Session Days Announced for 2015

The Pennsylvania General Assembly posted its schedule for the first half of 2015.

Month             Senate Session Days                          ______House Session Days

January            6, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28                                        same

February          2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 25                                            same plus 9, 10, 11

March              2, 3, 4                                                              same plus 9, 10, 30, 31

April                13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22                                      same plus April 1

May                 4, 5, 6,11,12,13                                               same

June                 1,2,3,8,9,10,15,16,17,18,22,23,24,25,26,29,30  same

2014 Election Results Special

ballot boxHARRISBURG – Democrat York businessman Tom Wolf easily defeated incumbent Tom Corbett 54.8% to 45.2% (1,892,193 to 1,559,954 votes) while Republicans strengthened their control over both Senate and House in Tuesday’s mid-term election.  Senate Republicans will have a ratio of 30 Republicans to 20 Democrats while the House GOP will have at least a 33-vote cushion.

Key to Republican Election Strength

One key to Republicans’ new Senate strength were victories in southeastern Pennsylvania despite it being a region where voter sentiment has leaned more Democratic and liberal in recent years.  Vote margins for southeast Republican incumbents were: Stewart Greenleaf (Montgomery) 63.6% ; John Rafferty (Montgomery) 61.4%; Robert Mensch (Montgomery) 59.9%; Chuck McIlhinney (Bucks) 58.7%, Tommy Tomlinson (Bucks) 61.8%.

Open Seats

Open Republican seats also went to the GOP.  One Democratic seat in Allegheny County was moved to Monroe County via redistricting (Senator Jim Ferlo-D-Allegheny retired) and was picked by the GOP.  The closest race in the southeast was the open Chester County seat vacated by Senator Edwin Erickson (R-Chester) who retired. He is succeeded by Republican Tom McGarrigle who won with a 52% to 48% margin.

Election Turnovers

Two turnovers occurred in traditionally Democratic southwestern PA which has been tending more conservatively Republican in recent years. An open seat formerly held by Democrat Richard Kasunic in Fayette County was taken by Republican Patrick Stefano 57.3% to 42.7% (36,197 to 26,935 votes) over current Rep. Deberah Kula who had sought the higher office. GOP Senate turnover win number two came with the loss of Washington County incumbent Democrat Tim Solobay to Republican Camera Bartolotta 53.6% to 46.7% (35,820 to 31,436 votes).

GOP Adds to Majority

The House GOP added to its majority by adding at least seven new seats to Republican ranks. The new ratio will be either 119 Republicans to 84 Democrats or 118 Republicans to 85 Democrats depending on final tallies.

Legislative Vacancies to Note (and Appreciate)

Legislative VacanciesHARRISBURG – The election created a number of legislative vacancies in key agricultural posts. Among these is Fayette County’s Rep. Deberah Kula who did not prevail in her drive to succeed retired Senator Richard Kasunic (D-Fayette).  Kula served on both the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and House Appropriations Committee and championed funding for agricultural research and restoration of the state premium subsidy program for Crop Insurance.

Also not returning is agriculture stalwart Senator Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster), former chair of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee who did not seek re-election.  Add Senator Bob Robbins, member of the Ag Committee as one who served but is retiring.  On the Democratic side, Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee member Tim Solobay (D-Washington) was defeated.

Vacancies on the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee include Republican (running as a Democrat after losing his primary) Mike Fleck (Huntingdon), Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster) who lost in a primary contest to succeed Senator Brubaker, Kula, mentioned above, and Michelle Brooks (R-Mercer) who won the open seat being vacated by retiring Senator Bob Robbins.

When the new session begins, there will be considerable committee shuffling on the House side because of the number of House committee chairs that are open due to retirements:  Transportation, Environmental Resources & Energy, Education, Labor & Industry, and Tourism & Recreational Development.

Movement from House to Senate

Several representatives will take office as newly elected Senators.  As mentioned above, Michelle Brooks (R-Mercer) fills Bob Robbins’ seat in northwest PA.  Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) assumes office in Monroe County’s new Senate district.  Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) fills the vacancy created with Senator Brubaker’s decision to retire.

Backgrounds of New Legislators

PA Capitol Building - New legislatorsSenate: All New Legislators but Haywood are Republicans

Michelle Brooks (Bob Robbin’s northwest PA seat) served on the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

Arthur Haywood III (Leanna Washington’s Phila. seat) is an attorney and township commissioner

Tom McGarrigle (Edwin Erickson’s seat in Chester/Delaware Counties) is a small businessman and a member of Delaware County Council

Scott Wagner (York County) won for a full term after defeating Ron Miller is a hotly contested special election early this year. He owns a waste management firm.

Patrick Stefano (Richard Kasunic’s Fayette County seat) is a commercial printer.

Ryan Aument (Mike Brubaker’s Lancaster County seat) was chief of staff for Rep. Bryan Cutler.

Camera Bartolotta (who defeated Washington County incumbent Tim Solobay) owns a small business.

House: 

With 26 new House members for the 2015-16 session, their collective backgrounds are too space-consuming to publish in this issue of AG ONE.  Having said that, four legislators are Democrats, 22 are Republicans.  Occupationally: two have law enforcement experience (assistant DA, corrections officer); two are educators; one is a school board member; nine have governmental experience as township supervisor or local/county officeholder or staff; two are small business owners; two worked for large corporations; one is a real estate agent; one is a community organizer; one is a social worker; two come from the banking community; one is a marketing rep for a casino; two are practicing attorneys; and one is a farmer.

Republicans Maintain Pa. Congressional Majority

Congressional Delegation Stays RepublicanHARRISBURG – Although successful in retaining control of the 13th congressional district open seat that is being vacated by Allyson Schwartz who lost in the Democratic primary for governor, Democrats were unable to win the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Jim Gerlach.

Traditionally vulnerable first-term congresspeople were successful in winning a second term with comfortable vote margins. Republican Mike Kelly in northwest PA won with 60.5%, Republican Keith Rothfus from western PA won with 59.3% of the vote, Republican Scott Perry from south central PA won with 74.5%, and first-term Democrat Matt Cartwright from north central PA won with 56.8%. The ratio of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation remains thirteen Republicans and five Democrats.

Riparian Buffer Bill at Governor’s Desk

Riparian BufferHARRISBURG – House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) gives developers the ability to ignore a 150 foot forested (riparian) barrier requirement between development and certain waterways under the PA Clean Streams Law. Voting was not along party lines. The September 22 House vote of 119-79 saw 22 Republicans voting against and 31 Democrats voting for HB 1565. The Senate vote on October 14 was 27-22 with eight Republicans voting no and eight Democrats voting yes.

According to her sponsorship memo, Rep. Hahn said that the goal was “to clarify that riparian buffer and riparian forest buffers shall not be required but may be used as a best choice among best management practices or design standards to minimize pollution from erosion and sedimentation.” She said that current law “amounts to a taking of property without legislative oversight or approval”.

Supported by builders and business interests, this legislation was strongly opposed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, PA Landscape & Nursery Association, PA Environmental Council, PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, former DEP Secretary David Hess and others.

Hearing on GMO’s Set

GMO'sHARRISBURG – On October 6, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will convene a Harrisburg informational meeting on Genetically Modified Organism (GMO’s) labeling. List of witnesses was not available at press time although the committee memo cites “nationally recognized scientists” as witnesses. Details: Mary Geiger 717-783-1522.

Agriculture Survives State Budget Woes

budget paThe Pa. Department of Agriculture survived the state budget gauntlet in Harrisburg for Fiscal Year 2014-15 which began July 1. PSCFO wrote legislative leaders June 29 to say Many of PSCFO’s sixty-plus agricultural organizations are directly affected by the staff capacity at PDA. In this case, a modest increase will stabilize the PDA budget and allow it to meet its directives from the General Assembly.” Following are a number of PDA budget line items compared with the last fiscal year.

 

Line Item                    2014-15 Enacted Budget        2013-14 Available                Change

General Gov’t Operations       25.269 million                       22.703 million                     +11.3%

Ag Excellence                               1.1 million                               600,000                     +83.3%

Farmers’ Market Coupons        2.079 million                         2.079 million                       same

Ag Research                                  787,000                                787,000                       same

Promotion, Ed. & Exports               250,000                                196,000                     +27.6%

Hardwoods Promotion                   350,000                                350,000                        same

Livestock Show                             177,000                                177,000                        same

Open Dairy Show                           177,000                                177,000                        same

Youth Shows                                 140,000                                140,000                        same

State Food Purchase              17.438 million                        17.438 million                        same

Marketing & Research                     494,000                                494,000                        same

Nutrient Management               2.714 million                          2.714 million                        same

Conservation Districts                     869,000                                869,000                        same

Land Scrip Fund                      46.237 million                        46.237 million                       same

(NOTE: This is not what Penn State Ag Research and Extension was budgeted for last year.  Comparison is for the available funds, not the budget-approved amount.)

PA Preferred                                   550,000                                550,000                        same

UPenn Veterinary                           28 million                               28 million                        same

UPenn Infectious Disease                 261,000                                261,000                        same

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/current_and_proposed_commonwealth_budgets/4566

What Governor Vetoed in the 2014-2015 State Budget

budget paOn July 10, Governor Corbett signed the new state budget into law but expressed dismay in that the General Assembly did not pass pension reform, something he said had to be done.  To send a message, he vetoed $65 million in monies out of the funds allocated to the General Assembly.  He also vetoed items on which the media did not report:

  • Dept. Environmental Protection $150,000 (environmental program management)
  • Dept. Environmental Protection $700,000 (sewage facilities planning grants)
  • Treasury Department $45,000 (general gov’t operations)
  • Dept. Community & Economic Development $250,000 (financial institution grants)
  • Dept. Community & Economic Development $300,000 (Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority)
  • Dept. Conservation & Natural Resources $$500,000 (parks)
  • Labor & Industry $250,000 (general government operations)
  • Civil Air Patrol $100,000
  • Dept. General Services $5 million (rental, relocation and municipal charges)
  • Reduce Machinery & Equipment Loan Fund from $100 million to $85 million
  • Small Business First Loan Fund (for agriculture, tourism, manufacturing) from $100 to $95 million
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