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.

More Legislative Activity…

LegislationWith the de facto end of this session of the General Assembly, there has been a flurry of legislative activity on a number of bills with an impact on PA Agriculture.

House Bill 1550 (Milne-R-Chester) establishes the PA Business Development Authority as an attempt to consolidate several state loan programs into one entity. The PA Industrial Development Program as part of this consolidation specifies that loans made to an industrial project may not “cause the removal of an industrial enterprise, manufacturing enterprise, research & development enterprise, AGRICULTURE PRODUCER or AGRICULTURAL PROCESSOR from one area of this Commonwealth to another area of this Commonwealth.” Status: Presented to the Governor October 15.

House Bill 1996 (Lawrence-R-Chester) seeks to clarify the amount and percentage of the total paid to dairy farmers that comes from “over order premiums”, the Milk Marketing Board fee that is supposed to be returned to the farmer to help offset production costs. Status: Passed House 153-42 on October 14 and referred to the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee October 15.

Senate Bill 76 (Argall-R-Schuylkill), the property tax reform bill to eliminate school property taxes and replace them with an increase in Personal Income Tax and elimination of numerous exemptions of the sales tax, was tabled by the Senate October 16, ending its legislative journey for this legislative session.

Senate Bill 491 (Folmer-R-Lebanon) states that if an individual’s declaration of estimated tax shows 2/3 of total income for the year comes from farming, the estimated tax may be paid at any time of the year on or before January 15 of the succeeding year. Although originally non-controversial, the bill died when the House Finance Committee September 22 amended SB 491 to allow for taxation options in lieu of the traditional school district property tax.

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.

Horse Racing Regulation Revamping Considered

The Pennsylvania Senate is considering Senate Bill 1188 (Vogel-R-Beaver) to reorganize the way PA horse racing is regulated. The bill would abolish the State Racing Commission and the State Harness Racing Commission and place those functions under the PA Gaming Control Board. Status: SB 1188 was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee after being reported out of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

General Assembly Returns

After spending a month with appropriations hearings, the General Assembly is back in session. Matters to note:

  • On March 10 the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee amended Senate Bill 1181 (Vogel-R-Beaver) to transfer $4.2 million from the Race Horse Development Fund to the State Racing Fund to provide resources to the PA Racing Commission to perform its regulatory responsibilities.
  • House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee Chair John Maher (R-Washington/Allegheny) distributed sponsorship memos to House members regarding a resolution to congratulate Cooperative Extension Service on its 100th anniversary and a second resolution recognizing April 1 as Farm Bureau Day. Status: No resolution numbers yet
  • A House Professional Licensure Committee hearing on licensing of professional soil scientists (House Bill 997 sponsored by Rep. Scott Petri-R-Bucks) has been set for May 7.
  • On February 4, the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee reported out Senate Bill 1149 (Brubaker-R-Lancaster) relating to the application of fertilizer on turf areas (lawns, athletic fields and golf courses). Two other bills reported out by the committee February 4 were: SB 1188 (Vogel-R-Beaver) amending the Race Horse Industry Reform Act and SB 1107 (Alloway-R-Franklin) stating that if a kennel license is revoked, no new kennel licenses will be issued to a person who is a member of the same family nor to any person residing at the address of the current (revoked) licensee.
  • House Bill 1440 (Boback-R-Luzerne) is still on hold in the Senate. It would exempt high tunnel buildings from the Uniform Construction Code.
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