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.
- Senate Bill 720 sponsored by Aument (R-Lancaster) has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would provide protection from civil liability for owners and operators of agritainment activities. Agritainment is defined as “tourism-related, recreational or educational activities located on farms in Pennsylvania such as corn mazes, pick-your-own crop harvests, hay rides and farm vacations.” Because many activities involved in the agritainment business are frequently not covered by customary farm liability policies, farmers face a number of challenges in securing adequate coverage and face liability risks when opening up their land to the public.
- Inheritance Tax exemption for family farm estate plans resulting in the transfer of a farm to family members is the substance of Senate Bill 580 (Gordner-R-Columbia) as a “clarification of Act 85” according to the sponsorship memo. SB 580 was reported out by the Senate Finance Committee and re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
- Without passage of Senate Bill 756 (Schwank-D-Berks) or similar legislation, First Industries which provides loan guarantees for farm credit institutions will sunset July 15, 2015. SB 756 is in the Senate Community & Economic Development Committee.
On February 13, the US House of Representatives passed HR 636 by a vote of 272-142, a bill that makes permanent after 2014 the $500,000 allowance for the expensing of depreciable business property (section 179 property and the $2 million threshold after which the amount of such allowance is reduced. Both allowance and threshold amount are indexed for inflation for taxable years beginning after 2015. The taxpayer is allowed to revoke an election to expense section 179 property without first obtaining consent from the Department of the Treasury. There is one PA sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Ryan Costello from southeastern PA.
On Feb. 12, by a vote of 279-137, the US House passed HR 644 which includes the text of HR 641 sponsored by northwest PA Republican Rep. Mike Kelly providing a permanent tax incentive for farmers and ranchers to preserve non-developed land for future conservation. National affiliates of PSCFO members (AFBF and NACD) support the legislation.
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
HARRISBURG – 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 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.
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.
HARRISBURG – 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.
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.
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.
HARRISBURG – 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.
HARRISBURG – 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.
• 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.