Hearing Held on Rural Telephone Access

On August 24, the House Consumer Affairs Committee convened a hearing on House Bill 1417 (Major-R-Susquehanna and Hanna-D-Clinton), continuing PA funding for the Universal Service Fund (USF) until December 31, 2021 and requiring provision of basic landline service as a condition for telecommunications companies to receive any USF monies. According to Rep. Major, in 2011, the Federal Communications Commission dramatically altered the USF system away from basic rural telephone service to expansion of broadband. With the Federal shift, the PA Universal Service Fund is the only remaining support mechanism to ensure that rates for basic services in rural areas closely mirror those in non-rural areas.

Politics

Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) announced his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for Attorney General. He joins Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery).

After resigning July 22 as Governor Wolf’s Chief of Staff, Katie McGinty is running for the Democratic nomination for US Senate. If she wins the primary against former US Rep. Joe Sestak, she will face off against incumbent Republican Pat Toomey.

Special election results: There were special House elections held August 4 in Cumberland and Delaware Counties and August 11 in Philadelphia. The net outcome was a gain of one seat for Democrats although Republicans still have a sizable majority.
– Cumberland County (succeeding Republican Glen Grell) Greg Rothman (R)
– Delaware County (succeeding Republican Joe Hackett ) Leanne Krueger-Branekey (D)
– Philadelphia (succeeding Democrat Michelle Brownlee) Donna Bullock (D)
– Philadelphia (succeeding Democrat Ron Waters) Joanne McClinton (D)
– Philadelphia (succeeding Democrat John Sabatina) Ed Neilson (D)

PDA Focuses on Crop Insurance

At AG Progress Days and again August 27, the PA Department of Agriculture is zeroing on the need for insurance agents to fully understand provisions of the Farm Bill which made risk management and Crop Insurance the major safety net for agricultural producers. At AG Progress Days, an Early Riser examined new diversified crops whole-farm protection. The August 27 15th Annual Crop Insurance Conference program heard from Secretary Redding, the Administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) plus numbers of experts in farm credit, agricultural economic outlook and specific programs promoted by the PA Center for Dairy Excellence on reducing dairy farmers’ input costs. Details: Jordan Stasyszyn jstasyszyn@pa.gov.

Various Notes

  • PDA asked gardeners to be on the lookout for Boxwood Blight, a fungal disease-causing sudden leaf loss and possible death of these popular evergreen shrubs. It has been found in nine states and in nine PA counties: Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, and Warren. Those affected are asked to take samples to Extension before destroying the potentially impacted plant.
  • PSCFO member Hunger-Free PA announced that the PA Food Safety Coalition will convene October 16, 2015 in Harrisburg. Details: sachristopher@pafoodbanks.org.
  • Native Americans college students majoring in agriculture or related disciplines may be eligible for one of five $1,000 scholarships from First Nations Development Institute. Application deadline is September 30, 2015. Details: Kendall Tallmadge at 303-774-7836 or ktallmadge@firstnations.org

Avian Influenza Fears Prompt Reaction

An August 19 joint meeting of the House and Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees will take place at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center to have legislators receive an update on state efforts to anticipate and confront the threat of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

On the Administration side, PDA published a General Quarantine Notice “Virus Control for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, Poultry and Poultry Products at Competitions, Shows, Fairs, and Exhibitions” in the July 11 PA Bulletin. The Notice builds on previous PDA prohibition of poultry and egg products into PA from states with reported cases of HPAI unless the products are found to be free from contamination.
(Refer to AG ONE 2015.8 at www.pscfo.com for a summary of the Interstate Quarantine Order.)

The new Notice specifies that no poultry products including eggs or any goods or items made up of poultry products such as feathers, shall be exhibited at the 2016 Farm Show or any of the many shows, fairs, or exhibitions governed by the PA Agricultural Fair Act. It also builds on a previous PDA Notice banning live poultry from the shows, etc.

WC Budget Bill Signed

Despite being at budgetary loggerheads with the General Assembly, Governor Wolf did sign nine specific budget bills, one of which directly affects Workers’ Compensation insurance. Senate Bill 813 (Hughes-D- Phila.) or Act 9A of 2015 makes appropriations from the Workers’ Compensation Administration Fund ($71.966 million) to fund continued administration of the Workers’ Compensation Act by the Department of Labor & Industry. Three million dollars went to the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund. SB 813 also allocates $194,000 to fund the Office of Small Business Advocate housed within the Department of Community & Economic Development.

Another bill, Senate Bill 655, would have re-authorized work of the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF), the Workers Compensation insurer of last resort. That was vetoed by the Governor because it contained other funding areas that the Governor opposed.

Legislative Updates

  • Adopted by the Senate unanimously July 14 was Senate Resolution 169 (Vogel-R-Beaver) recognizing 2015 as “International Year of Soils” in Pennsylvania. SR 169 stresses the importance of soil to the Commonwealth both economically and in terms of food supply and recognizes the work of professional soil scientists.
  • Senate Resolution 55 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) creating a Forestry Task Force was reported out by the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee July 14.
  • Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean) introduced legislation to establish a Small Stream Maintenance Permit to be issued by county conservation districts at no cost in order to facilitate removing obstructions and flood-related hazards from streams. House Bill 1433 was referred to the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee July 6.

Crop Insurance News

PDA issued the following on Crop Insurance. Details: www.cropinsurancepa.com, 717/787-6901

  • Enrollment for the Dairy Margin Protection Program began July 1 and ends September 30.
    The program was established as part of the Farm Bill.
  • PDA will conduct an Early Riser on Crop Insurance August 19 at AG Progress Days.
  • The 15th Annual PA Crop Insurance Conference will be held in Harrisburg August 27.
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