PA Weekly for the week ending January 27, 2017

PA Weekly for the week ending January 27, 2017

Author: The PLS Reporter/Friday, January 27, 2017/Categories: Features

SCI PITTSBURGH TO CLOSE AT THE END OF JUNE

The Wolf administration announced Thursday that it will close SCI Pittsburgh by June 30, 2017, a move expected to save $81 million in next year’s budget.

“Closing an institution is a challenging process, and this decision, made in consultation with Gov. Tom Wolf, only came after considering input from stakeholders and an extensive review of all the institutions and took into consideration several factors including the age, size, location, programming, and economic impact on local communities,” said Department of Corrections Sec. John Wetzel.

With the closing of Pittsburgh, 555 employees and union workers will need to be transferred to another location within the DOC, a move the department promised when it first released a list of possible closures two weeks ago.

The facility was one of five announced state prisons that were considered for closure, including SCI Monroe, SCI Frackville, SCI Retreat, and SCI Waymart.

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SENATE ADVANCES BILLS PUNISHING SANCTUARY CITIES, PREEMPTING LOCAL PAID SICK LEAVE, AND ENSURING MINIMUM ROYALTY PAYMENTS

The Pennsylvania Senate used its first substantive session week to start advancing some high-profile and controversial proposals that would punish sanctuary cities by withholding state funding, preempt local paid sick leave ordinances, and strengthen the ability of landowners to collect the natural gas royalties owed to them.

While the natural gas royalties bill could be considered on the Floor as soon as next week, the other two proposals are not on any hard-and-fast timeline for consideration by the full Senate.

Senate committees have already lined up part of their schedule for next week, which includes consideration of a highly debated proposal from last session that would allow schools to lay off teachers for economic reasons and end seniority-based layoffs.

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NUMBERS COME OUT IN OPPOSITION TO NEW VAPE TAX

A group of vapers, vape shop owners, and policymakers came out in force to the Capitol Rotunda in opposition to the new 40 percent vape tax that is part of the current fiscal year’s revenue plan.

Charles Huff, President of the association, stated that the 40 percent tax Pennsylvania instituted on vaping last September is crippling small businesses across Pennsylvania. He lamented Gov. Tom Wolf’s pledge to veto any legislation that makes changes to the tax. Hundreds of stores have already closed, Huff said, and hundreds more will do so sooner rather than later.

Huff also said that by destroying legitimate vaping businesses, the tax will cause Pennsylvanians to buy their sought-after products on the unregulated and untaxed black market, meaning the state government will be unable to generate revenue or regulate the industry. He questioned, “How can a tax increase revenue if it destroys the business?”

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PENSION REFORM ADVOCATES URGE SOLUTION TO UNFUNDED LIABILITY

Activists and lawmakers concerned about Pennsylvania’s increasing pension debt held a news conference to urge legislators to first pay off the unfunded liability as part of any pension reform measure.

“When the Pension Debt Clock was unveiled, exactly 11 months ago to this day, the unfunded Pension Liability was $63.7 billion; today, as you can see, it’s over $74 billion,” stated Barry Shutt, a concerned citizen and host of the engagement.

He noted that both Gov. Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger, Sen. Scott Wagner, both of York County, have committed nothing less than a bipartisan failure of leadership in regards to addressing Pennsylvania’s pension debt crisis. “The Commonwealth’s unfunded pension liability…has increased nearly $20 billion” since the pair was elected to public office in 2014.

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