The 2016 PA General Assembly session is all but finished. Lawmakers will return to Harrisburg after the November 8th election, but it is yet to be known if they will take up major legislation during the remaining session which ends November 30.
Focusing on the positive, let’s take a look at some of key accomplishments thus far and those major items that will likely see action at a later time.
What Got Done
- More liquor reform. The Governor and the Legislature accomplished some historic reforms this session by further updating Pennsylvania’s antiquated liquor sales laws. Earlier this year, the Governor joined with reform advocates to support the sale of wine in retail locations. At the end of the fall session, the General Assembly sent a bill to the Governor which would give beer distributors the right to sell growlers and six-packs (including mix and match packs). While most other states have had consumer-friendly liquor sales laws on the books for a very long time, this latest action will help Pennsylvania catch up.
- Opioid abuse prevention. A bipartisan array of lawmakers united to fight the growing and alarming epidemic of opioid addiction in the Commonwealth. The legislation requires more vigilance of prescription opioids by medical providers, increased prevention education and more locations for drop-offs of prescription drugs.
- Transportation Network Companies. Transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft will now be allowed to operate everywhere in Philadelphia. A temporary agreement that legalized the popular ridesharing services expired on Sept. 30, necessitating the need for further legislative action. As part of the deal, two-thirds of the taxes derived from ride-sharing revenues will be allocated to the School District of Philadelphia.
- Homeowners’ association fee relief. The General Assembly took action to prevent Recorders of Deeds across Pennsylvania from charging per-parcel fees whenever community associations amend their governing documents. One of the purposes of a community association is to make uniform regulations to all its properties, and the Legislature recognized the harm these onerous fees have on homeowners who ultimately bear the brunt of the unnecessary costs.
- Medical marijuana. Although the state’s medical marijuana law was signed by the Governor this past spring, significant progress was accomplished over the summer and fall (and continues) to put into place a government oversight framework. By early 2017, state Department of Health officials hope to have temporary regulations fully promulgated for growers/processors, dispensaries, research facilities, doctors and patients. Note: temporary regulations for growers/processors were finalized and posted to the PA Bulletin in late October.
Yet To Come
- Pension Reform. It seems inevitable that this will remain the giant elephant in the room as we head into the New Year and the new 2017-18 legislative session. A bill proposing a “stacked-hybrid” plan failed to gather enough support over the summer and fall sessions, but was not entirely shelved. The proposal, which would have kept all current retirees and employees on the state’s defined-benefit plan while moving new hires to a combination of a defined benefit and a defined contribution (or 401(k)-style plan), was referred back to conference committee where theoretically it could be revived later this month, but only if the political stars align in a way they have not for over a decade.
- Gaming legislation. A legislative fix tied to casino revenue for local government remains on the to-do list for the House and Senate. Legislation to address the 2004 gaming law that sends “local share” revenue back to casino-host municipalities became necessary after a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year struck down the statute on grounds that it essentially imposed different rates on casinos depending on their size, thus violating the “uniformity” clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Failure to address this challenge could create a collective shortfall within affected 2017 local government budgets of upwards of $142 million. The state’s highest court gave legislators 120 days to come up with a solution, although the General Assembly could request an extension, if needed, allowing it to continue working on a solution well into the new year. Still, with pressure mounting as affected local governments begin their 2017 budgets planning, should a bipartisan breakthrough emerge in the coming weeks, there is a remote possibility action could be taken in November. If not, this will remain a high priority agenda item when the House and Senate return to a new session in January.
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