Pen­sions, gam­bling among is­sues as law­mak­ers re­turn

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

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.

Gam­bling ex­pan­sion

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.

Pub­lic pen­sions

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.

Opi­oid cri­sis

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.

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