State Agency-Crippling Bill Heads to a Vote in the Senate Rules Committee Today

When we last left the IRRC bill Republicans cooked up to completely defang Executive branch rule-making, it had passed the House on close to a party-line vote, and has now headed back to the Senate.

Laura Legere at the Post-Gazette brought us up to speed late last week:

A bill passed by a divided Pennsylvania House on Tuesday would give legislative committees new opportunities to intervene as state agencies develop regulations for everything from gas drilling to gambling.

Opponents of the measure, including House Democrats and Gov. Tom Wolf, say it could cause the state’s already complicated rule-making process to grind to a halt.

The chamber passed House Bill 965 with a vote of 113-84 and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill, and one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting it. The Senate passed a companion bill unanimously this spring, but the House version varies slightly.

The issue, for those just tuning in, is that the Independent Regulatory Review Committee already places bipartisan checks and balances on Executive agency rule-making, and there’s already a process for lawmakers to reject any regulations they think are overreaching after IRRC approves them. The point of this bill, which sends proposed agency rules to state legislative committees before ever going to the IRRC, isn’t to promote good-faith review, it’s too empower obstructionists to kill new rules in the crib without even having to vote on them.

HB 965, the House version, is now in the Senate’s Rules Committee being amended for concurrence. We’re hearing the committee will vote on this later today, so right now is a great time to contact these lawmakers and tell them not to pass it out of committee.


Posted in Energy, Environment, Issues, Labor and Unions

#HB965 Update: Tom Wolf Opposes Crippling State Agency Regulatory Authority

A few updates on this turd of a bill since last night.

Not surprisingly, Tom Wolf officially opposes new Executive branch agency regulations disappearing into the legislative purgatory of Republican-controlled committees before going to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

Wolf needs 68 House Democrats to hang together to win a veto override vote, and early signs are encouraging there.

The House version only passed out of the House committee on a party line vote, and House Dems held together yesterday on an amendment vote that failed.

Ben Waxman, press secretary for Senator Vince Hughes, says the House version has enough substantive differences with the Senate version that the bill will need to go back to the Senate if, as is expected, it wins a full vote in the House later today.

When asked how a bill putting Democratic priorities at such a clear disadvantage could possibly have attracted unanimous support from Senate Democrats last spring, Waxman said it wasn’t an oversight. He said the bill did in fact go through the Senate Democrats’ committee review process, there was a discussion in caucus about the bill, and the caucus decided to support it.

“The interpretation we have of this bill is that it’s an institutional question, not a political question,” he said.

Waxman went on to defend the bill on the merits as a non-partisan, small-d democratic change, and declined to speak to the obvious consequences for Democratic policy priorities. Republicans run all the committees, and will continue to do so until Pennsylvania becomes less gerrymandered in some magical future scenario, so progressive regulations would face an impossible uphill climb.

Senator Hughes subsequently retweeted our tweets about this, so maybe he’s had a change of heart.

More updates later after the House vote on the full bill this afternoon.


Posted in Environment, Issues, Labor and Unions

PA Republican Bill Up for a Vote Today Would Gut State Agencies’ Rule-Making Authority

If you’ve been sitting there thinking “I hope the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania never passes any new protections for worker safety, food safety, or air and water quality ever again” have PA Republicans got a bill for you!

Up for a vote in the House as soon as today, HB 965 creates an exciting new process whereby committees in the state legislature can effectively block the Executive branch from passing any new rules indefinitely.

The way it works now, state agencies propose regulations and the state’s bipartisan Independent Regulatory Review Committee conducts a review process, has a public comment period, and then takes an up-or-down vote on whether to approve or disapprove.

After IRRC votes, standing committees of the legislature have the power to do a further review, or disapprove of the rule. In those cases the proposed rule is stayed for 14 days, after which time it can be brought to a full vote of the legislature.

The way this would play out under HB 965 (and the companion bill SB 562 which was already passed unanimously by the state Senate this Spring because apparently zero Democrats read the bill) the IRRC would probably never even get a vote on the proposed rules because the committee review would kick in before the IRRC vote. Oh, and the lawmakers on those committees could redo the review process repeatedly as many times as they want, trapping any new regulations in purgatory.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that a legislative committee could postpone a vote by IRRC forever under this process, effectively blocking the Executive branch from passing any new rules. That’s great if you are a natural gas baron or an unscrupulous employer looking to fend off any new public interest regulations, but terrible if you are a mere resident of this Commonwealth.

Look at our Republican state legislature. Do you think any new worker protections or environmental protections would ever make it to the IRRC with the tea people controlling the committees? There’s no way. State agencies would be completely toothless and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission robbed of its independent oversight role.

The worst part is that this bill completely snuck up on us, with wind of this vote spreading only as recently as Thursday night. With all eyes on the budget, Republicans were betting this bill would pass without anyone noticing, and with the Senate vote in their pocket, that is terrifyingly close to becoming our reality.

Your state lawmakers need to hear from you right now and they need to know someone is watching. Please email this news to your networks and make sure activists in your area are aware that this is going down today!

Posted in Environment, Health, Issues, Labor and Unions

Daryl Metcalfe and the Republican Definition of Racism

Everybody’s rightly focused on Daryl Metcalfe’s tortured hair-splitting on the difference between white supremacists and white nationalists, but I wanted to make sure this quote didn’t get lost in the mix.

“Metcalfe continued, “For whoever said the man was white to begin with, that person was actually the racist — tying his skin color to his patriotism and what he stands up for for his country.”

Lots of Republican politicians and operatives who are taken more seriously than Metcalfe subscribe to the Republican definition of racism that Metcalfe is wanting to use here.

By their definition, the acknowledgment of race, and especially the acknowledgment that people of different races are treated differently in American society, is the problem.

The people who don’t talk directly about race are doing it right, even if they support pro-discrimination policies, and the people who call attention to disparate treatment are the real racists. Once you’ve done the logical gymnastics to convince yourself of this point, only then does the idea that accusing white people of racism is a bigger problem than actual discrimination start making sense.

Jamelle Bouie nailed it back in 2013 with this post on John Roberts:

The idea that Obama is a racist reads as baffling to most Americans, but it makes sense if you understand the particular racial beliefs of conservatives. If the liberal perspective on racism is that racial inequality is a genuine fact of contemporary American life—and requires race-specific remedies—then the conservative view can be expressed with a line from Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In other words, only the “colorblind” are capable of stopping racism. What’s more, the inverse is also true: if you’re not colorblind, then you are incapable of stopping racism. Which leads to a final conclusion: anyone who treats race as a social reality is a racist. The corollary to this—seen here, for example—is that accusations of racism are more troubling than actual discrimination against minorities.

Posted in Miscellany

Republicans Pass Corbett Budget Stop-Gap on Party-Line Vote. Wolf Will Veto It.

Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg are hearing from schools, social service providers, and non-profits in their districts that they should stop posturing and make a deal with Tom Wolf on a budget already. That entails releasing moderate Southeasterners to make a deal with Wolf and the Democrats, and throwing the right wing of the party to the wayside.

Republican leadership isn’t ready to face the music just yet though, and this week they made a last ditch effort to try to shift the blame onto Wolf by passing a stop-gap budget that Wolf is sure to veto.

The stop-gap they’re pushing is not only filled with gimmicks and fake accounting, but delivers on exactly zero of the three priorities Wolf ran and won on: a Marcellus Shale severance tax that’s comparable with other gas-producing states, a restoration of the Republicans’ education cuts from the last four years, and local property tax relief. In other words, it’s a fifth Corbett budget.

So far, Democrats aren’t biting. The stop-gap passed the legislature on a party-line vote with zero Democratic support. Now is the time to call up your Democratic reps, tell them to hold tight, and don’t listen to fake Democrats like Peter Daley who endorsed Tom Corbett and still loves his budgets.

Philly Rep. Jordan Harris is exactly right. A vote for the stop-gap is a vote to bail out Republicans politically so they don’t have to listen to the voices in their districts telling them to cave.

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said the short-term bill was simply a “bailout” that would temporarily relieve pressure on Republicans to compromise.

Posted in Miscellany

Wolf Says He Won’t Sign a 5th Corbett Budget. Agreement on Budget Framework or No Dice.

The key questions to ask about any stop-gap budget are going to be “does it extend the Tom Corbett budget?” and “is there agreement on a new framework” that will be embodied in the stop-gap?

A stop-gap that extends the Corbett budget is just a political bailout for Republican leadership, and Tom Wolf appears to agree with that.

He’s saying all the right things here. Basically, no artificial time-frame for coming to an agreement, no ceding of ground on his core priorities, and crucially, no extension of the Corbett budget:

The first-term governor said during a regular appearance on Pittsburgh
radio station KDKA-AM that he would sign a “reasonable” stopgap
spending plan. But he went on to say that he had no date in mind by
when he would feel compelled to sign a short-term spending plan to
speed funding to school districts and an array of safety-net services
and that he would sign such a plan only if he already had a general
budget agreement with lawmakers.

“I think if we get to a point where we have a general agreement on
what the budget looks like and it’s going to take some time to
actually get the details in place, I’d be for a stopgap there, but
only in that case — not as something that’s put out there as an
alternative to a budget or something that’s sort of a feel-good
gesture,” Wolf said. “This is a fight we’re in, and it’s a good fight,
and we ought to fight it and make sure that we get to a good place for
Pennsylvania, and let’s not settle just for any old thing that caters
to the real inconveniences that we’re facing right now.”

Asked if he would sign the Republicans’ short-term spending plan, he
said he did not know what is in it and would have to see what the
details first.

“I think what we need is a budget, that’s what I’m working for,” Wolf
said. “A real budget, a budget that is balanced, a budget that has a
severance tax, a budget that invests in education, a budget that has
property tax relief. That’s what the people of Pennsylvania want.
That’s what I’m working for.”

Wolf can pull out a win here if all Democrats hang together in opposition to a stopgap, which means Rep. Rob Matzie needs to STFU with this “we’re all to blame” business. Let him know here.

No, we’re not all to blame. We can have a budget this week if Republican leadership will free southeast and south central suburban Republicans to negotiate with the Democrats. As long as Democrats like Matzie can resist the urge to bail out Republican leadership, the pressure from stakeholders who need the state funding will become so great that they’ll have to abandon the “majority of the majority” trick that’s keeping the far right of the Republican caucus in the driver’s seat, and a deal from getting passed.

(via AP)

Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Issues

PA in Line for $626 Million in Savings from Medicaid Expansion

Elections have consequences:

Department of Human Services Sec. Ted Dallas Tuesday announced the end of the transition from Healthy PA to traditional Medicaid expansion—known as HealthChoices in Pennsylvania—as the last of the expansion insurance plans took effect.

According to Sec. Dallas, 440,000 Pennsylvanians are enrolled in Medicaid expansion insurance plans with the last group of enrollees coming out of Healthy PA’s primary coverage options into Medicaid expansion. […]

He added with the full transition now complete, Pennsylvania is eligible for more federal funding and will realize a savings of $626 million from people moving off of state-funded care to fully federally funded Medicaid expansion.

“That number will grow as the number of people continue to move into Medicaid expansion,” he said.

Tom Corbett’s plan, by contrast, was going to require the state to hire over 700 new employees to implement it, and would’ve been much pricier than simply expanding Medicaid. It was a very elaborate and expensive way to say “Obama sux.”

(Via PLS Reporter)

Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Health, Issues

A Stop-Gap Budget is a Political Bailout for Republicans and Tom Wolf Should Veto It

Voters are currently blaming legislative Republicans much more than Tom Wolf for failing to compromise on a state budget.

54%–more than half!–blame the legislature, and only 29% blame Wolf. Naturally, this has Republicans looking for an exit, and you can see the appeal of the stop-gap measure for them. It’s a total political bailout for Republicans that Wolf would be silly to sign.

First, they get to essentially extend the Tom Corbett budget that voters rejected at the polls for another few months. If it works once, they can run that play again and again for years and basically nullify Tom Wolf’s election.

Second, it changes the politics in a way that’s unfavorable to Democrats. School districts and non-profits and service providers aren’t getting paid, and they’re bringing some pressure on lawmakers to get the budget done. If Republicans pass a stop-gap plan, that pressure shifts to Tom Wolf to quickly agree to it.

What needs to happen now is for Tom Wolf to make clear not just that he’d prefer to get a full year budget done right now, but that he’s not going to sign anything less than a full year’s worth of funding. This isn’t good enough:

It is not clear whether Wolf would sign stopgap legislation.

The governor has made no decision on that and “would prefer to work expeditiously toward a final budget agreement,” spokesman Mark Nicastre said Friday.

Wolf still isn’t taking on very much damage from this, so why bail out the opposition when a decent deal is right around the corner?

Once Wolf pops the stop-gap balloon, the pressure shifts back to Republican leadership to free southeast and south central suburban Republicans to make a deal with Wolf and the Democrats.

Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Issues

Bob Casey Comes Out in Support of the Iran Deal

Good stuff. The polling on this issue in PA is tilted against the deal by a not-unsubstantial margin, but the fact is that there’s no way most voters have actually read up on what’s in the deal, so politicians have a lot of responsibility and political latitude to do what they think is right. Does Casey lose some donors over this? Maybe for a little while, until they see the nutty stuff Jake Corman or whoever is running on in 2018 as the GOP nominee against Casey. In the end though, it’s just not going to be the thing that sways the 2016 or 2018 Senate races. Now we still need to hear from Katie McGinty!

Here’s the key part of the statement, from the inbox:

“After the more than six weeks of intensive review, I have concluded that I will support the JCPOA, vote  no on the motion to disapprove and no on a veto override vote if necessary. I firmly believe that effective implementation of the JCPOA, bolstered by other U.S. policies, including a strong deterrence policy of the U.S. and our partners, will be in our national security interest. This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time. 

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a detailed, technical agreement that is the product of serious, tough, multiparty negotiations.  I respect the views of each constituent, expert and official who has reviewed this agreement and reached their own conclusion.  Thoughtful concerns have been raised, and I have asked tough questions of the Administration over the course of my review.

I have been among the strongest supporters of the tough sanctions against Iran, which brought the regime to the negotiating table. I will continue to advance legislative efforts that prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, exporting terrorism in the region, and committing human rights atrocities at home.

I will vote to support the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action because I believe it is the best option available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It places strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, requires robust monitoring and verification measures, and grants relief only from nuclear sanctions in exchange for verified actions on Iran’s part.”

Posted in Issues, Miscellany

A Severance Tax is Just the Beginning

The push for a severance tax on natural gas production has all the attention right now because it’s a major piece of the budget negotiations, but the past week has also sent us several reminders that there is much more work to do even after that tax passes.

Before we get to that though, here’s how crazy low Pennsylvania’s effective tax rate on gas drilling is. No wonder southeast and south central Republicans were even running on raising it.

Conservatives want to say that this isn’t interesting because Pennsylvania has a higher total tax rate than these other states, but that’s a non-sequitur. Even if you think Pennsylvania’s overall public sector should be lower, this doesn’t refute the argument that natural gas taxes should make up a larger share of whatever size budget we’re looking at.

People currently care about this issue because there’s potentially money for their other budget priorities in play, but the Wolf administration and environmentalists in the legislature also need to be paying attention to the pollution angles.

Three gas companies were just hit with fines for methane gas migration into PA residents’ drinking water, and there are other chemicals proliferating unchecked out there.

Weak federal and state regulations mean “toxic waste materials such as benzene and mercury that are produced by the fracking boom of the last 10 years…are still classified as non-hazardous waste which includes household trash” according to a constellation of environmental groups who are considering suing the EPA.

The federal government is making moves toward regulating methane–one of the most potent greenhouse gases–released into the air during gas extraction, but it wouldn’t cover emissions from existing sources.

That’s all just to say that there’s plenty of scope for more aggressive state-level action from the Wolf administration after the severance tax gets passed, and plenty of political space out in the electorate to accommodate a more ambitious agenda of environmental regulation. And that space can be enlarged further, as starting the conversation about some of these other regulatory goals shifts the political goal posts even further out, making more room for action on the severance tax.

Posted in Budget, Energy, Environment, Issues