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October 19, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Week in review — With session end, all eyes on election

By PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s lawmakers are done for the year, at least from the legislative side of things.

The House and Senate wrapped up their final voting sessions around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, with both chambers not expected to have a “lame duck” session post-election.

Now it’s back to the districts for campaign season, though about half of lawmakers don’t have an opponent running against them. They could end up stumping for the U.S. Senate or presidential race, both of which have narrowed considerably in the Keystone State during the past several weeks.

With about two weeks to go until voters head to the polls, President Barack Obama has the support of 50 percent likely voters in Pennsylvania with Gov. Mitt Romney at 46 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

State creates new tax credit for businesses

One bill that lawmakers saw through in the final days of the session creates a new tax credit that lets employers keep 95 percent of their employees’ personal income tax withholdings.

By Wednesday night, both chambers had passed the bill.

BENNINGHOFF: Sponsored House Bill 2626, which creates a new tax credit that allows businesses to retain 95 percent of their employees’ personal income tax withholdings.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, the primary sponsor, has promoted the bill as a boon for job creation.

He said the commonwealth will benefit from dollars that it otherwise wouldn’t see, and unemployed residents would get good-paying jobs. He cited a similar proposal in Kansas that’s created upwards of 10,000 jobs.

“The bottom line is, taxpayers don’t have to put a single dime out for this program as many other job-creation programs have done,” he said.

The proposal was narrowed from its original version by the state Senate. Those changes put a cap on the program of $5 million, along with increases to the number of jobs a company would need to create to qualify to 250 jobs in five years. The program has a sunset provision in 2018.

But that didn’t keep House lawmakers from expressing concern with the concept.

State Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, said the bill amounts to “paying their boss for the privilege of having a job.”

Blake said he could not support the bill, while the Legislature is continually “cutting economic growth for means of a balanced budget.”

Charter school reform on hold until next session

Since the spring, lawmakers have prepped proposals to change the accountability for charter schools. During budget season, the chambers failed to agree on a plan, but amendments during the fall session gave reforming school choice a second chance.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would make changes to the performance matrix for charters as well as limit the amount of money the schools could keep in fund reserves.

It also would create a commission to examine funding structures, as charters are run privately but receive public money from local school districts.

But Wednesday night, the House never took up the bill.

TURZAI: Says legislators are likely to continue discussing charter school funding and reforms next session.

House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said many members wanted to see the funding structure for charters reformed, and the commission wasn’t enough to satisfy them.

He said he anticipates seeing more discussion involving charter schools next session.

Philly’s bloated voter rolls give exposure for fraud

About two of every three residents of Pennsylvania’s largest city are registered to vote — more than 1 million of the city’s 1.5 million residents — and that doesn’t sit well with Zack Stalberg of the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that works for fair and open elections.

Stalberg said the city has not done enough to trim its voter rolls to remove inactive voters, dead voters and former voters who have moved out of the city. Bloated voting rolls increase the chance for fraud to take place, he said, and in a one-party town like the City of Brotherly Love that can be a particular concern.

“The numbers have been out of whack for some time now,” Stalberg told PA Independent. “It just defies logic to think that two out of every three people living in the city can be registered to vote.”

Stalberg’s view from the ground squares with a recent analysis by Watchdog Labs, a sister organization to PA Independent’s national mothership, Watchdog.org.

That analysis found that 95 percent of Philadelphia’s voting-age population was registered to vote for the 2008 election. And though registration totals declined following that election, they remained over 80 percent in March 2012, the most recent data available for the Watchdog Labs analysis.

Research conducted by the Pew Center on the States reveals that approximately 24 million voter registrations, or 1 in 8, are no longer valid. They also estimate that more than 1.8 million dead people are still listed as voters and more than 2.75 million people are registered to vote in multiple states.

U.S. SEN. BOB CASEY, left, and TOM SMITH, right, have found themselves in a high-price, high-stakes Senate race.

Focus turns to U.S. Senate race

Pennsylvania’s senate race between incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Casey and Republican challenger Tom Smith is narrowing in the polls as Smith continues to pour his own money into the race.

FEC reports show Smith raised $1.64 million during the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. He has more than $7 million in his war chest for the final weeks of the campaign, a total that includes $10 million of his own money.

Casey reported raising nearly $1.52 million during the third quarter and has $5.21 million on-hand.

Also this week, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Casey at 48 percent with Smith at 45 percent support of likely voters.

The poll surveyed 1,519 Pennsylvania likely voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.

The candidates will face off in a debate on Oct. 26 in Philadelphia.

CORBETT: Passing Act 13, a major gas drilling policy measure, is one of the primary legislative accomplishments of his first term.

Shale impact fee collections head to state, local governments

A new tax on the extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania brought in $204 million for state and local government coffers in 2011.

The state gets the first shot at the fee revenue — $23 million of the total is skimmed off the top to fund a variety of state agencies, including the Fish and Boat Commission, the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation.

After that, the remaining $181 million is split 60-40 between local governments and the state’s new Marcellus Legacy Fund, which will direct dollars to state-level conservation projects, bridge improvements and sewer projects.

At a news conference, Gov. Tom Corbett heralded the impact fee revenues as striking a balance between dealing with the consequences of gas drilling and making sure the industry continues to invest in Pennsylvania.

See Corbett’s comments on video here.

The passage of a major gas drilling policy in February is one of the primary legislative accomplishments of Corbett’s first term in office.

Bill banning minors from ‘sexting’ heads to governor’s desk

Legislation headed toCorbett’s desk would ban minors from engaging in the so-called practice of “sexting,” in which individuals send naked pictures of themselves or others via cell phone or other mobile device. Offenders could be subject to anything from a summary offense, which involves only a fine, to a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

GROVE: Sponsored a bill that could punish minors caught ‘sexting.’

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who sponsored the bill, said the law was a response to cases in which sexually explicit images were spread beyond the two people involved in the relationship. In York County, a “sexted” picture wound up on a sex offender’s computer, he said.

“It’s not just about two people in a relationship, it’s getting out there,” Grove said.

Under current law, “sexting” would be punished under child pornography laws – if it was punished at all – and since that is a felony, it would follow those teens for the rest of their lives, Grove said.

Since the new offense would be a juvenile offense, it would be eligible to be expunged.

If the picture involved someone younger than 13 or older than 18, it could still be prosecuted under child pornography laws.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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