Senator Laughlin E-Newsletter

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Harrisburg Happenings

A report on the budget hearings held during the week of March 2, 2020

Special Report: 2020-21 Budget Hearings

The Senate Appropriations Committee held its third week of public hearings on Governor Wolf’s proposed state budget for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year. The Appropriations Committee heard detailed reports from several cabinet secretaries and other officials over the four-day period of March 2-4. More information on the budget, as well as photos, audio and video from the hearings, is available at:

Monday, March 2, 2020

Department of Agriculture

3/2/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Agriculture (Part 1)

During the budget hearing with the Department of Agriculture, I discussed the impact of the Governor’s proposed transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund on Presque Isle Downs and the Department’s efforts to address Chronic Wasting Disease.

3/2/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Agriculture (Part 2)

Later in the hearing, I addressed the state’s efforts to address the Spotted Lanternfly infestation. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed several topics of interest to Pennsylvania’s farmers during the budget hearing with Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. The topics included:

  • The proposed transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund.
  • The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program.
  • Efforts to support dairy farms.
  • Amusement ride inspections.
  • Farm land preservation.
  • Dog licensing.
  • Agri-tourism.
  • The PA Preferred program.
  • The impact of prevailing wage requirements.
  • Addressing food insecurity.
  • Efforts to meet the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay watershed requirements.
  • The impact of MS4 on farmers.
  • Funding to address the Spotted Lanternfly and Chronic Wasting Disease.
  • USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
  • State grants to promote agriculture.
  • Biosecurity initiatives.
  • Industrial hemp.
  • Organic farming.

Video from the hearing

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

3/2/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Penn School of Veterinary Medicine

During the budget hearing with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, I asked about efforts to address Chronic Wasting Disease in deer. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed a number of issues, including:

  • Benefits from the state’s investment in the school.
  • The percentage of graduates who stay in Pennsylvania and the student loan debt they incur.
  • Abuse of opiates provided by veterinarians.
  • Avian Influenza.
  • The shortage of veterinarians in certain fields.
  • Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.
  • Dual enrollment programs in health care and social services.
  • Consolidation of facilities at the school.
  • Drug testing of race horses.
  • African Swine Fever.

Video from the hearing.

Agricultural Research/Agricultural Extension

3/2/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Penn State University Ag Extension

During the hearing on Agricultural Research and Agricultural extension, I raised concern about the impact of insecticides on honey bees. Other topics discussed during the hearing included:

  • Mental health services in farming communities.
  • Promoting participation in the census.
  • Reducing sediment and nitrogen runoffs.
  • Surveying farmers on pollution control.
  • Lyme disease.
  • The Spotted Lanternfly infestation.

Video from the hearing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

State-Related Universities

3/3/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: State-Related Universities

With the cost of higher education continuing to rise, I raised concerns during the budget hearing with Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities that they may not continue to be competitive with online universities and other lower-cost institutions. Other members of the Appropriations Committee discussed many challenges facing institutions of higher learning including:

  • Satellite campuses.
  • Faculty costs and how they compare to other institutions.
  • Student loan debt and increased tuition.
  • How the universities are coping with flat funding while also keeping tuition costs down.
  • Efforts to retain in-state students.
  • Declining enrollment.
  • Recruiting out-of-state students.
  • Efforts to help students graduate in four years.
  • Competition between the state system and state-related universities.

Video from the hearing.

Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

3/3/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: DCNR

During the budget hearing on the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, I asked Secretary Cindy Dunn about high water levels at Presque Isle State Park and the dire need to study alternative breakwater strategies. Other members of the Committee discussed the following topics:

  • State Park and Forest rangers and the scope of their authority.
  • DCNR involvement in Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
  • Personnel and operating costs.
  • Cell and radio towers on DCNR land.
  • Agri-tourism.
  • Timber sales.
  • Pennsylvania Heritage Trails.
  • The moratorium on oil and gas leases in State Parks.
  • Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenue.
  • The deployment of the P25 State Radio System.
  • Hazardous low-wall dams.
  • Acid mine drainage.
  • Recreational ATVs.
  • State Park attendance.
  • The Spotted Lanternfly infestation.
  • General Fund support of DCNR operations.

Video of the hearing.

Penn College of Technology, Thaddeus Steven College, Community Colleges

3/3/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: Penn College, Thaddeus Stevens College, & Community Colleges

I highlighted the importance of creating a community college in the Erie region during the budget hearing with representatives of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, and Pennsylvania’s community colleges. Other Appropriations Committee members discussed topics including:

  • Tuition and fee increases.
  • Changes in enrollment.
  • Dual enrollment programs.
  • Tuition for out-of-state students.
  • Diversity.
  • Articulation agreements.
  • Financial literacy programs.
  • Eliminated programs.
  • Recruitment efforts.
  • Efforts to meet the demands of today’s workplace.

Video from the hearing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Department of Environmental Protection

3/4/20 – Budget Hearing Q&A: DEP

During the budget hearing with the Department of Environmental Protection, I expressed my anger that the state is doing nothing to help Presque Isle State Park, which is being ripped apart by erosion. I also sought help for reducing Lake Erie algae blooms, and warned that the administration’s proposed TCI gas hike will send motorists over the border to buy gas. Other members of the Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell about several topic including:

  • Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Source Abatement staffing.
  • Stream and river buffer projects to reduce sediment.
  • Pennsylvania’s performance in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts versus Maryland’s and Virginia’s.
  • The Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund and the Administration’s proposed $1 per ton increase to the tipping fee on municipal waste landfill deposits to support it.
  • Fees on entities considered public water suppliers.
  • Scrap tire and waste coal piles.
  • Efforts by farmers to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Storm water management fees.

Video of the hearing.

Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee questioned Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA) President Susan Sersha about factors affecting the medical liability insurance market. Some of the topics of discussion included:

  • Staffing, operations and the number of policyholders covered.
  • Legal changes that have affected JUA.
  • The current market for medical liability insurance.
  • Expanding access to health care to underserved areas.
  • Investments, reserve funds and competitiveness of rates.
  • The amount of surplus money that could safely be appropriated to other causes.

Video of the hearing.

Budget Secretary/Governor’s Executive Office

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee closed out three weeks of budget hearings with a session with Budget Secretary Jen Swails. Topics discussed included:

  • Transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund.
  • Higher education.
  • Prevailing wage.
  • The proposed fee for State Police Service.
  • Reduced funding for school safety.
  • Changes to the state’s contract for the expansion of internet service.
  • Solvency of the hazardous site cleanup fund.
  • Supplemental appropriations.
  • The year-end revenue estimate for FY 2019-20.
  • Projections for the Lottery Fund.

Video of the hearing.

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