Pensions, gambling among issues as lawmakers return
HARRISBURG >> Pennsylvania lawmakers are back to work after a summer break from the Capitol of more than two months, and they’re facing decisions on gambling, the budget deficit, the state’s opioid addiction crisis and changes to large pension plans for teachers and state government employees.
What’s on tap in the General Assembly this fall:
This week in the House
The House returned to session Monday, and next week the Senate will be back. House votes this week could include a measure to regulate the use of propane tanks on mobile food trucks (legislation prompted by an explosion that killed two in Philadelphia in 2014); a bill to require prospective tenants or buyers to be informed if a property had been previously used as a meth lab; and a Senate-passed proposal to stiffen financial penalties for those with a protection-from-abuse order who commit animal cruelty against the pet of their spouse or partner. Legislation to fine-tune the state’s organ donation law also is under consideration, and a rally in support of the legislation was held in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday.
The state budget passed in July counted on $100 million, mostly from onetime licensing fees, by legalizing casino-style gambling on the internet and allowing gambling in airports and at off-track betting parlors. The legislation to do that was not approved, however, and negotiators will be trying to work out a deal to make it happen this fall.
The state is currently on the hook for crippling annual contributions to the major pension plans, a perennial topic in the Legislature that could become part of the mix in the coming months. In June, the House approved Legislation to put new hires into a combination of a traditional pension plan and 401(k)-style benefit plan, paring down costs modestly and reducing the risk to taxpayers from fluctuations in the market. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would sign it, but the Senate has not acted. Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the Republican majority in the Senate, said they plan to “continue to look at it” and work toward a deal that both chambers and Wolf can support.
Uber and Lyft
The two ride-hailing services have been operating under temporary experimental authority from the Public Utility Commission, but those rules are set to expire early next year. It’s unclear if the Legislature will step in and establish permanent guidelines or if the companies will seek an extension from the commission.
Several bills have passed either the House or Senate to address prescription opiate and heroin addiction, and some are likely to become law this fall, as Wolf has called for a joint legislative session to address the problem.
A centerpiece of Wolf’s legislative agenda includes limiting emergency-room physicians to prescribing a week’s worth of narcotic painkillers and barring them from refilling prescriptions that patients claim were lost, stolen or destroyed. Wolf also wants to require doctors to check the state’s new online database of patients’ painkiller prescription histories every time they write a prescription, not just for the first prescription.