Saturday, January 18, 2020

PA Capitol Report: No Surprises Here, Disappearing Votes, Gaming Revenue Record, AG, ST, AG Races, Heavy Drinkers

This was a “no surprises” week politically in Harrisburg, because no one was surprised by the outcome of a special Senate election in the mid-state and no one was surprised when Attorney General Shapiro announced his re-election bid.
House Democrats were surprised when votes cast against proposals supported by the Speaker disappeared.  Read on….
Election No Surprise
On January 14, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Republican Lebanon County DA Dave Arnold beat Democrat Michael Schroeder in the special election in the mid-state.  The district is heavily Republican. The Senate now will have 28 Republicans, 21 Democrats and 1 Independent who sits with the Republicans. Read more here.
AG, ST, AG Races
On January 15, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced he would be running for re-election, citing his record of standing with survivors of child sexual abuse, holding drug companies accountable, rooting out public corruption, defending reproductive rights and much more.  Read more here.
Shapiro has one announced Republican opponent, and another is thinking about it.  Read more here.
Incumbent State Treasurer Joe Torsella enters his 2020 re-election race with about a $1 million on hand.  Not quite the $3 million AG Shapiro has, but it’s a start. Read more here.
There are no announced Republican candidates running for Treasurer yet.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney endorsed Pittsburgh’s Michael Lamb, from a venerable Pittsburgh political family and Congressman Connor Lamb’s uncle, in the race for the Democratic nomination for Auditor General. Read more here.
There are now five Democrats running for the Auditor General nomination and two Republicans, so far.  The current Auditor General-- Eugene DePasquale-- is running for Congress against conservative Congressman Scott Perry in the mid-state.
Keeping It In The Family
Bucks County Republicans last week picked Kathleen “KC” Tomlinson as their candidate to run for the House seat vacated by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R).  If the name Tomlinson seems familiar, it’s because she’s the daughter of Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, long-time Senator from Bucks County. The special election for this seat is March 17.  Read more here.
More House Retirements
44-year veteran of the House Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks) will retire at the end of his current term.  Caltagirone won re-election in 2018 after an allegation of sexual harassment that result in a secret settlement worth almost $250,000. Read more here.
On Saturday, Rep. Tom Murt (R-Montgomery) announced he would not be seeking re-election. Read more here.
That brings the count to an even dozen House members retiring, most Republicans.
Disappearing Votes?
House Democrats accused Republican House Speaker Mike Turazi last week of twice failing to record votes by the entire House against bills and an amendment he supports.
Democrats said the House voted against a bill imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences (this bill is still pending) and an amendment to a bill to provide taxpayer funding to private schools in the City of Harrisburg (this bill is still pending).  Both votes were “stricken” from the electronic voting board at the Speaker’s direction.  
When asked, the Speaker said he made his ruling and then adjourn that day’s session.  Read more here.
Targeting Pennsylvania
There were various stories this week about PACs, superPACs and individuals targeting Pennsylvania with the aim of flipping the Senate or House to Democratic leadership and to support redistricting efforts in 2021.  Some examples--
-- Democratic SuperPAC targets Republian Senators Dan Laughlin-Erie, Killion-Delaware
Watch for more of the same.
Not Easy To Save Money
In the category of saving money in state government is never easy--
The House passed legislation to put in place a ban on closing two of the four state-owned and operated institutions to provide care for intellectually disabled individuals-- Polk in Venango County and White Haven in Luzerne County.
Gov. Wolf wants to close the facilities which he said are too costly for the limited number of individuals they serve and move the individuals to community-based care organizations.  
The bill is going back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, but Wolf has promised to veto it.  But during the vigorous debate on the bill, many Democrats in the House and Senate supported the bill.  Read more here.
On Tuesday, stakeholders opposed to the closures are scheduled to announce a federal lawsuit against Gov. Wolf.
Gov. Wolf also announced Friday, SCI Retreat prison in Luzerne County would be closing after going through a public review procedure mandated by the General Assembly last year when the facility was threatened with closure as a result of a declining prison population.  
Local legislators have strongly opposed the closures, others are breathing a sigh of relief.  Read more here.
Gaming Revenue Hits Record
On January 16, the PA Gaming Control Board reported total gaming revenue was up 4.5 percent in calendar year 2019 and total revenue was up 3.4 percent in December or last year.
Total tax revenue generated collectively through all forms of gaming and fantasy contests was $1,415,879,539 during 2019 compared to $1,380,456,782 in 2018.
Total tax revenue generated collectively through all forms of gaming and fantasy contests was $118,178,675 during December of 2019.
Sources of gaming revenue regulated by the Board include slot machines, table games, internet gaming, retail and internet sports wagering, fantasy contests and video gaming terminals. The Board has posted separate reports for these types of gaming on its website.
Buy Powerball, Mega Millions Online
In the ever expanding world of Pennsylvania gambling, the State Lottery announced Friday patrons can now buy Powerball and Mega Millions lottery tickets online or through the Lottery App on their phone or tablet.   Read more here.
The more gambling in Pennsylvania the merrier!
Heavy Drinkers
Pennsylvania ranks number 16 among the states in terms of how many of our residents drink alcohol-- 60.73 percent-- consuming 2.34 gallons of alcohol each, according to a new report.  28.8 percent of adults in the Commonwealth binge-drink. 
Washington, D.C. was the heaviest-drinking area of the country [wonder why- politics?], followed by Vermont, South Dakota, New Hampshire and North Dakota.  Arkansas was the least-drinking state in the nation. Read more here.
Great for Liquor Control Board revenues!
Anger Over Overtime
House Republicans expressed their displeasure last week over Gov. Wolf’s continued pursuit of a regulation change making 143,000 more Pennsylvania workers eligible for overtime pay by reporting a resolution out of Committee opposing the regulation.  Wolf said he wanted to get the proposal moving again because the House has not acted on a minimum wage increase. Read more here.
Hand-Held Cellphone Ban
The House passed legislation-- House Bill 37 (Brown-R-Monroe)-- to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.  Hands-free speakers could still be used. Proponents were disappointed because it was amended to say police couldn’t stop drivers just for using a cellphone. The bill now goes to the Senate.   Read more here.
Reducing Drug Costs
Representatives Dan Frankel and Austin Davis, Democrats from Allegheny County, this week introduced House Bill 2212 with the goal of reducing prescription drug prices by creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to cap the price companies can charge for necessary drugs found to pose affordability burdens.
The bill would also establish a Wholesale Prescription Drug importation Program to ease shortages of medically necessary drugs as other states have done.  Read more here.
AARP Pennsylvania has noted 40 percent of seniors aren’t filling prescriptions because they can’t afford them.
PennDOT Work Zone Speed Cameras
Starting March 4, PennDOT has the authority to set up speed cameras designed to catch motorists and trucks in exceeding speed limits in highway work zones.  Signs must warn motorists speed cameras are present.
A first offense will result in a warning letter, and the second a $75 fine. The third and all subsequent offenses will cost $150, but no violation will add points to your license. Read more here. Read more here.
Click Here to find where speed cameras will be installed in work zones.
What’s Next?
The House returns to voting session on Tuesday and Wednesday (after the Martin Luther King Day Of Service) to tackle a number of issues, including human trafficking and child abuse.  Here are the bills House Republicans say are going to get votes (does not preclude others, of course)--
The Senate and House return the week of January 27, followed by the week of February 3 -- budget address week (February 4).
Other Announcements Last Week:
[Posted: January 18, 2020]  PA Capitol News

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