Legislative Update

Legislative Update

FEB. 22, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session this week. Both chambers will return to Harrisburg on March 18.

 

State budget hearings

Hearings on the Pennsylvania fiscal year 2024-2025 budget began this week. Both legislative chambers expect to end hearings on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $48.3 billion spending plan next month. The hearing schedules for the House and Senate are available here.

Protect student journalism

Today is Student Press Freedom Day.

“Powerfully Persistent’’ is the 2024 theme for this national day of action, conceived by the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., to celebrate “the contributions of student journalists and the need to support their independence without censorship or threat to their advisers,” according to the SPLC website.

Last year West Virginia became the 17th state to pass a state law protecting student press freedom, part of a nationwide grassroots movement called “New Voices.” The Mountain State statute “says that student journalism cannot be censored by school officials, except in certain very narrow circumstances, and that advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to infringe on their student’s press rights,’’ according to the SPLC.

In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester) has filed HB 1309, which would allow school districts to implement policies placing administrative review of student-produced publications and other communications in the hands of student editors. The bill, to provide protections for journalism teachers and advisers, would also seek to protect the First Amendment rights of student journalists whose work is subjected to the restraint and prior review of principals and other school administrators. State Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) has filed a companion bill, SB 622, in the Senate. PNA supports the bills.

 

May I quote you?

“This is incredibly promising, but more importantly it’s transformative for our industry, and it’s revenue that we’re owed. It’s not a subsidy. It demonstrates that our content has value.”

News/Media Alliance President and CEO Danielle Coffey, in a report from Northwestern | Medill Local News Initiative about Illinois state Sen. Steve Stadelman’s Journalism Preservation Act that would, among other things, require Big Tech companies to pay “journalism usage fees’’ to publishers for local news content.

 


FEB. 15, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session last week. Both chambers return to Harrisburg on March 18.

 

Adams resigns House seat, Prokopiak wins in Bucks County

First-term Rep. Joseph Adams (R-Pike/Wayne) resigned from his 139th state House seat last Friday. The resignation, prompted by family concerns, was immediately effective. Though Adams had already announced he would not run again, a special election will be held April 23, the same day as the spring primary, to fill the remaining months of his current term, which ends Nov. 30. Adams served on the Consumer Protection, Technology & Utilities, Finance and Local Government committees.

In addition, Democrat Jim Prokopiak won a special election Tuesday to fill the 140th state House seat in Bucks County vacated by former Democratic Rep. John Galloway, who resigned to become a local judge. When Prokopiak takes office, Democrats will continue to control the House with 102 seats; Republicans hold 100. However, Democrats’ voting control will be 102-99 until the April 23 special election and because Rep. Joe Kerwin (R-Dauphin) is deployed to East Africa with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. For more, visit Pennsylvania Capital-Star and Spotlight PA.

 

Lobbying reform bill planned

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) announced plans to reintroduce provisions from last session’s SB 802, which would prohibit state agencies from hiring lobbyists, lobbying firms or political consultants to influence decisions of another commonwealth entity. Read her co-sponsor memo here.

 

 

Lawmakers: Put CIO in the cabinet

Sens. Phillips-Hill and Tracy Pennycuick (R-Montgomery/Bucks/Berks) said they will introduce legislation that would make the state’s chief information officer a cabinet-level position. When birth and death records, health information and election data is compromised, the memo noted, state agencies cannot function and personal or government information is threatened. Last week the Senate held a public hearing to probe a data loss in January that affected State Police and State Employees’ Retirement System records. Here is the senators’ co-sponsor memo.

 

May I quote you?

“Many people would say that we are the swingiest county in the swingiest state. The issues being talked about nationwide are happening here in Bucks County.”

— Democrat Jim Prokopiak, in Mother Jones on the eve of his victory over Republican Candace Cabanas in a special election to fill the vacant 140th state House seat. The publication suggested the election could indicate state and national trends in November.

 

 


FEB. 8, 2024

The Senate was in session this week. House members were in Harrisburg on Tuesday for the governor’s budget address. Both chambers return to the state Capitol on March 18.

 

Shapiro pitches $48.3 billion budget

Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a $48.3 billion Pennsylvania spending plan for the 2024-25 fiscal year at a joint session of the General Assembly held Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda. The proposal represents a 6.2% increase over the current budget but does not call for a tax hike. The spending plan would reduce the commonwealth’s surplus from $14 billion to $11 billion. Shapiro seeks funding increases in public education and public transit. He also called for a higher minimum wage and the legalization of recreational marijuana. For more, visit The Philadelphia Inquirer.

 

Lawmaker backs plan for separate public, private athletic playoffs

Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) has filed HB 1983, a playoff reform bill. The legislation would permit the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to establish separate playoffs and championships for public or boundary schools, and private, charter and parochial, or nonboundary, schools and to do so according to the rules of the Sunshine Act in each affected area. An executive session would be permitted after receiving public comment on playoff options in order to determine which vote to hold.

 

Legislator wants deed confidentiality for crime victims

Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) said she wants to expand the Address Confidentiality Program. Her legislation would further protect victims of crime by removing deeds involving victims from public access, as is done for other public records in the program. Read the co-sponsor memo here.

 

 

Post-election audits

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said in a co-sponsor memo he plans to introduce legislation that would modernize post-election audit requirements. The bill would require the state and each of its counties to implement a post-election audit using an approved auditing method, and to provide for each county a minimum auditing requirement for ballot number and random precincts. He wants the process to utilize best practices. The Department of State would be required to issue for each future election a report similar to one required by law for the 2020 primary. The report would be made available through the department’s publicly accessible website.

 

Another House retirement

Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks) has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term, which ends Nov. 30. A member of the House since 2015, he is GOP chair of the Children and Youth Committee. Prior to his legislative service, he was sheriff of Berks County for 12 years and a member of the Pennsylvania State Police for 25 years. Jozwiak represents the 5th Legislative District.

 

May I quote you?

“If there’s a quorum deliberating agency business, the Sunshine Act applies whether it’s a ‘workshop’ an ‘informational meeting’ or any other gathering. Deliberation is broadly defined as ‘discussion of agency business held for the purpose of making a decision.’ That’s very broad and intended to reach most discussions of agency business because the Sunshine Act’s fundamental purpose is public access and accountability.”

-PNA Media Law Counsel Melissa Melewsky, commenting Wednesday in LNP | LancasterOnline on its Right-to-Know Law request seeking the results of a Warwick School District staff climate survey viewed by the school board in a closed-door meeting but not released to the public.

 


FEB. 1, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session this week. The Senate returns to the state Capitol on Monday. The House will be in Harrisburg on Tuesday for Gov. Josh Shapiro’s state budget address for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

 

Senate will probe state data loss incident

The Senate Communications & Technology and State Government committees will hold a joint hearing at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building to seek more information about the recent incident in which computer files were mistakenly deleted by Office of Information Technology staff. The hearing will be livestreamed here. Read more about the state’s data loss, which included thousands of Pennsylvania State Police and State Employees’ Retirement System records, at PennLive.

 

Senate memo, bill target AI

Sens. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Berks/Montgomery), Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia), Chris Gebhard (R-Berks/Lancaster/Lebanon) and John Kane (D-Chester/Delaware) said in a co-sponsor memo that they plan to introduce legislation that would prevent the spread of generative artificial intelligence interference in elections. The bipartisan bill would prohibit the fraudulent misrepresentation of a candidate. Disseminating a campaign advertisement containing artificially generated impersonation of a candidate would be prohibited if it is done without consent and the intent of unduly influencing the outcome of an election.

In addition, Kane has introduced SB 1045, a bill that would make it a first-degree misdemeanor for a person to disseminate an AI computer-generated impersonation of an individual that he or she knows, or has reason to know, is a deepfake. The unauthorized dissemination would be a third-degree felony if it is done with the purpose of defrauding or injuring another person.

 

Lawmaker wants PIAA study

Rep. Robert Matzie (D-Beaver), who is vice chair of the bicameral, bipartisan Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee, said in a co-sponsor memo that he plans legislation that would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a comprehensive study of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. In calling for the study, Matzie cited concerns raised by parents, teachers, school administrators and General Assembly members regarding PIAA policies, procedures and decision-making.

 

May I quote you?

“Pennsylvania desperately needs to rethink penalties for noncompliant public agencies and to prioritize the speedy delivery of public documents. It’s also crucial to ensure that (police) body-worn cameras fulfill their promised role as tools of transparency. Pennsylvania was founded as an outlier in liberty. Now it’s an outlier in secrecy.’’

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board, in a Jan. 29 editorial calling for changes to restrictive open records laws in the commonwealth.

 


JAN. 25, 2024

The General Assembly was not in session this week. The Senate returns to session Feb. 5. The House returns to Harrisburg on Feb. 6, the day Gov. Josh Shapiro is scheduled to deliver his state budget address for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

 

Federal shield legislation passes U.S. House

A bill that would bar federal executive agencies and courts from forcing reporters to identify confidential sources or disclose sensitive newsgathering material, except in very limited circumstances, passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week. For more on H.R.4250, visit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

 

Rep. Jordan Harris | Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Capital-Star/Peter Hall

Harris talks politics and policy at Press Club

Pennsylvania House Appropriations Chairman Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) touched on topics ranging from his political coming of age to Clean Slate law, tax policy and fair funding for education at the monthly luncheon of the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday at Harrisburg Hilton. Acknowledging that the state’s current fiscal year budget was finalized nearly six months past its June 30 deadline, Harris said of the next spending plan, “I want an on-time budget, but I’d rather get it right.’’ For more, visit Pennsylvania Capital-Star and City & State Pennsylvania.

 

Sunshine Week, March 10-16

State Rep. Robert Matzie (D-Beaver) said in a co-sponsor memo that he will introduce legislation recognizing March 10-16 as “Sunshine Week” in Pennsylvania. Established nearly 20 years ago, the observance stresses the importance of open government. Sunshine Week coincides with the March 16 birthday of President James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution and an eloquent advocate for the Bill of Rights.

 

State lawmakers announce departures, new campaigns

Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), from left, and Sen. James Brewster (D-Allegheny), who has served in the upper chamber since 2010, are among the latest lawmakers to announce that this legislative session will be their last. Also, Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny) is not seeking reelection to the House; he is campaigning for Brewster’s 45th Senate District. Others who will not seek re-election to the state House include Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin), Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland), Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh), Rep. Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny), Rep. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver), Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) and Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks).

Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) announced last year that she will not seek re-election to her 103rd state House seat but will vie for the 15th state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin). Sen. Mike Regan (R-Cumberland/York) will not seek another term; Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York) is in the running to be Regan’s successor in the 31st Senate District.

 

May I Quote You?

“We actually need everybody sitting down at a table. You need the district-run schools, you need the brick-and-mortar charters, the cyber charters, the private school sector, because these are all Pennsylvania’s children.”

‒ Rep. Jordan Harris, talking state educational needs at the Pennsylvania Press Club and reported by Pennsylvania Capital-Star.