AG ONE Newsletter May 30, 2017

CONTROLLED PLANT/NOXIOUS WEED BILL CLEARS HOUSE

House Bill 790 sponsored by House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) passed the House 194-0 on May 22.  It seeks to update the list of noxious weeds and provide a mechanism to review and assess risks of potential additions to the list.  HB 790 also incorporates weeds listed under the Federal Noxious Weed List.  There is a Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 567 sponsored by Senators David Argall (R-Schuylkill) and Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

OTHER LEGISLATIVE BILLS OF INTEREST

Two bills of possible interest were referred to the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee May 25.  Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) introduced House Bill 1459 to exempt hatcheries built more than 20 years ago in the most rural portion of the state from the regulatory Authority of the Clean Streams Law.  Authored by Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), House Bill 20 would impose a water usage surcharge on commercial entities.  It was also referred to the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee May 25.  NOTE:  Agricultural water use is exempted from this bill.

McDONNELL CONFIRMED AS DEP SECRETARY

Patrick McDonnell finally was confirmed by the PA Senate May 22 as Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after serving in an acting capacity for a year.   Before being nominated by Governor Tom Wolf, McDonnell served as DEP Director of Policy and ran the state’s Energy Office, coordinating renewable energy and energy efficiency issues.

MORE CABINET NEWS

Last week, Governor Wolf designated Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller as the new Secretary of the proposed consolidated Department of Health & Human Services.  If approved by the General Assembly, the consolidation will merge the existing Departments of Health, Human Services, Drug & Alcohol Programs and Aging.  Also last week, Health Department Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy announced that she was leaving her post in June.

REAL ID LAW SIGNED INTO LAW

On May 26, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 133, sponsored by Senator Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), into law as Act 3 of 2017.  This law allows PA citizens to continue to use a PA Driver’s License as identification. If Pennsylvania had not acted to bring the Commonwealth into compliance with REAL ID, the result would have Pennsylvanians not being able to access assistance from Federal offices including Social Security, Farm Service offices, military facilities, etc. as well as having a barrier to commercial air travel without a passport or federal ID.

 REGULATORY NOTE:  The PA Milk Marketing Board will hold a June 7 hearing for Milk Marketing Area 1.  Details: deberly@pa.gov

SENATE MOVES UNIFORM CONSTRUCTION CODE BILL

On May 24, Senate Bill 269 (Baker-R-Luzerne, Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming) passed the Senate by a 40-10 vote.  The legislation seeks to streamline the process whereby the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC) reviews international building code changes and decides whether PA should adopt them.  SB 269 says that where there are no negative comments or requests for modification, the international code change could be adopted through RAC consensus versus a 2/3 vote now in statute.  If contested, there would still need to be a 2/3 vote by RAC to ratify the change for PA.   Nine Democrats joined with GOP Senator Michele Brooks (R-Mercer/Warren/Crawford/Erie) to vote against SB 269.

DEP PERMIT LEGISLATION

Bills have been introduced to address criticisms on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit process.  Senate Bill 487 (Vogel-R-Beaver) directs DEP to establish a secure online tracking system so that permit applicants can check their status.  Existing permit holders would receive a 60-day reminder of their permit’s expiration.  In addition, permit holders would be grandfathered against new legislative or regulatory changes that would have otherwise affected the permit approval.  There is a House counterpart, House Bill 587 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster).  House Bill 1353 (Bloom-R-Cumberland) directs DEP to notify applicants about specific application problems (missing information, deficient compliance with laws or regulations, etc.) and spell out what corrections need to be made.  Specific sections of law or regulations needing compliance must be identified in the DEP communication.  Introduced by House Republican Policy Committee Chair Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), House Bill 1090 holds DEP accountable to certain timeframes and establishes procedures for initial review, approval/rejection of permit applications.  Another Benninghoff bill is House Bill 1091 which creates a process where applicants that do not receive a final permit decision by the review deadline may appeal DEP’s failure to act to the Environmental Hearing Board.

GRANT DEADLINE NEARS

  • June 30 is the deadline for grant use from the Center for Dairy Excellence and the Center for Beef Excellence. These $1,000 grants reimburse farmers for professional services designed to help them prepare Nutrient Management, Manure Management, Agriculture Erosion and Sediment Plans.  Details:  Ann Nogan, Center for Beef Excellence 717-705-1689, anogancbe@gmail.com;  Melissa Anderson, Center for Dairy Excellence 717-346-0849, manderson@centerfordairyexcellence.org

AG ONE Newsletter May 17, 2017

REDDING TAKES AIM AT HOUSE BILL 218

At a May 10 hearing of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding warned legislators that the House Republican State Budget bill (House Bill 218) could endanger a number of core PDA functions:

  • A $2 million cut from what Governor Wolf proposed in February
  • Losing 21 positions in areas such as restaurant health and safety inspections
  • $407,000 less for the Nutrient Management Fund, leaving the fund in a deficit position by mid-2019
  • Conservation district cuts ($130,000 from PDA and $376,000 from the Department of Environmental Protection budget) could force districts to cut positions and services.

Secretary Redding also sent a letter to the General Assembly stating much of what was in his May 10 testimony, a link to which follows: http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Pages/Letter-to-Legislature.aspx

REAL ID PROGRESSING

On May 10, Senate Bill 133 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) was referred to the House Appropriations Committee after a contentious session of the House State Government Committee which amended the bill along party lines May 8.  This legislation brings PA into compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005, a Federal law requiring an upgrade to state systems of personal identification.  If PA does not comply with legislation in June, the consequence is that a driver’s license will NOT be accepted as identification on boarding commercial flights or providing access to Federal offices (Social Security, Farm Services Agency, military bases, etc.) in 2018.  The issue was an amendment in the House State Government Committee creating a two-tier system which allows Pennsylvanians to keep and use current ID if they choose.  Anyone going for the upgrade would have to pay for it, cost unknown.

POLLINATOR ISSUES SUBJECT OF STATE FORUM

On May 22, the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee will hold an Environmental Issues Forum in Harrisburg to profile Pennsylvania’s bee decline and its impact on agriculture.  For example, PA fruit crops depend on pollination with over 90% of the apple crop relying on honeybees.  The session will also look at ways to reverse the bees’ decline.  Details: Mike Nerozzi 717-787-7570, mnerozzi@jcc.legis.state.pa.us

OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

  • Fair Dealership Act legislation was introduced by Rep. Will Tallman (R-Cumberland/Adams).  House Bill 1348 is the top priority of PSCFO member Northeast Equipment Dealers Association.  The group argues that the bill is necessary to ensure accessibility to equipment options for agriculture producers.  On May 14, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations wrote to House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Majority Chair Martin Causer (R-McKean/Potter/Cameron) and Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) asking for prompt committee consideration of the legislation.
  • New Senator John DiSanto’s (R-Dauphin/Perry) first major legislation was reported out by the Senate Rules Committee May 8.  Senate Bill 561 gives the General Assembly veto power over any regulation with an economic impact to the Commonwealth, its’ units of government, or the private sector exceeding one million dollars.  The legislative language suggests that Notices in the PA Bulletin, a less formal way to implementing policies, would not be governed by this bill.  Often, an agency will use Notices to inform as to its policy or change in policy.

GAME COMMISSION PROPOSES RULES

On May 13, the PA Game Commission published several proposed rules in the May 13 PA Bulletin, the links to which follow: Hunting and trapping; general ; Lands and buildings—special wildlife management areas; hunting and furtaker licenses—antlerless deer licenses ; Special permits; deer control

APPLE GROWERS ADOPT APPLE PROGRAM

Announced by the PA Department of Agriculture May 6 were results from an April referendum as to whether PA should reinstitute its Apple Program. The vote was 103 producers for and 48 against with six ballots ruled ineligible.  Link to the text of the Program Order follows: http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol47/47-18/770.html

FSMA/RISK MANAGEMENT SEMINAR in TAMAQUA JUNE 1st

In conjunction with Schuylkill County’s legislative delegation and with financial support from the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations is offering a no-cost seminar on Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance to produce farmers in the region. Held June 1 in Tamaqua, It will cover elements of a farm risk management plan which includes food safety, Crop Insurance, and information on what to ask an insurance agent to make sure that farmers’ insurance needs are met.  Details: 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com. Thanks to PSCFO members such as PA Vegetable Growers Association, PA State Grange, PA Association of Conservation Districts, PennAG Industries Association, MidAtlantic Farm Credit, and others for helping spread the word.   Also, PSCFO member PA Farmers Union is planning FSMA compliance webinars.  Details: www.pafarmersnion.org

AG ONE Newsletter May 4, 2017

STATE COUNCIL SELECTS LEADERSHIP

At its Annual Meeting in Harrisburg, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO) selected its new leadership for 2017-18.

Officers
President                               Jeff Nogan (PA Cattlemen), previously Vice President
Vice President                        Gregg Robertson (PLNA), previously Secretary/Treasurer
Secretary/Treasurer               Tim Wentz (Northeast Equipment Dealers), previously Board
Immediate Past President       Eugene Richard (PA Mushroom Farmers), previous President

Board
Heidi Secord (Farmers Union), re-elected
Brenda Shambaugh (PACD), re-elected
Jennifer Heltzel (Dairy Farmers of America), new to Board
Steve Case (PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture), new

USDA ISSUES SCHOOL LUNCH CHANGE

On May 1, 2017, new USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a Proclamation mandating changes in the school lunch programs.  Citing that “schools have worked diligently to overcome operational challenges in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs”, he addressed flexibility in meeting sodium requirements, allowing waivers to school districts in trying to achieve whole-grain goals, and giving school districts the option of serving one-percent fat flavored milk.  As Secretary Perdue said “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition.”

PSCFO MEMBERS ADDRESS FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS

Four PSCFO members, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, PA Farmers Union, PA Association of Conservation Districts, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wrote the chairs of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees April 5 urging restoration of conservation funds cut in the Budget proposed by the Trump Administration.  Among the specifics were calls to reject proposed cuts in NCRS field staff and to provide at least $865 million in “critical discretionary funding for Conservation Operations, including Conservation Technical Assistance.”

LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY

  • On April 26, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee reported out two bills:
  • House Bill 187 (Sonney-R-Erie) amends the Agriculture Area Security Law to provide for wind power easements on protected (preserved) farmland.
  • House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) updates the Noxious Weed Control Law and re-names it as the Controlled Weed and Noxious Weed Act. A link to Rep. Pashinski’s summary follows.  He serves as Minority Chair of the committee.  A Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 567, was introduced by Senator Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill).  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=22746
  • On April 25, the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee reported out Senate Bill 144 (Yaw-R-Lycoming).  This would require DEP consideration of alternate technologies when an onlot septic system is installed.  Although opposed by DEP, SB 144 was passed unanimously by the committee. It is a major priority of PSCFO member PA Septage Management Association.

HEARINGS

The House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee plans a hearing May 10 in Harrisburg to discuss the 2017-18 State Budget for the PA Department of Agriculture with Secretary Russell Redding.  On May 3, Redding sent a letter to various agricultural groups warning that House-passed House Bill 218 would hurt PDA’s ability to complete its regulatory responsibilities.  On May 10, the House Transportation Committee will convene a hearing on Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to levy a per-person tax on rural municipalities who rely on PA State Police for law enforcement in lieu of having their own police force.  Proponents argue that these State Police services should be paid for by the communities which use State Police as primary law enforcement.  Opponents suggest that many smaller communities simply cannot afford this cost, leading to insufficient protection for citizens.

MORE SCHOLARSHIP/AWARD OPPORTUNITIES

  • The PA Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation and PA Dairymens’ Association offer ten scholarships.  Eligibility includes being a PA resident enrolled in certain agricultural fields of study with an intention to work in the dairy industry.  Details: Mary Foote 717-346-0849, mfoote@centerfordairyexcellence.org.  Deadline is June 1.
  • National Corn Growers Association offers The Fields of Corn Photo Contest geared toward photos of field corn (Not sweet) from seed to harvest.  There are 25 cash prizes including a $500 grand prize. Details: http://www.fields-of-corn.com. Entries are due Nov. 1, 2017

FSMA/RISK MANAGEMENT SEMINAR in TAMAQUA JUNE 1st

In conjunction with Schuylkill County’s legislative delegation and with financial support from the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations is offering a no-cost seminar on Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance to produce farmers in the region.  Held June 1 in Tamaqua, It will cover elements of a farm risk management plan which includes food safety, Crop Insurance, and information on what to ask an insurance agent to make sure that farmers’ insurance needs are met.  Details: 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com.

Also, PSCFO member PA Farmers Union is planning FSMA compliance webinars: www.pafarmersnion.org

AG ONE Newsletter April 6, 2017

HOUSE REPUBLICAN BUDGET ADVANCES TO SENATE

By a 114-84 vote April 4, the PA House voted to send the Republican-crafted State Budget Bill to the PA Senate.  There were four Republicans voting no on House Bill 218: Representatives DiGirolamo (Bucks), McGinnis (Blair), Harper (Montgomery), and Hennessey (Chester).  No Democrats voted for HB 218.  Following is a comparison between the present fiscal year, what Governor Wolf originally proposed in February, and what House Bill 218 seeks to do.

PA Department of Agriculture

Budget Line Item                                FY 2016-17        Governor                  House Bill 218

General Government Operations          29.379 million   31.612 million           29,557 million

Centers for Excellence                        1.21 million       0                                1.029 million

Food Market Coupons                         2.079 million     2.079 million             2.079 million

Ag Research                                      1.687 million     0                                0

Ag Promotion, Education, Exports       250,000             0                                0

Hardwoods Research & Promotion      385,000             0                                328,000

Livestock Show                                 195,000             0                                0

Open Dairy Show                              195,000             0                                0

Youth Shows                                     154.000             154,000                     131,000

Food Purchases                                 19.188 million  19.188 million            19.188 million

Transfer Nutrient Fund                       2.714 million     2.714 million             2.307 million

Transfer Conservation Districts           869,000             869,000                     739,000

Land Scrip (PSU Ag Research/Ext.)     51.813 million   51.813 million           51.813 million

PA Preferred                                      605,000             605,000                     514,000

UPenn Vet School                              30.135 million   0                                0

Department of Environmental Protection budget in HB 218 includes $2.13 million transferred to the Conservation District Fund and $2.423 million for Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Source Management.

COMING UP

  • On April 17, there will be a joint hearing of three House committees (Human Services, Aging & Older Adult Services, and Health) on Governor Wolf’s proposed consolidation of four separate Cabinet departments into one Department of Health & Human Services.  There has already been strong backlash from Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) who led a well-attended rally April 5 of supporters of the PA Dept. of Drug & Alcohol Programs.  Dept. of Aging advocates have also weighed in, fearing a dilution of the Commonwealth’s commitment to seniors if the Aging Dept. is absorbed.
  • On May 3, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford, on issues related to the forest products industry.
  • On May 10 in Harrisburg, the same committee will hear from PDA Secretary Russell Redding on budget and other priorities of the PA Department of Agriculture.

APPLE MARKETING ORDER

On April 4, the Agriculture Department issued a release stating that PA apple growers may vote on the “Pennsylvania Apple Program”.  This replaces the terminated PA Apple Marketing Program.  Eligible growers are those with 500-plus apple trees.  The proposed program has a grower assessment of five cents per bushel with an estimated $200,000 – $250,000 in revenue which would be used to fund U.S. Apple Association membership, apple research, consumer education, and program administration.  PDA must receive ballots by April 21. Details: www.pennsylvaniaapples.org/about/board-staff

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Sunday Falconry Hunting (Senate Bill 123 (Scavello-R-Monroe) passed the Senate 47-0.
  • Structures used in maple sugar operations would be exempted from building requirements of the Universal Construction Code (UCC) per House Bill 177 which passed the House 196-0.

USDA NASS SEEKS AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION HELP

The National Agricultural Statistics Service issued a plea for agricultural groups to actively partner with NASS in urging farmers to participate in the 2017 Census of Agriculture, a survey that will be forthcoming in December of this year.  Even though the request comes early, Regional Director King Whetstone says that support in promoting the Census is critical to its success.  He notes that the Census is taken every five years and provides a basis for various Federal program resources and activities to be apportioned.  It also provides base yield data to help farmers receive an accurate Crop Insurance payment should a claim be filed.  Details: 717-787-3904, www.agcensus.usda.gov

NASS ISSUES PLANTING FORECASTS

On April 3, NASS issued prospective planting numbers for Pennsylvania.  It projects a three-percent increase in soybeans from last year, 18% increase for barley, five-percent increase for winter wheat, seven-percent increase for hay, and no change in planted acres for oats.  Decreased acreage is forecast for corn (down two percent) and tobacco (down one percent).

POLITICAL NOTE…

Phila. Democrat Emilio Vazguez won a special election in the 197th district.

AG ONE Newsletter March 20, 2017

DEPARTMENT ISSUES AVIAN INFLUENZA PRECAUTIONARY

According to Secretary Russell Redding as quoted in a PA Department of Agriculture March 6 press release, “After a year reprieve, high-path avian influenza is back in the lower 48 states and that should be a cause for concern. The best defense against HPAI is a good offense, beginning with an effective biosecurity plan that has been prepared, planned and practiced by individual facilities. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture also urges flock owners to develop a site-specific HPAI flock plan.”

Per the Department, there is $2 million dedicated to this purpose in addition to the $1.1 million already invested in preparedness during FY 2015-16.  The Department’s State Veterinarian, Dr. David Wolfgang, explained that biosecurity plans should focus on cleanliness and isolating domestic birds from those in the wild. This also means keeping livestock, domestic animals, rodents and other pests away. Agricultural producers have also been made aware that that the virus can be carried on shoes and boots as well as tools and vehicle tires, so flock owners should limit visitors and deliveries to only those who have cleaned and sanitized appropriately.  Those who see signs of infection are urged to call 717-772-2852.  PDA’s website has a section dealing with HPAI and biosecurity measures, www.agriculture.pa.gov

TRUMP BUDGET CUTS FEDERAL RURAL DOLLARS

The Federal Budget proposed by President Donald Trump increases spending for Defense/Homeland Security and includes major cuts at the State Department/ foreign aid programs as well as cutting resources for the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA.  Discretionary spending for USDA saw a $4.7 billion or 20.7% reduction.  This was third largest percentage cut after the EPA (-31.4%) and the State Department (-28.7%).  This Budget includes discretionary spending which makes up about a quarter of the total Federal Budget.  In May, President Trump is expected to lay out his ideas for mandated programs such as Crop Insurance and other farm programs.  Some of the cuts enumerated in this proposal include cuts to USDA county –level staff, NASS funding, elimination of USDA’s rural wastewater and water loan and grant program (consolidating into an EPA program).  The Budget also seeks $350 million for agriculture research funded through the Agriculture & Food Research initiative, half of what was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. USDA nutrition programs (WIC and SNAP) would see a $200 million drop.  The elimination of Chesapeake Bay funding prompted Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell to say that the proposed Federal Budget would “abandon farmers.”

BILLS TO WATCH

  • House Bill 587 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster) and Senate Bill 487 (Vogel-R-Beaver) mandate creation of a DEP online tracking system to see where DEP permit applications are in the approval process.
  • House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) replaces the Noxious Weed Control Act of 1982 with an updated Controlled Plant & Noxious Weed Act.
  • House Bill 187 (Sonney-R-Erie) allows preserved farms to grant right of way for wind energy generation.
  • House Bill 503 (Charlton-R-Delaware) proposes Growing Greener III to provide a potential $315 million for conservation, farmland preservation, etc. Senators Killion, Alloway and McIlhinney plan similar legislation in the Senate.
  • House Bill 557 (Everett-R-Lycoming) seeks to protect property owners’ rights when it comes to natural gas royalty payments. Similar legislation (Senate Bills 138 and 139) from Senator Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) is seeing Senate action.
  • House Bill 251 (Kauffman-R-Franklin provides for a Farmland Preservation license plate.
  • Senate Bill 246 (Leach-D-Chester/Delaware) prohibits use of certain antibiotics in farm animal feed

AND, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, The PA House adopted House Resolution 67 (M. Keller-R-Perry) recognizing the week of February 18-25, 2017 as “FFA Week”.

PEOPLE…

PDA Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook was awarded the National Farmers’ Union’s highest honor, The NFU Meritorious Service Award at the group’s annual convention in San Diego.

GRANTS/SCHOLARSHIPS

  • Monsanto offers $10,000 and $25,000 grants to school districts nominated by farmers.  If awarded, grant(s) will help a school district develop or strengthen a Math/Science program.  Nominations of school districts must be submitted by April 1, 2017.  Monsanto will contact a nominated school district to help them develop a specific proposal – with a quick turn-around of April 15.  Details: www.GrowRuralEducation.com .
  • Bayer Bee Care Leadership Award recognizes partnerships between beekeepers and growers, golf courses, researchers, or other stakeholders to protect pollinators.  Award is $5,000.  A $1,000 award recognizes a young beekeeper under 18 years of age for school or community work in building apiaries and researching ways to improve honey bee health.  (May 17 deadline) Contact: https://www.cropscience.bayer.us/contact
  • PA Septage Management Association offers a $1,000 scholarship to an employee, child or grandchild of those involved in onlot systems installation or maintenance.  Deadline for applications is May 15, 2017.  (NOTE: PSMA member companies only).  Details: www.psma.net

GENERAL FARM ORGANIZATION SCHOLARSHIPS

  • PA Friends of Agriculture Foundation (PA Farm Bureau) for Penn State, Delaware Valley, or University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine pfb.com
  • PA State Grange pagrange.org for Penn State. There is also a separate scholarship for those enrolled in an interpreter for the deaf program.  NOTE: Deadline is May 1, 2017.
  • National Farmers Union www.nfu.org/education/scholarships   It does not specify a particular college.

House Consumer Affairs Committee Hearing on Digesters

The House Consumer Affairs Committee scheduled a September 2 hearing in Harrisburg on House
Bill 1349 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster), a bill concerning net metering and use of anaerobic
digesters. This is a reaction to the Public Utility Commission’s attempt to limit the amount of
electricity generated via anaerobic digesters. Its’ companion in the Senate is Senate Bill 844
(Vogel-R-Beaver), now in the Senate Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure Committee.

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.

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.

Committees Move Ag Easement Bills

Riparian BufferOn May 6, two agricultural easement bills moved through committee:

  • The House Local Government Committee reported out House Bill 859 (Staats-R-Bucks) excluding from tax a transfer of a perpetual agricultural conservation easement as defined by the Agricultural Area Security Law.
  • The Senate Finance Committee reported Senate Bill 556 (McIlhinney-R-Bucks) which excludes from the Real Estate Transfer Tax a conservation easement in perpetuity having as its purpose preservation of open or agricultural land to the S., Commonwealth of PA, or to a 501( c)(3) organization which has as its purpose land preservation.
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