House prepares for an early return to Harrisburg.  The halls of the state capitol remain relative vacant this week but that doesn’t mean preparations aren’t being made for the General Assembly’s return next week.  In a rare move, new House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff called the House back into session next week beginning on Monday, Aug. 31.  While the specific reasons for this “call back” is unknown at this time, speculation swirls that election reform remains on the top of the agenda.  The source of this speculation centers around an announcement by Senate Republican leaders on a proposed election reform legislative package.

On Monday, Senate leaders said their proposal would, “address a number of issues facing the commonwealth ahead of the November general election.”  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman also said his desire is to bolster election security and give counties more flexibility in administering the elections.  For more specifics on the proposal Go Here.

As we near the final election season push, both parties are expected to focus considerable efforts to ensure that procedures are in place for a safe and secure voting process.  We expect this to dominate the legislative agenda over the few scheduled days of active legislative session between now and November 3.  APC will keep an eye on any developments and be sure to report them to you here or as part of our Weekly Online Update held every Wednesday at 1 p.m.

Governor outlines fall legislative wish list.  With the early return of the General Assembly to Harrisburg next week, Governor Tom Wolf also took the opportunity to outline his own agenda for the fall session.

Wolf outlined a series of issues he is asking legislators to work with his administration to accomplish.  At the top of the list is continuing to implement legislation aimed at economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The governor called for the legislature to enact paid family leave statewide, provide hazard pay and personal protective equipment to frontline workers and legalize marijuana to use the revenues for small business grants and assistance.

Specifically, Wolf proposed a $225 million hazard pay program for frontline workers, which could cover approximately 208,000 people in the state. He also outlined a $10 million reimbursement program for personal protective equipment, which would reimburse small businesses with grants worth up to $5,000 for the purchase of masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.  He also called on the legislature to legalize recreational marijuana and use the revenues to fund grants for small businesses, with 50 percent of the funds going toward historically disadvantaged businesses.

It is unknown if the General Assembly will embrace any of these proposals in the upcoming session, but early indications suggest that it will be difficult to see some of these initiatives becoming law.

According to an article by Pennsylvania Legislative Services (PLS), House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said, “Gov. Wolf has spent the last six months turning his back on the people’s representatives in the General Assembly despite our numerous attempts to work with him to fight this pandemic. It is disingenuous for this governor to put forward an unaffordable legislative agenda and require taxpayers to bail him out of his unilateral mandates that have devastated their lives and livelihoods.”

And that was followed up by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman saying Wolf’s plan better resembled “campaign cover” for Democrats ahead of the November election rather than a serious attempt at policymaking.

“Governor Wolf has not been in the Capitol in months. He has not even held a call with legislative leaders since July. The Governor is clearly not interested in governing. If he were, he would have reached out to legislative leaders at some point during the summer to discuss a fall agenda,” Corman said. “Instead, he sends out a political document and takes partisan shots at elected officials.”

The fall is quickly shaping up to be a very contentious one in Harrisburg.  Stay tuned.