Saturday, March 21, 2020

PA Capitol Report: Senate, House Adopt Rules To Allow Remote Voting, Meetings; Senate Promises Transparency

The coronavirus threw a wrench into Senate and House schedules and actions this week-- like it did everyone else-- as they struggled to find a way to continue operating with the coronavirus social distancing restrictions now in place.
They both adopted rule changes that allowed them to vote remotely and participate in committee meetings without being present in Harrisburg-- House Resolution 834 and Senate Resolution 318.  
The House also shortened the time the chamber has to wait before voting on legislation, generally reduced from 12 or 24 hours down to three.
The new House rules eliminate the 60 day blackout period for sending mailings to constituents during election years to allow electronic communication of information related to the coronavirus.   Read more here.
The Senate, at least, does not expect to use the remote voting privileges to act on legislation that isn’t directly related to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.  
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) also promised the Senate would operate in a way to ensure transparency.  Read more here.
New Member/Committee Changes
Rep. G. Roni Green (D-Philadelphia) took the oath of office as the newest House member last week after winning her special election.
The House made a number of changes in Committee assignments--
-- Rep. Green was named to the House Urban Affairs, Gaming Oversight and Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees. 
-- Rep. Maureen Madden (D-Monroe) was added to the Gaming Oversight Committee
-- Rep. Anita Kulik (D-Allegheny) resigned from the Gaming Oversight Committee
-- Rep. Maureen Madden (D-Monroe) resigned from the Agriculture Committee
-- Rep. Steve Malagari (D-Montgomery) was added to the Agriculture Committee
-- Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia) resigned from the Agriculture Committee
-- Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) was named to the Tourism &Recreational Development Committee.
Republican Sweep
Republicans sweeped all three special House elections held March 17 amid concerns about coronavirus, a shortage of poll workers and changes in polling places.  New members will be coming from--
-- Bucks County: K.C. Tomlinson (55.4 percent) , the daughter of Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks)
-- Mercer County: Tim Bonner (75.3 percent)
-- Westmoreland County: Erie Davanzo (52.5 percent)
Gaming Revenue Up
On March 18, the PA Gaming Control Board reported total gaming and fantasy contests revenue was $304,349,740 which represents a 13.75 percent increase over revenue generated in February 2019. [Obviously, this will change with casinos closed.]
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.   Read more here.
February Unemployment
On March 20, the Department of Labor and Industry reported Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.7 percent in February.  [Obviously, things aren’t going to stay that way.]
The national rate was down a tenth from January to 3.5 percent. The Commonwealth’s unemployment rate increased by six-tenths of a percentage point from February 2019 while the national rate was down three-tenths of a percentage point over the year.
Pennsylvania’s civilian labor force-- the estimated number of residents working or looking for work--  was up 9,000 over the month to a record high of 6,558,000 due to gains in both employment and unemployment. Read more here.
Virus Scams
In the some people never miss an opportunity category, Attorney General Josh Shapiro reported his office has received nearly 1,900 complaints of price gouging connected to the coronavirus outbreak which included a $15 can of Lysol and $19 hand sanitizer.  Cease-and-desist letters have been sent to 68 businesses so far. Read more here.
Shapiro established a special email to report complaints from residents and businesses:  Complaints also can be made by phone at 800-441-2555, or through the Attorney General’s website
More information about price gouging is available at AG’s Coronavirus Updates 
What’s Next?
The House is expected to be in voting session on March 24 and 25, but otherwise is on a 12-hour call.
The Senate is also on a 12-hour call, but has not indicated when they will hold the next voting session.
There are no committee meetings scheduled at this time.
And, of course, there are about a dozen campaign fundraisers scheduled for next week.
[Posted: March 21, 2020]

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