Starting off the month with a bang. The General Assembly returned to session this week after a brief Memorial Day recess. And, while budget negotiations began in earnest, lawmakers wasted no time taking on some controversial issues on the agenda. One of the issues occupying legislators’ attention this week was the House’s passing of a bill giving gun owners and organizations legal standing to sue municipalities that attempt to regulate firearms more strictly than what is prescribed in state law.
The bill passed with some bi-partisan support and was essentially a “re-enactment” of a bill passed in 2014 but was struck down by the courts due to the bill’s construction which violated the “single subject rule” in statutory construction.
The bill brought several groups to town holding rallies and protests throughout the week setting the stage for the beginning of a contentious month in Harrisburg.
Is the end in sight? The General Assembly worked some late nights and into Thursday this week on legislation that would end the governor’s emergency declaration originally put in place in March 2020. The legislative resolution is in direct response to the recent statewide referendum votes in the most recent May elections where nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians voted to restrict the Governor’s disaster declaration abilities without legislative approval. Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said that the governor’s declaration changed many aspects of life but emphasized that the emergency is over. He said, “Our hospitals are not overrun, our schools are prepared to teach in person, and a vaccine is abundantly available for those that want it.” Speaker Cutler affirmed that the House Republican Caucus will continue to work with Gov. Wolf to ensure that Pennsylvania “rebuilds and recovers” and will try to keep certain provisions of the emergency declaration such as telemedicine and tax collection flexibility intact.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) added, “When the voters approved these constitutional amendments just a few short weeks ago, their message was loud and clear: It is time to end the governor’s emergency powers. We could not agree more. Over the past 16 months, Pennsylvanians have had their lives upended, their livelihoods destroyed in some cases, and their liberties interrupted by Gov. Wolf’s inconsistent and unilateral use of powers under the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration,” he stated.
NOTE: At the time of this writing, the legislation ending the disaster declaration passed the House and is awaiting final concurrence vote in the Senate which is expected to occur on Thursday.
Preserving Motor License Fund dollars. A bill that would accelerate the phase down of money being diverted from the state’s Motor License Fund for State Police operations, Senate Bill 242, was unanimously passed this week by the Senate Transportation Committee. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Joe Pittman (R-Indiana), would draw down the amount of money going to the state police to a flat $500 million annual level much sooner than the current phase down schedule has in law. APC will keep a close eye on this legislation as it may represent an opportunity to be a vehicle for implementing APC’s call for the General Assembly to eliminate that entire portion of money going to the State Police from the Motor License Fund and use the federal Rescue Funds to back and fill to keep the State Police overall budget whole.
Upcoming schedule. The General Assembly will recess today but be back on Monday, June 14, for another week of session. June is an active month in the legislative calendar with the General Assembly scheduled for voting session most days of the month. The State Constitution mandates that the General Assembly must enact a fiscal budget by July 1 of each year.