRISBURG – Bullet-proof vests would need to be company-issued for private security guards who carry firearms, according to a bill that was reported out of the House Judiciary committee Tuesday.

House Bill 2119, introduced by John P. Sabatina Jr., D-Philadelphia, would require private security companies to purchase bullet-proof vests for employees with firearms.

In October 2007, two guards from security giant Loomis were killed and another injured in a neighborhood in Sabatina’s Northeast Philadelphia district.

“I believe bullet-proof vests would have saved their lives,” Sabatina said. Those given vests would not be required by the bill to wear them.

Minority Chairman Ronald S. Marsico, R-Dauphin, suggested the economic burden the legislation would put on smaller security firms is undue, considering police departments in Pennsylvania aren’t bound by similar mandates.

“Just wait,” Sabatina said. “That could be next.”

After the bill initially failed 14-15, Kathy M. Manderino, D-Philadelphia, called for reconsideration and switched her vote to an affirmative so the measure could be reported out of committee and developed on the House floor.

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Capitol Wire: Bill to limit displaying human remains suspended

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

HARRISBURG – A bill that would impose civil penalties for certain commercial displays of human remains will stay in the House Judiciary Committee until after a public hearing can be held this summer, the committee decided Tuesday.

House Bill 2299, sponsored by Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, would require greater knowledge of the source of cadavers and other remains displayed in museums and places of public view.

On June 4, Fleck proposed an amendment to a 2008-09 non-preferred budget bill that would have eliminated the Carnegie Science Center’s $254,000 appropriation. Fleck was critical of the science center’s recent exhibit of human cadavers, called “Bodies: The Exhibition.” The exhibition showcases preserved human bodies dissected to display bodily systems.

Such exhibits have come under fire from some ethicists, human rights activists and religious leaders regarding the source of the cadavers used in the exhibit, with exhibitors unable to demonstrate the circumstances that led to the death of the individuals, or if people consented to their remains being used in the exhibit.

No date for the public hearing was given. The decision to table the bill until after the hearing came on a unanimous voice vote.

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Capitol Wire: Clean air taxi cab bill

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste.

HARRISBURG (June 23) – The majority of Pennsylvania taxicabs would be clean air cars in eight years under legislation amended and approved by the House Consumer Affairs Committee Monday.

Special Session House Bill 49, introduced by Rep. David Kessler, D-Berks, passed the committee 21-7. As amended by committee Chairman Joseph Preston, D-Allegheny, the bill calls for 80 percent of a company’s common carriers designed to carry eight passengers or less to be clean air vehicles by 2016. All taxicabs purchased 180 days after the bill’s enactment would need to be clean air cars, and $500 per purchase tax credits would be available to offset the costs.

“With the savings in gas costs alone, the switch makes perfect sense,” said Kessler. Even small cab companies would stand to benefit from the higher fuel efficiency, he said.

Seven of the 13 Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, including Minority Chairman Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery.

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Capitol Wire: Winery bill criticized in House committee hearing

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste.

HARRISBURG (June 19) – A proposal to bring Pennsylvania law on wine deliveries in line with a court ruling would mean “a total disruption” of the state’s liquor control system, one witness told the House Liquor Control Committee Thursday.

House Bill 2165 would make Pennsylvania law compliant with a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbids states from prohibiting out-of-state wineries from shipping directly to consumers if in-state wineries are able to do so.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, would require all limited wineries, both those operating within and outside the commonwealth, to ship wine to consumers through the state store system. From there, the product could be shipped by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board directly to homes or businesses.

Currently, out-of-state wineries must receive a license to ship products into Pennsylvania to be sold at state stores. Out-of-state wineries that produce less than 200,000 gallons annually can receive a license to ship directly to consumers, but only one has done so, California winery Kistler Vineyards, said Lynn Benka-Davies, the executive director of the House Liquor Control Committee.

Without the bill, in-state wineries benefit from being able to ship directly to consumers with nothing more than quarterly reports to the LCB.

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Capitol Wire: McCain criticized in small Capitol rally

I continue to cover the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste.

HARRISBURG (June 20) The trade policy of Sen. John McCain was criticized during a small rally Friday, the same day the Republican presidential nominee gave a policy speech at the Economic Club of Toronto.

“Sen. McCain doesn’t need to visit Canada,” said Bill George, the president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “He needs to visit Cleveland and Pittsburgh…”

McCain’s support of NAFTA was condemned by George, while less than 10 supporters, some from organized labor groups, stood on the rotunda steps of the Main Capitol holding signs like “McCain = McBush”

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Capitol Wire: Senate Banking and Insurance committee on health care

I continue to cover health reform here in the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste.

HARRISBURG (June 19) – The estimated cost of the House-passed health care reform package could be highly inaccurate, testified one witness hired by the Senate GOP at the Senate Banking and Insurance committee hearing Wednesday.

“The rules aren’t the same as in other industries,” said Jack Burke, a principal and consulting actuary from Millman Inc., a consulting firm in Wayne retained by Senate Republicans to review cost estimates attributed to the health care plan.

His firm reviewed “Cover all Pennsylvanians,” an earlier proposal that has since been replaced by the Rendell-endorsed Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care plan, a package of health care reforms that would provide state-subsidized health insurance to nearly 273,000 uninsured residents at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion by the fifth year.

The pitfalls of any state-subsidized health care plan are possibilities, Burke said. If a younger, healthier pool of participants isn’t engaged, or mandated to purchase insurance, premiums could become costlier than anticipated. Additionally, because so many factors are involved in a program’s complex cost analysis, estimates could be grossly exaggerated, higher or lower, he said.

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Image courtesy of Penn Live, depicted Gov. Ed Rendell and Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario.

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King of Prussia: the child of Philadelphia tax structure

Your boy Tom Infield had an 1,800-word (not including sidebar) profile of King of Prussia – the 27,000-person outpost northwest of Philadelphia famed for the mall of the same name – for the Inquirer yesterday.

It is the prototype for suburban sprawl that is trying to remake itself into green(er)-friendly, small city life to retain a growing environmentally-conscious and urban drawn population who still might be concerned by the rampant crime of Philadelphia.

The thing is I don’t think any of the 60 online comments for the story came after having read the whole thing – I know mine didn’t.

Because, while Infield’s piece suggests King of Prussia was developed by the convergence of major roads at its doorstep – 202, 422, I-76, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike – it didn’t mention anything about Philadelphia’s aggressive tax structure.

This is something I read quite a deal about for my honors thesis, which focused on Philadelphia’s Republican Party. Indeed, I actually posted on this very topic back in January on the blog I made for the thesis.

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